Grand Staircase....Excursions of Escalante
Our tour started at 7am. We had to be fitted with gear, given instructions, go over safety precautions, meet everyone, establish drivers, take one last pee........
The owners are a husband and wife who spend part of their time here in Utah and part of their time in Mexico. They are friendly and knowledgeable and their top priority is safety. We shared the short version of our Willis Canyon treacherous journey and how we were genuinely concerned that we might not even make it to our canyoneering tour.
After our briefing, we went out to make room in our car for the assistant guide, Shiley (rhymes with smiley) and everyone admired our dirty muddy car, then she offered to clean our windshield. We told her she didn't have to, but she insisted. I like her!
We received a harness, waterproof backpack, helmet, gloves, lunch, and water bottles. Guess where we are headed? Back to the bumpy, dusty Hole in the Rock Road. There are several slot canyons in this area and Excursions of Escalante always takes their customers to non-touristy areas.
Our guide Rick, the owner, drove his 4 wheel drive and took the other family of 4 with him. The were in a van that he didn't think would do well on the dirt roads. He told us to try to keep up but not to worry because he didn't drive very fast. His wife warned us that he drives like a bat out of hell. Oh Boy! She was right.
We flew down the dirt road and since we were following, we could barely see anything. Finally, after about 30 or 40 minutes, we arrived at the canyon we were going to explore.
Not far from where we parked, we looked over the side of the canyon where we will eventually be. It was a 300 foot drop off. I think we all looked a little worried but then Rick said that we will not be rappelling here today since we were all beginners. Oh Good! That looked a little intimidating.
Our relieved group hiked on for a short while learning a little about the area, how flash floods happen so quickly, and looking at fossiles, until we reached the part of the canyon where we would drop in. It was definitley not 300 feet - maybe 60.
Time to suit up.....harnesses and helmets first. Don't forget to drink - a lot of water that is. It was a pretty warm day - high 80s - low 90s, but very dry. I think about 30% humidity. A dry day in Florida is 60%.
Looking Good! Like Canyon Trekkers! Is that a thing? So glad we got the boots. We have worn them every day of this 2 week trip and they have been terrific. We ordered them online, after I spoke with Amie, the other owner, and she highly encouraged sturdy hiking boots, and hoped they would fit. We ordered hiking socks too and we love them also.
Rick suggested that our family go first since we seemed excited to go while the others seemed a little nervous, even scared.
Al dropped in first, followed by Abby.
I wanted to go third so I could get pictures from the top.
The first descent was excellent! We're in the canyon!
Once we reached the bottom, we scrambled up steep inclines, squeezed through tight crevasses, slid down slippery rocks.....What a Great way to get dirty!
Rick told us that today was Shiley's first day as an assistant guide. We weren't' sure if that was true or not, but either way she did great! He did spend time teaching her techniques and tour guide kind of things.
We had to work as a team all day. Pushing and pulling each other. It was no time to be shy about whose bum you were pushing or who was pushing yours.
The other family on our tour is from Houston and were heading to Wyoming, opposite of what we did - Wyoming first.
The youngest members of our group......including our youngest little guy who was 8 and he was awesome – never complained, but was scared to rappel and worried that we might not make it out of the canyon and might miss out on our prize – ice cream.
Our guide, Rick, was a blast. He is very direct and nobody gets to slack off. On one of our rappels, he told the little guy to belay while he zipped down from high above, head first, upside down, fast and then just before crashing to the ground, he put on the brake and stopped himself proving to everyone that the person rappelling should always be in control of themself and the person on the ground is just a backup. GOT IT!
We had to cross several bodies of water, as in crevasses or potholes, not as in lakes or oceans:) Either way, we definitely didn't want to fall in there. It was dirty and who knew how deep it was! And remember, we are used to swimming in the crystal clear Gulf of Mexico.
We spent the day learning climbing and rappelling techniques and practicing them over and over.
Just when we thought we were at the bottom of the canyon, we would go lower. We worked helping each other up and down, over and under, and then it was finally time for lunch. Some of us found a narrow seat with a tiny bit of shade - Perfect!
Shiley had made turkey sandwiches for everyone and I believe we each had a granola bar too. After all that hard work, it tasted great! We sat for just a short while sharing stories of our travels and then it was back to work.
This rappel was down onto a small dry spot, if you were accurate, and then across the pond and back on the trail. In the picture on the right, notice how far below me the others are.
This rappel was only about a 40 foot drop. No problem at all. There was a trick to landing on dry soil rather than in the water. We loved it!
The pond was about knee deep which meant water inside our boots. YUK! However, our guy was kind enough to carry us across.
YAY! Dry Feet For The Girls!
Some of us will certainly need a rest day after this trip.
Our elevation change was about 500 feet. I'm sure that doesn't sound like much to someone who has climbed Mt Everest, but after living in Florida for several years, 500 feet is huge. We notice a 3 foot elevation change when we're biking!
FYI....the highest spot in FL is 345 feet above sea level! We live at an elevation of 20 feet, which is way above emergency hurricane evacuation.
Still smiling, even with wet feet.
This was a tough channel to pass through. It was so narrow at the bottom that our boots would get stuck. Our feet needed to point straight ahead or backwards while our bodies needed to go sideways.
Celebrating making it through the tight squeeze.
This slot canyon just kept getting narrower and narrower.
Here we could take the high road or the low road.
I think only the show-offs took the high road. Then we all took a breather.
This slot canyon goes on and on and on.
Our big cameras could not fit in our backpacks so we had to leave them behind and just shoot with our phones today.
Which turned out okay since our cameras are big and bulky and take time to set up and our phones do a pretty good job with just a click.
We found a very cool egg-shaped window, but only the smallest, fittest, and youngest could shimmy up - with help.
After hours of hiking, climbing, exploring, descending......it was time to climb out of the canyon.
It's a pretty steep hike - the steepest, longest stretch of the day.
Our guide has been watching the sky all day, although we haven't always been able to see much sky from deep inside the canyon. Rick is on a search and rescue team for hikers who get lost or trapped in the Grand Staircase. He shared several stories with us and not all of them had happy endings. We have satellite GPS transmitters with us in case we do get trapped or lost.
It looks like a storm off in the distance, but just in case it's heading our way, we certainly didn't want to be stuck 500 feet deep in a canyon if rushing water pours in. It's crazy and dangerous. I might love adventure, but I'm not crazy!
Rick and Shiley have been terrific guides today. We've learned a lot and had a great time and a lot of laughs. I would love to do another excursion like this one again.
This is beautiful back country and we haven't seen another person since we left Hole in the Rock Road, hours ago.
For the last part of our climb out of the canyon, we stood on the edge of a small ledge, backs pressed to a large rock, and slowly scooted along until we reached an area with a little more space, not much. Then Rick started clipping the ropes into the anchors to help us make the final steep climb to the top.
The young, 30 something, dad from Houston was the first to start the ascent. He had to rely only on his skill and fitness since no one was at the top to pull him. Al went up next. He was the muscle for the rest of us.
It was such a long and steep climb that I actually needed my inhaler - first time all day.
Even though we descended slowly over a couple of hours, the 500 foot climb up was within the last 30 minutes. Those dark clouds are getting closer.
This was an amazing experience! I have never worked so hard on vacation! I think I might be sore tomorrow. We highly recommend Rick and his team if you're in the Escalante area. Very friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and professional. AND Safety First.
Now we are as dirty as our car! When I see SUVs covered in dirt and mud, I just imagine what adventure they must have had. Now I can add one more crazy thought.....Willis Slot Canyon and Hole in the Rock Road. When I got in the shower, dirt just ran down the tub. What a FUN FUN day!