As the busy summer season approached for us here at Zion Adventure Company, the idea of doing a two day backpacking trip with eight staff members in an area outside of Zion felt like an unrealistic prospect. This, however, is exactly what eight of us accomplished Wednesday, April 30th and Thursday, May 1st out in Escalante (about 2.5 hours East of Zion). We spent two quality days backpacking through Coyote Gulch and literally running through both Spooky and Peekaboo Canyons all of which can be accessed down the infamous “Hole-In-The-Rock” Road.
For four of us, the trip started a couple days early as we traveled out before the rest of the group to do the technical canyon, Neon (a popular route in the Escalante area for both backpackers and canyoneers). The rest of our group arrived at Water Tanks the following morning around 9:30am fully energized and amped after their 5:00am departure from Springdale. Before hitting the trail, we savagely consumed several strawberry banana muffins Rich had baked, jokingly trash talked one another for a few minutes, refilled our water from the cars and car spotted our second vehicle at the Forty Mile Ridge Trailhead.
We set out for Coyote Gulch around 10:15am and headed North West from the Water Tanks Trailhead across open slick rock and sand. Chimney rock stood far in the distance and acted as a nice waypoint for us to gauge our progress and direction. Coyote Gulch started to come into view and it quickly became apparent that we were going to get cliffed out if we continued in our Northerly direction. We followed the rim of the canyon along rolling slick-rock hills and shallow drainages West meanwhile looking for a weakness in the canyon wall for a way down. Kat commented on a beautifully patterned snake nearly a foot away from her that turned out to be a coiled rattlesnake! It was quick to say hello by frantically rattling its tail at us and disappeared under a lip of the slick-rock. With the snake at a safe distance behind us, we finally spotted a way into a side drainage that would feed us into Coyote Gulch.
Once in the canyon and hiking along the canyon floor, we cruised. Most of us started out trying to find ways across the shallow water course by hoping from dry spot to dry spot however we soon succumbed to the fact that we would be hiking through the watercourse for most of our hike through the gulch. Many of us threw on our Chacos and a few kept their tennis shoes on. The canyon was absolutely stunning and the water course was primarily smooth, rockless sand. The canyonʼs soaring orange, streaked sandstone walls accented against the lush Cotton Wood trees and blue sky was beautiful. Each bend and turn of the canyon presented huge, carved out alcoves and overhung walls.
After only a few hours of hiking, we turned a bend in the canyon and arrived, to our surprise, at Jacob Hamblin Arch (or Lobo Arch named for an old desert wolf). The arch was enormous and was located in a very tight bend of the canyon. There was some pretty incredible camping just below the arch on either side and we were tempted to stay there however it was still so early in our day, about 1:30pm.
Instead we snacked, dropped our packs and proceeded to climb the arch. There was a low 4th class scramble up the side of the arch that allowed us to escape up out of the canyon and look down canyon from above. We took in the view from the top, soaked up some sun, down-climbed back the way we had come up and continued on our way down canyon.
After another hour or so of hiking we came to a stunning natural feature called Coyote Natural Bridge.
Coyote Natural Bridge ended up being our camping spot for the night – and what a great spot it was. Despite some obnoxious wind throughout dinner that resulted in some pretty gritty grub, the area had a nice sandbank for camping and relatively clear water for filtering. Our entertainment for the evening included chocolates from Zack, taking in our beautiful surroundings and of course a good game of “throw the rock into the can” which enthralled us for much longer than youʼd think and we’d like to admit.
Tentless, we sprawled out on the sandbank for the night and enjoyed some beautiful star gazing. We were lulled to sleep by Erin fire dancing beneath Coyote Natural Bridge. Luckily the wind had died down a bit by this point and we had a relatively calm night. We had a 6:30am wake up and got moving by 7:30am.Many of us opted to wear neoprene socks (smart choice) for this next section of hiking since it was still pretty chilly first thing in the morning to be romping through cold water. Those of us who did not use neoprene socks definitely enjoyed the sensation of numb feet for most of the morning. As the day warmed up though, we were reminded that we did in fact still have toes. Continuing down stream from Coyote Natural Bridge, we came to a wider part of the canyon and spotted Cliff Arch, another sizable feature worth some “oooing” and “awwwing”.
Leading up to Cliff Arch and further down canyon, the water course traveled down a few waterfalls making for some photogenic areas to stop at and enjoy. The only thing that got our spirits down was coming across a campsite littered with tin cans, TP and gross trash – we were disappointed to see such blatant disregard for LNT practices in such a beautiful place. We begrudgingly picked up and packed out the campersʼ trash hoping there was a good reason for leaving so much waste behind but couldnʼt think of a reasonable excuse.
We arrived at our exit trail out of Coyote Gulch that would take us up and out of the canyon through “Crack-in-the-Wall” around 10:00am. We dropped our packs at the exit trail and continued down canyon a little further in order to see and meet up with the Escalante River. After another game of throwing rocks, this time in the form of skipping them across the river, we hiked up the Escalante maybe a quarter mile around the next bend and were rewarded with views of massive Stevenʼs Arch – a huge hole in the canyon wall very high up. This short diversion was certainly worth the extra mile or so to see Stevenʼs Arch from the canyon floor.
We threw a few more rocks and then made our way back to our packs for the final ascent out of the canyon. The hike up to “Crack-in-the-Wall” was up a giant sand dune – thereʼs really no better way to describe it – deep sand and uphill. Luckily, as we climbed out of the canyon bottom, we could smell the blooming flowers on the hillside and the views looking across the canyon out at Stevenʼs Arch became amazing.
“Crack-in-the-Wall” was literally a crack in the cliff band that allowed us to get up and out of the canyon and back to Forty Mile Ridge Trailhead. Often times people haul their packs up this section due to some 4th class climbing that is required. We managed to keep packs on and pass them up to one another through some of the narrower and steeper sections. Once we were all through Crack-in-the-Wall it was pretty mellow hiking back to the trailhead minus some deep sand every now and then. We made it back to our car at Fortymile Ridge by 1:30pm. In appropriate adventure form, we proceeded to throw rocks from the parking lot into a box while Rich and Erin fetched our second car from Water Tanks Trailhead about 3 miles down the road.
With our surprising good time through Coyote Gulch, we decided we had just enough time to make a quick visit to Spooky and Peekaboo Canyons before Nemoʼs (our source of burgers and shakes and all things greasy in Escalante) would close at 5:00pm. We safely high-tailed it back down Hole-in-the-Rock Road to the Dry Fork Coyote Trailhead where we parked and set out to conquer Spooky and Peekaboo. With burgers and shakes on the mind, we all ran the approach down to the mouth of Peek-a-boo and started our ascent of the canyon from the bottom. Many of us rose to the challenge and played “Hot Lava” up the canyon where no one could step on the ground and if they did they suffered a slow and painful death via molten rock. This resulted in fun scrambling and stemming with very low consequence if anyone were to actually slip to the ground. The rest of us trotted our way up the canyon enjoying its narrow curves and short scrambles around carved out shoots and drop-offs.
We all had smiles plastered to our faces as we popped out the top of Peek-a-boo. We ran East over to the head of Spooky and continued our speedy pace through this even skinnier canyon. Spooky presented some stunning, tightly carved, narrow sections and a fun rabbit-hole to down-climb. We got spat out into a wide sandy wash and all proceeded to jog our way back towards the trailhead. We ran back up some steep sand and slick rock to arrive at the parking lot in about an hour round trip. We made it to Nemoʼs by 4:30pm to learn that they had recently extended their hours to 8:00pm. After a good chuckle, we ravenously ate our cheeseburgers and shakes until we felt sufficiently bloated and happy. Our trip felt like the epitome of the perfect backpacking trip – rounded out by just the right amount of hiking, beautiful scenery, laughing, scrambling, rock throwing and most importantly, good company. It will surely make for an excellent addition to ZACʼs offered backpacking trips!