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Red Breaks Canyon - Grand Staircase Escalante

Summary: A scenic, non-technical slot canyon with a few climbing obstacles located off of the Harris Wash Trailhead.
Directions: From the small town of Escalante, UT.  Drive east on Utah State Highway 12.  Turn right on Hole-in-the-Rock Road and follow it to the sign for the Harris Wash Trailhead (7 miles) on the left. Turn left and follow this well graded dirt road 7 miles (follow the signs at any junctions) to the signed trailhead & parking area.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car if you take it slow (except after heavy rains, in which case you may need a 4-WD)
Navigation: Moderate
Length: ~6 miles roundtrip
Date Hiked: May, 2003
Weather Conditions: Cold
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the car park and trailhead sign, begin walking down the road to the second wide sandy wash that crosses the road. Turn left and follow this second wash up canyon. It's a sandy slog at first, then the canyon eventually enters some shallow narrows. Soon you will hit a 35 foot dry fall. You can either climb directly up the rock, or turn back and look for a cairned path around on the right (facing down canyon). Just above the dry fall, the canyon forks (in case you have a gps, this point is: UTM 470061mE, 4166686mN). Stay to the right. The canyon soon becomes a nice slot canyon. There are several choke stones that you will have to chimney up to continue, but I did not find any of the climbs particularly difficult. Eventually you will reach a point where the canyon appears to bend left. If you continue up this left bend you will encounter a small natural bridge and a 25 foot dry fall.

Note: There is a long tight slot above this dry fall. I was able to climb the drop and went all the way through the narrows (walking sideways most of the time). In the upper portion of the slot, there is a boulder pile that blocks your path. It is possible to climb this obstacle (I did with some difficulty), but it's not really worth the effort since the canyon widens shortly afterwards.

When ready, back track out of this side canyon and climb the white sandstone slick rock just to the right (facing up canyon) of this side drainage (UTM 469876mE, 4168949mN). You will find that the main fork of Red Breaks Canyon continues above. Stay up on the slick rock bench on the left side of the canyon to avoid a series of pot holes and dry falls in the upper section. As you reach the head of the canyon, walk towards the prominent dome shaped rock you see ahead of you. To do a semi-loop, walk due east (right) up and over a slick rock ridge and drop down into the drainage immediately on the other side. This drainage is easy slick rock walking and will bring you back to a point about mid-way through the Red Breaks drainage you came up earlier (note: there is a 15' down climb with an 8 foot slide at the end that is a bit dangerous and should only be attempted by good climbers; a belay is recommended). Another route (see M. Kelsey's book below), would be to continue east, up and over a second slick rock ridge into the second drainage to the east. This wash eventually meets up with a sandy road that will take you back to the Harris Wash Trailhead (though be aware that I have not hiked this route). If you took the first wash like I did, slide back down into Red Breaks (without breaking your ankle) and retrace your steps back to your car.

Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife completed this hike in  6.5 hours.
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Canyons of the Escalante
Books:  Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - Michael Kelsey
Hiking the Escalante - Rudi Lambrechtse
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
One of several
bouldering problems.
Nice narrows.