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Trail Description : Escalante Route

The Escalante Route runs for approximately 10 miles along the south bank of the Colorado River and connects the Red Canyon Trail and the Tanner Trail. The trail does not actually follow the bank of the river, except in a few places, as this is not possible along most of the route. Most of its route is found anywhere from a couple hundred to a thousand feet above the river and at times the trail can be more than a mile away from it. This of course depends on the level that the river is running at. The Escalante Route is referred to as a route as opposed to a trail because it does not follow any predetermined course. There are any number of ways of getting from Tanner Rapids to Red Canyon (Hance Rapids) and all of these possible courses is collectively referred to as the Escalante "Route".

The numerous possible courses that the route can take make it a very interesting hike. You can do it two or three or more times and not take the same route twice. Your first course of action before attempting this trail should be to query the rangers at the Backcountry Reservation Office for the current flow rate of the river. Don't just ask about the current flow rate but what the rate is expected to be when you will be attempting the hike. The flow rate determines whether you will be able to take the low route or be forced to take the high route. A high flow rate of 30,000 cfs or more means that the lower route will be under water. I have never attempted the low route because its availability is always questionable. If you start along it and and the river is too high you will have to backtrack and go higher. The rest of this description assumes that you will be starting at Hance Rapids and heading upriver along the high route.

From Hance Rapids you can walk east along the beach, and through some tammies, about a mile or so, all the way to Papago Canyon. This side canyon is an interesting place to explore if you've got the time. Shortly beyond Papago comes the first decision as to which route to take. If the river is running low you can continue along the beach to Nevills Rapids. If the river is running high, as it usually is, you will come to a point along the beach which is impassable due to a large section of Vishnu Schist protruding out into the river. Do not attempt to get past this section by getting into the water. It's deeper than it looks, quite cold and swift flowing. Your only choice is to climb. If you backtrack a little ways you will come to a very large rockslide which you can climb to get around the obstruction. Once at the top of the slide, follow the cairns that will lead you to Seventyfive Mile Canyon and Nevills Rapids.

At Nevills Rapids you have to check the water level again. Chances are if it was high at Papago it's high here as well and you are forced to the upper route again. This time it is a little more tricky though. You have to hike about ¼ to ½ mile up into Seventyfive Mile Canyon and look for the spot where the "trail" climbs up out of the creek bed. This ascent should be marked by cairns but it is not easy. It is almost completely vertical especially in the lower section, but starts to slant away from the creek bed towards the top. I would not recommend attempting this climb with a full pack. I did it with just a small day pack and that was not fun. You literally have to climb the lower section. If you're going to have a full pack at this point make sure you've also got rope with you so you can haul your pack up once you get above the hard part.

Once you complete this climb and get to the level portion where the trail resumes you should head back along the top of the canyon wall towards the river. The view of Nevills Rapids from the top of this section when you get back out to the river is very nice. The trail then heads northeast well above the river until it gets to Escalante Creek at which point it descends again. Beyond Escalante it is unlikely that you will be able to follow the beach along the river as the river is seldom low enough to do this any longer. If you are travelling from east to west it may be difficult to locate the continuation of the trail from this point as it climbs up and then over a series of sandstone ledges to the west. This is another place where the trail is going almost straight up and requires careful climbing. I did the Escalante as a day hike from Red Canyon to the Unkar Creek overlook a couple of years ago and was disturbed by this section on the return. I did not recall having any trouble following the trail from west to east but on the return I simply could not find it until I looked up and saw some cairns on the ledges.

Continuing on and to the west, at this point you must hike up Escalante Creek and do some major climbing. This is not the hand over and type but rather just a steep hike up the trail. After about ¼ mile up the creek it divides into two separate drainages. The topo map shows the trail following up along western side of the eastern drainage but the last time that I was there this was not the case. The trail eventually became impassable and after backtracking a bit I noticed another trail heading up along the western drainage. This trail climbs along the drainage for a short distance and then climbs out of it and continues to ascend but gradually drifts away from it towards the east. After about ½ mile or so the trail eventually comes out near the top of eastern drainage. Cairns can be seen heading down this drainage but if you follow them they lead you to a dead end. The real trail climbs up and out on the eastern bank of the drainage, look for the cairns that mark it.

Once out of this drainage the trail continues to climb, although gradually, up and over a reddish slope and around a ridge. On the other side of the ridge it contours along the edge for a while before beginning its descent towards a lower ridge that runs along the western side of Cardenas Creek. When the trail reaches this ridge it follows it almost due north to the Unkar Creek overlook which is about 1½ miles away.

From the Unkar Creek overlook the trail descends down into the western side of Cardenas Creek where it again follows the river. Once you reach the beach you only have about 2 more miles to go to Tanner Rapids.
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Copyright © Bob Ribokas, 1994-2008, all rights reserved. This publication and its text and photos may not be copied for commercial use without the express written permission of Bob Ribokas.