Preparing for a Wrangell-St. Elias Backpacking Trip

The average person has never heard of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in southeast Alaska, even though it is six times larger than Yellowstone National Park, sizing in at a mere 13 million acres. The sheer size of Wrangell-St. Elias makes it the largest national park in the United States and one of the most prized backpacking bucket list adventures in the world.

Preparing to backpack Wrangell-St. Elias can be daunting. The size, the remoteness, the logistics, and the unknown may be too much for a backpacker who is ready to take it up a level in epic backpacking. But let me assure you that, outside of the logistics of planning this multi-day adventure being a bit challenging, you can do a Wrangell trip with the right mindset going into it.

MINDSET

I feel like we had a bit of an advantage, having backpacked for a week in the backcountry of Denali a few years prior. Even though they were relatively different trips, we knew that Alaska could throw any and every challenge and obstacle at you throughout the week. Leading up to this trip I just kept saying, “Backpacking Alaska is 90% mental and 10% everything else.” It may be a little exaggerated, but trust me, you will do yourself a huge favor if you go in with the mindset that there will be times when you will be cold, wet, tired, sore, and frustrated (of course, everyone at different degrees), but you get the point. Go into Wrangell-St. Elias with the right mindset. This is the best advice anyone can give you. If you expect a difficult trip with obstacles, you have already taken a huge step.

LOGISTICS

Before you do anything else, go to the website of Wrangell Mountain Air. They offer a variety of services, but for our purposes, they fly backpackers into the Wrangell backcountry and drop them off at their specified drop point and then pick them up at their agreed upon end destination. Their website not only describes the different backcountry routes, it shows the areas where they have landing strips for the bush plane.  In essence, you will be backpacking from one landing zone to the next landing zone. You choose the route you will take and the number of days you are planning, just make sure you are at your pickup point on time.  After reading the description and discussing how many days we would be able spend in the backcountry, we chose the Seven Pass Route, which is listed as a trip from Iceberg to Bremner. After a bit of additional research, we decided to travel the opposite direction from Bremner to Iceberg. Once you agree upon the particular route you are going to take, I would suggest calling Wrangell Mountain Air and getting on the books for those dates, as it seems the activity in that area has been picking up over the last couple of years. It is an easy phone call. Just give them your info, your dates, and a 50% deposit and you are set. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park does not require any fees or permits. Yes, I know, that is amazing! But it’s true. All you have to worry about is getting there!

We flew into Anchorage, which was easy, but the real question is how to get to McCarthy, Alaska. It is a seven hour drive with the last hour or two on gravel road. I can tell you that after researching all of the options for getting to that area, the most flexible and cost-effective method is to just rent a vehicle, if you are cool with driving for seven hours. You will need to make sure that you rent an SUV with some heavy duty tires and a spare. I wouldn’t really anticipate any problems on the drive, as the roads (including the gravel) were actually pretty good. We didn’t have any situations over the seven hours in which we felt as if our tires would be compromised in any way. There are other ways of getting to the McCarthy area, but we found this to be the method that fit us the best. You may need to check with the rental company to make sure you can drive the vehicle on gravel roads, but we didn’t have any trouble getting a rental from National Car Rental.

We arrived into McCarthy one day before our trip was to start, which meant that we needed to have overnight accommodations. I highly, highly, highly recommend McCarthy Bed and Breakfast. We loved this place so much, we stayed another night after we finished the trip. This husband and wife team have a variety of little cabins that he built himself. For the four of us, we stayed in a two room, four bed cabin. The location was perfect, as well, as it was a ten minute walk to where we would be picked up by Wrangell Mountain Air the next day. Additionally, the bed and breakfast has an AMAZING breakfast consisting of homemade muffins (try the blueberry muffins!!!), greek yogurt, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, granola, cereal, good coffee, etc. It was the PERFECT pre-backpacking breakfast. All four of us highly recommend this B & B.

McCarthy is a very, very, very small community, consisting of no more than 50-70 people depending on the time of year. It is a simple, single dirt street with a variety of businesses lining the street. We recommend eating at a restaurant called Potato. I think we ate there two or three times. Make sure you order the Rosemary Garlic Fries!

The last logistical element that you need to consider is fuel canisters and bear spray. Being that you can not fly with either on commercial airlines, you will need to figure out how to secure them once in Alaska. To be honest, this was the hardest logistical task for us. We arrived in Anchorage and secured the rental vehicle about three hours before the REI in Anchorage opened and we did not want to waste time waiting for it to open. If you arrive in Anchorage during normal business hours, you can just go to REI. If you end up in a situation like us, you will need to do one of two things. Either order online ahead of time or buy the stuff in McCarthy. BUT I need to tell you that I would not wait until you arrive in McCarthy to but these items. I called a couple of the stores a couple of months in advance and they told me that they did not have fuel canisters or bear spray. But when we got to McCarthy one of the stores did have them. BUT I would NOT depend on them having what you need. Did I mention how small McCarthy is? If I understood correctly, the only have a supply plane bring in goods twice a week… and it isn’t guaranteed that they will have specifically what you need.

We ended up ordering both items online, which was tricky as well.  The ONLY online retailer who would ship fuel canisters and bear spray was walmart.com. Other online retailers would not ship combustible items to Alaska (maybe because they would have to be flown?).  Anyway, we asked Wrangell Mountain Air if we could have the items shipped to them and they agreed. The items arrived there about a month before. It worked perfectly.

GEAR

If you are planning for this trip to Wrangell-St. Elias, you should already be well-versed in how to pack for a trip with variable weather conditions, so I won’t go through the entire list. Here are a few things that you may just want to consider. If your trip, like ours, involves glacier crossings, you may want to consider getting some Katoolah micro-spikes. We did not end up using them, but I also slip one time and bruised up my ribs, so it is up to you. The glacier we crossed was non-technical so it didn’t involve any technical gear. If you are close to needing a new pair of boots, I would recommend going ahead getting new boots in advance and breaking them in before this trip. I had about 600 miles on my boots and the lugs were not as grippy as I would have liked for this trip. The terrain is tough and you really need to have a pair of boots that are dialed in and up to the challenge. Once we finished our trip, I retired my boots and bought some new ones. I can’t think of anything else that really stood out from a gear perspective. Maybe just make sure you have some lightweight dry bags in your pack with a dry pair of socks and thermal layer. If you get cold and everything else is weight, at least you will have some dry, warm gear. We also took an emergency satellite beacon that would check the weather, mark our route online for family, and text out if we needed to communicate. That came in handy for our trip, but more on that in a later post.

Those are the biggies, I think. If you have specific questions, just comment below and I will answer them the best I can. You will not regret this trip. It was definitely one of the top trips we have ever taken.

Here is the details and review of each day from Bremner to Iceberg Lake.

Day 1- Bremner to Monahan Creek

Day 2- Monahan Creek to Bremner Glacier Overlook

Day 3- Bremner Glacier Overlook to Bremner Glacier

Day 4- Bremner Glacier to Iceberg Overlook

Day 5- Iceberg Overlook to Iceberg Lake

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

Arizona: Escalante Route- Grand Canyon Natonal Park

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.

Route on Map - Whole Canyon

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.

Route on Map - From the East

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

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route- Hance Creek to Grandview Point- Day 4

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

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route- Escalante Creek Mouth to Hance Creek- Day 3

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.

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route- Tanner to Escalante Creek Mouth- Day 2

Tanner Rapids to Escalante Creek Mouth

Total Mileage- 8.6 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1200 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 1200 feet

Route on Map - Day 2

 

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The morning at Tanner Beach was cool in the low 50’s… which was perfect.  The skies were promising- already a clear and beautiful blue.  I could tell the pictures for this day were going to be epic.  The morning views at the river were dramatically different than even the evening prior.  Our plan for the day included an 8.6 mile hike with 1200 feet of ascent taking us away from the Colorado, and then 1200 feet of descent back to the river.  Our camping destination would be just short of the most talked about landmark that we would encounter- Papago Wall.

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For the next day and a half we would be on the Escalante Route.  As you can see from the picture above there is a clear pathway heading west from Tanner Beach that delineates where the route begins.  Our permit had us camping in Cardenas at the end of this day, which could be reached after just three miles of hiking but would leave us almost fifteen miles from our destination of Hance Creek at the end of day three.  After some conversations with the Backcountry Office several months earlier, they advised that we hike to the far western edge of Cardenas and camp east of Papago Wall.  That would even up our hikes for both days.  Their advice was invaluable and really helped us on both days.  I would highly recommend, when working on an Escalante itinerary, to check in with the Backcountry Office.  They can give you a realistic perspective on the distances between points.  But, they also told me that our proposed and accepted itinerary of four nights, five days may be too difficult for us (and we ended up doing it in four days).  Take their advice and then be realistic with the condition and expertise of your group.

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Around lunch time we detoured to the river and spent some time cooling off at Cardenas Beach.  It was a beautiful spot to relax and swim and I would highly recommend it.  I am not sure what the temperature of the water is in the summer months, but in mid-April it was ice cold.  I stayed in it for about 10-15 minutes and checked the temperature on my watch, which had it around mid-50F, but it was still going down when I got out.  Nonetheless, this blue/green water cooled us down before the 1200 foot ascent.

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There were some absolutely AMAZING views throughout this hike and this portion of the Escalante had some of the most stunning.  It didn’t hurt that we had clear skies, for the moment.

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I am not much for naming all of the landmarks and geologic strata so if that is your thing… I am sorry that I can’t be of much help.  However, one of the guys in our group spent a ton of time researching and knew the name of every single thing that we saw during our hike.  I will have him write a guest post so that you will have some sort of idea what to look for during this hike.

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During our ascent it began to cloud up quickly and hint of rain.  When it began to sprinkle we were fortunate enough to have an area with some rock caves and carve outs, which we ducked into for about thirty minutes while it rained.  I suppose this added to the excitement of the trip.  If nothing else the sun, which had been baking us during our ascent, was now hidden.  Even though it was April… it was still very hot.  The remainder of the hike took us down Escalante Creek (which is dry) to the Colorado once again.  The evening cleared up spectacularly with clear skies and an amazing opportunity for star gazing.  I commented to the guys that this particular camping area (Escalante Creek Mouth) ranked as one of my favorites on any trip.  Not as good as Elizabeth Lake and Fifty Mountain in Glacier or the Boulderfield going to Long’s Peak… but in my top five. And again, we took advantage of pumping directly from the Colorado without any problems. The water situation the next day at Hance Creek was interesting, to say the least. But more on that in the next post.

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The next day would take us to Hance Creek, which ended up being the longest hiking day and the strangest location that we would encounter on this trip.

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park- Escalante Route- Lipan to Tanner- Day 1

Lipan Point to Tanner Rapids

Total Mileage- 9.0 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 0 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 4650 feet

Route on Map - From the East

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Our first day would take us from Lipan Point to Tanner Rapids. Being that this route is a point to point, a couple of the guys dropped our vehicle at Grandview Point and hitchhiked back to Lipan Point. Lipan Point trailhead travels directly to the Colorado via Tanner Trail.  This 9-mile route drops nearly a mile straight down which means you better have your trekking poles out and adjusted appropriately.  On this mid-April day the temperature at the rim was in the high fifties and we expected it to warm considerably as we descended… but it was also overcast with a threat of light rain.  Our first night camp destination was Tanner Beach.

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I would note that the common theme throughout our four day hike was that we spent more time looking at our feet than at the views.  Of course that is a bit overstated, because we got everything and more from the picturesque views at every point throughout the hike, but there is also some real truth to the fact that we spent an enormous amount of time looking down.  Without question, this was the most difficult, sustained terrain I have ever hiked.  That is not to say that it is the most difficult in the world, but just the most difficult terrain I have hiked to this point.  Case in point- despite trimming my toenails before the trip and lacing my boots tight… the descent wreaked havoc on my big toes, pressing them up against the end of my boots.  My big toes swelled twice their normal size and I am currently losing the toenails of each toe.  Too much info?  Probably.  But all that to say, going a mile straight down can really strain your body- ankles, knees, toes, etc.  Prepare well and do not push yourself too hard.  The park guidance states that it takes 12-15 hours to Tanner Beach… and the Backcountry Office told me that I should count on half of our group getting their butt kicked on the first day because of the length of the hike and terrain.  That’s a long day for sure, but we did it in about seven hours, and we were all intact when we set up camp.  In fact, we had some energy to spare.

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There was a really cool place where we took a lunch break.  I believe it was called Escalante Saddle.  It was really well marked with vertical rocks and had great views on either side.  It was a really nice spot to take a break.  The saddle was about 2.5 miles into the hike and about 1700 feet down from Lipan.

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The views that of the Colorado that become apparent are spectacular, even for an overcast day.  At about 2000 below the rim, the view of the Palisades with their magnificent and varying color is truly amazing.  I believe it was at this point that we were scratching our heads expecting the Colorado to be more brown than blue.  I was quietly hoping that we would be surprised by a clean river from which to pump.  My hopes would be realized for sure as the river became even greener and bluer the closer we got to it.

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As we approached Tanner Beach the temperature was in the low 70’s.  It was sure to be a warmer night than the previous night on the rim, which was in the mid 30’s.  There were several spots from which to choose.  I believe that Tanner Beach could accommodate 4-5 groups easily.  There were only two other groups in the area that night, but we would see even fewer as we started the Escalante Route the next day. The best surprise was that the Colorado River was, in fact, a nice blue-green color with hardly any silt. This was huge because we could use our water filters without any problems at all.

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The next day we would begin our march along the Escalante Route from Tanner to a site near at Escalante Creek Mouth, just a mile before the Papago Wall.  The gray skies succumbed to the blue and the sun was radiant.  Day Two would be a day to remember for sure.

You may also be interested in reading:

Planning a Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip

Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP) Quick Summary

 

Notice Every Detail of Creation…

This excerpt is from the post Thanksgiving at my other blog brandonandress.com.  I thought this portion was a perfect perspective for those of us who love nature and the outdoors.

The Spirit cries out to me: See the wonder! See the glory! See the beauty! And move forward in awe!

Listen.

Smell.

Feel.

Take it all in and delight. Let the wind blow at your back and let the sun shine down on your face.

Listen to the conversations.
Joy in the laughter of your children.
Celebrate that you can give your baby a bath.
Delight in the songs of the birds and the rustling of the leaves.
Be enveloped by everything and everyone around you.
Count your blessings.

Smell the autumn fragrance.
Let the preparation of your meal be a prayer and a blessing.
Savor every bite as if it is your very first.
Feel the textures.
Let the work of your hands be praise.
Count your blessings.

Sit in the woods and notice every detail of creation.
Close your eyes and absorb every note and harmony.
Glory in every drop of your morning coffee.
Embrace the touch of another.
Join in the chorus of all creation in praise.
Count your blessings.

Can any one of us even utter a grumble…in the midst of creation’s immeasurable wonder?

It is good.
It is good.
It is good.

From the depths of my soul and with every breath…thank you God. I am an unworthy man.

Awe and Wonder…

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