Spring into Bikepacking: Grand Staircase-Escalante – by Becky and Bryon Vordermann

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A few months ago, we had decided we wanted to bikepack in Grand Staircase-Escalante. After many weeks of cold and clouds, our family was ready to head south to the desert for spring break. Neither Bryon nor myself had heard of the national monument, until this past year. After spending 3 days riding close to 100 miles, in the monument, it will definitely not be our last visit to the region.

Our trip began in the town of Cannonville, Utah. The town is home to the Grand-Escalante BLM Visitor Center and the Grand Staircase Inn, which also served as the gas station and mini-mart. We stayed at the Grand Staircase Inn the night before departing on our journey. I had called the Grand Staircase-Escalante Visitor Center in Cannonville, before we left home, and arranged for us to leave our car in their parking lot.

Sunday morning we departed Cannonville, fat and loaded, ready to take on the trail ahead. For our trip, Bryon rode his Salsa Mukluk. He carried a 15L dry bag up front on a Salsa Anything Cradle, with a Revelate Design‘s front pocket, in front of that. Bryon’s bike was equipped with 2 Revelate feed bags and a Salsa EXP fuel tank. On the frame, Bryon had one of his personal designs, a custom FBJ Creations frame bag. On his Salsa Anything Rack, he had his custom-made FBJ Creations panniers and a second dry compression bag. FBJ Creations is a new business idea we are working on putting together.

I recently got a Salsa Blackborow. This bike will allow us to carry additional food and gear, on longer bikepacking trips. This was my first bikepacking excursion on the bike. Bomber Betty, was loaded with a 15L compression sack on the Salsa Anything Cradle, up front, 2 Revelate fuel tanks, a custom FBJ Creations frame bag (made by my rad husband), Porcelain Rocket Micro Panniers, and a 14 L compression sack, at the rear. We both carried Therm-a-rest’s Z Lite Sol sleeping pads on our racks, in addition to our panniers and compression sacks.

April rode along on this trip in her Burley Solo. We are fortunate to have begun a relationship with Burley, as ambassadors, this winter. Burley provided us with a Solo trailer and a plus sized-wheel set this past winter. The Solo is the top of the line single child, Burley trailer. After using it in snow and on the back roads this winter, we felt it would also do well for bikepacking. April had adequate room for toys, clothes, and other gear in the Burley. Taking the Solo, cut ten pounds off of our trailer weight, from our past trips with the Cub.

Our first day of riding was a mix of pavement, dirt, and gravel. We rode from Cannonville to Grosvenor Arch. The first 7 miles of the road to the arch was pavement and went quite fast. We hit the dirt on Cottonwood Canyon road at mile 7, and from there the road was washboarded and rough in spots. We were fortunate to sight a giant golden eagle during this portion of our ride. The road to the arch climbed and descended steadily.

By lunch, we reached Grosvenor Arch. When I had originally planned the trip, using the route information provided by bikepacking.com, there was mention of a water tank at Grosvenor Arch. We were unable to find this tank. Fortunately, a couple of bikepackers from Steamboat Springs were returning to their vehicle, when we reached Grosvenor Arch and offered us water. Water is scarce on the route. We initially planned on doing a larger circle through the area, but due to lack of water, modified our plans.

Grosvenor Arch was a popular junction on our route. After leaving the arch, we did not see any other vehicles, bikes, or people until we reached Escalante almost 48 hours later.

When we left Grosvenor Arch, there was a sign saying that the road was impassable to traffic in 24 miles. We made it 18 additional miles after leaving Grosvenor Arch, our first day. From the arch our route climbed and there were a number of sections where we began to have to push.

I took over trailer pulling the last couple of miles on our first day, as Bryon and I grew tired from riding.The first night of our journey we camped up along Death Ridge. The road had changed from sandy dirt to rocky stones, in the later part of day 1.

On this trip, we finally got to use our new Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 tent. We loved the Mountain Glo feature, which made it easy to light our tent, as we prepared for our night’s rest. This was the first trip we have taken where April had her own sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Over the winter we had purchased a Big Agnes Little Red bag and paired it with the Big Agnes 20×48 Insulated Air Core Ultra sleeping pad. Before our trip, we had sent our Big Agnes Q Core sleeping pad in for repair, and for the first time, all three of us slept on insulated pads, while bikepacking. Our comfort levels were high, although the temps dropped to the mid 20s overnight. Bryon and I added extra insulation to our sleeping situations by running Therm-a-rests, under our insulated air pads.

Day 2 of our adventure proved to be the most challenging of days we have experienced bikepacking yet. We started the day by using our new MSR Dragonfly stove to prepare a hot breakfast of burritos. A warm breakfast was just what we needed to get through the first part of our day. The first 5 hours of our day had us tackling steep up and downs for 6 miles. We spent the morning coasting down the downhills, before coming to washes where we had to come to a stop to manoeuvre our gear and bikes over them, and then pushing up the inclines, as the terrain proved steep and treacherous.

This was the first time we have had to take April out of the Burley, disconnect it from the bike, and push bikes, Burley, and baby up hills independently. We were tuckered by the time we ate our hot lunch of potato soup and rested for a while. By this point in our journey, we were watching our water supply closely. At lunch we discussed changing our route and heading into the town of Escalante the next day, to fill our water bottles. After lunch, our roads became easier to manoeuvre and we reached the summit on Death Ridge at 7500′. By nightfall we made our way to Smokey Mountain Road and headed toward Escalante.

We set up camp a few miles out of Escalante, we had enough water to prepare our freeze-dried meals and get through the night. We did come across water just outside of Escalante. The water was ridden with cow poop, though and we decided it was in our best interest to wait until we arrived in Escalante to fill our water bottles.

The last morning of our trip through Grand Staircase led us to Escalante, where we fueled our bodies with bagels and cinnamon rolls and enjoyed warm drinks at the local cafe. We filled our water after our meal and hit the road. Escalante is 37 miles from Cannonville. Although we were on pavement during this section the views were still astounding. We climbed for 18 miles before reaching an overlook that looked into a large canyon. We stopped and cooked mac n’ cheese and enjoyed the view before we started our long descent into Henrieville, the small town a few miles before Cannonville.

We returned to our car by 4 pm, and packed up and drove to Beaver, Utah for a night of pizza and rest.

We were tested physically and mentally on our trip through Grand-Staircase-Escalante. We had to adapt to the situations at hand and make changes to our initial plans. We have grown to be flexible and patient, in our bikepacking adventures. We were able to test out our new set up for camping and cooking. We are excited to use these new setups in our future endeavours.

I found that Bomber Betty, my new Salsa Blackborow was more comfortable and controllable for bikepacking, than bikes I have ridden on previous trips. We found the Burley Solo, worked well as a bikepacking trailer for April. It was lighter for Bryon to tow, yet still provided April with plenty of space for stretching out and storing her books, toys, diapers, and clothes.

We were also very happy with the custom frame bags and panniers, that Bryon had crafted in the weeks leading up to our trip. Overall our spring bikepacking adventure was a success.

We would like to thank Burley Design for providing us with our Burley Solo and the opportunity to capture footage of our trip, Fitzgerald’s Bicycles for tuning our bikes for adventures like these, Honey Stinger for keeping us fueled on our rides, and Big Agnes for their support towards our desire to sleep in the dirt!

This trip was just the start of our bikepacking season of 2018. We are headed out to complete the Idaho Hot Springs tour at the end of June and we recently booked flights to Alaska, for a three-week trip, though the last frontier, in August.

About Gomez 2576 Articles
Just an old cat that rides bikes, herds pixels, ropes gnomes and sometimes writes stories. I love a good story.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing, so awesome that you roll with the kiddo. Hopefully we have good weather for you up here in August. August can be a wet month.

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