Sand in Our Shoes: Hiking the Escalante, Day 4

Crew at end of hike

Day: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
After the prior day’s experience at Dry Fork, I was fully expecting the crew to stage an early and decisive mutiny with respect to our itinerary for the next two days.

To my surprise, both were committed to staying on plan. And the plan for the next two days was to backpack the 15 miles of the Upper Escalante River.

To accomplish the logistics of this linear hike, we enlisted the aid of local friends (thanks Kelleen & Kelsom!) to shuttle us to the trail head after dropping our car off at the river’s intersection with Route 12, near Calf Creek. The trail head is just behind town, behind the cemetery. Since much of the “trail” is the river itself, hiking from town in the direction of Route 12 allows for easier walking with the flow of the river.

We began the hike around 11 am. Our goal was to hike at least as far as Death Hollow (about half way) and potentially a bit further towards Sand Creek.

Upper Escalante River trail head

The Escalante River at the start of the trail was pretty low

After a mile or so, the canyon walls begin to tower on both sides of the river.


When we started the hike, we were immediately behind a large, guided group that was heading out in the same direction. We gave them some room to get ahead of us.

After walking for about an hour and a half, we came upon a huge alcove on the north bank of the river. We stayed on the south side as the guided group had taken up residence in the alcove. We should have popped in. Because I learned, after the fact, that there are pictographs adorning the walls in the alcove.

Alcove along Escalante River

Albert & Daniel across the river from the alcove

As it turned out that was the last we saw of humanity for the rest of the day (and well into the next). It was beautiful. We had the canyon to ourselves.

Along the Escalante

Along the Escalante

prickly pear bloom

Daniel at Death Hollow campsite

During this first day of backpacking, the windy river had laid down many sandy banks. These banks offered opportunities to climb up out of the river and walk across land, cutting off the twists and turns, saving time and effort. Although, sometimes it was just easier to walk through the river, rather and climb up and down the sandy banks.

After about four and a half hours of hiking, we came upon Death Hollow, the canyon that carves a big gash to the north. At Death Hollow, the icy cold waters of Mamie Creek flow into and significantly widen the Escalante. Intrepid backpackers, with more fortitude than me, actually hike down Death Hollow, from the top of Hell’s Backbone (where there is no water for the first 11 miles) to reach this confluence.

Daniel at Death Hollow confluence of Mamie Creek into the Escalante River

We found a great campsite location on a sandy bench on the south side of the river. Beyond this point the trail was cold, cold river, with no options to walk on banks. We dropped our gear at this campsite and I explored a bit further downstream to see if there were any other camping opportunities ahead. I invested about a half hour in the effort. It was clear there weren’t any other sandy benches ahead for quite a while. I did see some pretty big cutthroat trout, though.

Death Hollow camp

Death Hollow camp

It was a wonderful campsite, there in Death Hollow. It occurred to me that this hike would be perfect as a 3 day outing, camping where we were and allowing time to explore up into the Death Hollow canyon. Maybe some other time.

For now, ours was simply to sit back, relax and enjoy the solitude and the views.

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