FKT: Emily Keddie, Garrett Guinn - Escalante Overland Route (UT) - 2020-10-01

Route variation
Standard point-to-point
Gender category
Mixed-gender team
Start date
Finish date
Total time
4d 7h 52m 0s

We began the EOR by adding in Adventure Alan’s extension from the town of Escalante on the Boulder Mail Trail, to death hollow, through to lower calf creek. 
The standard route begins on our second day at 7:02am. We finished at the 40-mile trailhead, at 2:53pm on the 5th day of the standard route and 6th day of our overall trip. 

Preparation for this route was significant. We did two days of scouting beforehand, involving full days of hiking out to remote climbing objectives along the route. We wanted to make sure that some of the hairier climbs would be doable with as little gear as possible. My background as an ultramarathoner and free climber paired with my partner’s experience in canyon country and both of our long distance hiking had us believing we might pull this off. We also prepared a route guide on Gaia based on the minimal information provided in the Allen text, reviewed it and compared notes, and marked water possibilities. 

Gear-wise, we carried a lightweight tent which we did not use once (no rain). I wore Altra Lone Peaks for the entire route, including water travel and climbing. Mt partner brought climbing shoes. We only brought webbing and a 4mm rope for a handline, and I ended up not using either aside from lowering my pack down a few times after a downclimb. I felt comfortable using the moqui step indentations as they existed; there was webbing and other gear left behind in a few spots from people who had come before. Aside from the listed 5th class obstacles, there was a PLETHORA of 3rd and 4th class climbing. High exposure ledges, fancy footwork, back-to-exposure, and scrambling up/down canyon walls and ledges, and ascending/descending loose boulder fields was an all-day, every day activity. 

Water wading was also significant, as was heavy, thick, thrashy bushwhacking. My legs, covered in abrasions and bleeding in places, were a testament to why pants are nice. Clear glasses would be important to protect the eyes, and a bandana or buff to protect your face. The trip low was a bushwhack that culminated in a stick breaking off inside my nose and a subsequent nose bleed. 

I recorded the route on my Garmin Fenix 6S Pro watch and navigated via map and the Gaia app; it should be noted that the micro navigation was extremely challenging regardless of having Gaia. Some exits and obstacles were needles in haystacks, requiring scouting and time and patience to locate. Directions were often unclear until looking back in hindsight. The landscape is incredibly deceiving. As the primary navigator on my second off-Trail route ever (we had one prior route together in the Wind River Range), I am still stupified as to how we managed to move so quickly and draw conclusions as to where obstacles were hidden. My favorite was locating a “hole or slot” in the side of a canyon to descend through. Allen notes this requires some scouting. Indeed, expect to take extra hours accomplishing nothing until you eventually find it and feel very silly. 

I also carried a Garmin In Reach mini for SOS. Cell service was limited to 2-3 times (I attempted to go off airplane mode when we were on high, unobstructed ground) and even then, it was spotty and limited. King Bench was the only good spot and we camped there. 

Beware Baker Canyon. 

As this has been one of the driest seasons in several years, potholes and some perennial water sources listed by Allen were almost all dry; the Escalante was the most reliable source. I carried capacity for 4L, and drank a significant amount at each water source. Expect to go off-route for water. And always, always fill to capacity. Food wise, we carried for 7 days worth, knowing we could ration to 8 days. By the end I knew we were exiting early so I ate most of my food in a gluttonous frenzy of sudden onset hiker hunger. 

I took a lot of pictures as we were trying to move as quickly as possible, and I wanted to look back and appreciate it more than I did during the trip. If one wants to love it more than push it, or substitute “soul for goal,” I would recommend 9-10 days to complete. We exhausted ourselves daily, hiking light to dark.

Animal sightings included one bighorn sheep, two non-venomous snakes, many large fish, a horrific beetle, and some kind of mule deer. We also saw some cat tracks and much evidence of cattle. 

Highly recommend Escalante Outfitters for post-adventure pizza.  
Also, Paul and Linda on River watched my beloved canine companion and they were outstanding. Linda works for BLM and is a source of knowledge and contacts as well. 

Route note:  Emily & Garrett dropped down the the Escalante after Fold Canyon, then followed the river and exited up Fools Canyon.  This skips Shofar, Hydra, and Ichabod Canyons, as described in Allen's book.  They ended at the 40-Mile TH.