Thursday, September 27, 2012

Canyoneering: Davis Gulch

The 50-mile cliffs from above Davis Gulch, Escalante River Drainage.

Next weekend I head for the San Rafael Swell to meet good friends for one of my twice-annual canyoneering weekends.  As I get organized, I realize that I never finished writing about our last trip, in May, that culminated in a trip down Davis Gulch, which drains into the Escalante River where Lake Powell has flooded its lower reaches.

The technical part of the Davis descent is short and easy, so not very notable from a canyoneering perspective, but for me it's been a Holy Grail, a trip I've wanted to make ever since reading about Everett Ruess'es 1934 disappearance.  A small corral in Davis near his last known camp was found, but he never was.

Recently, the writer David Roberts obsessed on trying to solve the mystery, and wrote famously in National Geographic Adventure about a grave on the Comb Ridge that seemed to fit, but was later proven to hold someone else's bones.  Roberts published a book, Finding Everett Ruess, that explores the mystery.

For me, and for lots of us that find the desert southwest compelling, Ruess'es own writings, compiled in a book called Everett Ruess, A Vagabond for Beauty, was something of a sacred text that captured the lure of the canyons.  In many ways Ruess, a young man when he disappeared, wrote in that gushy way that passionate twenty-somethings often write, but he did so eloquently, and he put is boots to the ground and lived the life--traveling alone for months with only his mules for company.  Perhaps he disappeared into some narrow slot canyon that has yet to see a second descent.

If you're interested in Davis, drop in from about mile 52 on the Hole-in-the-Rock road out of Escalante, where it crosses the Davis drainage before it becomes a canyon.  Almost immediately it deepens and narrows but is never extreme, and the downclimbing is mostly easy.  We were able to get all the way down with no rappels, though we helped each other in spots.  The narrows emerge into the lower reaches of Davis--a long and arduous, but beautiful hike through a narrow canyon choked with wetlands and even beaver-sign.  Farther down-canyon than you think, an exit leads up an old cattle trail to a long slog across the flats back to your starting point. There is a manufactured escape (see moki photo below) soon after the narrows on the west (left) side of the canyon, but we weren't willing to solo it and didn't have enough rope or gear to protect it.  If I were to do the canyoneering part again, I'd bring gear and climb out.  As always, Tom's Canyoneering website has all the details (thanks!).

Entering Davis Gulch

Jim Akers.  Early downclimbing.

Don Reyes.  Davis narrows

Larry Scritchfield.  Mud avoidance stemming.

Jane, Jim, Don.  Davis.  

Lunch at the end of the technical section.

White man moki steps.  Too exposed to solo, and besides, we wanted to see the rest of the canyon.

Beaver in the desert.  

Lower Davis Gulch.

Lower Davis.

Lower Davis.

Lots of water.  Lower Davis is essentially a narrow wetland pinched between sandstone walls.  

Lower Davis.

The exit ramp.  An old cattle trail.

Larry Scritchfield.  Davis camp.

Cell service at mile above Davis Gulch.  What would Everett Ruess have thought?

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