a conversation with the earth guidebooks + guided hiking

Posts tagged “Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument”.


                                           Click on photo to enlarge, click again to enlarge fully.

Even when the weather’s hot in south-central Utah, with daytime highs above 80°F (27°C), Utah Slickrock Guides can lead you on marvelous hikes in canyon country near Boulder and Escalante. That’s because several of our routes lead to and through the creeks that bless our high-desert wilderness. We call them “water walks,” because you’ll actually be walking in the water. With soaring canyon walls and towering cottonwood trees providing occasional shade, our water walks are cool—even when it’s hot.

If we start hiking by 7:30 am, we should be in the water by 10:00 am—so we can start cooling off before the heat becomes restrictive. On our full-day water walks, we’ll stay in or near the water, and within easy reach of deep shade, until the sun’s intensity abates in late afternoon. Only then will we begin hiking out of the canyon.

Our eight-hour water-walk routes include Secret Knowledge of Water, Boulder Baptism, and Water Master. Our five-hour water-walk routes include Where Dinosaurs Drink, and variants of Secret Knowledge of Water and Escalante Alchemy.

If you’re familiar with the legendary canyons in southern Utah, you’ll know of Death Hollow. With us guiding, you can experience this intimidating and enchanting canyon in a day. You don’t need to carry a heavy backpack. It’s 9 hours of hiking, so you’ll need to be fit. In addition to four hours of walking in the creek, for about two hours we’ll swim and lounge in sensuous, crystal-clear pools. You’ll be with the best guide possible. Adam has explored Death Hollow over 40 times.

Intrigued? You’ll find more details at www.hikingcamping.com, under Guided Hiking. You can also send your questions to us: nomads@ hikingcamping.com. Or, if you’re in our area, and you’re keen to hike soon, you’re welcome to phone us, even on short notice: (435) 335-7544.

Our minimum guiding fee for a full day into these remote canyons is USD$400 for one or two people. For three people, it’s USD$550; $700 for four. To get these prices that are 20% OFF our regular rates, sign up by July 31. That’s a great price for a world-class canyon experience in one of the wildest, most rugged areas in the world.

Have fun previewing our Water Hikes:

(1) Boulder Baptism
(2) Secret Knowledge of Water
(3) Water Master
(4) Where Dinosaurs Drink

Utah Slickrock Guides – Adam, Skye & Craig

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Hike with us in canyon country.

Join Us on Water-Master, spring, summer, or fall. Our 8-hour route traverses the slickrock walls of a perennial creek canyon until we can step into the flow. We’ll hike upstream: often in the water, sometimes beside it. We’ll pierce the sensuous narrows and savor  the canyon’s tranquility. This route took several determined attempts to piece together. For details, click on “guided hiking” above.


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Ten Best Hikes on Planet Earth

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Someone recently wrote us asking what ten hikes we would rank as the world’s best. Here’s what we said:

(1) Parc National des Calanques, France. On the edge of Marseille, this is the country’s newest national park (www.calanques-parcnational.fr). It’s an astonishing, fascinating massif comprising huge, fissured, white, limestone cliffs rising abruptly from the Mediterranean. Numerous, sea-to-cliff-top trails thread through the park between the town of Cassis and the sprawling city of Marseille. Vast panoramas are frequent. Several days of unique, world-class dayhiking are possible here. Ideal times: spring and fall, but winter can also be pleasant. Base yourself in Cassis. If camping, stay at Camping Cigales (http://www.campingcassis.com/). This is where we are now, having finally been pushed out of the French Alps by cold temps, rain, then snow. After touching our trekking poles in the sea near Nice, we spent a couple rewarding weeks hiking in the Pre Alps, primarily in the Haute Var. But rain and cold temps again pushed us south to the coast. From Parc National des Calanques, we’ll nip back up into Provence for a final week of hill-hiking in France, then we’ll drop into Spain. There, we’ll begin writing our Alps book and, we hope, continue hiking several days a week in the mountains along the Costa Blanca. We’ll keep blogging, of course.

(2) Berg Lake, Mt. Robson Provincial Park, B.C., Canada. You’ll find complete details about backpacking to Berg Lake in our book, Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, The Opinionated Hiking Guide.

(3) Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, Yoho National Park, B.C. Canada. You’ll find complete details about backpacking to Berg Lake in our book, Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, The Opinionated Hiking Guide. We also blogged about it: http://www.hikingcamping.com/blog/2010/07/lake-ohara/

(4) Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. Seven-day, loop backpack trip.

(5) Hiking Grand-Staircase Escalante Monument, with Utah Slickrock Guides, USA.  We’ve decrypted extraordinary hiking routes near Boulder & Escalante, Utah. For details about our guided-hiking service, go here: http://www.hikingcamping.com/Utah2017.php. We invite you to get in touch with us, even on short notice: <nomads@hikingcamping.com>, or (435) 335-7544.

(6) Paria Canyon, near Kanab, Utah, USA. Four day, one-way backpack trip through the canyon, into Arizona.

(7) Tour du Vanoise, Parc National de la Vanoise, France. Four-day loop near glaciers in the French Alps, above the villages of Termignon and Pralognon.

(8) Gioberney, Vallée Valgaudemar, Parc National des Ecrins, France. The supreme dayhike in the French Alps.

(9) Col du Gran St. Bernard, Switzerland. We’ve blogged about this dayhike on the Italian/Swiss border, between Aosta and Verbier:  http://www.hikingcamping.com/blog/2012/10/14-premier-dayhikes-in-the-swiss-alps/

(10) Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland, South Island, New Zealand. We described it here: http://www.hikingcamping.com/free-hiking-nz.php

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Hikng Utah: Stranger in a Strange Land

By guidebook authors Craig & Kathy Copeland, originally published in the travel section of the Calgary Herald.

Fisher Towers

Fisher Towers

“Where the heck are we?”

Typically that’s not a question you’re happy to hear from your hiking companions. Especially when you’re thinking it yourself, and you’re the trip leader.

But staring in bewildered astonishment is common in Utah canyon country. Not because you’re lost, but because what you see strongly suggests that last bend in the trail somehow transported you to Mars.

Suddenly nothing in sight jives with your conception of Earth. Your mental wheels spin furiously: no traction whatsoever. And that’s the appeal of this exotic realm. Exploring Utah canyon country is as close to vacationing on a distant planet as we earthlings will probably ever manage. It’s as otherworldly as it gets without requiring a space suit to step out of your vehicle.

Yet a three-hour flight or an 18-hour drive is all that separates Calgarians from southern Utah’s redrock cliffs, ancient ruins, soaring arches, and certified massage therapist known as “the desert sun.”

The first hint you’ve arrived on alien soil is the region’s colour palette. It’s as appetizing as it is arresting. Honey, mustard, salmon, tangerine, pumpkin, peach, coffee, and chocolate appear in distinct strata representing 300 million years of geologic history.

Next comes the antigravity sensation of walking on sandstone. Known as “slickrock,” it’s frequently underfoot and rapturously liberating. The rock’s gritty surface (“slick” is a misnomer) grants extraordinary traction, enabling you to negotiate steep pitches with Spiderman confidence. And it’s rock, so there’s no vegetation to shunt you this way or that. You can follow your bliss.

Wherever your bliss leads, you’ll soon realize you are indeed a stranger in a strange land, because you’ll encounter evidence of the natives who preceded you thousands of years ago.

They carved and painted bizarre, dramatic images on rock surfaces. They built fantastic, multistory, stone-and-mortar structures. Much of their art and architecture remains remarkably intact. Alert hikers see it constantly.

Slickrock hiking, or "slick walking"

Slickrock hiking, or “slick walking”

Then there’s the topography itself. It’s called “canyon country” because it’s cracked open. Shot full of fissures. From airy vantages, gazing across it is like staring up at a clear night sky. The baffling, dizzying complexity of southern Utah is as unfathomable as an infinite, star-filled universe.

And many of the canyons harbour natural wonders-arches, bridges, alcoves, hoodoos, fins, pinnacles, domes, hamburger buns, mushrooms, flying saucers-as if the rock had once been Play-Doh in the hands of an imaginative child.

Some of these geologic anomalies are delicate, intimate. Others are massive, overwhelming. All look so improbable you’d expect to find them only in a book by Dr. Seuss or perhaps a documentary film about Planet Zenon.

You can of course sample the beauty and mystery of southern Utah without hiking. All the state’s famous, national parks-Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches-have paved roads and convenient viewpoints.

Why shoulder a pack and plod beyond? For the same reason Neil Armstrong didn’t just peer out the window of his Apollo 11 lunar module once he’d landed on the moon. He came to experience, not just sightsee. So he went for a walk. You should too.

Fisher Towers

location: Colorado River Canyon, northeast of Moab

round-trip distance: 7.4 kilometres

elevation gain: 320 metres

hiking time: 2.5 to 3.5 hours

The Colorado River is a prolific artist. But her most famous work, the Grand Canyon, overshadows her myriad, extraordinary creations. One of them-the Fisher Towers-is a cluster of lofty, rococo monoliths including the 274-metre Titan. The trail winding among them provides a fascinating encounter with the eccentric towers plus sweeping vistas across the Colorado River Canyon and into the La Sal Mountains. Parents herding kids find this an ideal outing.

Corona Arch

location: Potash Road, west of Moab

round-trip distance: 5 kilometres

elevation gain: 170 metres

hiking time: 1.5 to 2.5 hours

Closer to Moab than any of the arches consecrated in nearby Arches National Park-yet equally impressive and far less crowded-is Corona Arch. It’s mammoth: 43 metres high, spanning 102 metres. The setting is magnificent: on the wall of Bootlegger Canyon, in an amphitheatre also containing Bowtie Arch. This very short hike is a fun romp, mostly on slickrock, suitable for families with children.

Angels Landing

location: Zion Canyon, Zion National Park

round-trip distance: 8.4 kilometres

elevation gain: 457 metres

hiking time: 2 to 3 hours

Angels Landing

Angels Landing

If angels actually visit us, and they need a majestic place to alight-someplace near to earth yet close to heaven-this would be it. Angels Landing is a peninsula, a mountainous wall, thrusting into Zion Canyon, forcing the Virgin River to detour around it. A short but very steep ascent culminates atop the slender, airy crest. Here, high above the canyon floor, you can overlook the heart of Zion National Park. Though the trail is quite safe given the vertical terrain, acrophobes should hike elsewhere.




Navajo Knobs

location: Capitol Reef National Park

round-trip distance: 14.5 kilometres

elevation gain: 762 metres

hiking time: 4 to 5 hours

Starting along the Fremont River, ending atop a panoramic promontory, you’ll gradually ascend broad, gently-ramping sandstone ledges. This is among the longest, easy slickwalks in the state. Constant, panoramic views allow you to admire the Waterpocket Fold-the 161-kilometre-long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that Capitol Reef National Park enshrines. Think of it as a thousand suspended waves-all part of a stone tsunami leaping out of the desert.

Horseshoe Canyon

location: Canyonlands National Park, Maze District, northeast of Hanksville

round-trip distance: 11.9 kilometres

elevation gain: 213 metres

hiking time: 3 to 4.5 hours

Great Gallery

Great Gallery

A long drive on a dirt road, then an easy hike into Horseshoe Canyon, is all it takes to see North America’s premier display of prehistoric rock art. Known as “the Great Gallery,” it’s 4.6 metres high and 61 metres long. The 75, life-size, phantom-like figures were painted 2,000 to 8,000 years ago by Desert Archaic Indians. The centerpiece is a 2.1-metre-tall, ethereal presence known as “the Holy Ghost.” It has huge, vacant eyes, a head that appears to waver, and a streamlined, arm-less, leg-less body that seems to be rising. The anthropomorphs surrounding it also look like they’re in perpetual vertical motion. Researchers believe the artists where shamans attempting to show their spiritual journey from the human world to the realm of the spirit. Shedding their physicality, they felt weightless, hence the streamlined bodies. Departing for the unknown, they felt they were traveling, hence the skyward trajectory. Perhaps they were saying to the tribe, “This was our experience. This is what is possible for our species.”

Paria River Canyon

location: Paria Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, east of Kanab

one-way distance: 62 kilometres

elevation loss: 345 metres

hiking time: 3 to 5 days

Canyons are terrestrial lacerations. They range from paper cuts to gaping wounds. You’ll witness the entire spectrum while hiking Paria River Canyon. It ranks among the world’s great treks. With the riverbed as your trail, you’ll often splash through ankle-deep water. The vertical walls rise 823 metres high. The serpentine narrows constrict to just 2 metres. Sleeping within the depths of this exquisitely serene canyon, you’ll feel the embrace of Mother Earth. Go with friends so you’ll have a second vehicle. Arrange a shuttle, then hike one way, downstream, between the White House and Lee’s Ferry trailheads. Backpacking know-how is a prerequisite for this moderately difficult venture.

When To Go

Utah canyon country (blistering summers, nippy winters) affords about thirteen weeks of optimal, warm, hiking-camping weather: late September through mid-November, and mid-March through April. That’s just 25% of the year. Carpe diem.

Where To Stay

Sorrel River Ranch (www.sorrelriver.com) offers luxury a la Louis L’Amour. The property, the rooms, the service, the food- all live up to the grandeur of the surrounding high desert. Sorrel is the only Small Luxury Hotel in Utah and the only AAA Four-Diamond resort in Moab.

Boulder-a molecule of a town between Escalante and Capitol Reef National Park-is graced with the Boulder Mountain Lodge (www.boulder-utah.com). Outside Magazine raved about it in an article titled “The Perfect 10: Adventure Lodges We Love.” Next door, the Burr Trail Grill is the place to eat, according to long-time locals.

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The Hole-in-the-Rock Road, Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument

The Opinionated Hikers on Patrol for You

The Hole-in-the-Rock Road (HITRR) departs Highway 12 near Escalante, Utah. Running southeast into the desert, below and parallel to the Kaiparowits Plateau, it slices through Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and probes Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Where the HITRR departs pavement, it looks like any of the hundreds of humble dirt roads in Utah. But for canyon-country hikers, this is THE road, because it leads to trailheads for numerous premier hikes. Along the way, it provides access to lots of unofficial but superb campsites.

In May, while on a backcountry-research trip to update our book Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country, we once again drove down the HITRR. We re-hiked…

Trip 23  Peek-a-boo, Spooky, & Brimstone Gulches
Trip 26  Willow & Fortymile Gulches
Trip 27  Davis Gulch

We also re-hiked the actual Hole in the Rock: from road’s end, down to the shore of Lake Powell. It’s a hike that, for various reasons, we did not include in Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country. Now we can supplement the book with this up-to-the-minute field report.

As of last week, a low-clearance 2WD vehicle can negotiate the HITRR to Dance Hall Rock at 36 mi (58 km). In a few places, you’ll have to cautiously work around minor obstacles, or keep your speed up through sand. Beyond Dance Hall, you need a high clearance vehicle. Beyond Davis Gulch, 4WD is advisable.

We comfortably drove our Toyota RAV4 (7.5 inches of clearance) to about 51 mi (82 km), just past Davis Gulch. A steep slickrock ramp discouraged us from driving farther. We parked, resumed on foot, and soon encountered a patch of deeply corrugated slickrock we definitely would not have driven. It didn’t matter. We enjoyed hiking the final 4.5 mi (7.2 km) through desolate high-desert.

The panorama was engaging. Fiftymile and Navajo mountains are the dominant sights. Still draped with snow, Navajo was especially dramatic. Not a single vehicle passed us. We saw no other hikers. The solitude was delicious.

The road is obvious, and there are no forks, so navigation is not an issue. Just keep walking, or driving, to road’s end: 55.5 mi (89.2 km). Immediately ahead is a prominent cleft in the sandstone cliffs. Hike into it. This is where Mormon pilgrims in the Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition built a “hanging road” and safely, miraculously, lowered all their wagons and stock to the Escalante River.

Read a description of the expedition (Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country), and you’re in awe of their superhuman feat. Stand here, and see how impossibly vertical, rough, and forbidding their ascent route actually was, and your response soars beyond awe into speechlessness. This is where Mormon missionaries, keen to up their success rate, should bring their conversion prospects.

It’s a moderate scramble (no exposure, but frequent hands-on moves) most of the way down to Lake Powell. The final descent to the lake is on a steep, sandy trail strewn with loose rock. Distance from the top of the “hole” to the lakeshore: 1 mi (1.6 km). Elevation loss: 800 ft (244 m). Even in May, it’s hot, thirsty work. Carry at least three quarts (liters) of water per person.

Lake Powell remains cold until June. We “swam” for all of about three minutes. But after May, the weather can be too hot (90° F / 32° C) for hiking. So it’s best to wait until late September to hike here. The weather will be cooler, the lake warmer.

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Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.