Packrafting Escalante, Part 2: Davis to Fifty Mile


Oct 27, 2013
Oct 11-12, 2016

Continuation from part 1
After a full day of paddling the previous day, my agenda for today involved keep my feet in contact with the ground. My goal: bushwacking up Davis Canyon to Bement Arch.

Morning view from camp

The first annoyance of the day: while packing my daypack, I discovered I lost my hat sometime yesterday between beaching my boat and reaching my campsite. Grrr.

Lower Davis Canyon is quite lovely, albeit overgrown. The hiking was enjoyable when it was an easy walk in the streambed.

Some vegetation to deal with, but not bad yet. IMG_7629_edit.jpg


Soon I hit the second annoyance of the day: the first beaver dam, of many. Time to leave the waterway and start thrashing through vegetation. IMG_7633.JPG

Quickly followed by another dam. IMG_7636.JPG

My favorite trees in the canyon

A short section of easy walking opened up again

Canyon wall. I wonder if there's anything interesting in that cave

Large silty terraces bordered the stream bed in many places

Surprise- another waterfall!

Another short stretch of easy walking, a welcome respite from fighting my way through tamarisk and reeds on one of the many bypasses around the beaver pools. I didn't take any pictures of the difficult bits- too busy getting through them. IMG_7671_edit.jpg

The occupants must be around here somewhere IMG_7673.JPG


Though on closer examination, something felt slightly off about them. Thoughts? There was a clearly modern stick-figure drawn nearby.IMG_7681_edit.jpg

Lovely pattern in the canyon wall

Looking upcanyon. This was not the most enjoyable hike with all the greenery to fight my way through, but I was halfway to my destination and not about to turn around.

Ferns coating a water seep

On top of one of the side terraces. One of the most enjoyable areas to hike in this canyonIMG_7691.JPG

Some autumn colors

Bathtub rings all the way up here

Footprints in the sand

At last, Bement Arch! IMG_7703_edit.jpg

Similar looking shape to Broken Bow Arch from this angle, except more rockfall under itIMG_7709_edit.jpg

View upcanyon from the arch. Looks to be another massive alcove in the distance, but I had done enough bushwacking just getting to the arch so I didn't go check it out. IMG_7715_edit.jpg

For all the effort put into reaching Bement Arch, I didn't stay as long as I would have liked, due to my concern about the time it had taken me to reach it and my desire to return to camp before dark. Fortunately, the return trip only took half as long since I remembered many of the detours around dams and didn't have to spend time searching for a route. Also, going with the flow of the tamarisk, reeds, and other vegetation angled downstream was so much easier than fighting my way upstream against them. I put my camera away and just ploughed my way through.

Neat pattern on the lower canyon wall, near camp

Back to my ledge. Can just barely see my backpack tucked away at the back when coming from upstream, and it was hidden from the downstream side.

While I love the Escalante area, the noise from the frequent airplanes overhead and the many jet trails reduce the feeling of solitude. IMG_7778.JPG

The next morning I headed back to the lake, keeping a close eye out for my missing hat. Alas, it was gone. Davis Canyon strikes again.

Nearly out of Davis Canyon IMG_7798.JPG

Woo hoo, made it over to Fifty Mile! The character of this canyon was immediately different from Davis- many more twists and turns. IMG_7802.JPG

I pulled ashore to explore the giant alcove.

Look, there's Gregory Natural Bridge! Err....right there, under the water, you'll have to use your imagination. IMG_7819.JPG

A natural garden at the back of the alcove. IMG_7824.JPG

Looking outIMG_7829.JPG

Ferns on the alcove wallIMG_7857.JPG

The garden (in the lower right)

As I emerged from the alcove, I heard someone calling "hello! hello!" from the shore. It turned out to be a boat of women who had passed me earlier. They had seen my empty raft pulled ashore with me nowhere in sight and were concerned. All was ok, so we chatted for a bit while I enjoyed the cold refreshing beverage they gave me. They offered to take me back to their houseboat for a hot lasagna dinner and drop me back off in the morning. Tempting, but I declined; I had other plans. After tossing me a few more beverages to enjoy with dinner and the promise of a steak sandwich if they happened to come across me the next day, we parted ways.

The walls of Fifty Mile soon narrowed and gained more character.

Lots of places to pull ashore if desired. IMG_7879.JPG

Narrow passageway on the left

The walls narrowed more. My water bottle was empty, so I paused to filter more water before the lake water became even siltier. I brushed some wood chips off the water surface...wait, wood chips? I had seen those a few days before in Bishop Canyon. Uh oh.

Yep, there was a layer of mulch and sticks coating the water surface. Scouting ahead from a ledge on the side, I was able to see it was a patch maybe 50-100' long of mainly small debris, so a bit nerve racking but nothing too dangerous.

I found a long stick to clear a path in front of my raft and (this is hard to describe, the following may not make sense) stuck my legs over the side toes-up so that the soles of my sandals would push away sticks coming from the side, then rested a thicker branch across each ankle with the ends crossed under the front of my boat (like a cow-catcher on a train) to catch any shallow underwater branches before I impacted them. Brilliant! Ok, the second part was complete overkill here, but in hindsight this strategy may have gotten me through the mess in Bishop Canyon. Too bad I didn't have time to go back and try it out.

End of the lake, looking back at the clear path I made on the left.

View from the same spot, looking up-canyon. IMG_7889.JPG

I left my boat and pack for the time being and walked up-canyon to scout out a campsite.

Fresh ripple marks, marred only by two sets of footprints off to the side. The debris field must have deterred most boaters. IMG_7902.JPG

Though someone else had been walking in the canyon recently. IMG_7909.JPG

Wood chips marking the progressive decline in water levelIMG_7907.JPG

About 5 min upstream from the lake's end, I found a flat sand bar on the side of the waterway, with a natural spring pouring out of the rock another minute beyond that. Perfect! I scurried back to retrieve my gear and set up camp.

Late afternoon light

Exploring the alcove above my boat.

A piece of graffiti in the alcove reading "no graffiti"? Someone didn't think that one through.IMG_7925.JPG

My bedtime view: the nearly full moon illuminating the cloudsIMG_7939.JPG

To be continued...
great stuff. How many days were you hiking and how many miles do you reckon you covered? Were you not worried camping close to the water like on that sandbar that perhaps there could be rain further up canyon in the night or had you got a forecast of a long dry spell
Much higher water than when I did this trip. Glad you got in there, this was the most memorable trip I've done in the GSENM.
great stuff. How many days were you hiking and how many miles do you reckon you covered? Were you not worried camping close to the water like on that sandbar that perhaps there could be rain further up canyon in the night or had you got a forecast of a long dry spell

I hiked a half day on Day 1 (Willow- estimate of 4-4.5 miles), paddled all day on Day 2 (estimate of 11 miles) plus minor walking to find a campsite (0.5 mi or less). Hiked about 6 miles in Davis on Day 3, but that took much of the day with the slow going. Paddled a half day on Day 4 (roughly 4 mi) and minor hiking to explore and find a campsite (maybe 0.5 mi). Day 5 (still to be posted) I hiked about 6 miles in 50 Mile canyon. Day 6 I hiked roughly 3-3.5 miles out of the canyon, then another 4 or so miles of roadwalking. The mileage was pretty low for the length of time I was out, but I wanted to do it leisurely.

Regarding campsite location, the forecast was completely dry. My site was 2-3 feet above the streambed, so I had some margin of safety/warning time to scramble to higher ground had it unexpectedly rained and the water flow increased.
Much higher water than when I did this trip. Glad you got in there, this was the most memorable trip I've done in the GSENM.

Your trip reports were what convinced me to buy a packraft and do these canyons as a loop, rather than just hiking them out and back. Thanks for the motivation!
nice. was in davis a couple days ago and your pics looks so pleasant compared to 35 and raining for 3 straight days.

Davis was one of the less-enjoyable hikes I've done. I cherrypicked pictures to make it look fun, so I can only imagine how miserable hiking it in cold rainy weather must have been.
I imagine Hole-in-the-Rock wasn't much fun either?

I had planned to do some other stuff down there but kinda wanted to bail after i got out of Davis after 48+ hours of continuous rain at that point. I knew I wasn't getting out but tried the road just for the hell of it and made it about a 100 meters. Road was half water. Ended up bumming around llewellen/cottonwood for a couple days to let it dry out.

Davis was one of the less-enjoyable hikes I've done. I cherrypicked pictures to make it look fun, so I can only imagine how miserable hiking it in cold rainy weather must have been.

Haha yeah there's a couple beaver dams in there. I was taking some pics above the lower falls and all the sudden there was a beaver just casually swimming around below me. It was hard to resist cursing the feller. Super pretty canyon, but yeah, kinda a thrash.
@piper01 The branch over each ankle with the ends crossed under the boat, I presume this is 2 branches, one resting on each ankle? But then if they were pointing down under the boat even if they were crossed in an X shape I wondered how they didn't just slide off your ankles into the water ? Unless you lashed them to your ankles and where they crossed
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