Monday, September 7, 2015

Neon Canyon

 On our Escalante canyoneering trip, we originally were going to do Neon Canyon as part of a backpacking trip, but due to the bad roads we had to switch our plans and do Neon Canyon as a day trip (Excursions of Escalante offers this as a four-day trip and Zion Adventure Company offers a three-day trip).

We had to hike three miles cross-country to the Escalante River, cross the river, then hike up above the canyon, drop into the canyon and navigate it, then hike the three miles back to the trailhead. The hike looked daunting as we saw our landmark butte out in the distance.

Far distance.

It looked really far away.

Yikes, it was far!

Normally three miles doesn't sound far, but when you can see the whole three miles laid out right in front of you, it looks far. (Can you spot the person in the bottom third of the photo? He's already tiny and not so far away.)

Nevertheless, we started hiking. Hiking on the rock wasn't so tough, but there were a lot of sandy sections. We tried to stay off the cryptobiotic soil, the soil that is held together by lichens (which themselves are a combination of fungi and algae). The cryptobiotic soil keeps the soil in place and can be hundreds or even thousands of years old.

We started hiking in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and crossed an unmarked boundary into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Eventually we got to where we could see the green swath of the Escalante River. What a welcoming sight! As we got close to our butte, we could see the canyon below it, meeting up with the Escalante.

The Escalante River wasn't quite what I expected. The entire streambed is really wide, and we first crossed a dry section of it. We could hear water, so we knew the stream was close, and after bushwhacking through willows reached it. The water was running fast and brown from the recent rains, and was over knee high crossing it. Small branches floated down, and I felt the river trying to push me over as I crossed. But that wasn't enough to prevent a few of us taking a small trail upstream and jumping in and floating to the canyon entrance. It felt great to cool off!

We ate an early lunch and then started up the canyon, quickly hiking out of the canyon bottom. The view up canyon was spectacular. We followed a well-marked trail past the first possible drop-in place. At the second (the "more fun entrance"), we decided it was time to go into the canyon. It's possible to go much farther up canyon before dropping in, but the most spectacular part is the bottom part and we were doing a daytrip, so we decided this was a good place for us. Plus it was hot, and we were eager to get into the shade of the canyon.

After a quick rappel into a side canyon we entered the main canyon, which was only a few feet wide. A swimmer hole soon followed, and about half the group put on wetsuits. The rest of us were so hot from hiking we decided to give the pools a try in just our shorts and t-shirts.

We had a lot of swimming to do! Or at least backfloating--a backpack with drybags inside makes a nice buoyant container for keeping one high in the water.

After many twists and turns we came out to a section with trees and took a snack break. This is where "the normal" entrance comes in. There are supposed to be moqui steps (steps made by Native Americans in the rock), but I missed them.

We weren't thrilled to see the big, puffy dark clouds overhead, but fortunately we didn't hear any thunder. Nevertheless, we were all aware that the canyon could flash at any time. A storm in the upper reaches, miles from us, could send water swooshing down the narrow canyons. We frequently saw flood debris over our heads.

The next section we would enter was renowned for a couple keeper potholes. These are potholes that have the downstream side higher than you can usually reach, so you have to do shoulder stands or pack tosses or even use a grappling hook to get out. We all put on wetsuits now, anticipating we might be in the water awhile as we did some problem solving.

But the water was so high, that we swam right over the potholes. Our exits were generally easy, like stepping onto a sandy beach.

We went right over what is usually another keeper pothole and then got ready for the final rappel--into the magical Golden Cathedral. Thanks to Bryan for catching this photo of me.

The light was gorgeous, and we felt very lucky to be there. We were fortunate that the weather cooperated. Here's a video of a flash flood in the Golden Cathedral.

Wet and happy!

Many thanks to Bryan for organizing this trip.

I really didn't want to get out of the water, so I floated back over and took a photo of the drop looking up. It looked a little like a face. 

And here's a photo of Pauli coming down.

Once we had stripped off our wetsuits and had another snack, it was time to start the long hike back. It went smoothly, though, and we were back at the vehicle faster than we expected. All in all, a fantastic day! I could understand why Neon and the Golden Cathedral get a lot of hype, they are definitely gorgeous.

1 comment:

Bonny Armstrong said...

Such great photos. Neon Canyon was one of my first technical canyons and it definitely got me hooked!

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