Day 4 – Thursday – Spooky and Peekaboo
Oh what a day – one of those totally unforgettable special days that’ll always stand out. Well, we had agreed to meet again at 9 a.m.in the morning. The plan was to go down HITR Rd and then down into Coyote Gulch to explore Spooky and Peekaboo slot canyons. We car pooled into four vehicles and set off, spaced apart on HITR to stay far enough behind the rising dust clouds and the flying rocks. Right now HITR is fairly level and good to drive after it had been closed a short time ago after the extreme rainfalls when flashfloods had washed it out where the washes cross the road. Actually, there are large piles of massive tree trunks and other debris piled by the side of one of the washes where they had to be lifted out of the wash after the flooding. But now the road, at least up to where we went, is newly improved and the wash-boarding is not severe. In any case, Alex’s Abe (a Lincoln, by no means an off-roader) was handling the road just fine. But we weren’t even halfway to where we were headed when we saw a car ahead on the road, stationary.
‘That’s Oscar’s car’, Alex said – and indeed, Oscar was out of the car and staring under the raised hood – the way you will when your car has a tantrum.
‘She just died on me, simply died’, Oscar explained when we stopped and explained. So we stood around for some time, trying to find one cell phone that had a modicum of service out here, getting a tow truck organized – AAA won’t come out here, we knew.
All the passengers in Oscar’s car opted to stay with him and wait while we finally went ahead. That was at close to 10:30, and as we later learned, it was almost 3 p.m. by the time they finally got back into town …
After some 20+ miles we turned left onto Dry Fork Rd and made it as far as the lower parking lot, where Abe got parked. From here the four of us piled into Rick and Max’s Jeep for the 1.7 miles to the upper parking lot along a deeply rutted sand track – not recommended for ‘ordinary’ cars. Four adults across a backseat, not bad, a tight fit, but a short way to go.
The rest of the group was waiting for us here, and now we were ready to get going. We hiked down the sandstone ledges down into Coyote Gulch, into which both Spooky and Peekaboo empty. The trail, marked with easily seen cairns, leads in serpentines across slickrock as well as through sand. The view is breathtaking across part of the otherworldly Kaiparowitz Plateau, part of the Escalante Great Staircase NM, a world sculpted into the most imaginative rock formations and massive rock walls like a fanciful planet in a science fiction movie – in a galaxy far, far away.
We soon reached the bottom and stepped onto the sandy bed of Coyote Gulch. Off to the left, roughly east, is the clearly visible entrance to a narrow canyon – Dry Fork. We turned right instead, roughly east down Coyote Gulch. Almost right away we could see the exit of Peekaboo where the waters come down over several pour offs that are quite technical to climb. It had been decided that we would go up Spooky and come down Peekaboo – and might have to turn back, since at the bottom of the last high pour off there was a large and deep muddy pool, a leftover from the last flashflood. Word was if there was water here there was usually too much water further into the canyon … So we walked on a short distance and then entered Spooky. Soon enough the walls converged to a width f less than two or three feet. You could still walk forward normally, but then it narrowed on a twisting and turning, contorted and convoluted serpentine to a point where you had to take off your packs and hold them by your side while you crabbed and scuttled sideways through the narrower parts. We helped each other out with handing packs and walking sticks and even little dogs in carrier slings forward and back. I could pass without actually squeezing though, just the occasional brush on one side against rock. You are well advised not to wear your most treasured t-shirt and pants in here. We were all having great fun, but when we were about halfway and the going was getting slow and laborious in a group, Mark who’d been at the front turned back to us and said this was the end of the line.
‘You have to climb up and it’s really tricky’, he felt, ‘and probably not a good idea for the whole group’. Ok, we are going back then was the consensus.
‘Is it blocked then, impossible to go on’, I wanted to know; ‘are we all turning back’.
‘Oh no, we are going on’, Mark explained, ‘some of us can probably make it’ …well, five of us did go on. Deb had tried, but then turned back with the others. From here on it was more a matter of climbing and scrambling over large rocks and pour offs than walking, your feet often wedged into a crack not wide enough to allow the width of one foot. We kept handing packs ahead and then making our way forward slowly.
And then the five of us came up against a spot where several large rocks from somewhere up above had at one point tumbled into the slot and got wedged there. So we were now standing under some very large rocks with small holes up above. If we wanted to go ahead we had to someone crawl through one of these holes. The larger opening was much higher up, up a smooth rock wall with no handholds, the smaller one tight and narrow. We discussed our options, and Howie finally felt he was going to give it a try and with much helping and shoving and supporting from below, he finally made it up there, then inched his way slowly and carefully under and around obstructions, and finally reached the top of the wedged rocks.
‘I’m going next’, Rick said, looking at me, ‘I weigh less’.
I gave him a lot; ‘what do you mean; you weigh less!’
Grin. “Less than Howie”, he clarified. Mollified, I nodded.
So Rick went next, and then it was my turn. You had to climb over a massive rock bulging your way, and I was not tall enough to reach a handhold on top, so I said that I’d need a hand to lift me off the ground to get some traction. Rick reached down. ‘How much exactly do you weigh, Esty?’
‘Not sure, in the vicinity of 130 pounds somewhere I guess’, I told him and then did as he said, wrist to wrist, and a few seconds later I was off the ground and got a grip and then it was easy to scramble the rest of the way. I’m not sure I would have gotten up there if I’d been on my own, without any help. It took a bit of doing, for all five of us, even with help.
Soon later Alison and Mark were up above as well and we continued. There were several more places where we had to scramble and climb, but then finally we had reached the end of the canyon and stepped up onto a beautiful plateau, wide open, with the deep blue canopy over us – a relief after the very confining and constricting narrowness of the slot canyon.
We hiked along a narrow, sandy trail across the top of the plateau to the top end of Peekaboo Canyon; the view all around gorgeous of course. The top part of Peekaboo was easy, not as narrow and nowhere near as technical as Spooky had been and we got along fairly well. There were several spots where we had to climb down rocks, but nothing hard. This canyon seems much shorter than Spooky, which allegedly is .3 miles, compared to Peekaboo’s quarter mile. Well, the former seems much longer, but then since you often go at crawl’s pace, it’s deceptive. Shortly before the bottom end of Peekaboo where it empties into Coyote Gulch, a series of more or less vertical pour offs descend into basins and then on to the next ledge, and here we passed through internal arches and windows – Kodak moments with the light from one side – and finally reached a ledge from which we could see straight down into Coyote Gulch, where the rest of our group was sitting leisurely in the shade and eating snacks. Now, however, having espied us, they came forward with cameras. Some 30 feet below us, via a small pool washed into the sandstone to form a small ledge, lay the pool where the water rushes out of the slot and has dug deeper and deeper into the sandy bottom, making the last pour off higher and higher as the ground below it gets increasingly washed out – which was not the worst, as the top part of the last pour off had steps hewn into its vertical wall – the problem was the water that filled the whole expanse of the sandy pool below as we had seen when we first came. Mark and Alison took one look and decided to run back and get out the top again and hike around. This started feeling to me like that old Agatha Christie novel, “Ten Little Indians’. Well, this here gang was down to three.
Rick was our vanguard and slid down to the small ledge, then slowly descended down the steps and the propped up branches – which were very wobbly, to the bottom where you could stand right at the edge of the water on dry ground. I climbed down to the ledge and watched. Howie was right behind me and I asked him please to stay at a bit of a distance, since should he happen to bump into me, I’d go sailing down into the pond like a dying swan, ending up looking like the bog monster.
I suggested Rick might want to stay right there and carry me across the pond piggyback, but he felt we weren’t that close. Neither did my suggestion that all the others lay themselves dawn and form a human bridge for us to walk over meet with any great enthusiasm, let alone any takers … oh well, worth a try. Rick guided my feet on the steps and onto the branch, and then I was standing back on terra firma beside him – well, not so firma, as it was soft, and I still needed to get across the pond. There were only slightly submerged stepping stones in it and I managed to scoot across those with only getting one shoe about an inch into the gooey gunk – my Ariats! - with Alex on the far side holding out his walking stick for me to grab. I don’t think this would have kept me from falling in had I slipped, but it’s the thought that counts, and there I was, back in Coyote Gulch, feeling a sense of deeply satisfying accomplishment!
Unfortunately Rick wasn’t quite so lucky and got in to his knees when he slipped off the stepping stones, but Howie made it.
We traded stories and hung around for a few moments, then slowly walked back out of Coyote Gulch back up to our cars, then back up HITR Rd and into Escalante, where we split up, to meet again around 6 at ‘The House’ for dinner.
It was Fajitas night, with loads and loads of amazingly good food. I got an early-ish night though as eight of us, including yours truly, would go canyoneering the following day, and meeting time would be 8:30 a.m. I was wondering if this might be off, as by now dark clouds were boiling and roiling across the sky and a fierce wind was blowing very cold. Should it rain heavily during the night canyoneering in a slot canyon would be off for sure. Well, we’d see …