Saturday, 10:42 AM – “The ranger in Escalante made it very clear that we weren’t supposed to camp at Red Wells and that it was pretty full down there, so if you can lemme know where to find you off Hole in the Rock when you get there, build sign, etc.” – The Haak
KB and I first ventured into Coyote Gulch some 5 or 6 or 7 years ago, I can’t recall the exact date. Since we’ve returned multiple times for full sojourns in its depths. Every time we’ve tried to get others to accompany us. Every time we ended up going just the two of us which was fine cuz we happen to enjoy each other’s company and are entirely ok with some silence. This time around was going to be a little different.
The trip was kind of planned in various versions with multiple people. Dates and times changed. Ultimately it all settled on this past weekend with the maximum amount of people allowed for a group, 12. I didn’t even think I knew that many people. There were the usual suspects and MCA royalty that guaranteed this was going to be something in the range of a death march or a rolling frat party.
Somehow, and by somehow I mean that I was the one that did the inviting, created the Facebook invite and eventual posted a loose itinerary, became the person who was to plan this gulching. As you all know, I kind of suck at planning. As in I don’t plan. There’s a vague idea in my head and usually a mental photo of the map, outside of that, well, we’ll figure it out as we go. I’m kind of like the Dizzy Gillespie of trip planning.
I also tend to travel light and usually not with 12 people. When the meeting/camping spot was determined to be Red Well it was for two reasons. 1. That was where we would be ending our desert communion and B. KB and I had previously done it. No problem. Nothing said. No signs to ignore. Just a big open trailhead with no one else there except a jack rabbit.
This trip had two particularly important differences I failed to even somewhat consider. It was Memorial Day Weekend and there were 12 of us coming from multiple areas in multiple cars. Not exactly the best situation for poaching a trailhead late at night.
Saturday, 12:08 PM – “Escalante visitor center open till 3 PM today. They say that we can’t camp at any trailhead and that they will likely be patrolling this weekend. Sounds like we will have to find a campsite somewhere near Red Well. No cell service in town. We will try to find a place, set up camp and then meet up at Red Well tonight.” – The Doctor
The Gulch is one of those places in the desert that will make you question your life decisions and how it is that you didn’t end up just wandering around in the desert for the span of your existence on earth. It’s warm with plenty of shade and water, all year. As in, you could go here in July with temps in the 100s, not have anyone around and still be cool and have an enjoyable time. Yea, it’s one of those places.
We dropped in at Crack in the Wall which is a chunk of rock that has become detached from the cliff face that allows one to down climb through a chimney to a ledge and then down to the sand dune that drops into the Gulch and the Escalante. It gives the confluence a hug. Seeing that we had two days to span the length of the Gulch, we opted to first head to the confluence and enjoy some of the deeper waters of the river.
This all occurred after an 8:30ish start and having to rescue a guy with Rhode Island plates completely high centered on a cattle guard that he could have easily driven around. We hit the river just in time to eat some lunch, do some swimming, be the last people to see a group hoping to hitch hike across Lake Powel and filter some water.
The Gulch is more or less an easy hike. The only significant obstacle is a rock jam right above the confluence. As we dropped in from the Crack, we hiked up and around it staying on the cliff band above the stream. We planned to do this on the way back. That was until we all got convinced that said rock jam was navigable and we should try to go right up the gut. This was probably the worst decision we made on the entire trip. After some tears, almost losing Jamon, losing Jamon’s pack and breaking one of his water receptacles, somehow everyone got through unscathed. Probably the longest 100 yards ever hiked.
We stayed the course and made our way up the river. We didn’t have a planned campsite or stopping time. It was kind of just left that we should hike as much as possible that day so our exit would be shorter on Monday. We walked. Snacked. Stopped a lot. Thought we had walked a long ways when we really hadn’t. Walked some more. People’s feet started to get eaten alive by the sand and water. We kept walking. It was suggested that those with running sandles (aka KB) should run ahead and find us a spot as we were nearing the arch and there were a metric shit murder of people.
It was said and done and we stopped for the night around 5ish canyon time.
For a group of 12 borderline alcoholics, we were probably the most mellow camp that resembled a frat gathering. There was mention of having to ration what we had to make sure we hit sleepy time before the booze was gone. Food was eaten. Feet were inspected. There was talk about how hard the hike was. We recalled that Jamon almost died. Shelby Sticks got out his digital map and determined we had about 8 miles to hike the next day and that we had only gone about 5 from the river. KB took two naps and then passed out around 8.
The rest of us made it till the stars started to come out and then as the darkness enveloped the canyon we retreated to our respective sleeping places.
Frogs were screaming all night and the stench of dumpster butt kept breaching our camp or maybe it was being expelled by the camp, not sure. And then Beans and Rice’s alarm went off at 5:30 AM. Slowly we emerged. Coffee was brewed unless you were Jamon and Chelsea and then they just watched all of us do these things while they sipped their 5 Hour Energy. Food, who needs that?
We were moving early and hoped to hit the trailhead by noon so we could all get home at a time that would allow us to not be completely trashed at work the next day. Or at least that was my impression of the timing structure.
Hobo rule #1 – “Never tell anyone in an authority position where you plan to camp.” – Shortcut
We exited at Red Well just as the sun was hitting its pinnacle. Luckily, the temperatures were bearable and no one died of heat exhaustion or dehydration. Of course, the trailhead was full so our car was about a half mile farther down the road. We made it back to our camp which was not at a trailhead. Once packs were dropped, beer emerged, the Casa Zen Mobile shade was pulled down and we all huddled under it enjoying the last moments of our adventure and each other’s company.
The group disbanded as we left to grab the shuttle vehicle and pick up multiple hitch hikers. Most of us regrouped at the Escalante Outfitters for some more beer and more importantly pizza before heading home.
I’m sure we’ll all be back 6 or 7 or 8 more times.
P. L. and R.