Harris Wash/Silver Falls/Choprock/Fence Loop

Trip Report
Drove down from Salt Lake City after work getting on the road about 7PM Friday and spent the night Friday night in my car just outside Panguitch.

Day 1
I made the drive from Panguitch through Red Canyon/Bryce/Tropic and caught this gorgeous sunrise above mossy cave.

After running some errands in Tropic and Escalante I got down HITR road and my prius had no problem making it to the Harris wash trailhead about 10:40 or so Saturday, a much later start than I wanted. Jackson (the dog) and I walked down the Harris wash.

It’s a nice wash and would be phenomenal in the summer or shoulder seasons. I think it would be especially nice in the fall with all the trees. During this winter hike I was making a constant decision between wading through the ice water or bushwacking through dense vegetation. It’s a long and gorgeous canyon. I only made one route finding error which led me to a dead end through a cactus field and I retraced back to the proper main route. There is a really cool subway-ish over hang that made for some nice pics.

I wish I would have brought neoprene socks for this canyon. They would have come in handy to keep my feet warm and dry.

Eventually I reached the end of Harris wash but it took me nearly the entire afternoon. After fording the Escalante river I began to make my way up Silver Falls Canyon.

A mile or two up Silver Falls I stopped for camp and made a vegetarian tortilla soup. After all the wading, it took an hour or two in my sleeping bag to get my knees and toes to the proper temperature. The air was crisp but the zero degree bag I rented from the U kept me warm.

Day 2
Sunday morning I rose with the sun. The night before I had opened up the laces on my shoes as wide as I could before I went to bed. This helped me in the morning to be able to fit my foot into the frozen shoe. The heat transfer from my feet to the shoe eventually thawed it out and I was able to tighten my laces. The water in my platypus bladder had partially frozen overnight but I was able to pull some water from it to make my carnation instant breakfast+instant coffee. A little bit of slushy ice water turned it into a nice frappachino! I broke camp swiftly and continued my trek up Silver falls.

I soon spotted some historical trash erected in the 1950s about some white guy that suffered in the snow. I’m pretty sure the yellow sign can be taken down at this point since we now all have the internet.

Soon up silver falls canyon I found a tower in our path.

The morning hike started a little chilly. But soon I found the canyon opening up and I welcomed the light. I basked in the morning sun and enjoyed the mellow canyon stroll.

About an hour after spotting the last water source, I became aware that the canyon had now dried up. Cautionary words of a long water haul echoed in my brain from the trip planning thread at backcountry post. I briefly considered turning around to obtain water but I was extremely reluctant to add that much hiking time. I pushed on and remained nervous about the water situation. Near the top of silver falls I found some snow patches. I stopped to melt snow which is a time consuming process.

While I waited for it to melt, I scarfed down a tuna creation wrap (with cheese and jalapeno!). Frustrated by the little water produced and the lengthy time commitment, I opted to haul out the melted snow and would boil or filter it later if an emergency arose. At the top of silver falls I looped around road walking near colt mesa and found the tanks that Larry Boy referenced. The laws of thermodynamics worked in my favor and though a big block of ice lay floating, there was plenty of scoopable liquid H20. I dumped the snowmelt I had put in reserve, cameled up and filled all my vessels.

I continued the road walk looking for my turn off into choprock canyon. I overshot a little and wandered up a wash on the right hand side. Taking a GPS reading I found I was slightly too far south and missed the proper entrance. Consulting the map I found I could cut through without backtracking much and drop into choprock. It was only a slight detour and with a little bit of scrambling up over a hill and down the other side I found myself back on route. Cruising through choprock was easy walking and had the occasional boulder hop to keep things interesting.

Afternoon miles went by quickly and I just kind of zoned out in my thoughts and went into autopilot.

I encountered some water along the way, sometimes frozen.

The water became more frequent as I reached the subway formation.

Past the subway formation the canyon slots up pretty quick into the narrows section.

The narrows section was extremely fun and interesting and a pretty long good section of narrows. There was quite a bit of water through the narrows and with sheer canyon walls it was impossible to avoid, sometimes wading through waist deep water.

The dark and cold narrows gave me a little concern as I found myself with soggy pants, socks, and shoes and right on the verge of sunset o’clock. My concern for the setting sun preoccupied my thoughts and distracted me from enjoying one of the best sections of the entire hike. But it all worked out and as soon as I emerged from the long narrows section I found a small camp under a tree and shed my wet clothes. I ate my dinner (homemade vegetarian tortilla soup again…my favorite) and warmed up quickly. Tonight felt a little warmer than the night before and it didn’t take quite as long to warm up in my sleeping bag. It was dark but not quite bedtime yet so I did a crossword puzzle and listened to a podcast before dozing off.

Day 3
Same morning routine with the sunrise: frappachino and frozen shoes. A new experience for me on this trip was breaking down frozen tent poles. There was a thin layer of ice that had to be rubbed off at the seam before I could fold the tent poles down. My fingers stuck to the icy poles…good times! After rounding a few bends in choprock I could feel I was nearing return to the escalante river. The air seemed to get crisp and cold as I neared the river and I was thankful for my camp tucked back in choprock. Before I left choprock canyon, I pulled some water out of a pool. I filled up thinking this would be easier to draw from than the escalante river. Quickly, within the first hour of the day’s hiking, I met the escalante river.

I naiively thought I would only have to ford the river once. The river ran swiftly with thin sheets of ice rushing through. As I forded across, the thin sheets broke against my legs and turned to slush. I had rolled up my pant legs and removed my socks for this ford. I soon realized that I would have to ford that river maybe 7-10 more times before I escaped through fence canyon. This part of the hike was particularly difficult. According to my map, I only had to go a mile or two downstream before the fence canyon exit. But the frigid water became unbearable. Sometimes it was difficult to get access out of the river on the other side, so it became necessary to wade downstream before finding a low enough bank. This added to the misery. I repeated to myself a mantra that this suffering was only temporary and would soon pass. I just had to push through this discomfort and get through the situation. I soon gave up on keeping my pants dry and forged ahead, avoiding another river crossing at all costs but it always became inevitable. When I wasn’t wading through the river I was fighting through trees. I checked my GPS map and reviewed the topography ahead of me. Eventually I found the opening to fence canyon and was glad to have this section of the adventure in my rearview.

The feeling I had lost in my legs and feet slowly returned as I stayed on dry land. Fence canyon was a real treat compared to the few miles I had just braved along the Escalante river. The trail up Fence was well trodden and easy to follow. Fence canyon also has an excessive number of cairns and side trails and it can be a little bit of a route guess. At one point I veered off to the left and went up one of the two canyon forks by mistake. I soon realized this error and backtracked while finding routes up higer. I could have retraced my steps further, but was taking any chance I could get to get up top. I hoisted the dog up on to a ledge and did a little climbing to reach a higher point. I soon found another route that took me higher and eventually I was cruising on another well trodden foot path marked with cairns.

This path led me to a sign that announced the boundary (I was leaving GCNRA). In front of me was a decent size hill that required a 500-1,000′ ascent. According to my map the egypt trailhead road could be found on top of this hill. I opted to find a route up this hill veering to the right (north) as much as possible moving in the general direction of my car. The climb up the hill was a fun one. I’m sure I could have taken an easier route up, but instead I took the quickest way up. At one point I had to just go for it and scramble up the slickrock. I had a healthy fear of falling but wouldn’t allow myself that option. The dog found his own way up, and with my adrenaline briefly surging, we topped out and soon connected to the road.

I road walked for a while in a general north direction. At some point I stopped and consumed more calories (another tuna wrap). The overland portion of the hike was the final segment I needed to complete. I needed to walk in a west north west direction. I didn’t consult my compass/GPS frequently enough and eventually got off course. I blindly used the sun for navigation feeling pretty cocky about my ability to know which direction was west. With the fourtymile bench running north/south in the distance and now in the afternoon hours the sun, I thought, was leading me west. I hadn’t taken into account the southern path that the sun travels in the winter sky. I trekked on for some time and got pulled farther south than I should have. Eventually, my GPS readings helped me realize that I had nearly traveled far enough west but needed to make some miles moving north. The map showed a route overland with gentle descending elevation change. However, my path put me into a constant up and down roller coaster down into washes and up over sandy hills. This pattern persisted over several ridges and through several washes. The sun was getting lower and the afternoon was quickly disappearing.

I pushed forward north, tired and defeated. This was my final push through the final miles of the hike but I was weary and ready to drink a cool seltzer water in my car. The dog looked at me in disbelief that we were still walking.

Soon the sun set and my GPS reading told me we were nearing our final destination.

The light slowly faded and my GPS became harder to read in the dark. I squinted to read the lat/long and I knew I was getting close. I was sure as the sun set my wife would soon be worrying about my whereabouts and would be expecting my call.

And then I came over one final ridge and down below I spotted my car! I let out an audible “Ha!” and a “whoo!” and then quickly realized I was cliffed out and there was no path to reach the car although it was in sight. Stubbornly undefeated, I walked first to the left and the cliffs rose higher. I then tried walking to the right and eventually found an entrance into a side wash that reconnected me to Harris wash where I originated a few days earlier. I walked up Harris and celebrated that I had completed this trek. Returning to the town of Escalante, I grabbed a burger and phoned my wife to tell her I’d be home a little after midnight. Another successful weekend.

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