Lower Escalante Trifecta - Willow Gulch to Davis Gulch

BJett

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May 3, 2013
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519
PART 1. Fiftymile Creek deserves its own post in Part 2.

This trip almost didn't happen. I already booked a week long trip in September with the Wilderness Volunteers in Dark Canyon doing an archaeological inventory, should I make 2 trips to Utah in one year? Hell why not, I'm currently funemployed, yoga teacher training isn't for another month and I have the itch...the canyon country itch. It never goes away but you can manage it, so I did just that by making a dream trip come true.
I was on a mission. Connecting Willow Gulch, Davis Gulch and Fiftymile Creek via backpack and packraft. My original plan was down Willow, paddle to Davis, out Davis to Fiftymile and then paddle back over to Willow. Then I discovered Fiftymile Creek and threw the plans out the window. I spent 2 nights in there, just taking it all in, slowing it all down. It was worth the 4 mile road hike back to the trailhead, and I got to complete the loop.
These lower canyons are coming back. What a delight it is to see this happening! Sure, the lower section transition areas look like battle zones, but Mother Nature is the boss out here. I know it won't be in my lifetime, but these canyons will be back in their full glory. I got a glimpse, and I could only imagine what else lies beneath. The Escalante country is a very special place.
Thanks to @Nick and @mattvogt7 for the inspiration and reports.

"What really needs changing is us—not the canyons, not the legal status or accessibility, but us. With so many people in Mother Earth’s face, knocking on her door, getting into her drawers, our children will miss the opportunity to wonder and be amazed at the magic in canyons and far flung desert trails; of a black night sky dense with stars; of mountain vistas uncluttered by humans. The more we insist upon multiplying, the fewer our sanctuaries become.
Glen Canyon was one of those sanctuaries. I was there. I know.
It should become one again
."
Katie Lee, 2004

The route. Hiking in red, paddling in blue


Lots of day hikers doing the 40 mile/Willow loop. 7 cars at the TH. I didn't see anyone until lower Willow, a group of 3 were finishing up a 13 day trip on the Escalante.


Willow Gulch is stunning. All 3 of these canyons had unique personalities.


Broken Bow Arch. I kept going past the alcove, wanting to get as close to the lake as I could. Tomorrow was 9 miles of flatwater paddling.


Willow


Huge alcoves are a common theme down here


Alcove Columbine


More Willow Gulch goodness


Just below full pool, this gem was a pleasant surprise


What lake? Well below full pool.


Maybe 50-60' below full pool


Eventually you enter the battle zone, man vs. nature. Eroding silt banks, braided channels and bleached walls tell the story.


Finally reached the lake. I would recommend camping upstream, it was challenging to get water without a lot of silt but the alcoves were nice.


End of day 1. Quite a contrast.


Lower Willow, near the lake


The next morning I got an early start, I'm not used to paddling this much flatwater and I wanted to beat the boater traffic. On to Davis Gulch...


I passed 2 guys that were ahead of me in Willow the day before, they had camped on the lake and had some cheap lightweight inflatables. They were on their way to Fiftymile, I kept going to Davis...which apparently may have been a mistake. I ran into these guys in Fitymile and they said I missed the cold beer and bikini-clad ladies from Boulder, CO. They had a houseboat up Fiftymile. I dubbed this Pee Break Island...


Mouth of Davis Gulch in the distance


Davis Gulch


La Gorce Arch is the end of the paddling. A group of guided kayakers caught up to me in Davis, they were a melting pot of older folks from all over. Cool crew, enjoyed chatting with them.


La Gorce Arch. The lake at full pool splits the arch in half.


Take that Lake Powell!


Lower Davis Gulch, breathing in new life


Beautiful pool and waterfall in Lower Davis Gulch, well below full pool


Massive alcoves!




Another uncovered beauty


Paintbrush in lower Davis


Petroglyphs in Davis Gulch, near the old cattle trail


E Ruess camp. The last known camp of Everett Ruess.


The stock trail exit/entry in Davis


My dinner companion


Davis Gulch took my sunglasses. First Everett Ruess, then my shades. Be careful in here, this place is sketchy.
On top of that, as I was getting water near my camp in Davis I heard voices. It was late afternoon, the last thing I expected was visitors...sure enough, 2 young women were working their way down the cattle trail into Davis. They seemed to have no interest in anything other than a tick list, in and out early the next morning. One thing about Davis Gulch is that its pretty narrow and voices carry...especially 3 hours of non stop talking. Davis Gulch tried to steal my swagger but I wouldn't let it. A night of little sleep, cold chills and slightly feverish left me groggy the next day but once I was out and traipsing overland to Fiftymile I bounced back quickly.

Next up, Davis Gulch to Fiftymile Creek
 
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Howells Outdoors

Adventure is my middle name...actually it's Keith.
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Sep 26, 2012
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444
This is rad!

...and I'm very jealous!

I love Davis Gulch. I can't wait to see what you saw down there.
 

Dave

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Really, really cool route. Looking forward to the rest.
 

piper01

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Oct 27, 2013
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Beautiful. These canyons are on my to-hike list, hopefully later this year. Now the recent packraft trip reports are making me want to get one too...
 

BJett

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May 3, 2013
Messages
519
I love Davis Gulch. I can't wait to see what you saw down there.

That's about all I got for Davis, I intended to hike to Bement Arch but the hiking was a thrash fest, and I was feeling a bit sub par that day. But lower Davis is a real gem, no doubt.
 

Glasterpiece

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Mar 19, 2014
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Outstanding TR and photos. I looked for the actual date of this adventure but as of today the pool is down 100'.
 

Nick

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Awesome stuff, Brandon. This has gotten me thinking how else you could piece these three together, but still paddle lower Fiftymile. That's the only thing I would change. It's such a unique canyon in that paddlers have a 'safe zone' where motorboats simply can't go when the lake is below about 3601' and the sand dune near Gregory Natural Bridge blocks progress. And even when they can get in, it's an awesome canyon all the way through.

Maybe this discussion is best put in a separate thread on possible packraft routes, but for now...

The lack of entrances into Davis certainly makes it tough, but you could pull off the trifecta paddling the lengths of each one and seeing all the goods without out and back stretches by utilizing the Black Trail fin. It would require two cars or a really long road walk, but it would be pretty epic. Walk overland to the fin, descend to the res, packraft over to Davis and up to the cattle exit, over to Fifty, down the dune with a quick walk up to the arch area, then down Fifty to the res, paddle around over to Willow and up and out.

Or if you're technically inclined, the 'on steroids' version would be to go for the quadfecta(?) and pack a rope and harness and skip the Black Trail fin. Instead, descend Clear Creek into Cathedral in the Desert and then head up to Davis and through the rest. That's starting to sounds like Grand canyoneering type weights. Where's @ram?

@Glasterpiece - re: res levels. Low point was 109' this year. This was just a few weeks ago when it was probably around 107' down, right @BJett ?
 

BJett

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May 3, 2013
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519
Lake elevation was ~3594' for my trip. May 11-15, about 106' below full pool.

That Clear Creek route is intriguing. I thought about taking an extra day to paddle out Fiftymile, but I'm saving it for the next run (although I do kind of regret missing out on the party barge in Fiftymile, a cold beer would have been nice after that paddle). I'm looking at an Egypt Bench to Fiftymile next May if the Escalante has the flow. The 3 people I saw hiking out of Willow had started at Egypt Bench. Apparently Willow Gulch is becoming a more popular takeout than Coyote Gulch. After all the cars I saw at the Hurricane TH, I can see why. Coyote Gulch is getting hammered.
 
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slc_dan

Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
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Jun 7, 2012
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Really great way to connect these canyons. How tedious is paddling over Lake Powell flat water? What kind of distance did you cover in an hour?
 

BJett

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May 3, 2013
Messages
519
How tedious is paddling over Lake Powell flat water? What kind of distance did you cover in an hour?

Not as bad as I thought. No wind, just a few boats and glassy water. It took me a little over 2 hours to paddle from Willow to Davis, about 9 miles give or take. I stopped for 15 minutes on the island, and made the mistake of not adding more air to the packraft...made for an interesting few miles before La Gorce Arch.
 
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