We were on our way to Canyonlands NP for a mountain bike ride along the White Rim Trail. Since it’s a long drive from SoCal we decided to take a few days on the way up and check out some of the sights along the way. The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument has a lot of them. This was our second stop after the Slot Canyon Hike.
We camped less then 5 miles from the trailhead for this hike. So after packing up camp in the morning we quickly made it to the starting point. From the rim the canyon system of the Escalante river looks very nice, but it does not give any clues about the spectacular sights to be found down in the canyons. I had some GPS tracks for this hike, but we opted to just follow the obvious use trail and cairns. As we learned later this was a good thing since we might have opted for the most direct route had we studied the map/tracks. This way we ended up on a much more scenic route and the extra mile or so was well worth it.
The temperatures were quiet comfortable for a hike that leads over rocky and sandy terrain that would radiate heat a lot on a hot day. After a while we reached a spot where the cairns led us down into a little canyon, this in turn opened into a bigger canyon. At the exit of the first canyon we had to negotiate an interesting spot where we had to walk on the side of the canyon wall. Definitely not the place to slip! (see also movie).
At the bottom of the canyon we were faced with the Escalante river. We had heard that it can be tough to ford depending on water level. When we first saw it, it looked pretty swift and due to the murky water it was not possible to judge how deep it was. After looking for a good crossing spot for a while and not finding anything obvious we resigned ourselves to the idea that this might not be our day. However, I did not want to turn around without at least giving it a good try. So I changed from my boots into sandals which I had brought for the occasion. Turns out the water was only knee deep for me and the footing was very solid on the rocky river bottom. After a test crossing I went back to get our packs and then Srisuda. Before turning from the main canyon into Neon Canyon we had a couple more river crossing which were becoming fun even though Srisuda did not like the ice cold water.
Neon Canyon quickly turns fairly narrow with massive straight walls. It was nice and cool in this shady canyon that had little water pools along the way. After a while we came across a group of hikers who had camped down here (got to come back and do that some day) we later heard that they were climbers and were going to rappel down into the Cathedral. I want to do that! Not too long after that we reached our goal. Walking between a huge boulder and the canyon wall a truly majestic sight opened up in front of us. A sight at least on par if not more amazing than any canyon feature I have encountered in all our years in the South West: The Cathedral. The name sounds a bit over the top, but it’s appropriate. There were 5 people there, everyone was quiet, trying to avoid sounds that might distract the others. Sound echoed around the “chamber” very well. We found a spot to sit/lie down and just be in awe of this spot.
Eventually everyone left and I stepped into the water to get a better view of the holes. The water was very cold and got rather deep quickly walking in from the edge, so I didn’t make it all the way under the holes. Then we also had to leave. On the way out we talked to someone who had come in the most straight route and we decided to take that route out. It was 1-2 miles shorter and only required one river crossing. We made it to the truck by late afternoon. After changing we headed north on Hole-in-the-rock road to find another camp spot.
We hiked about 10.2 miles with 1900 ft elevation gain.
(Click on image to enlarge/start slide show)