a conversation with the earth guidebooks + inspiration + insight

Utah canyon country is an astonishingly beautiful labyrinth. Tourists glimpse it. Hikers enter it. Our guidebook details 90 premier hikes throughout southern Utah. But beyond reach of guidebook descriptions are marvels unpublicized.

Since writing the book, we’ve trekked far beyond its scope. And, for seven years now, our basecamp has been Boulder, Utah, where we persistently probe the vastness of Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument (GSENM).

When we met Adam Harmon—devoted desert rat, skilled canyoneer, talented guide, and full-time Boulder resident—our mutual zeal for hiking was the impetus for friendship. The three of us were nourished by arduous hikes and deep conversation. We agreed: the joy, wonder and exhilaration we’d found in canyon country inspired us to share it with others.

So we’re now offering to guide you on transcendent, canyon-country dayhikes.

We—Adam, Kathy and Craig—have decades of combined hiking experience in Utah canyon country. We’re among the few who hold a permit issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to guide in GSENM. And all of us have completed Wilderness Emergency First Responder training.

The routes we guide are cross-country dayhikes. They’re known to only a handful of locals. They’d be extremely difficult for others to find—even if they knew what to look for and where, which they don’t.

The scenery you’ll witness with us ranges from sublime to bizarre, from intimate to im- mense. The physical challenge you’ll face with us depends on your experience and ability, as well as your interests, preferences and goals.

When we guide, it’s not about setting a pace and pushing people to keep up. We can hightail it, and you’re welcome to do so with us. But we don’t expect you to. We believe guiding is about creating the optimal experience for our guests. If you want to hike at a leisurely pace, we can and will. If you want to stop frequently for photography, we’ll do so, and we’ll help you find optimal vantage points and lighting opportunities. If you want to gaze, absorb, meditate, we’ll do it with you. Guiding entails leading, of course. But that shouldn’t mean you’re relegated only to following. Before setting out, we’ll ask you questions and listen to your answers. Then we’ll do our best to ensure our day together unfolds according to your expectations as well as ours.

What most distinguishes us as guides:

• We believe constantly trying to entertain and inform you is a distraction. Sure, we enjoy people. We want to get to know you. We’re easy to be with, and we have fun. But unlike many guides, who regale you with stories and factoids you’ll soon forget, we’re comfortable with silence. The grandeur of canyon country speaks eloquently for itself. Too much information or perpetual chitchat prevents hikers from being fully present: seeing, hearing, feeling. If you can quiet your mind, the power of this mystical place will touch you profoundly and resonate with you forever.

• We can do much more than lead you on easy, short, scenic walks. We can guide truly adventurous dayhikes. Ambitious, athletic, accomplished hikers will find a day with us is challenging, exciting and gratifying. Our philosophy, as summarized by Kathy: “Do big things, or little things will do you.”

Some of the routes we guide allow variation: you can follow your bliss and still tag all the waypoints. But several of our routes link obscure passages that can be pierced only by navigating with surgical precision. And a few of our routes are long, spanning rough terrain, with substantial elevation gain and loss, so they’re physically demanding.

Finding our routes is the result of years of hiking. Tuning these routes required dogged reconnaissance. The on-foot tweezing-out of secrets hidden in a topo map demands patience, tenacity, curiosity, and love for the land. It’s an art. And our fellow guide Adam Harmon is an artist. His medium is sandstone. He’s the art director for our guiding service

The three of us—Adam, Kathy and Craig—invite you to journey with us to the rapturous, inner realm.

Peruse the accompanying details, then send your questions to us: nomads@hikingcamping.com. Or, if you’re in our area, and you’re keen to hike soon, phone us: (435) 335-7544.

— Adam, Kathy & Craig

See photos here.


Dates, Costs, Lodging

We guide dayhikes exclusively. We’re available March through November. The farther ahead you book, the better. But we welcome you to get in touch with us even on short notice.

Depending on time of year, group size, and the specific route you and we have chosen, one or two of us will guide you on shorter hikes, two of us will guide you on longer hikes. One or two of us, our fee is the same. We prefer to guide no more than six guests at a time. This affords you greater serenity. And it enables us to give each guest our attention, ensuring everyone’s safety

Group size and the route we’ve chosen will also determine how many vehicles we need. It’s possible we’ll need your vehicle as well as ours to drive to a trailhead or arrange a shuttle. But we’ll ask you to drive (a) only if it’s necessary, (b) only where you’ll be comfortable behind the wheel, and (c) only on roads posing no risk to your vehicle.

You’ll bring your own gear and clothing, but we’ll advise you on what you will and won’t need. You’ll also bring your own water, snacks and lunch. That way you’re sure to enjoy drinking and eating as much as you need and want. But we’ll counsel you on this, too, because hydration and nutrition are critical to successfully completing an adventurous dayhike.

Single Dayhikes

3 to 4 hours      $90 per person / $225 minimum

4 to 6 hours      $150 per person / $350 minimum

6 to 8 hours      $225 per person / $500 minimum

Full Week of Dayhiking

We’ll guide you on five dayhikes. Two of the hikes will be four to six hours long. Three of the hikes will be six to eight hours long. Overall hiking time will average six hours per day, which does not include time driving to/from trailheads. So this is a week of vigorous hiking, twice alleviated by rest days.

group size   price per person

6 hikers              $600

5 hikers              $650

5 hikers              $750

3 hikers              $850

2 hikers              $1000

That’s only $120 per person per day (group of six), or $150 per person per day (group of four), for a full week of guided hiking through spectacular, perplexing backcountry, on primo routes that would be exasperating or impossible for most visiting hikers to work out.

Payment

If you make a reservation a month or more before your scheduled hiking time with us, we’ll accept a check, money order, or cashier’s check. Please make it payable to hikingcamping.com. You can mail it to PO Box 1301, Boulder, Utah, 84716 USA. Or you can wire the money to us. We do not accept payment by credit card.

If you arrange to hike with us on short notice, we request you pay us in cash when we meet in person. You’ll find an ATM in Escalante, but not in Boulder.

If you’re hiking with us for a week, it’s best to reserve months in advance, so you can also reserve accommodation, and so we can confidently tell other prospective guests we’re not available those dates.

Once you’ve reserved dates with us, we’ll email you a Booking Form and Waiver of Liability. As soon as possible, please complete these and return them to us via email.

Accommodation

The Grand Staircase is remote. The nearest settlements are Escalante (a very small town), and Boulder (a hamlet). Each day we hike together, we’ll meet you in Boulder or another convenient location.

To ensure our guests have a place to stay, we hold reservations for the optimal times of year (spring and fall) at the optimal locations in and near Boulder:

For 2017, we have seven nights reserved for these dates: March 17 to 24, April 7 to 14, May 2 to 9, and October 5 to 12. But whenever you want to hike with us, we’ll do our best to help you arrange accommodation.

Your other option is to camp. There are two BLM campgrounds near Boulder: one at CalfCreek (off Hwy 12), the other at Deer Creek (off the Burr Trail). Visit www.recreation.gov for details. Neither of these campgrounds has drinking water or showers.

Escalante is a 45-minute drive from Boulder, but you’ll find more accommodation options there. You can also camp near the town, at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Visit www.stateparks.utah.gov for details. This campground does have drinking water and showers.

Your choices for dining out in Boulder are the Burr Trail Grill and the Hell’s Backbone Grill. The Burr Trail Outpost serves coffee and snacks. Occasionally Boulder also has one or two street-food options. Escalante has more restaurants than does Boulder.

Contact

Keen to hike with us? Have questions? Get in touch: nomads@hikingcamping.com, (435) 335-7544.


Our Routes

With scenery ranging from sublime to bizarre, from intimate to immense, all the routes we guide are certifiably sensational. In the statistics for each hike, “challenge” refers to overall difficulty on a scale of 1 to 5 (easy to rigorous). This is our subjective rating. It takes into account how gentle or rough the terrain, how level or steep the hiking, and the total distance.

Sky Train

ROUTE: round trip LENGTH: 4 hours
VERTICAL: 1160-ft gain & loss CHALLENGE: 2

A relatively level ridge is a topographical rarity anywhere and especially in this according-pleated high desert. The Sky Train undulates gently while granting constant, panoramic views extending from Boulder Mountain to the Escalante canyons. About half way back, we can vary our return, detouring to a rock-art panel and a small ruin.

The Glacier

ROUTE: round trip LENGTH: 2.5 to 3 hours
VERTICAL: 600-ft gain & loss CHALLENGE: 2

A great, pale dome is conspicuous among the surrounding, brown-yellow slickrock. From a distance, an imaginative observer might say it resembles a glacier in the desert. The top of the Glacier is our destination on this hike, because it affords a dazzling yet easy-to-reach canyon-country panorama. And the hike to/ from the Glacier is absorbing. The Glacier is an ideal first or last hike with us, because it allows you to overlook the routes we’ll soon explore, or the ones we’ve just completed.

Witchcraft Cauldron

ROUTE: circuit LENGTH: 4.5 to 5 hours
VERTICAL: 700-ft gain, 360-ft loss CHALLENGE: 2

When you clap eyes on this route’s scenic climax you might call it “incredible,” “amazing,” “awesome,” “bizarre,” “crazy,” “out of this world.” An “anomaly” is the simplest, accurate way to describe it. It’s the result of an intense mix of geologic forces. But what ignites the projectile adjectives rocketing from your brain is the initial reaction—irresistible to all but a resolute scientist—that you’re witnessing a supernatural phenomenon. Hence the name. This hike, however, isn’t a one-view wonder. Our slickrock route to and from the caldron is a joyous romp.

All You Can Eat

ROUTE: loop LENGTH: 4 to 4.5 hours
VERTICAL: 800-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 3

Feast on a buffet of canyon-country wonders. Soon after starting, we’ll pause for reverent admiration of a fascinating, 1000-year old Archaic rock-art panel. Then we’ll work our way to the riparian floor of a steep-walled canyon where the distance between us and civilization is comforting. After switchbacking up to a colossal arch, we’ll begin roaming over unnamed, rarely visited, slickrock domes, where we’ll have frequent, striking vistas of Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument.

Private Island

ROUTE: round trip or circuit LENGTH: 4 hours
VERTICAL: 1200- to 1580-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 3

Descending into a creek canyon, we’ll hike on slickrock and among boulders until we reach a short drop where hands-on scrambling is necessary for a couple minutes. This brief passage will thwart anyone with vertigo. The remainder of the route is straight-forward hiking. A curving ascent leads among pinyon and juniper, then onto ramping sandstone, to the summit of the dome we call “Private Island,” where we’ll gaze across a great swath of canyon country.

Flirting With Death

ROUTE: round trip LENGTH: 5.5 to 6 hours
VERTICAL: 1060-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 3

If you’ve hiked Utah canyon country, you’ve likely heard of Death Hollow. And if you have our guidebook Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country—maybe you’ve followed our description of the Boulder Mail Trail, linking the towns of Boulder and Escalante and crossing Death Hollow en route. Flirting With Death, however, leads to an astonishing vantage not on the Boulder Mail Trail. This viewpoint is atop the sheer walls plunging into the hollow’s 20-milelong upper section. It allows you to peer into an almost-never-seen stretch of the famous hollow. And it invites your eyes to wander far beyond: across the infinitely complex, slickrock wilderness that today is our playground, but that Mormon settlers—quite recently—grappled with for survival.

Manifest Destiny

ROUTE: one-way LENGTH: 4.5 to 5 hours
VERTICAL: 1420-ft loss, 1100-ft gain CHALLENGE: 4

We’ll begin on a long-abandoned pioneer route that provides insight into local history as well as an elegant descent into an impressive canyon. Then we’ll veer onto our own, untracked course. Linking prominent, geographic features, we’ll complete an engaging, one-way hike. Eventually we’ll rise through a sensuous, slickrock ravine punctuated by what we call “the pondering pools.” Then we’ll pop over a thin ridge and descend through a sculpted, slickrock bowl to arrive at our shuttle vehicle.

Whirling Dervish Reef

ROUTE: round trip LENGTH: 5 to 7 hours
VERTICAL: 1600- to 1800-ft gain & loss CHALLENGE: 3-4

A freelancing “slickwalk” over and around a mini-mountain-range of whirling, sandstone peaks. You can follow your bliss here. Want to ascend? Up we’ll go. Curious about that intriguing cleft below? Down we’ll go. We’ll mostly be friction-walking, sometimes on steep grades, so you must be sure-footed. But we can avoid exposure, adjusting our route to avoid vertigo-inducing perches.

Awe kindles your spiritual fire. Seek to be awed in deep canyons, on airy ridges and lofty summits. You will return empowered.

Boulder Jazz Festival

ROUTE: loop LENGTH: 5 to 6.5 hours
VERTICAL: 850-ft gain & loss CHALLENGE: 4

The essence of jazz is improvisation. And this grand, looping, slickrock hike allows countless, brief, improvisational forays. The sculpted, Navajo sandstone underfoot is the color of golden-edged biscuits ready to be lifted from the oven. Sweeping, aerial views of surrounding wilderness reveal why Boulder, Utah is the epicenter of canyon country hiking and will likely fire your desire to stay longer and explore farther.

Dreamy Draw

ROUTE: loop LENGTH: 7 to 8 hours
VERTICAL: 800-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: terrain 2, distance 4

If well known, this Utah-canyon-country slickrock route would be a classic—in every guidebook, and on every hiker’s to-do list. Yet it’s not. So solitude prevails here. It’s a long hike but never very steep. It lacks airy summits yet is constantly scenic. And it’s compelling the entire way, with a series of unnamed, seldom seen curiosities, spectacles and seductions instead of a focal destination. We’ll begin with a gradual descent, following a shallow drainage through its evolution into a slickrock arroyo and ultimately into a slot gully. Exiting the slot, we’ll hike past the “Frank Herbert Memorial Dune,” through the “Marble Factory,” onto “Pyramid Avenue,” and along the “Champs-Élysées.” Looping back to our trailhead, we’ll emulate nomads crossing a desert wilderness—except we’ll have a vehicle awaiting us at our trailhead, and a hot shower and delicious meal shortly beyond.

Never-Speak-Of-It Gulch

ROUTE: round trip LENGTH: 5 to 7 hours
VERTICAL: 1000-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 4

“Show, but don’t tell” is the desert-rat protocol. Guardians of arcane knowledge, they don’t want precious secrets publicized, because it quickly attracts crowds, which inevitably cause degradation, which ultimately leads to restrictions. So we’ll lead you into Never-Speak-Of-It-Gulch only if you agree not to spread worsd of its entrancing beauty and secluded location. After a steep, scrambling descent on loose rock, we’ll cruise down the gulch, then ascend slickrock slopes to an airy perch where we can overlook the gulch’s impenetrable lower reaches. At that point, we have options. We can linger there before turning around. Or we can roam farther, perhaps ascending the spine of a soaring, sandstone fin; maybe probing a deep, narrow joint; possibly navigating to an outfitter’s hand-built steps dropping to a shady, cool copse on the bank of the Escalante River.

Escalante Alchemy

ROUTE: loop LENGTH: 7 to 8 hours
VERTICAL: 2200-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 5

All-day endurance is necessary here. And, for one, short, descent pitch, you’ll want self assurance born of scrambling experience. If you meet those requirements, this extraordinary, slickrock trek has the alchemic potential to transform you into a canyon country devotee. Twice we’ll drop into and rise out of the Escalante River Canyon, both times crossing the river. For a long stretch, we’ll follow—and marvel at—an historic, wagon “road.” Throughout, the views are vast, and the “slickwalking” euphoric.

Buckle Up

ROUTE: one-way LENGTH: 6.5 to 7.5 hours
VERTICAL: 2100-ft loss, 2300-ft gainCHALLENGE: 5

A great, pale dome is conspicuous among the surrounding, brown-yellow slickrock. From a distance, an imaginative observer might say it resembles a glacier in the desert. The summit of the Glacier—with its dazzling, canyon country panorama—is our first stop on this strenuous, one-way hike. After crossing a land bridge, we’ll peer into a startling chasm, resplendent with all the fiery colors in the high-desert palette. From there, we’ll descend steeply ramping slickrock to more gently rolling terrain. Twice on this route, we’ll drop to and cross creeks. We’ll also sneak through a narrow joint—impossible to see until you’re upon it. Other highlights include swirling, red, pink and white cross-bedded sandstone, an historic cabin, and an entrancing rock-art site. By the time we reach our shuttle vehicle, expect to feel tired but ecstatic.

Rock Whisperer

ROUTE: loop LENGTH: 7 to 7.5 hours
VERTICAL: 1180-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 5

“No way we can hike down this,” you think. So you turn around, expecting to see us nodding our heads, solemnly confirming your assessment. But we’ll be smiling, and you’ll realize: “Whoa! We really are gonna hike down this!” And together, we’ll do it without drama— assuming you’re an experienced, competent scrambler and strong hiker. Our route slowly, sanely unlocks the puzzle, granting us passage into the Escalante River Canyon. After debooting and crossing the river, we’ll ascend an old, stock trail to the base of a massive dome. From there we’ll work our way to another creek crossing, then sneak through a narrow joint—impossible to see until you’re upon it. Beyond, we’ll see swirling, red, pink and white cross-bedded sandstone, and visit an historic cabin. We’ll cross the Escalante River yet again. On the far bank, we’ll admire an entrancing rock-art site before snaking along an ingenious route back to our trailhead.


Our Water-Walk Routes

Water Walks

Our hike-in-the-creek routes require a warm daytime temperature for comfort, and a blue-sky weather forecast for safety. Water-walkin’ is wonderful when it’s hot, so we typically do it in summer. But it might still be possible and comfortable in early fall. The creeks you’ll be in are generally ankle to knee deep, and the water is always chilly. The ideal footwear is (a) neoprene socks to prevent cold feet, and (b) synthetic (nonabsorbent) hiking boots that remain lightweight when soaked. What about sandals? In the water, they allow grit to constantly lodge beneath your feet, which is painful. And on a steep, rough hike to or from a creek, sandals are hazardous, because they provide no ankle support.

Where Dinosaurs Drink

ROUTE: loop LENGTH: 4 to 4.5 hours
VERTICAL: 500-ft loss CHALLENGE: 2 (midway, briefly 4)

Giant, sandstone fins arcing toward the Escalante River can—to an inventive mind— resemble dinosaurs gracefully bending their long necks to drink in the canyon. On this hike, we’ll initially follow remnants of an abandoned, historic road where it contours toward those dinosaur-like fins. Below the fins, we’ll descend sharply on rough terrain to reach the river. Then we’ll splash downstream—occasionally shortcutting the sandy banks—to end up near where we began hiking. En route, we’ll see ruins and rock art. If the weather’s right, we can sometimes do this water walk in March or April.

Water Master

ROUTE: loop LENGTH: 5 hours
VERTICAL: 680-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 3

Boulder has a water master—a local resident entrusted by the community to oversee the distribution of the most precious of all resources. Named in honor of this vital job, our hike descends a usually-dry slickrock tributary drainage to arrive at a canyon carved by a perennial creek. Here we’ll step into the flow and continue splashing downstream, into and through the gorgeous, tranquil, canyon narrows.

Secret Knowledge of Water

ROUTE: loop LENGTH: 5 to 6 hours
VERTICAL: 830-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 3

Canyon country is a colossal sculpture in progress. Rivulets channel trickles that merge into gullies that flow into arroyos that incise ravines that feed draws that create gulches that deepen into magnificent chasms. On this route, we’ll literally immerse ourselves in the timeless equation constantly at work throughout southern Utah: sandstone + rain + gravity = canyons. As we approach sheer, soaring walls, we’ll proceed into the heart of a slender, secret corridor, and hike in the stream that courses through it.

Boulder Baptism

ROUTE: round trip LENGTH: 7 to 8 hours
VERTICAL: 1130-ft loss & gain CHALLENGE: 5

If you’ve hiked Utah canyon country, you’ve likely heard of Death Hollow. And if you have our guidebook Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country—maybe you’ve followed our description of the Boulder Mail Trail linking the towns of Boulder and Escalante and crossing Death Hollow en route. Boulder Baptism, however, probes Death Hollow. After descending a little-known route to reach the confluence of Death Hollow and the Escalante River, we’ll hike upstream for perhaps two hours: into and through the hollow’s deep, atmospheric, awe-inspiring narrows. Though the creek in Death Hollow is mostly ankle to knee deep, we might need to swim through a few pools. Brrrrr! So this is exclusively a summer hike.

Contact Keen to hike with us? Have questions? Get in touch: nomads@hikingcamping.com (435) 335-7544