Published Dec. 31, 1993
By Sam Webb
It was Friday morning, November 5th and it was cold - so cold that my sleeping bag was covered with a layer of frost - so cold that I didn't have any desire to climb out of my bag. I was warm and comfortable but knew some of the boys (Varsity Scout Troop 981, Farmington, Utah) would have had a miserable night and would be up and about soon, in an attempt to get warm.
I pulled on my pants, buttoned my shirt and slid out of my bag. The cold morning air jolted me awake and I scrambled to put on my coat and gloves.
Sunrise was still a half hour away but already the tops of the sandstone cliffs were aglow, promising clear skies and a warm, sunny day.
I broke out the Coleman stove, attached a bottle of propane and lit the burner on the left. It immediately glowed with a blue-white flame. I put a big pot of water on the burner.
Once again I lit the stove. This time I got a blue-white flame in both burners. Just in time. The boys were beginning to climb out of their bags.
The cold ones came first, looking for anything to warm their feet. The water was near boiling, hot enough to melt wax off a paper cup, just right in the cold morning air.
Five pounds of cocoa mix, three dozen eggs and four pounds of bacon later the boys were warm, fed and ready to go.
We parked at the staging area (just south and east of the Escalante River and a mile or so south of the Calf Creek Campground) and unloaded the packs.
The boys were excited. I was worried. Normally I don't take Boy Scouts on hikes unless I am completely familiar with the hike. I like to have already been there and know just what to expect. This time we would be hiking into unknown country. Destination: the mouth of Boulder Creek, about 6 miles down the Escalante.
It was a perfect day for a hike, bright sun, about 60 degrees, fantastic rock formations and bright yellow-orange leaves on the trees. Beautiful beyond description.
We strapped on our packs and headed down the trail. About a quarter mile later we came to our first river crossing. There was ice covering all the small pools and quiet water along the bank. We rolled up our pants and tried to keep as dry as possible as we waded through the knee deep water. It was a vain attempt as it turned out. By the time we reached Boulder Creek we would have to wade the Escalante 20 times (just over three times a mile).
It was a tough hike and soon the boys had separated into three groups. A leader was assigned to each group and strict instructions were given to not get separated from the group.
It seems that several of the boys were in a conditioning program at Davis High and hiking six miles was nothing (they were required to RUN six miles almost every day).
The middle group (most of the scouts) made fairly good time but didn't have anything to prove. They were interested in the scenery, eating, giving each other a hard time and eating.
The last group consisted of those who had pack problems and/or had overloaded their packs. One young man had considerable difficulty keeping up until I dumped out almost 20 pounds of water. Even after that he had a six pack of soda pop and a one pound can of pineapple in his pack. Of course, several other boys had almost the equivalent in candy and junk food.
Eventually the last group caught up with the middle group. (The middle group had stopped for lunch) and I noticed that two of the boys were missing (one of them was my son). It seems that they had seen a large fish swimming up the river and had decided to go try to catch it.
I wasn't too worried. The canyon was narrow and a person could only go one of two ways, upstream or downstream. Both missing boys had spent considerable time out-of-doors and knew we were heading downstream. I was confident they would catch up.
The groups moved ahead, joined with the first group and discovered the mouth of Boulder Creek.
Where Boulder Creek joins the Escalante is an amazing place. Boulder Creek comes out of a tunnel-like canyon with massive sandstone walls towering above. It angles into the Escalante in such a way that if you aren't looking for the mouth you will walk right by and not even know it is there. We made camp in an open area near the mouth of the creek.
Our two fishermen still hadn't caught up with so I decided I had better go back and find them.
As it turned out they had gotten turned around and were almost back to the cars when I found them. They didn't have a clue that they had been walking the wrong direction.
Three hours after I left, I brought the two fishermen into camp. I was pooped.
Several of the leaders and Scouts had been out fishing and had hits on spinners but no fish had been hooked. One of the leaders commented that one of the fish he turned looked a lot like a rainbow. I assured him that the only fish we would be catching would be brown trout and that there were no rainbow or cutthroat trout in the stream.
About that time one of the Scouts came wandering into camp with a big fish, about three pounds. He said he caught it in the mouth of Boulder Creek while fishing with salmon eggs. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was a catfish, a channel cat fish. I figure that fish, with its big head and small body, (if it had fed properly it would have been five or six pounds), must have swam all the way from Lake Powell. That's about a hundred miles if you follow the course of the river.
I suppose the equivalent would be someone pulling a handcart across the plains and then to be run over by a wagon as he stood in front of Sutter's Mill.
The catfish gave its all, was filleted and eaten before I could get a picture of it. What an amazing fish.
The sun went down early in the narrow canyon (about 2:00 p.m.) and it was getting cold and dark by five. The Scouts built a fire and sat around and talked. I went to bed.
Not so early the next morning, after checking each of the Scouts to make sure no one had died during the night, we decided to explore Boulder Creek. Now, the water in the Escalante River was cold and you thought twice before jumping in, but the water in Boulder Creek was way beyond cold. It hurt! We had to wade Boulder Creek eight times in the first half mile. By then my legs were so numb I couldn't feel them any more. I sat in a sunny spot and rubbed them to bring back some kind of circulation. There was little doubt that Boulder Creek originated in snow fields at about 11,000 feet elevation.
Fishing was slow. I tried about everything I had brought. I figured the brown trout would be spawning and would be aggressive. I've always had good luck with wooly buggers or leaches (black with red and a little silver sparkle) but not today.
Kim Stevenson, one of the adult leaders, decided to try spin fishing. He immediately began to catch fish. They weren't browns. They weren't catfish. They weren't even rainbows. They were cutthroat trout and some of them were big. Although I am sure there are brown trout in the stream, we didn't catch any of them.
How cutthroat trout came to live in Boulder Creek is a complete mystery.
Boulder Creek flows for miles through a narrow canyon, flanked by sheer sandstone walls. I wanted to explore every inch of the canyon. I wanted to see where Deer Creek joined Boulder Creek. I wanted to hike up a side canyon and see the tanks (natural swimming pools cut into the sandstone). I wanted to hunt for ruins, pictographs and other artifacts from the past culture that inhabited this remarkable area. But, I didn't have time!
Besides that, my legs were so cold that I could hardly walk. On our way back to camp we had to wade the Escalante. The water actually felt warm. Boulder Creek was much colder.
Unfortunately, when you take Scouts on a trip, most of your time must be used taking care of Scouts. Before we had much of a chance to explore the area, we had to head back.
By the way, we only waded the stream 17 times on the way out!
Boulder Creek is one of the most unique and beautiful streams I have ever fished. It is certainly one of the most remote fishing stream in the state. It runs for miles through a roadless area. Hidden and protected by sheer sandstone cliffs, it holds more intrigue and mystery than any place I have ever been.
I have been dying to go back. I've got to spend more time exploring the creek. I've got to figure out how to catch the brown trout. I've got to spend more time simply enjoying the unique beauty of the area. I've never been drawn back to a stream with such force.
I'll be going back to Boulder Creek in the spring, just after runoff. I've scheduled the trip for Memorial Day weekend.
Editor's Note: We introduce you to Boulder Creek with some reluctance. This area has not been discovered yet and consequently remains in pristine condition. If you take a trip in to Boulder Creek, please treat the area with respect. Pack out all of your trash. Don't build fires all over the place. Don't mare beauty of this area. Treat the place with the respect and reverence it deserves.