Coyote Gulch and Stevens Canyon
May 12, 2018
Day 25 (continued)
It was already mid-afternoon after I’d re-packed my gear with my re-supply cache and headed down Hurricane Wash. I’d never done the upper portion of this route, but had heard it was a real slog. I didn’t find it that bad — but it was a temperate overcast day and I can imagine that in the full sun of August it would be miserable. I enjoyed the occasional sets of narrows in the upper part of the canyon:
In less than a few hours from the road I was to where the water started running and the canyon really transformed. The canyon walls continued to rise and not long after I was where the trickle from Hurricane Wash met the much larger stream at the junction of Coyote Gulch.
From this point on the canyon is really spectacular. I quickly ran into a group camping near the first bend. Seemed kinda odd to be camped so far up I thought, but they seemed to be enjoying the spot.
There was another group camped on a following bend. They waved as I passed and soon I was nearing the bend with Jacob Hamblin Arch. That’s when I saw a BUNCH of camping and people milling about in the stream. I’d always heard how crowded Coyote Gulch could be in the spring, but on all my previous visits it really wasn’t THAT bad. But, I’d probably already seen more people than ALL my previous visits combined. Then it dawned on me… it was Saturday!
I continued on taking a few pics and shooting some video. I didn’t linger long as I didn’t like the crowd and also the overcast day didn’t provide the best light, but… despite all that… it was still an amazing place and I was excited to be back.
I went under the major undercut and watched several people playing on the technical route above the arch. As I got to the downstream side of the arch there was a group grabbing water from the dripping spring. Immediately across the stream from them were several tents set up with wet clothes hanging out to dry from various ropes tied between trees. It looked like a small village. Separate groups were yelling back and forth and it echoed throughout the canyon. Yeah… this is not the Coyote Gulch experience that I’d learned to love. In all total I counted 50 people and 20 tents within the 1/2 mile stretch near the arch!
It was getting late in the day, but there was no way I was camping anywhere near here so I kept walking. I enjoyed seeing the sun set on the canyon’s higher walls and then to my surprise (and great pleasure) as I moved downstream I saw far fewer and fewer people. There was nobody around by the time I walked past “Swiss Cheese Falls”…
…nor was there anyone at Coyote Bridge (though one guy did come through as I was still there taking pics.)
No people, but I did run into a few groups of deer. Once I got passed the hanging alcove and “Black Pool” area I decided to set up camp. Once all set up, I went to check out a nearby alcove on the south side of the canyon. There were a interesting pool partially covered in green algae and surround by dark green reeds and grass. I dubbed it the “Green Pool”.
Back at camp I filtered some water, made my dinner, and then called it a night.
Headed downstream in the morning I soon left the stream and climbed the route up to Cliff Arch. I realized that every time now that I’ve been in Coyote Gulch, I’ve always taken this bypass and thus have never hiked the bend to the south. Hmm.. wonder if I’m missing anything great in that bend?!
Climbing down from Cliffs Arch I enjoyed some time in the waterfall before heading down canyon. I heard a group nearby, but never did seem them.
I made fairly good time moving down canyon past the various waterfalls. I stopped to take the obligatory pictures, but didn’t linger too long for anything fancy.
I did stop for a while in the lower canyon where a spring cascades from high above on the canyon wall. It’s really one of my favorite spots in the canyon. Again… nothing super-AMAZING, but just a cool little spot that I’ve learned to love over the years. I figured it made for a good spot to stop and filter some water and have a snack.
A group of 3 med students from SLC passed me while I was there. We chatted for bit — they were in awe of the canyon but wish they hadn’t brought so much in their packs.
When I finally arrived at the rockfall in the lower end of the canyon I was eager to check out a new way down. Traditionally one needs to walk on a semi-sketchy ledge to get past the obstacle and to the bottom of the canyon. However in recent years there have been reports of a “rabbit hole” opening in the rockfall where it was possible to climb down directly. I investigated, but I saw nothing that looked feasible for someone my size, so it was back to the ledge crossing:
Some people are really freaked out by this ledge, others walk right by as if it’s no big deal. I’m somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t help that it is frequently covered in sand as it was on this occasion.
Once back down to stream level I went back up to the rockfall to look at it from below. I found there were a few minor holes that might possibly provide a route for a small hiker. One was partially clogged with debris so maybe it was bigger in recent history. But, both still looked very challenging especially with the rock slick from water rushing through. Glad I didn’t try to squeeze down in from above.
NOTE: see more pics in the gallery or watch my segment video to see/hear much more on this obstacle.
From below the rockfall it’s a short distance along the entrenched lower canyon and then I was at the Escalante. From here I turned up river and was soon a the classic view of the river with impressive Stevens Arch hanging high above.
This time though I didn’t plan on hiking the bend under the river, but instead hiking up a route INTO the arch and then continuing up Stevens Canyon via a little-used route along the benches. The first step was to backtrack just a bit and climb the talus slope on the canyon’s eastern side.
As I climbed there was a great view back up Coyote Gulch.
But… the goal was still ahead of me, now from a slightly new perspective.
Once I got under the arch it was incredible. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip thus far. Unfortunately it’s one of those places that pictures just can’t do justice. But, here’s one (and there are several more in the gallery):
I spent a good 20 minutes just relaxing under the arch and taking it all in. Near the end of that time a group from Ottawa showed up (I’d watched them coming up for a while.) They were good people and we had a nice chat. In stark contrast to the day before, they were only 3 of 11 people I’d seen in the lower part of Coyote and along the Escalante — and several of those were from a distance.
Soon I left and headed out by going through the arch. After taking a few pics from this unique perspective I continued up canyon along the Kayenta benches.
The ledges along this section look really intimidating, but just like the similar route farther up canyon — it looks worse from afar than it does underfoot while hiking. Here I’m looking back toward the arch with the entrenched inner canyon below me:
The route I was on has been written up by guidebook-author Allen and was recently completed by a guy I know from an online hiking forum. I’d recalled it sounded like a cool route, but didn’t remember the details. I knew there was to be one or two minor climbs, but nothing technical. The route was to connect back down to the canyon floor somewhere not too far above “Poison Ivy Hill” — a famous landmark for those hiking the traditional route in Stevens Canyon.
After about two-thirds of the way to the anticipated descent I came to a small cliffband that I’d need to climb down. Luckily there was a good crack that made getting down the 12′ wall not that bad. Soon I could see the “Poison Ivy Hill” area below me in the canyon so I thought I had to be close to the descent route. But alas… the inner canyon walls were still nearly vertical in this area. So… I continued on up the canyon.
Soon I came to an impasse where there was still no way down and now continuing up canyon also looked impossible. But, I soon realized that I had to climb to a higher ledge before I could continue up the canyon. While making my way up canyon I checked each ledge systems looking for a way down — all to no avail. There had been some scattered cairns farther down the canyon, but now there were none. I was growing more and more unsure of the route and frustrated with myself for not taking good notes before setting out.
Arriving at the next bend up the canyon I saw some lower ledges that got fairly close to the canyon floor so I was again hopeful. I checked a few areas — some looked possible, but it was pretty sketchy. I found myself walking ledges with more exposure than I liked and had to pull the bag up in one post.
It was getting late in the day so I decided to stop going up canyon and make camp. I could study my maps a bit more and then scout around in the morning with better light and hopefully a rejuvenated spirit.
Woke up and continued to investigate my surroundings. And… still no luck. Several spots seems to get close, but all required some type of downclimb, which were all really hard to spot the proper handholds from above. So…
I decided to reverse course and head BACK down canyon, BACK through the arch, and then BACK up the Escalante and up Stevens on the traditional route. This was a major bummer, but I knew it could be done w/o wasting too much more time and I didn’t want to talk myself into something riskier than I should — the consequences for fall here were just too great (especially when solo.) So I turned around and started back.
NOTE: after the completion of this trip I re-visited the information about this route. In hindsight I learned that my camp was indeed very near the descent route, but it required more of a climb than I’d thought and from above can be very intimidating. I don’t recommend this route for solo backpackers (esp going this direction), but one can learn more about the route with numerous other photos in my subsequently-created Through Stevens Arch Hike Guide.
There were two silver linings of having to go back, down, around, and up Stevens the traditional way. First — I ran into another hiker along the Escalante from Colorado who knew me and loved my website. It was the second time on this trip that I’d been recognized and appreciated for my site — so that was cool. And the second good thing was… just the hike itself which is really awesome. This stretch of the Escalante and up lower Stevens really is great, so I was glad to get to see it again despite the extra mileage:
When I got up above “Poison Ivy Hill” I was humored (in a sad way) to see the cliffs above that I’d been on earlier in the day. It took about 4 hours to travel that impassable 40 feet in distance! I spotted several locations where I was “hopeful” while above, to now clearly see that I wan’t even close!
I continued up the middle section of Stevens and noticed it was much drier and not nearly as lush as on my previous visit. This actually had one advantage in that Stevens Canyon can be notorious for having huge amounts of poison ivy throughout the canyon, but this year, that was not a problem.
Before long I was at the sandstone ramp which is used to bypass a dryfall by providing access to the Kayenta ledges above. Last time I walked this section it seemed somewhat sketchy — but now it didn’t seem that bad. I made pretty good time as the sun was going down. After a few hours I reached the upper dryfall where I’d leave the ledges and return to the canyon floor.
I continued a little farther up to the area known as “Triple Fork” and made camp. It wasn’t as far as I’d hoped for the day, but there was a pothole of water nearby so I felt pretty good.
Woke to a fairly sunny day and continued up the canyon. I came across a large tent with stakes tucked beside a tree in the wash. It was strange — it didn’t really look like it had been stashed there, but also really didn’t appear carried there by a flood. I can’t imagine somebody carrying it here and leaving it. I’m hoping whoever did it was coming back, but I kinda had my doubts.
Soon I was to a scenic portion of canyon with somewhat “Subway”-like walls. There were some pools of water here, but not the small flowing steam I remembered from the last time I was here.
Around another few bends and I was at the exit route which would leave Stevens and follow a side canyon toward the Waterpocket Fold. I filled up on water via another pothole and then started the climb up. Almost immediately I had a good view of upper Stevens and the lush area surrounding a spring below.
The exit canyon route is pretty cool. One walks atop huge swaths of Wingate Sandstone as the Navajo Sandstone walls tower even higher above. Several car-sized boulder litter the otherwise barren stone landscape. Scale seems weird out here.
The canyon soon constricts and one comes to another landmark — the big tank. This watertank seems to almost always hold water (though I did read a report that it was empty once in the fall). It’s a great place to fill up and it also marks the location as to where one needs to exit this side canyon temporarily to bypass a dryfall and climb up into the Navajo Domes.
But… that’ll have to wait for the next section… Part 9: Capitol Reef to Bullfrog.