GSENM early in the year

LavranJ

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Nov 19, 2015
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Hey all! I'm in the midst of planning/gathering beta for a trip in southern Utah, and I've been lurking here for a few weeks gathering all the knowledge I can. Despite the phenomenal amount of info (and beautiful pictures) that I've found, I still have a few questions.

Firstly: any advice about the dirt roads in GSENM in January - March? I know the quality is quite variable, and I read in a few places that Hole-in-the-Rock gets regraded in February; but my major concern is snowmelt and other sources of water. I'll be in a Prius in January, and in 12 passenger vans in February, so I'd like to avoid anything too wild.

Specifically:
How is Hole-in-the-Rock in January? If it's wet? The turn-off to Harris Wash?
How about Old Sheffield? Wet?
And Wolverine? Wet?
Those three are my main concerns. I'll likely only be taking one of them for this trip, but I'd like to have info to weigh my options.

Secondly: any general suggestions for 25 - 30 miles loops in the Escalante? I have quite a few ideas already, developed mostly through reading many wonderful trip reports - but I'd love to hear some more.

Some details about the trip(s):
I'm an Outdoor Programs trip leader at University of Redlands, pretty close to J-Tree, and I'm planning this trip as a spring break trip - so I'll be leading a group of 6 - 10 college-aged peers on this trip. My only previous experience in this area was a phenomenal canoeing trip I did down the Green River from Ruby Ranch to Spanish Bottom, about 2.5 years ago - I'm very stoked to get back to the canyons.

I'll be scouting the trip with my co-lead in early January, and leading the trip in late February/early March. The nature of this trip imposes a few constraints:
1) Not much wading - it's gonna be chilly!
2) No technical canyoneering - anything requiring a belay is out until I'm AMGA certed. Ideally, no climbing over ~10 feet, and not too tricky. Slickrock scrambling is totally fine.
3) Good roads, not too long of a drive off the 12/Burr Trail. The drive's already pretty long, and our cars are far from SUVs.

Lastly: any words about Big Spencer Flats and that general area? I'm considering cutting through there on the way to Phipps Wash, but I'm not sure if there are any cool features North of Red Breaks that we should check out on the way.

Thanks - looking forward to getting to know y'all!
 

slc_dan

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Jun 7, 2012
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firstly- Roads.
This depends on Daily, even Hourly changes. No way to know this far out. Have a few "plan b's" Worst case scenario, start off the burr trail road. Steve Allen has a couple of great loops starting there. If you haven't already bought Steve Allen's Canyoneering 2, & 3, buy them.

General suggestions: Read Above. Many of the hikes will have a small amount of wading. Consider some Neo socks to help out in the wading.

Consider keeping your numbers below 8. For the experience, and the impact you'll have on any area, it's best to keep it smaller. If you are above that consider splitting into two groups, and keeping distance.

Hope that helps.
 

Nick

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Wet winter, dry winter, who knows. We were going to head down Hole-in-the-Rock for a trip early March this year but had to switch to something else because they got 11" of snow the day before we were heading out. And this past winter was terribly dry overall. Anything can happen. I've been down in January and it's been great, but that is no indicator of what to expect a month later. If you want predictability, stick to the stuff that leaves from pavement.

We did The Boulder Mail Trail in January a couple years ago. Had to park a half mile or so away from the trailhead due to mud, but the hike was wonderful. http://backcountrypost.com/threads/boulder-mail-trail.2829/
 

LavranJ

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Nov 19, 2015
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Thanks for the advice y'all - I figured there's not much telling this far out, in terms of wetness.

How about the general quality of HIR and Old Sheffield, wetness aside? I've heard the former is pretty bumpy - do you think a Prius would stand a chance? And haven't heard much about the latter - is it similarly rough?

Nick, I had looked at that trail report before and love it - that area looks like it'd be gorgeous during the winter. My primary reservation there is that I need to either do a loop or an out-and-back - we don't have the resources for a shuttle for this trip. I was playing around with the idea of taking the BMT down, then following the bench down to the Escalante, and taking Sand Creek back up, but I'm not sure how feasible that is. In particular, what I've seen about Sand Creek is that it's quite doable most of the way up, but that the section close to the Escalante is a little tricky.

EDIT: Just read Steve Allen's description of going up Sand Creek as "hell on earth", so that's out.
As a potential alternative in the same area, what do you think about looping south of the Slickrock Saddle, dropping into Sand Creek a little north of Willow Patch, and going back from there?
 
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regehr

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Mar 28, 2012
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An optimistic plan A with a few plan Bs is definitely the way to go. I've only driven the Old Sheffield road a couple of times and have not found it rough. At least when I was there, a carefully driven Prius would have been OK. That kind of vehicle gives you little margin against unexpected conditions obviously. I've only seen a small part of Sand Creek but the part I did see was waist-deep wading that was difficult to bypass. Unless that was an isolated section I'd give that one a miss in winter.
 

LavranJ

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Nov 19, 2015
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After some more research on Sand Creek, that's what I'm thinking too - seems a little chilly.

Steve Allen suggests possibly looping the upper Escalante, Bowington Road, and the BMT, which sounds superb to me. I'm a little unsure about the upper Escalante portion during winter though, since Nick's guide and other sources mention frequent crossings. Any thoughts on that route and especially on how frequent those crossing are likely to be?
 

mattvogt7

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Jan 20, 2012
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Wet winter, dry winter, who knows. We were going to head down Hole-in-the-Rock for a trip early March this year but had to switch to something else because they got 11" of snow the day before we were heading out. And this past winter was terribly dry overall. Anything can happen. I've been down in January and it's been great, but that is no indicator of what to expect a month later. If you want predictability, stick to the stuff that leaves from pavement.

We did The Boulder Mail Trail in January a couple years ago. Had to park a half mile or so away from the trailhead due to mud, but the hike was wonderful. http://backcountrypost.com/threads/boulder-mail-trail.2829/

@Nick - went down the rabbit hole on that one. Clicked on the link and was taken back to that wonderful January trip. Wow I'd love to repeat that.
 

Joey

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There are 2 different routes back to the BMT from the Escalante River just before you reach Sand Creek. The main one, probably what he refers to as the Bowington route, is well cairned and gets used. I've used it twice. Its a beautiful route.

Your going to wade the Escalante anywhere you use it. The crossings are much simpler and easier along the upper portions of the river. Also not as deep. In March, you should be fine. Water temps might be chilly, but it should be warm enough to not worry about it. Maybe bring neoprene socks.

As others have said, the weather can do anything. You won't know until you get closer to your time frame. I've been out to Little Death Hollow and Wolverine trailheads in January with no problem. We had good weather at the time though.
 

Nick

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we don't have the resources for a shuttle for this trip.

I think the local guide shops only charge like $80 for a shuttle between the two points. And local BCP'ers might hook you up for even less.

We did the upper Escalante in March one year. It was quite nice out but the shady bends still hadn't seen light all year. There were huge ice fields and even an ice bridge over the river. Neo socks would have been very helpful, especially early in the morning. That water was painfully cold then.

Report:
http://backcountrypost.com/threads/willow-gulch-escalante-river-gorge.582/

March 17, 2007 on the Escalante:


 

LavranJ

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Nov 19, 2015
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Another wonderful trip report - I thought I'd gone through all the Escalante ones but I missed this one! Thanks again, Nick! And Joey, thanks for the advice, especially on Bowington - I haven't heard too much about it, beside what Steve Allen says.

I'd been leaning more towards Red Breaks area but I'm liking the BMT idea more and more. Maybe my co-lead and I will do a lasso starting from the BMT near Boulder, then coming back down the Escalante, up Bowington, and back to Boulder. That way, if we decide to spring for the shuttle/it's as wet as they say it may be, we've scouted the BMT; and if the weather looks reasonable, we've scouted the loop.

The loop that I was thinking before would go off Old Sheffield, down Big Horn to Harris, from Harris up Red Breaks and to the Navel, then NW through Spencer Flats; depending on timing, either straight back to our origin, or further north to follow Phipps Wash down and see the natural bridge and arch.
Purely in terms of enjoyability (from the perspective of reasonably fit college students), would you prefer the BMT over that loop?
 
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