Chris Roams

Travel, Adventures, and Photography

Climbing In

Before I could set off down the trail in the morning I had to take care of a few emails for work, however I was camped out 30 miles outside town and there was a whole lot of nothing in the direction I was heading. Cell phones barely work for voice calls in the town of Escalante and mobile Internet access is nothing more than a pipe dream so imagine my surprise when I was out here a few months ago to hike Coyote Gulch and discovered that I somehow had full service with a high speed 3G data connection. This time, at night, I was able to see the presumed source of the rogue signal in the middle of the desert: a lonely blinking red light atop Navajo Mountain, over 35 miles to the south, on the other side of the Colorado River, nearly in Arizona. With a clear line-of-sight the signal carries, far. Dropping down behind any little bit of terrain causes the signal to completely disappear. I'll take what I can get.

Work taken care of, hiking boots strapped on, and water bottle full, I dropped down into Dry Fork - Coyote Gulch, a dry and sandy branch of the same Coyote Gulch I backpacked in a few months ago. This section is much less scenic, more of a big dry sandbox with ragged blocky edges rather than the smooth vertical sandstone walls and waterfalls downstream. The main attraction here are two tiny (usually) dry tributaries of this (usually) dry stream. Peek-A-Boo comes first, and a hiker could almost walk right past without noticing it. Concealed in a bend of the canyon wall a dozen feet off the ground is a small hanging canyon. The smooth sandstone below the entrance shows that others have been this way before, footholds and handholds carved out of the soft rock. Not much, but just enough to climb up on. Inside is a narrow twisting and turning passageway, only a few feet wide with dozens of arches and holes bored through the stone. Corkscrew channels have been carved out of the rock where water drops off ledges and turns around corners and it's not always easy to climb up. After about a mile Peek-A-Boo opens back up into a low and wide riverbed and a lonely juniper tree marks the spot where a trail leaves to cross over the high ground to the next drainage east, Spooky Gulch.

In pretty much the same fashion as the top of Peek-A-Boo the low and wide sandy river bed closes in with higher and narrower walls until finally turning into a slot canyon, barely 3 feet wide with walls dozens of feet high. Everything I had heard about hiking Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulches recommended going "up Peek-A-Boo and down Spooky" and it wasn't long until I found out why: at a constriction in the canyon walls the ground turns from sand to a jumble of boulders with deep gaps between them. The final downstream boulder, the size of a car, stands like a wall wedged into the narrowing canyon walls. A look over this boulder reveals a 20 foot drop to the canyon floor below, too much without a rope. After a few minutes of contemplation I realized the solution: the maze of passages between the boulders. The final boulder was suspended 20 feet up the canyon walls as were the boulders immediately behind it but the mass of smaller rocks that had become trapped behind the jam eventually rested on the canyon floor. By climbing down between the suspended boulders it was possible to get within 5 feet of the canyon floor and jump, committing to the rest of the canyon as it would be difficult to climb back up the final 5 foot drop, and simply walk out from underneath the rock jam.

Below the boulder jam Spooky Gulch gets narrow, very narrow, and tall. The canyon was too narrow to walk through normally, I had to turn sideways and although I hadn't brought much with me, just a small day pack with a jacket, some snacks, and water, as well as my camera bag, even this proved to be too much. I was forced to walk with my camera bag held out in one hand and my day pack held behind me in the other hand. Upon reaching one of the numerous drops that required both hands to descend (usually by pressing my back against one wall of the canyon while pressing my hands and feet against the other wall for friction and then "chimneying" down) I had to just toss my bags down for retrieval when I completed the descent. The walls of the canyon in this area were no longer smooth as they had been elsewhere, but were instead covered with hard bumps as if the rock had caught a case of the chicken pox. While I was glad for the extra friction the bumps provided when trying to shimmy down the walls when the canyon floor dropped away I wasn't so glad as they constantly ripped at my clothing and bags when I was trying to work my way between the walls, and owing to the narrowness of the canyon I was constantly in contact with both walls simultaneously. Eventually, as they all do, the canyon widened out back into the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch and the trail back up to where I had left my bike.

Unfortunately weather once again threatened the Colorado Plateau, a broad line of storms was rolling in off the Pacific and heading east. At this elevation it was sure to bring snow and I didn't want to get trapped, besides all the trails would once again be buried and unusable. It was time to make me escape once again, riding down the familiar road from Escalante, past Bryce Canyon, out to Interstate 15 and on to my usual camping spot on the shores of Lake Mead where the lower elevation would turn the snow into rain.
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