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Unit 39 Stony Creek (Denali National Park)- Day 1

Stony Creek Bridge Park Road (Unit 33) to Unit 39 Stony Creek

Mileage- 7.6 miles

Elevation Gain- minimal

Elevation Loss- minimal

Denali Day 1

The day before beginning our seven days in the backcountry of Denali we secured our backcountry permit, picked up our complimentary bear can, and scheduled our transportation to our drop-off point. The park really makes the entire process seamless and painless, but we came in with a game plan as well, and that helped.

In terms of the transportation, the easiest way to get to your drop off destination is to get a ticket for one of the green school busses designated for campers. This can be done at the Wilderness Access Center. For my ticket it was about $35, I think. The rate varies based on how far you plan to travel into the park. You can find more information about the shuttle here.

Our ticket has us being picked up at 6:50am at Riley Campground. We were able to park our car in a designated area for backpackers next to the shuttle pick-up at Riley. All of this was very easy and I was even able to pick up a cup of Starbucks that morning at the Wilderness Access Center.

The shuttle ride was over three hours to the Stony Creek bridge. It wasn’t an official stop for the bus, but the drivers are cool with dropping you off wherever you need to go. We exited, grabbed our packs out of the back of the bus, and began to gear up.

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One of the most unbelievable moments of the trip happened within the first seven minutes.  Three of us headed down a gravel bar, while the other guy took a small detour up a little ridge.  We were still very close to each other but separated by ten feet of thick brush.  We were all heading to the same point- the small ridge and gravel bar eventually would converge.  As we were walking the gravel bar… a grizzly walked out of the brush just to our right.  It stopped 60 feet directly in front of us.  We did everything by the text book.  We stopped, began backing up slowly with our bear spray in hand, and talking gently to the bear.  While Patrick Fosdick and I were preoccupied with our cans of bear spray, Josh Brown somehow was able to snap a low quality photo of it.  Until just the other day, I did not know anyone got a picture of it.

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The only problem with this situation was that Kevin Fiesbeck was on the other side of the brush to the left… and did not know that a bear was heading his direction.  We were not sure what to do.  We didn’t want to make a ton of noise to startle the bear, but we wanted to alert him.  Also, even if he heard us would he believe that a bear was REALLY heading at him with the first five minutes of the trip?  We joke around so much with each other that there was no way he would believe us.  The other problem was that the lady from whom we bought the bear spray shamed us into buying two cans of spray rather than four.  Well, guess who didn’t have any spray?  By the time we caught up with the pale white Fiesbeck he told us that the grizzly came out of the brush and stood five feet in front of him and just stared at him.  Not sure if he peed his pants, but he got the scare of his life.  Anyway, the lessons were learned even for four guys who has a ton of backcountry experience:

1. Just because you are AT THE BEGINNING of your hike… it doesn’t mean that there isn’t danger right around the corner.

2. Just because you are AT THE BEGINNING of your hike… it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be calling out for bears and making noise.

3. Just because you are AT THE BEGINNING of your hike… it doesn’t mean that you should be careless and not stick together.

We didn’t make any more mistakes over the next seven days.

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One of the greater challenges that we faced on this trip was creek and river crossings.  I will get into this more on Day 3, but the creeks and rivers very often braided, which made our hiking more like a game of Frogger.  We were always trying to find the path of least wetness.  You may say, “What’s the big deal with getting wet?  Suck it up.”

Two reasons:

1.  For me staying dry is less about comfort than it is protecting myself.  If my boots are soaked and water-logged… then I have to deal with that for the next few days and risk foot related problems that could inhibit my hiking and slow us down.  If my pants are soaked… am I guaranteed sun to dry them out?  Not at all.  And without the ability to start a fire in Denali… clothes stay soaked.  Cool temperatures could potentially lead to hypothermic symptoms or even hypothermia.

2.  Even though most of the crossings were knee or below, the force by which the water was moving could EASILY sweep us down stream and compromise our safety.  On day 3 we dealt with water too deep and too fast moving to cross individually, but more on that later.  Be safe when crossing!

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In terms of terrain from Unit 33 into Unit 39, it may have been the easiest of our seven days.  Granted it is trail-less and you can make your own route, many times your route necessitates rougher terrain.  This day took us along creek beds, shallow creek crossings, spongy tundra, thigh high scrub brush, and Alder bushes.  I suppose it may have been the adrenaline of the first day (because the spongy tundra, thigh high scrub, and Alder bushes would take it’s toll on us on Day 3), but we didn’t have any trouble tackling the terrain on Day 1.  In fact, covering 7.6 miles in the trail-less Denali was somewhat impressive.  I can’t recall exactly how many hours we hiked the first day, but my guess is around four, which would make our speed close to 2mph.  We very, very rarely made it above 1mph the rest of the trip.  This is a testament to the roughness of the terrain and the amount of time it takes to find the least obstructive route.  But, always make time for blueberry breaks no matter where you are!

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The weather in Denali was unpredictable.  It could start the day cloudy and rain, but then later be blue skies with sun.  And believe me… the weather could change quickly.  On this particular day it started off quite cool in the low 50’s with gusty winds but then late in the afternoon the clouds broke and the sun popped out.  The blue skies and sun made for some really sweet picture taking!

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We finished Day 1 setting up camp close to Stony Creek.  The next morning would take us on a day hike across Stony Creek and up 1800-2000 feet to the peak of some unnamed mountains for epic views of the surrounding mountains and valley, including our route through Bear Draw on Day 3.

Atop Mt. Eielson by Josh Brown

Denali Backpacking Trip- Quick Summary

I will give a day-by-day breakdown of our 7 day backcountry backpacking trip to Denali National Park and Wilderness over the next few weeks, but I would like to give a quick summary of the trip with a listing of the units in which we stayed and a few additional thoughts about the trip.

1. We flew into Anchorage from Seattle with our beginning destination as Indianapolis (which is a long story that I will not bore you with). We were about 6 hours later arriving in Anchorage than we anticipated. Being that I like to have all of the logistical stuff ironed out EXACTLY… this killed me. Our initial plan had us arriving in Denali at 6am, which is three hours BEFORE the Backcountry Office. I thought that arriving AFTER the Backcountry Office opened would put us in a real pinch for getting the units that we really wanted. Despite arriving six hours after the office opened we were surprised that there were plenty of space available in the units we preferred. We had already ranked all of the units based upon our preferences, so it was really easy to put together a plan. The backcountry staffer we worked with in the office was really helpful and gave us quite a few hints and advice on navigating from one unit to the other. The Backcountry Office was busy. I think there were three or four other groups trying to get permits while we were there. All in all I think the whole process took about 45 minutes… and that includes us watching the mandatory safety video and safety talk. It all went pretty fast.

*One additional tidbit that may help. When we initially went into the Backcountry Office and went to the desk the guy who helped us immediately began by giving us an overview of the park. It went something like this, “Welcome to Denali. The park is divided into 87 units…” I immediately stopped him and said, “Ok. We have done all of our homework. We know how the park is divided… so on and so forth. We have all of the units ranked based upon our preferences so let’s get started.” I wasn’t tired or grumpy… it’s just that I figured people got the standard overview BECAUSE the majority of folks go into the office without a plan, without doing their research, and likely only want to go out for a night or two. My point in telling you this is so that you will do your homework in advance. It will save you time if you already have a few plans put together. Know your top units and be prepared to plug them in on the application sheet once you arrive. With other groups competing for the same spots… it just may give you the advantage when you are trying to get that super sweet unit with McKinley views.

2. Our unit itinerary was as follows:

Day 1 – Zone 39 -Stony Creek ~7.6 miles
Day 2 – Zone 39 – ~3.5 miles
Day 3 – Zone 32 – ~7.5 miles
Day 4 – Zone 18 – ~3.4 / 4.9 miles
Day 5 – Zone 19 – ~3.9 miles
Day 6 – Zone 13 – ~5.1 miles
Day 7 – Zone 13 – ~9.2 miles

Total Trip Distance – 45.1 miles

We did two loops. The first was north of the road and the second was south of the road. That is why on Day 4 you see a split in the mileage, because we finished the first loop and started the second loop. The first loop was in the lower foothills along tundra, knee-high scrub, dense Alder bush and pine trees, and then the Toklat River gravel bar. The second loop was primarily along open, rocky creek areas, non-technical glacial, and gravel bars. The second loop proved to have minimal brushy areas, which was welcomed. While I will detail each day and the units, we were all asked to not provide specific information as to our camping areas or specific routes. Denali National Park prides itself on minimizing impact on the environment, which is commendable.

3. Have an expectation that you will absolutely get wet. Yeah, we all read the book by Ike Waits. We knew that his advice was to find the closest puddle and jump in it. But, somehow I think we, optimistically and unrealistically, were hoping that somehow we could avoid getting completely soaked. His advice was spot on. Find a puddle and jump in it. In fact, lie down in it and do the snow angel thing in it. Because if you are planning to spend any amount of time in the backcountry (and in our instance 7 days), I almost guarantee that you will get soaked. It will either be from the rain that always seems to be lurking around every turn of the creek or over every saddle- or- it will be from the endless river crossings that you will tackle. Plan to get wet. Fix it in your mind. Know that it will happen. And just enjoy the experience.

4. Everything is harder in Alaska. Despite the significant amount of experience that each of us brought into this trip… Denali was tough. There was a point during Day 7 when we finally came to the conclusion that Alaska was out to get us… was always trying to get the upper hand… was trying to give us the big middle finger. There wasn’t anything that was easy. Not having trails was difficult due to the terrain. Intermittent to continuous rain with cool temps was taxing. Crossing braided rivers took time and required patience. And every time that we could see our final destination for the day… there were more obstacles to getting there than we could imagine. If it wasn’t going over one ridge line only to see the next ridge line with dense bush in the way… then it was seeing the gravel bar and river from 700 feet up but having to fight a couple of miles of dense Alder. And all of that in the rain. I am not crying here… just stating a fact- when you backpack Denali and you cover a few dozen miles over a many days you will find it to be a “take no prisoner” experience. Your feet will hurt… will be wrinkled from being soaked… and you will have blisters. We all did. This isn’t to say that you won’t have an absolute blast… because you will. It is amazing and life-changing. Just go in with proper expectations.

That’s it for now. I will get to the daily summaries soon.

Peace…

Brandon

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So Your Barefoot Shoes Stink…

If you have a pair of Vibrams, or another brand of shoe with Vibram soles, I guarantee they stink to high heaven.

The truth is that this kind of barefoot shoe has become incredibly popular for trail runners and day hikers, among others, for their close-to-the-earth feel and light weight. I have had two pairs to date, both Merrells, and I am in love with them (I lost the first pair so I had to pick up another pair).

The problem, as I continued to wear them day in and day out without socks, is that they began to stink. And the stink is so putrid that you have to put the shoes outside or in the garage. Not just that but you have to scrub your feet after each wear because they make your feet smell just as putrid.

You may be asking if the shoe is worth the smell. Great question. The answer is yes. They are so versatile that I wear them exercising, as a casual shoe, on the trail, or as a camp shoe at the end of a long day backpacking.

So the issue then becomes odor management. To date I have been unsuccessful at remedying the funk. Yes I have washed them. Yes I have sprayed them after each wear. But the funk is still there.

ALAS! As I have been getting my gear together for the Denali backpacking trip I am taking in a week and a half, I began to do some serious contemplating about my Barefoot shoes, because they ultimately have to be packed with my gear. Thanks to my trusty sixteen-year old Miniature Schnauzer, who has been peeing and pooping in my house because of his old age, I have become a significant consumer of Animal Odor Enzyme Spray. This spray works by, not masking the smell, but by breaking down organic stains, which produce the stinky smells. I deduced that if this enzymatic cleaner could tackle animal urine, it could certainly tackle my shoes.

I took the full bottle of enzyme cleaner, went outside with my shoes, and began to spray. I completely super-saturated them. I sprayed inside and out. I sprayed inside the shoes and let the enzyme solution pool in the in-sole. And then I left them outside for about four hours. I then took the hose and sprayed them down really good and hung them out to dry for the night.

As I went outside to inspect my shoes this morning… they went from a perfect 10 on the stink scale to an amazing 1. While no other method has taken the shoes below a 7, in my subjective opinion, this method worked wonders and has made my packing worries go away.

Tell me what you think. Do you have stinky Vibrams? What methods have you tried? Have they worked?

Brandon

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Preparing for a Denali NP Backpacking Trip…

Featured picture from Daniel Leifheit via Denali NPS

If you have landed on this post… you are likely very interested in backpacking Denali National Park.  Let me say at the outset that planning a Denali backpacking trip is unlike anything else you have done.  Over the last eight or so years I have backpacked many National Parks, each of them with their own individual and unique process for planning and permitting, as well as their own  distinct rules for the backcountry.  With Denali one may as well throw most of that expertise out the window.

Denali is unlike any other National Park in the United States.  It is the size of Massachusetts.  It’s diversity in terrain, plant-life, and wildlife is second to none. And the trail-less backcountry is as intimidating as it is exciting. So planning for a week-long backcountry backpacking trip can very easily overwhelming.

Before I get into the planning specifics… let me note a few important things that you need to know from the very beginning.

1. You need a backcountry permit to do overnight backcountry camping, whether it is one night or longer. And, the only way to get a permit is to show up in person. That’s right… in person. Unlike other National Parks that allow you to submit permit applications via an online form or by snail mail, Denali only gives out permits to individuals and groups who show up at their Backcountry Office on a first-come-first-serve basis beginning at 9am local time.

2. The entire park is divided into a grid with each part of the grid referred to as a “unit.” There are 84 total units, all varying in size and occupancy limits. As you can imagine, even though each unit varies in size, each unit is quite large. And while the park does not have designated areas within each unit were you have to camp (because you can camp anywhere within the unit), the number of backpackers able to camp in a specific unit is limited, with some units allowing a maximum of two people per night up to twelve people per night. This limitation decreases the amount of foot traffic and impact on the environment. Additionally, these limitations may significantly effect routes and specific areas you may want to pass through or camp within.

3.  Being that the Denali backcountry is trail-less (except for game trails and a handful of man-made trails), one should be comfortable using a compass and topographic map to orient and navigate.  Additionally, the trail-less backcountry will slow you down.  Under normal circumstances and conditions on well-maintained trails (of course depending on elevation changes, fitness, and snack/nature breaks) one may expect to average anywhere from 2-3 mph with a full pack.  In Denali, your expectations of daily mileage and speed should be tempered with the challenges of route finding, bushwhacking, stream/river crossings, etc.  Anticipating 1 mph is a reasonable expectation.  Sure you may move a bit quicker in a gravel bar, but you will be slowed down by the dense brush.  It all averages out.

Units

One of the larger challenges with planning a Denali backpacking trip is planning a route. If you are unfamiliar with the park, the variation in topography, and what is realistic in terms of distance and route from unit to unit, you are not alone. This is where we found ourselves at the beginning of our planning. I spent an enormous amount of time searching the internet to find information about the individual units. In my experience, there just isn’t much information out there discussing the units. The very best resource is Denali’s own National Park website that details in specificity each unit in the park (terrain, passageways to other unit, notable features, etc). This proved to be invaluable. While we are certainly at the mercy of the Backcountry Office in securing our route when we get there, because of demand and availability, we want to have each unit researched and ranked (according to the criteria most important for us) so that when we are given different route scenarios we can refer back to our preferences and priorities. If we are going to spend the time and money to get there… we want to have the possibility of the best backpacking trip as we can.

Gear

The weather in Alaska can be very unpredictable. In fact, it has been known to snow in any of the twelve months. Not only that but Alaska knows how to rain as well. The rainfall in July and August averages over five inches in each month. Packing the appropriate gear can be tricky because you basically have to plan for every contingency (snow/cold, rain, warm).

Denali Backcountry Office provides a bear canister to each person who camps in the backcountry. Forget finding places to tie off your food. Just throw your food in a bear canister and toss it a hundred yards from your camp and you should be safe from bears through the night.

Keep in mind that you can not take bear spray or gas stove canisters on your flight to Alaska. The good news is that you can purchase gas canisters and bear spray at Denali Mountain Works (http://denalimountainworks.com) located at mile 239 Parks Hwy, off Canyon Dr., about 1 mile north of the entrance to Denali National Park. Phone- tel:907-683-1542.

River Crossings

This one may be a bit strange but river crossings have been one of the biggest issues for us. It’s not that we are concerned with how to cross, because our knowledge of how to cross is fine. It is more about having wet boots. We have looked at this from every angle and still are not satisfied with the conclusions. The bottom-line is that we don’t want to have soaked boots for the duration of our hike. But, we also don’t want to change shoes at every crossing like a bunch of pansies. That just doesn’t seem like a good Alaskan approach. The truth is that we know we are going to get wet in Alaska, that isn’t a big deal. Wet boots are abysmal. We still don’t have a satisfactory approach to this but would love to hear your thoughts.

The Green Bus

The main mode of transportation through the park, after the first dozen miles or so, is the Green Bus. These Green Busses take site seers, day hikers, and backpackers alike all 80+ miles of the park. You can stay on the bus the entire round-trip or you can jump off at any point to hike or backpack. All you have to do is catch a subsequent bus when you are ready to continue on.

For backpackers, who do not know their route or the units they will visit throughout their hike, it is difficult to plan in advance or make reservations until the backpacking route is secured. In many ways, a Denali backpacking trip is a lesson in going with the flow. And this is something I am not used to.

I am sure there is so much more that could be said. This has been one of the easiest trips for which we have planned… and one of the hardest. The easy stuff is airlines and rental cars, but the rest of your trip involves flexibility. The best piece of advice I would give is to read and study as much as you can so that you can roll with the punches.

Do you have additional advice based on your planning to backpack Denali? What is it? Leave comments below.

Peace…

Brandon

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Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP)

We recently completed a 3 night, 4 day 33-mile backpacking trip along the Escalante Route in Grand Canyon National Park.  What drew our interest in this particular route was that Backpacker Magazine hailed it as one of their “Best Hikes Ever,” saying that “there’s no better route for the access, solitude, and scenery.”  Granted, we had just completed a 70-mile epically beautiful and hard-to-top hike in Glacier National Park (Montana) referred to as the North Circle Route, so we knew that any backpacking trip would struggle to even come close to how amazing North Circle was… but we also knew that, in order to avoid comparison, we should do something 180 degrees opposite from Montana.  So after a handful of options were on the table along with some quick deliberations, Escalante had our hearts.

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Route on Map - Whole Route

A couple of quick things to note.  The Escalante Route is not a maintained trail by Grand Canyon NP.  In fact, it is technically not a trail at all.  It is an unmarked route in which GPS, compass, map, and orienting skills are necessary.  But, and this is a big BUT, the route appears as if it has had so much traffic over the years that a clear trail is visible the entire way.  Even more, in areas where the trail may not be completely visible there are cairns leading the way.  I don’t want to give you a false sense of security by saying that, because the entire route is certainly not for beginners, but don’t let this route scare the pants off of you either.

Also, while there are several ways to access the Escalante Route, we entered at Lipan Point along Tanner Trail to access Escalante and traveled east to west.  We exited Escalante via Tonto Trail and Grandview Trail to Grandview Point.  This is the exact route that Backpacker Magazine suggested, however we reduced the number of days on the trail from the suggested five to four.

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Day 1

Lipan Point to Tanner Rapids

Total Mileage- 9.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 0 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 4650 feet

Day 2

Tanner Rapids to Escalante Creek Mouth

Total Mileage- 8.6 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1200 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 1200 feet

Day 3

Escalante Creek Mouth to Hance Creek

Total Mileage- 9.9 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1200 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 0 feet

Day 4

Hance Creek to Grandview Point

Total Mileage- 6.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 3700 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 0 feet

Also… if you are interested in our planning for this trip read Planning a Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip.

If you have any questions about the Escalante Route… feel free to write to me in the comments.

Peace…

Brandon

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Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP)- Hance Creek to Grandview Point

Hance Creek to Grandview Point

Total Mileage- 6.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 3700 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 0 feet

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When we began to pack up all of our gear on the fourth morning at Hance Creek we didn’t anticipate it being our last day.  Our hike had us leaving Hance Creek and climbing Horseshoe Mesa where we would spend our fourth night.  We knew that one big obstacle to staying an extra night at Horseshoe Mesa was the lack of drinkable water.  That meant that whatever water we would pack at Hance Creek would be the water we would have for drinking and cooking for the next day and a half.  As we geared up, each of us packed 4-liters (8 pounds) of water.  It is worth noting that we were attacked by hundreds of mosquito-like bugs as we packed up.  They didn’t sting but they were insistent upon flying in our eyes, noses, and mouths.  It was pretty overwhelming honestly.  Ultimately we had to cover our faces so that we could pack up.

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We could not have asked for a more beautiful mid-April day- blue skies, breezy, and warm.  The colors and contrasts were as beautiful as any of the previous days along the Escalante.  Tonto Trail would be leading us to Horseshoe Mesa on this morning and there were three different approaches that we could take in order to get on top of the Mesa.  In our initial planning we decided that we would circle the mesa in a counter-clockwise direction along Tonto (following Cottonwood Creek) and then trail up the western side of the western arm.  This route meant significantly more mileage and more difficulty because it is more exposed and washed out.  While the closest option, the eastern route that passes Page Spring, would be a shorter hike… it too is difficult and exposed.  In light of this we decided to take the most direct route to the eastern side of the western arm of Horseshoe Mesa.  There was a juncture a couple of miles from Hance Creek where you could take the path to the left or right- the route we took was to the right.

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Just before the base of Horseshoe Mesa we stopped for one last break in the shade before tackling the steep ascent.  It was a hot day and once we would begin the hike there would not be any reprieve from the sun.  While we relaxed in the shade and as we took in the rich and exquisite view, one of the guys said, “It would be great if we were listening to Iron & Wine while we were standing here.”  Being Mr. Johnny on the Spot, I pressed play on the handy iPhone and we stood there for the next four minutes listening to Sam Beam sing about that “Passing Afternoon.”  And all was good and right in the world… at least at that moment.

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In the next picture you will see us approaching the western arm of Horseshoe Mesa.  For even greater perspective you will see Grandview Point in the distance at the top left.  What we didn’t know at the time of this picture was that we would arrive on top of Horseshoe Mesa around 11:15am, which was only a 3-hour hike from Hance Creek, and decide to hike out to Grandview Point after our lunch break rather than stay the night on top of the Mesa.

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The views atop Horseshoe Mesa…

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Horseshoe Mesa has several campsites which require a permit.  Day-hikers can access Horseshoe Mesa from Grandview Point and take the 2600 foot plunge over 3-miles to enjoy the views and old copper mine remnants.  The signage below is from an old masonry structure that is falling apart near the mining area.

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The last three miles were all up, up, up.  Keep in mind that Horseshoe Mesa is around 4800 feet above sea level and Grandview Point is about 7400 feet.  That means that the air is thinner and you will be even more winded climbing out of the canyon.  To be honest, it was hard work.  At about the end of every switchback I stopped for a short breather.  I also stopped in the shade occasionally because, once again, the noon sun was bearing down.  The trail itself was interesting, to say the least.  It was a vertical cobblestone below and throughout most of the Coconino Saddle.  I found this type of cobblestone trail very cumbersome and difficult to hike upon… but the views… well… made me forget about the dang cobblestone.

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This three night, four day Escalante Route backpacking trip was phenomenal.  I personally give it a 10 out of 10 and would highly recommend it to backpackers who are ready to up their game and hit some difficult terrain.  The Grand Canyon gave us everything, and more, that we were looking for- epic panoramas, beautiful river views, slot canyons, beaches and swimming, and tons of memories.

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Until Denali in September!

Brandon

To read the first post for Escalante Route click here

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Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP)- Escalante Creek Mouth to Hance Creek

Escalante Creek Mouth to Hance Creek

Total Mileage- 9.9 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1200 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 0 feet

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This was by far our longest day… but maybe one of our best in terms of seeing everything the Grand Canyon had to offer.  This trek from Escalante Mouth Creek to Hance Creek ended up taking us 11.5 hours.  We began at 8am and reached Hance Creek at 7:30pm.  You may be wondering how in the world we moved at less than a mile per hour.  Well… because we stopped a thousand times to take pictures.  We took a two hour lunch break that involved swimming, pumping water, and washing out our sweaty clothes.  And we reached three different spots in which we ran around like little kids because it was so spectacular.  We wasted a ton of time… but it was beyond worth it.  And other than the hike being 10 miles in distance… the actual terrain was relatively easy to move across.

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From Escalante Creek Mouth we immediately began an ascent leaving the river.  Opportunities for hiking close to the river were absent because the beaches yielded to cliffs and walls.  By following the trail, and the cairns, the trail began to cut sharply to the southeast to circumvent steep cliffs and walls that hugged the river.  The Escalante Route was taking us to a point where we could drop down into the dry Escalante Creek.  We would then follow the creek bed through some sweet slot canyons and then back to hiking just above the river until we reached another beach that introduced the Papago Wall.

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There was a bit of a discussion/debate about this portion of our hike.  We could either scale the 40-foot Papago Wall and then navigate Papago Slide back down to another beach which would take close to an hour total to tackle – or – we could float our packs on our inflated sleeping pads and walk them down the river about 70-feet to the next beach.  Either route would lead to the same destination… with the water option looking like a lot less work.  I am sure that whatever time would have saved doing the water option was obliterated by how much time we spent discussing both options.  It was finally decided that we would tackle Papago because the water was too cold and because the water option was too unpredictable.  As it turned out… Papago Wall and Papago Slide were pretty cool to navigate.  We took a break at Hance Rapids before hiking back to our Hance Creek destination.  We had lunch, did some cooling off in the river, and pumped some water before we began our biggest ascent of the day.

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This portion of our hike, from Hance Rapids to Hance Creek, was the best and longest portion of our hike.  While there were spectacular, unbelievable, astounding views all around us… it seemed as if we would never make it to Hance Creek.  Even more… I seriously wondered if Hance Creek would even have water.  Every single saddle that we went over and every single bend that we turned was evidence of dry creek after dry creek.  If it wasn’t for the views and two separate picture-taking diversions I may have gone crazy.  Anyway, check out these pictures.  The panorama was almost, almost, almost as epic as our panorama from 50 Mountain in Glacier… both extraordinary in their own unique way.  Wow!

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As it turned out, Hance Creek did have water.  When we were about a quarter mile away we saw this lush, green habitat right in the middle of this rocky, dry arid canyon.  We knew water was near.  And as we drew closer to Hance Creek we began to hear the cadence of frogs beginning to come out for the night.  We knew we were entering a strange ecosystem… but we just didn’t know how strange.  We dropped the packs and set up the tents.  We were spent.  But we also had to pump water because most or all of us were dry and we were also very hungry.  Upon examining the 2-inch deep creek that moved just enough to keep it from being stagnate… we saw hundreds of tadpoles in the water and dozens of frogs making their debut for the night.  Their roar was louder than their size.  They could really belt it out.  It wasn’t five minutes into pumping that one of the guys began to yell that white mice were attacking our packs.  Upon investigation, the mice had chewed through two packs and were looking for food.  Being that our food was already secure, the mice only found wrappers.  But their deed was already done.  They made holes and pooped around the packs.  All they could do was watch us while we ate our warm meals… and they did.

Our hike for the next day would take us up to Horseshoe Mesa and, surprisingly, out of the canyon to Grandview Point.  We ended up forgoing our stay on Horseshoe Mesa and opting to make the final push out in one day.

For the first post in this series click here.