The Opinionated Hikers on Patrol for You
The Hole-in-the-Rock Road (HITRR) departs Highway 12 near Escalante, Utah. Running southeast into the desert, below and parallel to the Kaiparowits Plateau, it slices through Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and probes Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Where the HITRR departs pavement, it looks like any of the hundreds of humble dirt roads in Utah. But for canyon-country hikers, this is THE road, because it leads to trailheads for numerous premier hikes. Along the way, it provides access to lots of unofficial but superb campsites.
In May, while on a backcountry-research trip to update our book Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country, we once again drove down the HITRR. We re-hiked…
Trip 23 Peek-a-boo, Spooky, & Brimstone Gulches
Trip 26 Willow & Fortymile Gulches
Trip 27 Davis Gulch
We also re-hiked the actual Hole in the Rock: from road’s end, down to the shore of Lake Powell. It’s a hike that, for various reasons, we did not include in Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country. Now we can supplement the book with this up-to-the-minute field report.
As of last week, a low-clearance 2WD vehicle can negotiate the HITRR to Dance Hall Rock at 36 mi (58 km). In a few places, you’ll have to cautiously work around minor obstacles, or keep your speed up through sand. Beyond Dance Hall, you need a high clearance vehicle. Beyond Davis Gulch, 4WD is advisable.
We comfortably drove our Toyota RAV4 (7.5 inches of clearance) to about 51 mi (82 km), just past Davis Gulch. A steep slickrock ramp discouraged us from driving farther. We parked, resumed on foot, and soon encountered a patch of deeply corrugated slickrock we definitely would not have driven. It didn’t matter. We enjoyed hiking the final 4.5 mi (7.2 km) through desolate high-desert.
The panorama was engaging. Fiftymile and Navajo mountains are the dominant sights. Still draped with snow, Navajo was especially dramatic. Not a single vehicle passed us. We saw no other hikers. The solitude was delicious.
The road is obvious, and there are no forks, so navigation is not an issue. Just keep walking, or driving, to road’s end: 55.5 mi (89.2 km). Immediately ahead is a prominent cleft in the sandstone cliffs. Hike into it. This is where Mormon pilgrims in the Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition built a “hanging road” and safely, miraculously, lowered all their wagons and stock to the Escalante River.
Read a description of the expedition (pages 140 through 143 in Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country), and you’re in awe of their superhuman feat. Stand here, and see how impossibly vertical, rough, and forbidding their ascent route actually was, and your response soars beyond awe into speechlessness. This is where Mormon missionaries, keen to up their success rate, should bring their conversion prospects.
It’s a moderate scramble (no exposure, but frequent hands-on moves) most of the way down to Lake Powell. The final descent to the lake is on a steep, sandy trail strewn with loose rock. Distance from the top of the “hole” to the lakeshore: 1 mi (1.6 km). Elevation loss: 800 ft (244 m). Even in May, it’s hot, thirsty work. Carry at least three quarts (liters) of water per person.
Lake Powell remains cold until June. We “swam” for all of about three minutes. But after May, the weather can be too hot (90° F / 32° C) for hiking. So it’s best to wait until late September to hike here. The weather will be cooler, the lake warmer.