Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner Glacier to Iceberg Overlook- Day 4

Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner Glacier to Iceberg Overlook

Total Mileage- 9.1 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1928 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 918 feet

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Day 4 in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska would take us from Bremner Glacier to Iceberg Overlook. It is nearly impossible to locate names for areas in Wrangell, so I just made up the Iceberg Overlook, being that our campsite for this night faced the direction we would be heading… Iceberg Lake. I don’t recommend doing nine miles of trail-less backpacking in Alaska. Others may disagree, but I find that one mile per hour on difficult terrain is very taxing. And, I am not getting any younger. This particular day was 8 hours and 37 minutes of hiking time. This did not include breaks or lunch time. It was a long day, but one of the most beautifully stunning days we have had on any trip.

The day started brilliantly with exquisite views of Bremner Glacier and once we packed up we headed eastward from craggy rocks into sandy beaches. It was surreal to be in the middle of Alaska and to be walking in the sand in the middle of the mountains. The sand transitioned into a lush green valley floor that we would follow the rest of the day for about six miles.

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There were a few small creek crossings on this stretch. At one crossing we were searching for rocks to hop across (and looking a bit too myopically) and didn’t notice the brown sow with cubs lingering at the same creek about sixty yards from us. Fortunately the mother was pouncing on the ground for some small rodent to notice us. We cleared out of the area, but it didn’t take us long to see where the bears had been before us.IMG_4139IMG_4183IMG_4178IMG_4164IMG_4145IMG_4153IMG_4173IMG_4175

For the most part, the terrain was really straight forward. It was low scrub and soft, mossy mounds that were a little difficult to maneuver through. There was one creek/waterfall that we had to cross closer to our end destination. That is the way it always is in Alaska. I remember that crossing and the jump that had to be made from the last rock to the other side. It had to be a perfect landing… and we all hit it perfectly. The weather was perfect this entire day with highs in the mid to low 60’s F. IMG_4161IMG_4172IMG_4186IMG_4187IMG_4189IMG_4283

The spots where we camped are likely the best spots I have ever had in my life. The ground was soft and spongy underneath with a view that very few will ever see. As you can see from the evening shot above, it was an amazing location. And it got even more epic the next morning. On day five we will do an early morning day hike up to a hidden lake and then make our way toward Iceberg Lake.

Day 5- Iceberg Overlook to Iceberg Lake

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Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Monahan Creek to Bremner Glacier Overlook- Day 2

Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Monahan Creek to Bremner Glacier Overlook

Total Mileage- 8.83 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1475 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 2350 feet

Day two in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park would take us from the Monahan Creek area to a beautiful overlook of the Bremner Glacier, which we would be tackling on Day three. The day started out in classic Alaskan style- gray skies, low hanging clouds, and rain. The goal for the morning was to stay above the brushy areas, but stay below the loose and steep scree areas. If this is done correctly it will be relatively easy trekking across some basketball-sized rocks. The key is to work your way down the valley with an eye toward the Monahan Creek junction and the saddle which you will be passing over. The best advice is to minimize areas of alder while working your way toward Monahan Creek. We had to search for a while to find a spot to cross over the creek, but eventually found some stepping stones that kept us from getting our boots wet. That was a huge win. But you have to keep your eyes open, because much of the area has steep walls to the creek or water moving too powerfully to cross.

Upon the creek crossing we were on our way over the saddle that would lead to Bremner Glacier. We had to make a decision on how far we really wanted to go on this day. If we went too far, we would commit to several hours of dense alders that descended to the glacier. Did we really want to end the day with that kind of battle? If we went into the alder for the remaining part of the day, would there be anywhere to camp without having to commit to crossing the glacier in the same day? Committing close to nine untrailed, Alaskan miles before the alder and glacier seemed like enough for one day. So we knew that the next day was going to be the monster day- alder/glacier. At least we would have the evening and night to mentally prepare for it. Dense alder will make you wish you were back on the dirt trails in Indiana. I have yet to find a fan of alder bushwhacking. Nonetheless, the terrain for this portion of Day 2 was ideal for backpacking, but the boulders heading up to the saddle was a little work.

Once we hit the saddle we could see where the dense cloud cover was coming from- the glacier. And we saw for the first time… blue skies. As I mentioned in the previous post, the Bremner area from which we came seems as if it gets a lot of cloud cover and rain, likely due to the cold air coming from the glacier. Am I no meteorologist, so I am likely wrong, but on subsequent days we would look back and see gray skies and rain even though we were in clear skies. The green in front of us was a beautiful, but I am not sure how to classify it. It was a somewhat marshy area with a mixture of knee-high scrub, longish tussock, and scattered alder. The issue, as you can imagine, is where to set up a tent. If there was a spot clear enough for a tent…it was marshy. To be honest, even though it wasn’t a huge issue, I feel like finding spots to camp throughout the week took some work. It’s not like you can just pop a tent anywhere. Most areas were overgrown or rock strewn or not close to fresh water, etc. On this day we had to make due with a bit of an angle, which made for a cool pic below, but it was really the best we could do. I think the other guys got to the flat spot before us and we got the consolation angle. I slept well regardless.

The next day, Day 3, would take us through the alder and down to Bremner Glacier for one spectacular day.

Day 3- Bremner Glacier Overlook to Bremner Glacier

Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner to Monahan Creek- Day 1

Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner to Monahan Creek

Total Mileage- 6.24 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 2673 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 2391 feet

Wrangell-St. Elias. That’s enough to get your heart pumping and your blood rushing. Just the name of it. And all it takes is a little bit of research to realize that this behemoth of a National Park is everything you imagined it would be- towering mountains, braided rivers, pulverizing glaciers, and the most unadulterated peace and beauty you have ever seen in your life.

If you need more convincing that this, this trip isn’t for you.

With a four-hour time difference between Alaska and Indiana, we were ready bright and early, but it seemed as if our morning took forever. We had everything strapped up and ready to go hours before we were to meet up with Wrangell Mountain Air for a shuttle over to the airfield. Once the shuttle arrived at the main office of Wrangell Mountain Air, which is on the main dirt road in McCarthy, it only took us about 25 minutes to get to the airfield. We unloaded the packs and took them over to the bush plane, the DeHavilland Beaver (aka The Beaver). We gave the pilot our bear spray and he duct taped them to the wing of the plane, so we didn’t have any crazy mishaps during the flight, and then threw our packs in to be secured for our fifty mile ride to Bremner.

Despite the blue skies at take off, the weather quickly changed as we got into the mountains. I’m not sure what the weather is like in Bremner typically, but it seemed like it’s own little weather systems consisting of continual gray clouds and a misty rain. That is what we experienced once we landed, into the next morning, and even as we looked back in that direction on subsequent days. Being that there are no trails in Wrangell-St. Elias, all trekking would be done with the assistance of USGS Topo Maps (Bering Gl. D6, D7 and McCarthy A6, A7) to serve as a guide as to our route and direction. In preparation this trip we purchased Falcon Guides Hiking Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias book that details the Seven Pass Route from Iceberg Lake to Bremner, but as I mentioned in the last post, we decided to do the route backwards. We decided to go the opposite direction after talking to some locals several months in advance and then determining that we wanted the “most epic” portion of our hike to be at the very end. This choice made the book a little more difficult to understand because it was written going the other direction. Nonetheless, if you decide to do this route… I would recommend the way we did it because of the views. The one thing I can tell you about this route, you are not going to find much information about it, which makes this trip a little more epic in my opinion. You truly have to do it on your own.


Our goal for the day is to head in a southerly route and hit a shoulder to the southeast. It’s really easy to spot, if you are paying attention, but if you miss the turn you will go out of your way to get around this small range. The initial portion of this route from Bremner is easy hiking with low scrub and brush with the occasional boulder field. For the most part we avoided walking through the boulders by staying on the outer edges, but we did have an occasional short stomp through the rocks. This area is just a warm-up to what is coming later in the trip with car size boulders for miles, but for today it is an easy trek for the first two miles when we hit our cut through.

As we ascended our route began to take a northeastern turn, all of which was really great trekking terrain. Compared to our prior experience in Denali, there were very few obstacles thus far in Wrangell. Of course, later in the trip there would be significant alders to contend with but for this first day we welcomed the easy route. The colors, even on this mostly overcast day, were nothing short of spectacular. The air was clean and crisp and we took it all in with every breath. This is everything you imagine Alaskan backpacking to be and more.

The final push for Day 1 would drop down into a valley through which Monahan Creek runs. Being that we really couldn’t plan camping spots in advance, our plan was to hike about six miles each day and then look for a flat area close to fresh water and hopefully a decent (or great) view. The only way we were going to get anything close to a flat spot close to fresh water was to drop all the way down to the valley floor and look for a spot among the alders. While we were still relatively high up, we eyeballed some areas that seemed to open up in the bush. We determined that the darker green areas were high bush and the lighter area were flatter areas with little bush. We just didn’t know how much the difference would be until we got down to it. After working our way through the maze of alder, we ultimately made it to the spot we had scouted. It wasn’t as ideal as we had hoped, as it was still a little more brushy than we would have like, but after looking around for a few minutes we landed a nice spot to through up the tents.

Our trek on Day 2 will take us from Monahan Creek area to our first view of the stunning Bremner Glacier, which we will cross on Day 3.

Day 2- Monahan Creek to Bremner Glacier Overlook

 

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

Reblog: All Creation Sings

Hey lovers of the outdoors!

I wrote a new post on my other blog entitled All Creation Sings.  I recount a specific moment in Alaska when summiting Mt. Eielson when I saw Denali for the first time.  It is a faith post, so if that’s not your thing you may choose to disregard… but I thought you each would identify with the emotions that I share in the post.

Btw… I am heading to Wrangell St. Elias NP in Alaska at the beginning of August for a week in the wilderness.  New trip reports will be coming then.

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.