Over Memorial Day weekend, I made a trip to Escalante to see a new part of the plateau. The Escalante River runs from near its namesake town down to Lake Powell. Beautiful riparian corridor in the desert, many canyons feeding in from the sides.
There were several canyons in the area I wanted to hike, but this trip ended up mostly consumed by the south fork of Choprock Canyon. A grueling technical hike, recent reports had pegged this canyon as being in good shape — this canyon is easier at low water, and it was a dry winter in south Utah. While a bit apprehensive, I was ok with going in solo.
Using the river as a base camp, the canyon can be done as a loop hike. After getting up onto Choprock Bench, to the south of the canyon, several miles of desert hiking allows one to walk down into the canyon above the technical bits. Some downclimbing and rappels drop into the first of three very different sections, the Riparian. The canyon here is relatively wide and choked with growth, a jungle in the desert.
Lots of fun wading and hiking down. Eventually the trees peter out, some springs start flowing, and the canyon goes through several pools. Water slides, cold clear water, frogs and so forth. This is the Happy section, well named.
The Riparian section took me about 45 minutes to get through, the Happy section took about 20 minutes. The third section is the Grim, and took about two and a half hours. Fortunately, at least at this water level this isn’t the best name, and the Grim was great fun. Much worming through tight slots, stemming over tighter slots, downclimbing, wading, swimming to be had. The only problem being that this just keeps going on and on and on with little abatement. Heading down, doubt started to eat at my mind (is this ever going to end?), and while I don’t think it ever got to the point of being grim, after a while I was certainly ready for it to be over.
After sidling through a slot for the hundredth time the Grim abruptly stops at a 90 foot drop into a pool. A spectacular rappel, especially after such a demanding hike.
Coming back to camp I ran into a group planning on doing Choprock the next day. After filling them in on conditions I spent the evening at their camp and ended up going back through the canyon with them. The second time was even better: no apprehension, a much better knowledge of the canyon, and these guys were great to hike with. They left the following day, while I did a couple new canyons, Neon and Ringtail. These were very nice but not in the same league as Choprock, and left me pretty chewed up and ready to go home (bring knee and elbow pads next time…).
I’ll need to get back to Escalante before too long, there’s just so much in the area I haven’t even touched on, from more technical canyons to non-technical slots, day hikes and backpacking. But, for now at least, Choprock reigns as the most amazing, intense canyon I’ve done.