Attempting the Grand Staircase with three friends

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of February 19-25, 1998
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Studying kayaking at the Otter Bar Lodge
Attempting the Grand Staircase with three friends
Seeing the West's national parks from an RV
Family vacations that ring up under $5,000

Attempting the Grand Staircase with three friends
Question: Three other guys and I are planning a trip to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in mid-March. We are not avid backpackers but have all been on a few hikes, and have some knowledge of map and compass use.

We are all in good physical condition and are looking for a good hike within the park, one that is around 20 to 30 miles. To compensate for our lack of knowledge, we are planning to do the trip in four or five days. Do you have any suggestions or advice?

Jason Parsons
Warrensburg, MI

Adventure Adviser: Without trying to deter you from your plans, I must warn you the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a rugged and extremely unpeopled wilderness area.

It's so unpeopled, in fact, that last year a very experienced hiker accidentally trapped himself in a slot canyon and struggled to get out for eight days until search crews finally found him, barely alive. To add to the mystique of the GSENM, you'll find little in the way of roads, trails, or even markers. In short, bring a lot of water because you're pretty much on your own.

The first thing you should do is call the BLM field office (801-644-2672) in Kanab, Utah, or the Interagency Visitor Center (801-826-5499) in Escalante. Both of these offices will give you great tips on where to go, and they'll fill you in on such dangers as flash floods, fickle weather, and unrelenting canyon walls that are easy to climb down, but impossible to climb back up.

Both offices will also issue you a free, but mandatory, camping permit, and will point out some of the better topographic maps of the particular area you plan to explore. Because you termed yourself "not avid backpackers," you may want to consider taking a guided tour of the GSENM.

Escalante Canyon Outfitters (801-335-7311) offers four- to six-day horse-supplied hiking trips for $615 to $855 per person. A mandatory guidebook to arm yourself with is Steve Allen's brand-new, revised edition of Canyonneering Two, available through University of Utah Press (800-773-6672).

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