Trip Report

The "Lower East Side" name refers to the spectacular series of canyons -- some of the best in the world as far as I can tell -- on the lower east side of the Escalante River between Moody and Stevens, and between the Escalante River and the Waterpocket Fold.

Personnel: Stan Wagon, Katie Larson, Jonathan Kriegel, David Nebel, and Phil Hage (with Allan Dunaj for the day trips and first day of backpack only).

The backpack route: Middle Moody parking to 40-Mile Ridge parking via upper Middle Moody, top of East Moody, upper Fold, Shofar, Prima Donna, Hydra, and Ichabod Canyons and then a four-mile walk down the Escalante River to Coyote Gulch and the Crack-in-the-Wall exit to the car.

Wednesday March 29, 2006.   Drive to Escalante with Phil, picking up Jonathan at Capitol Reef. There was a serious snowstorm over Boulder Mountain, and this was the second day of the storm. This caused very high water levels in the Escalante River, but they receded quickly over the next couple of days. Clearly potholes would be full and water would not be a problem on the backpack to start on Saturday. But just as clearly, the Escalante River, which we have to cross to end our trip, would be high. In 2005 we were by its banks when it was raging and possibly uncrossable, so this was a concern.

Thursday: We explored the amazing jointed area NE of the end of the Sheffield Road (between the head of Red Breaks area and the Escalante River). For years I had noticed this unusual feature on the map, but it is not mentioned in any guidebook. Yet it makes a great day hike. One highlight were several huge accumulations of  Moqui marbles on the Navajo sandstone (see photo). We wandered through one pass that looked impassable on the map, but in fact could be climbed and descended with no problem.

Friday: We tried Davis Gulch. But it was too cold and wet to do the irreversible rappel so we bailed out at that point. Allan swam the deep pool that turned us back and reported further difficulties. So he swam back, and was very chilled after all that. On return we planted a car at Forty-Mile Ridge for the end of our backpack.

Saturday: We used Drew Cozby's shuttle service (Escalante Outback Adventures; http://www.utahcanyons.com) to get us to the Middle Moody Parking lot, with Allan Dunaj's car joining us as he was to spend one day with us. The road, which was rough last year, had just been graded, and the drive to the end was very pleasant. We headed down into the canyon right away (starting at 4 pm), but avoided the rock climb out the other side by hiking up-canyon for about half an hour to a spot (recommended by Herb Taylor) where one can easily scramble out the opposite side. We camped near its top.

Sunday: Uneventful long hike via a climb out of a canyon to the flat ground of the top of the Waterpocket Fold and then a descent at the end (familiar from 2005) to a great camp on the high Wingate in the very head of East Moody Canyon, above what is known as the Sheephunter's Route. We camped here last year ("Snow Camp") and when we investigated the exact spot we could find no trace of our presence there the year before. Good. Plenty of water everywhere.

Monday: To "Windy Pass", high on a thin ridge that divides Georgie's Camp Canyon from Fold Canyon. Again, the day was uneventful and the travel easy, with some rock scrambling to get by small pouroffs and a larger digression to the right side as we approach the end of the day.. This is basically a route described in Steve Allen's book. He calls the Navajo domes and cliffs in this area "sublime". Agreed. From camp we could climb down a very steep gully to get good water. At the bottom of the climb I found a single ancient pictograph of a sheep which was quite striking (see photo). And a kilometer before this (upcanyon) Katie had found a panel of pictographs that we knew about from Herb Taylor. After settling in we wandered the steep ridge above and SW of camp for great views of the surrounding terrain. This pass is an amazing place -- one of the most scenic camps I have been at. The best view is of a branch of Georgie's Camp Canyon. I have never been down into it, but I have heard it described as endless Wingate walking to get around.

Tuesday: A long complicated day, but no real difficulties, to get to Fold Camp just downstream of the junction of the main branches of Fold. We had camped there six years ago. The route is, for the most part, described in Steve Allen's book, but at the end we diverged from his description to head right into Fold. This requires a very short rappel from a large block followed by a few steep Moqui steps to get to the very bottom. At the saddle before this point was a feature that Herb Taylor calls "Aliens": it is a collection of grass growths that remind one of crop circles. Really quite striking.

In the evening Katie and I explored the route to the bench that would get us to the start of the steep and long exit gully. At one point a very, very strong wind came up. When we reached camp we learned that one bandanna (Katie's) and one foam pad (mine) had been lost. They were last seen flying into the sky. Well, we each searched the appropriate directions and, amazingly, each found the missing items.

Wednesday: The day looked all right, so we proceeded with our plan for a day hike up the N fork of Fold, the plan being to see if we could get to a pass into Stevens at its end. We had some information that this might be possible. We found Moqui steps and no obvious blockage. But very soon it started raining, lightly, then heavily with lightning.

We abandoned the day hike and headed to camp to secure our gear in light of this storm. Pretty soon the canyon started flooding a little and we realized we had to move to higher ground. A large flood was unlikely, but it was unnerving to see small walls of water break from pool to pool. We decided to try to get to the pass into Stevens Canyon that we had used six years ago, even though that would change our trip drastically. But as we started up that eastern fork of Fold we were quickly stopped by pools. The problem was that we had not researched or scouted (and could not remember) exactly how we had, in 2000, gotten from the pass to camp. (Post-trip research indicates that we took a high route past the confluence in question, and then descended to the bottom.) So we made the quick decision to retrace and then climb up via the steep gully. To give an idea of the flood potential, there was one pool on the way back that three of us could jump without getting wet. But after three jumps enough new water had come in that the fourth person could not jump it.

The rain let up a bit in the afternoon and our climb up the very steep 800-foot gully (class 3, some class 4) went all right. We had a great camp on the Navajo at the top -- there would usually be no water in such a place, but that was not a problem on this day! The views from the edge down into Fold were stupendous. Indeed, I imagine people rarely stop at this spot so this unexpected camp provided one of the highlights of the trip, because of the views and feeling of being above it all. The camp was exposed to the winds, which stayed high for the rest of the day and through the night, so we set up the MegaMids and passed a noisy night. Floods were not a problem, however.

After the trip I learned that Herb Taylor had tried our day-hike canyon and got stuck by a pouroff at 4156.8 north. But he believes it is known to work if one stays on the Wingate on the eastern border, getting to it low down near the confluence somehow.

Thursday: The move to Hydra went well. It is a little tricky finding the route off the Navajo into Shofar, but not too hard. Then down the Kayenta cliffs into Shofar. Time out to see Shofar Arch, and then around the corner and up and over to Hydra. As we approached our planned camp in a side canyon we found a nicer spot on the Wingate before then, and so had a spacious camp with tons of water and great views.

Friday: Over to Ichabod Canyon. We started with a 4th-class descent into a side-canyon of Hydra, then a further 4th class descent on a steep slab into Hydra, and then a pleasant 4th-class ascent of a chimney to get out of Hydra and back on the high Wingate. Soon we were at the Escalante escarpment and got our first good look at the Escalante River. It looked very green. Did this mean it was deep? Too deep to be safe? Hard to tell, but it certainly was a concern. In this area we  found a ram's horn ("Shofar" in Hebrew) in the Navajo before the descent into the unnamed canyon before Ichabod. The descent into Ichabod was supposed to involve a 40-foot rappel but we could not find it after 20 minutes of looking. But farther up-canyon there was a side-canyon that went well, with a 4th class descent and then a long slot that involved some fun stemming to avoid getting wet. This brought us down to Ichabod main canyon, which was quite wet. We walked about 20 minutes down that to a nice campsite that Jonathan, scouting ahead, found. Later I learned that in 2000 we came down some steep slabs near where we were looking for the rappel. So we apparently missed that route this time, but found one that was new for our group, and worked reasonably well with no rope work needed.

Saturday: Out Ichabod Canyon to the Escalante River, which is easy and gives us our first close-up view of the water that we would have to cross. The river was certainly flowing high, but it seemed not too high, so we chose to go down-river as planned as opposed to following the backup plan of going upriver a little and crossing only once to the Bobway exit. [[Whoops: Big error. The Bobway is downstream a short distance. Upstream is Fools Canyon. Both work as exits but I now (2007) know that the Bobway is much simpler than Fools. There is a small map error in Steve Allen's book that makes it look like the Bobway is upstream when it is not.]]. Well, I say "chose" but when I got to the confluence the rest of the team had moved on down, their strategy apparently being to not allow me, a nonswimmer, to look at the river and suggest going upstream! We stayed on one side for a long time, but eventually we were forced to cross to avoid dense tamarisk, and then it was crossing after crossing to get to places where travel was acceptable. The depth was not bad, but at thigh-deep this did slow us down, especially when we had to stay in the river for long stretches. We could see, from wet sand, how high the river had been right after the Wednesday storm; it would have perhaps been uncrossable then. But today was our lucky day and although the exit to the car at 40-mile Ridge was a few hours behind schedule, there were no serious problems. We reached the final crossing past Stevens Canyon at last, and were at the upward trail with all difficulties behind us. Then the short trail into Coyote over a Kayenta saddle, the climb up the sand hill with better and better views, and the flat slickrock walk back to the car, which we reached at 5 pm.

Several days after the trip I checked stream flow rates and found that on the day after our crossing the snowmelt started to raise the river again. It appears that the day we crossed was especially low compared to surrounding days. I guess I have to say that anyone planning a trip that absolutely requires crossing the river would be well advised to wait until later in the season, after the snow runoff is done. The graph below tells the story. March 29 shows the spike during the storm on our arrival day in town. Note how quickly it returned to norma, on March 31 and April 1. But then snowmelt caused some daily variation. April 5 was the day the storm hit us. Cool post-storm weather seems to have suppressed the snowmelt, so we were fine on our wading day of April 8. But on the 9th and thereafter levels at some time during the day (not clear when since it takes several hours for the surge to get downstream the many miles to Stevens Canyon) the levels would have been very high.

I don't know if many parties do such traverses, as it is much more common to do a long loop from 40-Mile Ridge, Red Well, or Middle Moody. The traverse has the headache of dealing with the monster car shuttle (the drive from one parking area to the other would take over four hours if done all at once), but the reward is that one has a committing route over constantly changing terrain. There are, of course, other ways to traverse the route, making use of Stevens Canyon, for example. But the route we chose is surely one of the best, as it traverses all those remote smaller canyons of the Lower East Side.

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