First conceived in 1998 by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella, The Hayduke Trail (HDT) is ~800 miles in length and stretches circuitously westward across the Colorado Plateau from Arches National Park to Zion National Park. During its wind westward the Hayduke Trail treks through Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, The Grand Staircase National Monument, Bryce Canyon NP, the Grand Canyon and a number of Wilderness Study Areas. The Hayduke’s traverse of this unique landscape truly showcases the diversity of the region in terms of geology, flora, fauna, and cultural history. Much of the route is cross-country walking, but it does link up existing trails and infrequent backcountry roads along it course. According to Joe and Mike, the authors of The Hayduke Trail, the routes circuitous corridor is, “…not intended to be the most direct way through the region, nor is it always the easiest or even the most logical route…” After pouring over maps for the past few months, I can do nothing but agree! As such, the route has thus far repelled a successful thru-hike of its length, although the authors of the guidebook have traveled the trail in its entirety in lengthy sections. The authors recommend traveling the route westward and in the Springtime. It is my intention to hike the Hayduke Trail in the Fall and in an eastward direction…not an attempt to be a revolutionary, that’s just when I can afford to take the time off from life. I hope to implement the typical thru-hiker strategy to this route…namely avoiding caching food and water, traveling as light (and safely) as possible, and simply (but probably quite painfully) humping my loads between re-supply stops. As expected, water is a major concern throughout the route. 30+ miles without water is common and I expect some stretches to be nearly 70 miles without a single drop of H20. As for the route, I have made a few minor adjustments to encourage easier re-supply — a logical adjustment if hoping to avoid the additional logistics of backcountry rendezvous’ for re-supply.
Regardless of whether or not I end up hiking the entire route, I am looking forward to spending some time in this truly spectacular and unique place, and learning more about the Colorado Plateau. To learn more about the Hayduke Trail, please visit www.hayduketrail.org.
Images from my hike can be seen here.
It Begins: August 31st
I started off this afternoon at the Kolob entrance of Zion National Park. I had originally planned to begin the hike in St. George, UT, but due to summer fires, the trails accessing the Pine Valley Wilderness where closed. I had hopes they might re-open before my start date, but they did not. I think St. George is more logical start/end point than the official Hayduke route as the town is easily accessed from SLC or Las Vegas via daily airport shuttles for a potential thru-hiker.
Anyway, my friend Jerry and I cruised up to Lee’s Pass Trailhead and headed down the well worn trail below streaked sandstone walls of Timber Mtn. to La Verkin Creek and Backcountry campsite 10 — a nice flat spot shaded by some oak trees with a strong running spring close to camp. La Verkin Creek is running strong, but it is laden with clay-silt, so finding the spring was a welcome and refreshing surprise.
After throwing down my pack I headed down trail a few minutes to the junction with the trail to Kolob Arch. I guess Kolob Arch is the largest arch in the world. A quick .5 mile up and along the shaded waters of Kolob Creek brought me to a small clearing, where I was able to see the large sandstone span of the arch. Although certainly big, it was not nearly as dramatic as I had imagined. I hung out for a few minutes appreciating the stillness of the afternoon, the smells of the desert, and the anticipation of the coming months, before retracing my route and heading back to camp for a casual evening in the backcountry.
I am a bit ashamed to admit that this will be my first night “in the woods” since returning from the Arizona Trail last November. I am not sure how I managed to allow that to happen, but it pains me to think that it did…especially now being aware of how relaxing it is to be where I am. I’d vow “never again” but I know that bold proclamation will be swept aside when I return to life and its general messiness.
Tomorrow I continue towards the main canyon of Zion NP via Hop Valley and the West Rim Trail. Jerry will be heading back to his van at Lee’s Pass TH.
I have to say that I am pleased with my general attitude and outlook for this hike. Despite the nature of this route, and seeing how it is undoubtedly the most intimidating trip I’ve planned, I feel quite calm and clear headed about the coming months.
Along the West Rim, September 1st
I packed up and headed out of camp at ~7 AM, after wishing Jerry a safe hike back to the van, and him wishing me the same for the remainder of my trip. A quick descent to La Verkin Creek led to short climb out of the drainage and up to Hop Valley where I was greeted with a broad, grassy basin, and the morning “moos” of some of the locals.
Unfortunately Hop Valley became significantly cow-burnt the further I progressed, and the locals began greeting me with synchronized `plops’… apparently signaling their general disdain with my presence. If I was not such a strong supporter of `Leave No Trace’ I may have said my own hello. Eventually I left the shady drainage and followed an abandoned 4WD RD, switchbacking up through the Oak and Ponderosa to the head of the valley. Expansive views to the S and W, and large fields of blooming flowers greeted me as I walked towards the Hop Valley TH in the full sun. At the TH I hung a left and began following the Wildcat Trail which would eventually head Wildcat Creek and bring me to the junction with the West Rim Trail. Cresting a small rise, towers of red, orange, and cream sandstone lined the horizon. Aaaahhhh, Zion. Continuing through fields of chest high grass and scrubby oak, I continued along enjoying the infrequent breeze and the opening landscape to the south of me. Once through the meadows I headed into the shady covering of Ponderosa and the occasion crossing of slickrock. Climbing upward for a spell, I spooked a small pack of coyotes who gave me their customary glance of indifference and silently disappeared. Good to see some coyotes in UT…an infrequent event for me. The rest of the day was pretty much just steady mileage through rolling once-burnt terrain…not too high on the aesthetic scale, but pleasant enough with the occasional big view and easy walking. I arrived at my camp for the evening in mid-afternoon, earlier than I anticipated despite having ~22 miles to do, and stopping for an hour mid-day for a short siesta. All the important body parts for this trip felt great throughout the day despite no pre-trip training. Hopefully that is a trend that continues. Camp tonight is at Potato Hollow, a nice enough camp with a nice breeze, strange sounds, and good water.
Zion National Park, September 2nd
I left Potato Hollow Camp at ~7 am and headed along the West Rim, climbing from the cool confines of the valley into the full sun of the rim. Undulating terrain through once-burnt forests was the norm for the morning, but expansive views south kept me entertained. The landscape throughout Zion is certainly incredible, and I enjoyed experiencing it from the `top down’ as opposed to the being in the bottom of the main canyon and looking up. I eventually worked my way down from the rim via a series of blasted switchbacks, dropping steadily into a small valley before climbing and then descending again to the junction with Angels Landing. I had climbed out to Angels Landing before, so I skipped the temptation of a worthy side trip and continued down through `Walter’s Wiggles’ a series of 21 constructed switchbacks. This is always a fun spot to watch testosterone driven males sweat themselves into heat-stroke induced submission trying not to get passed by other such alpha-males on the way up. Meanwhile their wives/girlfriends/lovers pace themselves wisely and actual can talk during their ascent. Anyway I was on my way down so my own testosterone was in check, and my manhood was not threatened. I counted roughly 50 people on their way up to Angels Landing during my descent…fewer than I anticipated given the Holiday Weekend. Maybe, like lots of National Park goers, they were waiting until the hottest part of the day to start the hike. After completing the descent from Angels Landing, I headed across the street to the transit stop and waited for the shuttle bus to arrive. I think shuttle busses are probably the best thing to happen (lately) to some of the Nat’l Parks — particularly in Zion where the canyon tends to trap noise and amplify it, essentially feeling, smelling, and strangely looking like a downtown of a large city…although in this town the skyscrapers are sandstone and not steel and glass. Anyway, it is a helluva an improvement from days thankfully past.
Once to the Visitor Center I checked the weather for tomorrow and then headed to the PO for my re supply, a meal, and a shower at the Springdale RV Park. Overhearing conversations at the restaurant, most locals were either griping about high gas prices keeping the typical stream of visitors at bay, or making fun of the Italian couple who were both on their cell phones talking in exuberant (as if there is any other way to speak Italian!) Italian. Strangely enough once their conversations were done, they left the restaurant without ordering anything. I guess they were either offended, did not like the looks of the menu, or just needed a temporary air-conditioned locale for an international call. Personally I was happy to see that gas prices had risen — although not supportive of the reasons why. We Americans are great innovators, but only when it seems to affect our pocketbooks. It would not surprise me if next week a car was available that got 70 mpg on just a single fart from a corporate energy executive. Once the people get a little grumpy, the corporations feel the pressure from their politic muppets. If We the People get lucky, some proper action takes place. If not, then we get fed a righteous proclamation of a companies `vision’ and `precedent setting agenda’ — all the while those in control hope the publics sudden passion will be short-lived…which it generally is. Once the corporate and political marketers go to work, we get dumbed back down and back on track and happily waving the flag. Anyway, enough ranting. I’ll move onto a different and hopefully shorter-lived rant…
After returning to the Park, I was a little disgruntled at having to pay to re-enter the Park. Originally the ranger at the Kolob Entrance said I’d be OK and the fees she collected at that time would cover me for 5 days. According to the ranger at Main Park Entrance I was undercharged $10. So after all was said and done, I paid out a total of $41 to be in the backcountry for 2 nights, and have a campsite for an evening in the park itself. As Abbey might say, welcome to Zion National Moneymint. Although I understand that the Park Service is severely underfunded, $41 seems steep for the services provided to this hiker…neglected maintenance on backcountry springs, overgrown and damaged trails, and a campsite I have yet to manage to get a single tarp stake driven into. I guess those issues are considered low priority since the majority of park visitors come in a car, may camp in a car, and see the park by car (shuttle now). Luckily my `issues’ were soon forgotten once I took notice of the steady stream of pretty foreign tourists with sexy accents. Zion indeed.
Zion Rest Day, September 3rd
I took a rest day in Zion today…not due to fatigue, injury, or mental imbalance, just a forced day of relaxation. Normally on trips I just take a rest day when I think it is appropriate. This go-round I am attempting to schedule my days…bodily preventative maintenance. Anyway, Zion is a great place to be, but not if you are forcing yourself to rest. I spent a good portion of my day in the Springdale library for computer access and skimming some chapters from some desert-oriented authors that I like. Pretty uneventful. Eventually I stumbled back to camp to take a nap. No sooner than I had just dosed off, my camping neighbors returned from their morning ‘o fun and promptly began reliving the experience — girly screams and giggles included. Once that concluded, Dad thought it would be fun to catch up on all those sports scores he missed out during the morning and proceeded to open all the doors on his truck and tune into Fox Sports College Football. I was excited hear the announcers note that this weekend they’d be doubling their normal broadcast time from 7 to 14 hrs of coverage. I would have pushed my earplugs in deeper, but they were already inserted beyond the recommended depth, and I was concerned about puncturing my eardrums.
Shortly after my attempted nap, my friend Tom from SLC showed up and we sped off for an afternoon of canyoneering in Zion. Although I was unable to get the permit we wanted, we were able to mess around in a short canyon with plenty of manky water, an awkward rappel, and a dead floating rat — all characteristics of a typical canyoneering experience worth a damn. It was a great way to spend the hot afternoon. On a side note, if any of you have done some canyoneering in Zion, the Park Service is putting together a new management plan. Through OCT 7th, they are welcoming public input about the current permit system and recommendations for improvement. If you’d like more info about it, go to canyoneeringusa.com for the info. Tom was nice enough to treat me dinner in Springdale, and he also brought a 2″ thick inflatable mattress for me sleep on for a night…definately made the picnic table top more comfortable.
I headed out of Zion via the East Rim Trail after catching the 5:45 am shuttle bus up the canyon. The East Rim Trail is a great hike for about a 1/3 of the way…great views, some slickrock, and an entertaining trail that weaves its way in and out of canyons, and around some nice formations. Once you climb up to the Rim, it is basically a mile or less of single track before turning into a sidewalk width hiking expressway. Easy hiking all morning. Eventually I dropped off the Rim Trail and into the drainage that parallels the HWY until crossing the road just past Checkerboard Mesa, and heading up to a saddle. The trail to the saddle wound its way up a bush-laden creekbed, but the going was surprisingly easy until reaching the base of a sandy, loose-boulder, scrubby oaked hillside. I climbed slowly but steadily to the saddle and upon reaching it was excited at the views south. Swirling, multihued sandstone tower and buttresses, randomly marked with Ponderosa and Juniper. After taking a short rest, I plunged down the sandy slope south and began contouring around the backside of Checkboard Mesa. Again the trail was very distinct, and well-cairned across the long expanses of ribbed slickrock, and slopes of red sand. Storm clouds began to roll in, and although I was thankful for the shade, I was still planning to drop into Panrunaweap Canyon to follow the river for ~5 miles. Obviously if a storm developed, my day would be cut short, and I have to wait until the waters lowered. Eventually I made my way to the “Powell Plaque” descent route to the Parunaweap — a route re-dubbed “Fat Man’s Misery” by the Guidebook authors.I can tell you right now, that the route has no bias as it was pretty miserable for a skinny guy as well.
I carefully picked my way down until reaching the cool, green waters of the Parunaweap, all the while the skies darkening and thunder boomed overhead. Not good. I retreated to higher ground, found a spot that would make a tolerable camp and ate some lunch. Despite the unplanned stop, I was perfectly positioned to witness a flash flood in a desert canyon — something that has been on my must see list for some time. I would have preferred it wait for some other time as I needed water and prefer to drink water without having a “silt-stash” afterwards. In addition, the walk against the current upcanyon would be MUCH easier with clear, pre-flash conditions.
Luckily for me despite raining a few drops and being threatening for a few hours, nothing came to be. With clear skies and bit of ego thrown in for good measure, I set off an a tear to get through the ~5 miles of flash prone canyon as quickly as possible. I finished off all my water to lighten my pack as much as I could for better mobility in the rocky, slippery terrain. For the next ~5 miles I was walking in ankle to waist deep water with a few adventuresome detours along cliffs and through caves to avoid the deeper pools. The Parunaweap Narrows were absolutely fantastic — basically a less dramatic Zion Narrows, but without all the people. Quite enjoyable. A few hours later I arrived at my exit scramble, filtered a bunch of water for tomorrow, ate some dinner, and then headed out of the river canyon via a steep, sandy slope and met up with an ATV Track along a Wilderness Study Area Boundary. My camp tonight is a fine one indeed. A nice slab of slickrock looking out across Panrunaweap Canyon with the White Cliffs standing guard on the horizon. ~20 miles for the day.
I left my camp at ~7:30 this morning after lazily watching the sun rise. Not much to my day really…most of which was following 2-track roads that were incredibly soft and sandy. Slow going, but once I adjusted my rhythm, all was well.
After 4-5 miles I came to a junction and left the Hayduke. In my attempt at thru-hiking this route I’ve come up with few deviations mainly for easier re-supply, but also consideration was given to overall route aesthetics and water availability. In my opinion this alt route meets the criteria on all accounts as it drops a hiker directly into Colorado City, leaves only ~15 miles between guaranteed water sources, and canyons are usually a better aesthetic bet than open country in southern UT.
Throughout the day I passed a number of seeps, two of which were in Shunes Hollow, and the other 5-8 in Broad Valley. The route through Broad was very pleasant as the valley itself is surrounded by red sandstone crags, and the basin is quite broad (thus the name), so the views back towards Zion were uninterrupted. Wilderness Study Areas (though blatantly ignored by ATV traffic) were on each side of the 2-track. The road only got more sandy as I continued on, eventually climbing up and down through washes. Lots and lots of sand. The sun was blazing, but I kept a steady, low-sweat pace and a few hours later was at the head of Squirrel Creek after passing over some great slickrock which had a number of potholes with useable water. I was happy to be headed down Squirrel Creek and into the shade of the lower canyon. Squirrel Creek has 2 strong springs which run year round, and were a pleasant addition to already splendid canyon — definitely an alt. route to consider if you are thinking of tackling the Hayduke.
After filtering some water for the evening, I continued down stream, joined up with Short Creek and am now camped just passed the TH of Water Canyon hidden in the junipers. Tomorrow I’ve got just a few miles into the infamous (polygamy) towns of Hildale, Ut and Colorado City, Az for my resupply before heading out across the Arizona Strip and the Grand Canyon. ~19 miles at the office
Colorado City – Polygamists in our midst, September 6th
Awoke this morning and headed the few miles through the polygamist towns of Hildale and into Colorado City for my re-supply. Interesting places. It seems every 3rd house is in some form of construction and many of the homes were simply painted (always gray it seemed…) plywood — no siding, no brick — as if they might be adding on any day, so why bother to finish. In accuality, the appearance of a home being ‘under-construction’ is intentional to take advantage of a property tax loophole. Whenever I head into a town, I make the point to wave at every person I see. Whether in a passing car or in their yard, I wave. In these towns every man waved to acknowledged my greeting, while every woman looked away.
Determined to have some lady at least recognize my existence, my waves became more frantic. Finally a homely-looking woman in a 15 passenger van gave me a furtive wave as she sped by. However upon reflection, I am uncertain if it was a greeting or she was simply swatting a fly or scratching her head. Anyway, I was satisfied.
Up to this point it seemed the `uniforms’ of the local tribesman was blue or gray long-sleeved shirt and jeans for the men, and ankle length denim dresses for the ladies. Both outfits looked uncomfortable in the morning heat, and both reminded me of scenes from Little House on the Prairie or some such `frontier’ oriented tv show.
I stopped into the grocery store for some Gatorade and was met by 12 (I know that sounds like a lot, but I counted…) of the female tribesman…eerily all dressed the same and all with a single braid that ran the length of their back. Honestly it felt like a scene from Hitchcock’s, `The Birds.’ Kinda creepy. But hey, we are all quirky in our own way, so I made attempts at idle chit chat and the tribesman working the cashier was kind enough to offer the use of the stores phone. I politely declined, grabbed my pack and headed to the PO down the road. After getting my box and organizing things, I headed back up the road to the only gas station in town in hopes of finding a bathroom and a free water faucet. Fortunately I scored on all accounts, and the tribes people running the store were friendly though not overly so. I wanted to ask them what they thought of the recent developments in regard to their leader and prophet Warren Jeffs, (who is currently #1 or #2 on the FBI’s most wanted list) or even just something as mundane as asking them who’d they think was going to win the World Series, but for some reason I figured they’d be all but mute on both topics. Regardless of being tongue tied, I am glad I finally got my own FLDS experience and think that others along this alternative route to the Hayduke would find value in the experience as well.
Fundamentalism is a strange thing to me. I find I appreciate the simple clarity of it — black and white, I’m right and you are wrong. Either 21 virgins or 4 wives await me, while eternal damnation and suffering are your destiny. Take your pick. What I like about that thinking is that you know exactly where you stand, as our own leader says, “yer either with us, or yer against us.” No gray area. No middle ground. Just simple clarity. I do however have a problem when those views are expected to be practiced by everyone and an individuals value is determined by their personal beliefs. Righteousness has a inconvenient way of ballooning out of control on a belief framework that there is only one `right’. This unfortunate strain of logic typically seems to lead to the justification of evil things — whether it be blowing up buildings, invading countries, inflicting economic imperialism, or indoctrinating your kids to believe that Laura Ingall’s style was the pinnacle of the fashion movement, it is all a cowardly means of pushing your agenda on others. Without trying to sound sappy and idealistic, why is it so hard for us humans to embrace a basic principle of humanity…live and let live. Leave me alone, and I’ll return the favor. I suppose that leads to the big question of, “What is the true nature of man,” but I’ll save that one for another road walk. Back to hiking.
The entire day, all 25 miles of it, was along roads. Paved roads, dirt roads, sandy roads. 25 miles. All road. All day.
I don’t mind road walks too much as they are good excuses for a casual day, but when it is hot, there is zero shade, and you are carrying ~24 lbs of water, it is easy for me to think of more pleasurable alternatives. Other than that, it was a nice day, and my legs were strong all day, but my brain was pretty bored. By midday I was really hoping a piece of energy bar would get lodged between my teeth so I’d have something to do for the next 5 hrs of hiking. Despite my efforts of irresponsible chewing, I had no such luck. Throughout the day I passed a few windmill driven well pumps and the old Esplins Cattle Company Corral. Not sure if the company is still going as I only saw 15 head of cattle all day.
Camp tonight is on the edge of Yellowstone Mesa overlooking the route for tomorrow…more roads and no shade until dropping into Kanab Creek from Hack Canyon. Maybe it will be overcast.
Cows, heat, and awful plants, September 7th
Left camp this morning and headed along roads again…up, down, all around, chasing jackrabbits and watching falcons on the hunt. Most of the bulldozed cattle tanks I passed (4) held considerable amounts of water, but I did not sample any of it, although at least 2 of the tanks looked palatable. Eventually I crested a small rise and dropped into a basin full of cattle. Heading down canyon to CR 109, I ended up taking the entire herd along with me, as they were either thinking it was time to go to slaughter (better than this scrubby ‘ol desert) or were just too darned stupid to go the other way. Most likely it was the latter. I was telling them to git up and git a move on, and they pretty much obliged, again showing their disapproval by moo-ing and poo-ing.
This is some big country. Willie Nelson has been in my head most of the day — Don’t Fence Me In — is the name of the tune I believe. Anyway, it seemed appropriate and I’ve been on repeat all day, mixing up verses and no doubt slaughtering the tune, but out here no one can hear me struggle with the high notes.
After leaving the cattle behind I swung a left and proceeded down Hack Canyon which will eventually drop me into Kanab Creek. There has been road to follow all the way to the Kanab Creek Wilderness Boundary which I just passed though. Three people have signed the register since June 5. Through the course of the afternoon, I have found only 3 shady spots. The first I ate lunch at below a cliffband, the second was a desperate crawl beneath a tamarisk tree, and the third I find myself at now in late afternoon, trying to escape the burden of the sun beneath a rock outcropping. It is very hot and I am generally pretty uncomfortable. Drinking hot water also does not give much in the way of relief. My feet have begun to swell a little which is typical on hot, hard surfaced road walks, and I have developed two small blisters, the first of the trip, on each of the tops of my pinky toes. If they become a problem, I’ll have to amputate. Book deal hear I come! Another desert survival story to grace the shelves. I am pretty content sitting here in the 3rd shade…eager to get moving but vowing to myself I’d sit out the hottest part of the day.
Hack Canyon is a fairly broad, crumbly walled canyon. The upper tiers of rock are cream in color while the lower bands are rusty red. Not particularly spectacular, but big, quiet and beautiful. There is also an abundance of some weedy invasive exotic plant that is in absolutely every area of disturbed soil. I have no idea what it is, but once I find out, I am going to start a petition drive to have the country of its origin napalmed. It is god-awful stuff.
Lower Hack Canyon was quite nice as it began to cut more aggressively downward through layers of sandstone.
Shortly I reached the confluence of Hack and Kanab Creek…low on water and low on daylight. About a mile down canyon I found a few puddles of warm water, filtered a few liters and found a cramped but comfy camp sandwiched between a wall of sandstone and some dead willows. ~27 miles for the day.
Down Kanab Creek, September 8th
An exceptionally unmotivated start, led to a hard-won day of ridiculous goals, scenic beauty, and general water filled merriment. My cramped camp of the night before was comfortable enough, but the blast furnace of hot air coming through Kanab Creek from the main canyon was an unwelcome bedmate. Although I was just sleeping with a silk weight liner (no sleeping bag) I was sweatin’ all night long — and never seemed to get more than a few hours of continuous sleep. Sweat would buildup on my forehead, cascade downward, run through my eyebrows and then into my eyes, bringing the salt from the previous days efforts along with it. A rude awakening at any hour.
I never use water for anything else besides basic hygiene and drinking when in the desert and certainly at a camp that is dry. Better a dirty face, than a tongue swollen from thirst. Anyway, when morning did come around I was less than excited about the day. I had planned on doing the entire 22 miles to the Colorado River, but doubted with my morning attitude that would be possible. So, off I went, stumbling down Kanab Creek in a mental haze and a indifferent attitude towards the day. As such I was paying little attention to maps, scenery, time, water, or any other things that one should be paying attention to when in the out of doors. Onwards I stumbled and grumbled my way through the morning.
The creek bed of Kanab Creek is like most desert creek beds, sometimes as smooth and hard as sidewalk, other times gooey and slippery, and still other times a loose jumble of cobbles, boulders, and jammed debris. However, unlike a lot of desert creek beds, Kanab Creek has a good flow of water for the lower half of the canyon. As such I was only carrying a liter or two of drinking water which certainly helped to reduce the pack weight. Eventually my legs started to loosen up, and now motivated, tried to get my brain on board to participate for the rest of the day in a meaningful manner. Obliging slightly, I took out the maps and figured I’d done about 12 miles. Seeing as how it was early afternoon, if I put the hustle on I could conceivably make it to the Colorado River, ~10 miles away.
Still not convinced I pushed onward over the rocky creek bed, resolute that the days destiny was already determined.
Rounding a bend I caught a whiff of watery-sweetness on the breeze, and then heard the unmistakable plish-plash of water dripping on stone. Knowing the mileage, it must be Showerbath Spring, a lush, over hanging eden of fern and moss coolly dripping over the warm waters of Kanab Creek. I slipped out of my pack and clothes and immediately postponed myself under the largest faucet..the cool water pounding at my shoulders, rinsing my body of the accumulated trail grit, and washing away the sour attitude from my brain. Heavenly. Divine. Just a few words that come to mind. I tested the rest of the faucets as well, dancing merrily between each one, amazed at this oasis within such harsh country. Reinvigorated, I ate a snack, got dressed and headed back down canyon with a new perspective on the day, physically and mentally cleansed and feeling very much alive.
Kanab Creek is quite a canyon. Besides its abundance of good water and springs, it a fun canyon to hike. Plenty of natural obstacles such as boulders, deep pools of water, and interesting banks make it continuously exciting. In addition, it has the grandeur and majestic nature of a large desert canyon, but at the same time it is subtle and intimate in its details. Interesting at any scale or perspective. I continued to thread my way through the canyon, sometimes above the water, but most of the time in the actual creek. Turn after turn, twist after twist, the canyon walls continued to rise and the air blowing up Kanab Creek grew warmer. Eventually, with ~30 minutes to dusk, I rounded the last bend and saw the Colorado river flowing unnaturally green and cool as it passed the mouth of Kanab Creek. As I crossed the creek one last time towards my camp, I heard a clatter of stone. As I looked over my shoulder I saw 3 Bighorn Sheep coming down to the creek for an evening nightcap — 2 males, and 1 female. Then, as I continued my retreat, a Ringtail scurried down the talus and hopped across the creek as well. What a treat. A great ending to an initially suspect day.
Along the Colorado, September 9th
Another sweaty night. No chance at staying hydrated at this rate! Regardless, after yesterdays effort I slept well and was pleased to awake to more Bighorns this morning. I headed out of my camp at 6 am. ~7.5 miles of bouldery terrain awaited me and I wanted to get as much of it done before the sun became a factor. My ankles are pretty sore from yesterday’s creek walk so I knew my pace would be a bit slower. It was nice to walk close (at times) to the river as it was easy to soak my hat and shirt in the water to try to keep cool throughout the day. Fortunately clouds rolled in for much of the morning and that helped with the temperature as well.
The route from Kanab Creek to Cranberry Canyon was pretty slow going as much of it was steep, loose boulders and talus — terrain that demanded careful attention to each step. Tedious. From Cranberry Canyon to Deer Creek was a bit better as it followed a decent trail above the river, but was certainly exposed to the sun. This portion of the route actually crossed 2-3 sizeable seeps with accessible water. Nearing Deer Creek, I was treated to another Bighorn Sheep before rounding the bend to Deer Creek Falls. ~7.5 miles in 6 hrs.
Throughout the day I saw ~12 boats floating the river — mostly commercial companies on big `J-Rigs’ which are basically floating RV’s. A few were parked at Deer Creek Falls which is a spectacular waterfall that spills out onto the banks of the river from a narrow canyon above. I pulled up short of the flotilla and found a nice pool to take a dip in and soak my feet — quite refreshing. I spent more than hour sitting around before heading up Deer Creek to Deer Springs which is where I sit now. Deer Springs is also a real treat…water pouring from a sandstone crack framed with moss and ferns. I’ve definitely neglected my hydration the past few days and am parked here until I get things back in order. My camp tonight in Surprise Valley is a only a few miles away. I’ve drank close to a gallon of water (and electrolyte mix) and still no action from below the belt. The Hayduke continues from Surprise Valley and then drops into Tapeats Creek and eventually exits Saddle Canyon at Muav Saddle. A classic Steck Route. I’ve decided against that route as it is technically beyond the scope of my hike, and not something I feel 100% safe attempting myself, especially in a reverse direction. Major kudos to the Hayduke founders for pulling that one off! Anyway, I’ll head up to the rim tomorrow via the Bill Halm route and rejoin the Hayduke on the road to Point Sublime. Looking forward to the cooler nighttime temps of the North Rim.
To the Rim, September 10th
After pushing off from Deer Springs, I hiked into Surprise Valley and about half way up the first major climb to the Esplanade. Although it was quite windy I found an exceptional camp on the leeward side of the slope.
Personally, one aspect of lightweight hiking I really enjoy is tentless sleeping arrangements. To have the flexibility to just roll out a sleeping pad and call it a night has led to many a great, and impromptu camp. I had a great sleep primarily due to the much cooler temps. Pushing off at ~6 am, I chugged up the final few hundred feet to reach the Esplanade which is the main bench that is directly below each rim of the Grand Canyon. After ~3.5 miles of mostly flat, pleasant, slickrock hiking, I began the 3 mile, 2000 ft climb to Monument Point. The climb was not bad as the trail was in good shape and the sun had not yet risen high enough to hit the slopes. Climbing up, I paused occasionally to check out the map to identify landmarks within the canyon. A hikers perspective of the Grand Canyon is always changing as you walk into, or out of the Big Ditch. I find it interesting to keep pace with the sites and see how they change — the color of light, the play of shadow, and perceived texture of the landscape. Anyway, I shortly made my way to the Trailhead at Monument Point, ate a quick snack and pushed off for the remainder of my day — undulating forested dirt road walking during deer archery season.
Road walking in the North Kaibab is actually pretty nice as the large stands of Oak, Ponderosa, and Aspen provide cool shade, good smells, and pleasant rustling with the breeze. Although I saw a bunch of `pick-up’ hunters during the course of the day, there were actually far fewer than I had anticipated. Of the fellas I had talked to no one had had much luck let alone even seen something to shoot at…it was delightfully ironic to make camp this evening and have 3 bucks wander through my camp during dinner. Not too much more to report for the day other than the nuts and bolts: Camped at ~8,300 ft (nice and cool!) near the road junction to Swamp Point and the Point Sublime Rd…back on the Hayduke after ~26 miles of walking.
The North Rim, September 11th
Arrived early afternoon at the North Rim after 21 miles of road walking. I am a day ahead of schedule and eager for a shower and some other civilized luxuries. Talking with the ranger here has been a real treat…VERY helpful and knowledgeable about the upcoming route. Anyway, I’ll be taking a few days off here to rest up and to get back on schedule with my permit.
Phantom Ranch, September 13th
I left the cool environs of the North Rim this morning and arrived 4.5 hrs, 14 miles, and 5,800 ft later at Phantom Ranch. I plan to hang out here pretty much all day until things cool off before pushing on another ~7 miles to Lone Tree Canyon to camp. At the moment the Cafe here is mostly empty…a few Rim to Rim hikers, some river runners, but mostly folks who have stayed overnight at the Ranch. The cafe has a variety of snacks, drinks, first aid supplies, and an assortment of postcards which you can send out with the Mule Train to be mailed. The menu is not as thorough as I’d hoped: $9.59 for a sack lunch, $17.47 for breakfast, $21.07 for Stew, and $31.24 for a Steak. Apparently they like to make change, or just confuse the Europeans with those odd ball prices…
Anyway, time for a snack, a foot soak, and then maybe a nap.
Continued… , September 13th
I spent the rest of the day until about 3 pm relaxing and talking with some folks at Phantom Ranch and reading excerpts from the “Book of Country Music Wisdom.” As you might imagine it was a short read, but I did copy a few worthwhile quotes down and plan to sprinkle them throughout the journey in he coming days. The highlight of my social afternoon was meeting and talking with a fellow named Mark from Colorado. He is a classic Grand Canyon hiker as he has been hiking in the Canyon for ~30 years and was quite knowledgeable about routes, trails, views, and general canyon trivia. We spent a few hours going over his past, current, and future hikes and also discussed the sections of trail that I had hiked and the upcoming stretch to Nankoweap. Eventually the conversation turned to gear and he was pretty excited about some of the lightweight alternatives to traditional gear…namely the alcohol stove. We exchanged final goodbyes and he headed off to Indian Gardens for the night and his trip along the western Tonto Trail. Sometimes you just know when you see someone that you are going to get along and the conversation is going to be easy, relaxed, and natural — despite age difference, gender, or ethnicity. Mark definitely had that vibe about him, and I was happy that my impression was correct.
After Mark left I got to talking with some friendly Canadians (don’t all Canadians seem friendly…?) and they were quite pleasant as well. At 3 pm I filled up with water, soaked my shirt and hat and hit the trail — South Kaibab over the Black Bridge to the East Tonto Trail. I had been on this route in ’99 over New Years as a preliminary shake-down hike for my PCT hike that spring. Leaving in the late afternoon worked well as much of the climb up from the river was shaded. As the sun sank, I was able to match my pace to the advancing shadow and therefore stayed out of the sun most of the afternoon and evening. I am camped below Patti Butte, about a mile short of Lone Tree Canyon which was my intended stopping point. After passing a number of great campsites, I just had to stop at this one…a flat shoulder with unobstructed views both up and down canyon. Watching the evening light on the surrounding buttes, towers, and cliffs was fantastic — a welcome distraction from my calorie-laden bowl of nightly slop — which tasted all the more slop-like after my fine catered dutch oven meal from the guides (Matt, Matt, & Matt) of Backroads.com at the North Rim.
Now for some country music wisdom from Loretta Lynn, whom I believe has made a recent comeback with her hit song, “The VanLear Rose” thus proving her own quote correct:
“You’ve got to continue to grow, or you are just like last nights corn bread — stale and old.”
Contouring through the Canyon, September 14th
I broke camp at ~6 am intending to do about 9 miles before the sun started to heat things up.
Generally pleasant walking along defined trail, through washes, and across the heads of drainages.
Eventually I contoured my way to Grapevine Canyon where I found a shady piece of real estate which I inhabited for ~5 hrs. to nap, drink, read, and watch. Around 4 pm I pushed off again to make camp ~6.5 miles further along the Tonto Trail in Cottonwood Wash — a nice slice of green on the side of Horseshoe Mesa. A few bats are circling about, and the near full moon has just risen above the cliffs.
I have yet to mention the incredible silence that exists here. One of the great things about spending time in uninhabited landscapes is the abundance of silence and complete absence of trivial noise. Every noise out here has some purpose behind it. Nothing makes noise just for the sake of having something to do or for entertainment.
I find it interesting that a person might find the total lack of trivial noise to be oppressive and uncomfortable, instead of soothing and liberating as I do. As my folks and friends have informed me, some storms have tracked to the east of my route. Not surprisingly, the Colorado River is runnin’ red as a result. As unnatural as it might be, I was hoping it would remain dam-released blue green during my remaining time in the canyon as it is pretty much my only reliable water source in the coming days. I guess we’ll see how it turns out. Country Music Wisdom for the evening:
“Do what needs doin’.”
Cardenas Camp, September 15th
I left my camp and immediately climbed up and over Horseshoe Mesa, before beginning the standard Grand Canyon Contour along the Tonto Trail. Eventually I dropped to Hance Rapids at Red Canyon and watched a few rafts go through. I guess Hance is one of the more thought-provoking obstacles along the rivers course. After a short break, I pushed on along the Escalante Route until 75 mile Canyon, where I propped the feet up and rested for a few hours during the heat of the day. The Escalante Route is a nice route. Well-cairned, and a number of obstacles a hiker has to negotiate…steep scrambles, a few downclimbs, and a bushwack or two thrown in for good measure. After pushing off again I climbed up 75 mile canyon briefly before contouring around and down to Escalante Creek. The hike through Escalante was pretty tough…loose and steep, but I was treated to the circling’s of a soaring condor during my ascent…a real treat to finally see one of those big fellas.
Contouring again after climbing out of the main fork of Escalante Creek I eventually headed a small a drainage on exposed trail before beginning my descent to Cardenas Camp. Garcia Lopez de Cardenas (liberally sprinkled with accents) was the first white person to lay eyes on the Colorado River back in 15-something-or-other (1540?). He sent some men down to check out a route to the river. When they returned, they were caught in the fix of not being able to describe what they experienced and saw, for they had no basis of comparison. My experience at Cardenas Camp has been similar. Staggering along, racing the setting sun I followed the trail down off a ridge towards the River. Weaving in and out of the willows and tamarisk I suddenly popped out of the brush directly into a person’s camp. I apologized and turned to go, but before I could do so, I was invited to meet the rest of the `campers’. I ended up sharing a dutch oven dinner with 14 river runners. A most pleasant surprise to be sitting in the sand enjoying succulent chicken, tasty potatoes, and a crisp salad. Unbelievable. After dinner, as the moon rose over Cardenas Butte, it was an evening of poetry, selected readings, and a few guitar songs. Good food, great company, great canyon. Absolute perfection. Like Cardenas’s men, I am speechless in being able to describe my thanks for every bodies hospitality and warmth. I am always so impressed with people’s openness in which they embrace fellow backcountry travelers. Whether by river or by trail, we all share the same bound for the given moment — The Grand Canyon — and can relate to one another immediately on that level. Thank you again for making a memory for me, and sharing an evening in beautiful place.
Overall a physical day, but one that has ended on an energized note.
Country music quote of the day:
“I ain’t worried about dying. I’m worried about living.”
Sixty Mile Rapid, September 16th
I left camp a little later than normal. It was a rough night of little sleep as the mice in camp were very active. I also had a hard time resisting a fresh cup of orange juice. Eventually though we all wished one another goodbye and I headed off again on the Escalante Route in hopes of getting close to the Little Colorado River by the end of the day. Because the main Colorado is running with a high silt load at the moment, I was keeping my eye out for any clear water to filter. I eventually found a pool near Lava Rapid and despite the early hour, I stopped to drink my fill. With only ~6.5 miles to the Little Colorado I was in no real hurry to do much of anything with my morning, so I lounged away the cool hours of the day. At some point I motivated myself to hit the trail and headed out into the heat of the day with a bloated belly of water and the hopes of finding a decent camp. At the Tanner Trail I left the Escalante Route and continued on to the Beamer Trail, which I had heard is a narrow, winding affair with a good deal of exposure as it contours above the Colorado River. I was not disappointed in regard to any of these descriptions. Quite a route, and probably the most entertaining section of trail in the Grand Canyon thus far. Around 3 pm I dropped down onto the shores of the Little Colorado River. I was delighted to discover that once I passed the confluence upstream, the main Colorado River was flowing a refreshing blue-green. It was amazing to see the Little Colorado running at ~250 cfs, merging with a river that is running at ~9000 cfs, yet completely influencing the appearance and silt load of its larger brethren. Crossing the Little Colorado River was like walking through a bowl of chocolate pudding…it seemed to be 70% silt, and only 30% water. A messy, dirty affair that was about mid-thigh at its deepest. After crossing, and working my way along the shore to the confluence, I immediately stripped down and dove into the clear waters of the main Colorado. It was cool, but so incredibly refreshing during the heat of the day. Wading about, I was totally engrossed watching where these two bodies of water met…the silt seeming to explode in underwater plumes as clean met dirty. I watched transfixed for some time, before soaking my clothes, redressing and working my way upstream along the right bank of the river.
At this point, the potential Hayduke Hiker is in the hands of a gracious river runner to provide escort across the river…a ferry to the opposing bank to continue upstream in easier terrain. I was not in the mood to sit and wait so figured I’d work my way from beach to beach along the shore. Worse case I’d make a few more miles for the day and just hitch a ride in the morning and have a nice beach to camp at for myself in the evening. River traffic had been noticeably slower, as I any saw one group of boaters at Lava Rapids during my water break, so I figured that there would be a flurry of boats towards the late afternoon. By the time I reached the third beach, I spotted a raft party heading down canyon. I sprinted to the river side of the beach, gave some cryptic hand signals about my intentions, and was immediately picked up, and deposited cliff side on the opposite side of the river. Despite being dropped in a tricky spot, the whole process was amazing quick and exactly what I’d hoped for. River people are good folk.
Now on the good side of the river I made quick time and eventually dropped onto the sandy beach directly below 60 mile Rapid. Where, to my surprise, five boats from Arizona Rafting Adventures (AZRA) had just pulled in and were setting up camp. Before I’d walked 5 steps, I was given cold cranberry juice, invited to dinner, and offered a 2″ thick pad to sleep on if I decided to stay. Uuhhh, Yes? Coincidentally it was `Steak Night’ which I had no trouble with accepting either. Along with the steak was a crisp green salad, mashed potatoes (which I got to mash), and dutch oven carrot cake in celebration of one of the client’s birthdays for dessert. Another unbelievable evening of great company, great food, and good spirits. As I said before, these River People are good folk. The only bad thing about all this hospitality is that my pack is not getting any lighter for the climb out of the canyon! I really enjoyed talking with the 5 guides (Jerry, Jan, Jess, John, and Billy) as well as the clients throughout the evening. Jerry in particular was quite knowledgeable about the canyon and the Colorado Plateau. He recommended an alternate route to Nankoweap Canyon (which the ranger at the North Rim had also mentioned) and showed me the route on the map. Something to consider this evening for sure. Slowly the evening died down as the moon rose and cast a pale light on the Malgosa Crest upriver, continuing the ongoing play of light and shadow that seems to happen at any hour in the Grand Canyon.
Country music quote of the day, from The Man in Black:
“I don’t have unattainable goals. I just want to be a better person. I found out the better I am, the happier I am.”
Cross Country in the Canyon, September 17th
I awoke slowly this morning after a hard sleep, the rhythmic slapping of the water on the boats coaxing me to dream time, despite the moons attempts at keeping the lights on. With only ~14 miles on the schedule for the day, I was in no real rush — plus I was told eggs and hash browns were on the breakfast menu. Shortly I rose, and wandered over to the kitchen to help Jan with the breakfast prep. It was a relaxing morning filled with more food, fun, and frolic. The clients slowly emerged from their tents as the morning calls of “Coffee!” and “Breakfast!” were made. I probably pushed off around 9 am as the AZRA rafts were readied to leave shore for another day on the river shooting rapids, hiking canyons, and undoubtedly laughter. It was fun to experience the dynamics of a river trip and its organization. I was really surprised at how the entire group worked so well together after only a few days on the river getting to know one another. Maybe Jan said it best, “…once you tell them they have to pee in the river and poop in a box for the next 14 days, barriers fall pretty fast.” Anyway, it was a pleasure to spend an evening and morning with the guides and clients alike, and measuring the grins on folks faces, it seems AZRA runs a top-rate service. I’ve had a little interest in floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon at some point, but after experiencing the canyon while hiking, I think that added river perspective would be interesting. So I headed off, climbing up and over a number of sandy dunes, boulder hopping along the river bank, and bashing through willow and tamarisk for a good portion of the morning.
I really enjoyed this stretch of the Canyon, as it is more open at the river level, and the scale is a bit more manageable to comprehend. The only negative is that it is in the flight paths of the `Scenic Air Tours’. A steady progression of prop planes and helicopters tended to unpleasantly wake me from my daydreams.
Late in the morning I arrived at the large, vegetated delta of Kwagunt Creek. This was the beginning of the alternate route to Nankoweap that Jerry and the Ranger had mentioned. Although it would add more climbing to my day, I was intrigued and figured it would be more interested than 4 miles of shoreline walking. The only downsides to this route was that I would miss the Anasazi Granaries lower in Nankoweap Canyon and another possible rendezvous with food-laden river runners. Undeterred, I swung a left and headed a few miles up the Kwagunt. Basically the route follows the main creek until you pass through the Butte Fault, set your sights on Nankoweap Butte, and head a few miles and climb ~2000 ft up a draw to an obvious saddle. The views back downcanyon were awesome, despite being slightly shrouded from the smoke of (what I assume) controlled fires on the North Rim at Point Royale. Once at the saddle, the views into Nankoweap Canyon were equally incredible. Nankoweap is a large, many fingered drainage with plenty of interesting nooks and crannies. I could also spot portions of the trail that I’d be tackling tomorrow to reach the North Rim.
I descended slowly to the running waters of Nankoweap Creek and my camp for the evening — about 3 miles upcanyon from the Colorado River, and ~11 miles and ~5,000 ft to the North Rim. I was tempted to do half of the climb this evening, but figured an early, well-hydrated start was the better decision. Heading off cross country in the Grand was not as intimidating as I imagined it to be. Granted it was a basic route, but I did feel I began to understand the intricacies of the canyon a bit better when constantly vigilant of the route and the path of least resistance. I felt in rhythm throughout the afternoon physically, and the attention that needed to be paid to the route, stymied much of the trivia that batters around my noggin during the course of the day. It was quite pleasant. Anyway, after a good foot soak, casual observations, and multiple dinners in an attempt to lighten my pack, I headed up the Nankoweap Trail to watch a great sunset. As much fun as hanging out with the river folk has been, I am looking forward to my last night below the rim in the same manner as I entered the Canyon: alone, sweaty, and anxious for tomorrow.
Country Music Wisdom for the day:
Pain comes like the weather, but joy is a choice.
Back at the North Rim, September 18th
Broke camp at 6 am and headed up the Nankoweap Trail which is often described as the hardest route in the canyon. Admittedly skeptical, I set off a steady pace with the goal of beating the sun to the top of Tilted Mesa. This trail gets blasted by the sun, so an early start was mandatory. The first few hours of hiking were absolutely splendid. The morning sun warmed the east facing cliffs and the color of the stone changed as the sunlight intensified. The flap of a raven’s wings was the only noise to break the interval of my breathing and the crunch of stone underfoot as I moved steadily upward. Reaching the top of Tilted Mesa, views into Little Nankoweap Canyon emerged, and the ravens of the morning were playing in the updrafts of air that were moving up canyon. The sun made its presence felt as I continued to climb and contour along the Nankoweap, the trail not really too steep, but bouldery and narrow most of the time. Progress was slowed but not overly so, and the temps were noticeably cooler after climbing ~2,000 ft. in an hour.
But, all good things eventually end and my morning frame of mind was intruded upon by the chop of rotor blades and the whir of propellers. Bummer. These noises only intensified my pace and I shortly crested the lip of the rim, sweaty and exhilarated at the views into the Saddle Canyon Wilderness and across the canyon to the South Rim. Again, the scale of things here are at times incomprehensible and definitely summarize the appeal of the western landscape for me: Big, open, and free. I know fences exist, but from this vantage, the topography just rolls along uninhibited.
After taking a short break to soak in the views, I continued up the trail to FR 610. By far this was the worst part of the Nankoweap — a hacked together route that ignored topography and common trail sense. Eventually I popped out of the brush to FR 610 and left the Hayduke to walk ~12.5 miles back to the North Rim Village for my resupply along the Point Imperial and Ken Patrick Trails. Both of these routes were well maintained up to about 1 mile from the TH parking lots. After that they became overgrown. Not difficult to follow, but I was hoping to be able to tune out for the afternoon. By late afternoon I reached the mule corral and the Bright Angel TH, then climbed to the North Rim Campground for an unfortunately cool shower and much needed laundry. Somehow managed to get 2 days ahead of schedule in the last section, so I am planning on taking a rest day, before heading out along the Arizona Trail to re-join the Hayduke ~10 miles north of here. I enjoyed this last section of the Hayduke quite a bit, but am glad to be moving on from the Grand Canyon to some new terrain. I will miss the unique characteristics of this landscape, but will not miss the sweat rash, hot temperatures, airplanes, or vegetation that makes my legs bleed. ~26 on the odometer for the day.
Country Music Wisdom of the day:
In the long run you make your own luck — good, bad, or indifferent.
Rest Day, September 19th
Another rest day here at the North Rim. Like all rest days, the day has been both a blend of relaxation and chaos.
At one point I was a little too relaxed and forgot to visit the PO before 2 pm, thus missing the chance to pick up my re-supply box. But, adaptation is necessary for survival and I will make due. Instead of hitting the trail early, I’ll just leave around noon and have a mellow day of walking. No big deal. Wildlife highlight of the day was watching a deer chase off a band of wild turkeys — an aggressive habit no doubt developed to insure the deer preserve the prime habitat for tourist handouts. A truly Marty Stouffer `Wild America’ moment. Human highlight was a toss up between two instances. First was the folks from Minnesota (minn-a-sooota) trying to get cell reception on the sunporch and the resulting conversation between husband and wife. Second was watching the oldest person I have ever seen (presumably with a valid drivers license) behind the wheel of the largest RV I’ve ever seen attempting to negotiate a tight turn in the campground. Both were entertaining, but too close to pick a clear winner. Tomorrow I anxiously head northward.
Cruisin’ on the Kaibab, September 21st
I ended up taking another rest day at the North Rim. Amity, whom I hiked the Arizona Trail with last Fall, is going to be passing through Jacobs Lake on 9/23, and a rendezvous with her would be great. So…another day of sitting on my butt, staying off my feet. I did attend 3 presentations while at the North Rim Lodge: (1) condors, (2) geology, and (3) John Wesley Powell. All were very good and made the day go by a bit more quickly. In addition, I had the pleasure of meeting Ranger Carol Ogburn who gave the condor presentation. She has been a Ranger at the North Rim for 3 seasons after a year of volunteering and is now involved in a wide range of activities at the North Rim. After the Powell presentation (which was put on by the National Geographic Society) Carol gave me a ride back to the campground and then presented me with a bag full of treats and goodies! Quite nice. After saying our goodbyes and thanks, I slinked into the darkness and managed to consume most of the bags contents before going to sleep. It usually takes my body ~3 weeks before it recognizes its caloric stress and then it begins to get demanding…the furnace is needing constant fuel! Anyway, it was a very kind gesture and one both my stomach and I appreciated. Got going this morning and headed northbound along the Arizona Trail heading for Jacobs Lake which is ~52 miles away. Cool, overcast skies have made the hiking along the Kaibab very pleasant. I am anticipating some rain this afternoon, but we’ll see what develops. The aspen are beginning to change and their yellow leaves and soothing rustle are always welcome.
Currently I am at a `wildlife sipper’, which is a small concrete basin that holds drainage and rain water, tanking up with water and taking a lunch break. As I write, a few wild turkeys are gobbling and honking ~10 yds from me. No doubt trying to assess the situation. I’ve only a few more miles for the day as I managed ~15 this morning along easy trail and old roads. A number of blowdowns between Lindbergh Hill and the North Entrance of GCNP were a bit of a nuisance, but otherwise smooth sailing. After filling up with water I headed down trail and in a few miles passed Crystal Springs, which was surprisingly full and clean. A few hunting blinds were set up within 10 yd of the spring, which I did not find entirely sporting. Eventually I climbed up to the ridge overlooking the northern end of the Saddle Mtn Wilderness, House Rock Valley, and a few of the drainage’s that drain the plateau into the Grand Canyon. Good, big country.
Shortly the skies opened up for an intense but brief rainshower, which I protected myself from under the dense limbs of a Douglas Fir. After the rain passed, I decided to just make camp despite the earlier hour. I was in no hurry, the views were nice, and the temps would be more moderate on the ridge. Later in the afternoon I noticed two hikers walking along — a dreadlocked head with a lengthy stride…it must be SloRide! I had exchanged a few emails with Mr. SloRide before heading out. He and Shake n’ Bake were tackling the Hayduke from Round Valley Draw to the Grand Canyon before heading on down the AZT to their home in Tucson. Another casual hike to add to their many, many miles of trail walking. We had figured we’d pass one another somewhere on the Kaibab, but you just never know when or where. After friendly introductions, we sat down and shared stories, linked common hiking acquaintances, and talked about a number of outdoor related issues. Happily, they decided to camp for the evening and our conversations continued into the evening over dinner. Just uptrail they had a nasty encounter with an archery hunter while trying to pump some water from Dog Lake. The hunter and a companion were perched in a tree stand, bravely awaiting their kill. As SloRide and Shake dropped packs to filter water, the insults and threats began, the hunters justifying their words with their concern that the hikers scent would notify the deer of a human presence (ignoring the fact that an ATV sat a few yards away). Needing water, and not being too enamored with the unfriendly verbal assault, SloRide and Shake responded with their own defense…public lands, lack of water, kinda thristy, etc…all logical arguments given the situation. Apparently the hunters were in no mood for logic as the verbal assault escalated into threats of physical violence. Not wanting to partake in Deliverance: Part 2, and growing concerned for their safety, SloRide and Shake gathered up their packs and took off after only being able to filter a meager quart of water.!
I imagine when someone threatens you physically and has a suitable weapon in-hand to do so, it would make their claim hard to ignore. I was surprised and dismayed to hear of their experience as all the hunters I had met along the road walk to the North Rim were courteous. I was also going to have to walk by the same spot tomorrow morning and was not looking forward to a similar exchange. Anyway, I gave them some water and they were relieved to hear that Crystal Springs was flowing and was only ~2 miles downtrail. SlowRide was also kind enough to offer his maps and notes for the sections of the Hayduke Trail he and Shake had just hiked…alleviating some of my concerns about water and its upcoming scarcity. I’ve yet to give them a real looking over, but the initial review looks pretty dry from Jacobs Lake to HWY 89A north of Upper Buckskin Gulch. Like the Hayduke founders, SloRide and Shake cached water at the HWY…something I am attempting to avoid having to do.
Anyhow, I am looking forward to sleep this evening, as it is my first pine duff campsite since I started this trip…always soft, warm, and a pleasurable sleep.
After a very restful evening and a delayed start, I hit the trail northbound after our final “goodbyes” and “good lucks” were exchanged. I thankfully made it past Dog Lake without any death threats, just a casual wave to the tree-perched hunter and an exaggerated step like I was making an effort to walk quietly. Although I was considering trying to make it Jacobs Lake today (~28 miles) I knew early in the day my pace was not up to it, which made for a relaxing, albeit dry-mouthed day. I was certain I’d find some palatable water throughout the day, but every tank, sipper, or catch basin I came to had an unappetizing color or scent, thus not taking too much convincing to keep walking. I only started the day with 2 L (after giving 2L to SloRide and Shake) so eating my dehydrated lunch was out of the question until I found some water. So, snacking continuously throughout the day as I dropped into valleys, climbed to ridges, and contoured through lovely stands of aspens, ponderosa, and doug fir, I had the sinking feeling that an energy bonk was inevitable. Sure enough, in the late afternoon I was not feeling too good and the `ol gas tank was empty. Pushing onward despite the discontent roiling in my stomach, a few hours later I came across a large catchment attached to a steel tank. Luckily the hinged lid was unlocked and hoping to see some liquid, I heaved the lid back. Yeah! Water! Shining my headlamp along the surface I scanned for any dead animals or other floating unpleasantries. Seeing none, I got the gravity filter going,fired up the stove, and swallowed the last few drops of water in my bottle. Dinner was served a few minutes later, and cool water graced my lips shortly thereafter.
After packing up I headed downtrail for a minutes before the sun set to distance myself from the water source and find a suitable camp. I am happy to report another evening of pine duff comfort…Tomorrow marks the end of archery season and the beginning of rifle season, so I am glad to be leaving the forested portions of the Kaibab for the scrubby pinion and juniper stands of the northern plateau. The intersection to Jacobs Lake is only a few miles away, so tomorrow should be a nice early morning stroll to the Jacobs Lake Lodge, my resupply parcel, and a rendezvous with a good friend. ~24 miles on the day and I saw a few puffy tailed Kaibab Squirrels, and a bunch of deer.
Jacobs Lake, September 23rd
Cruised into Jacobs Lake after a few hours of easy walking. After a second breakfast, and a few Gatorades, I plan to head over to the RV Park for a shower an laundry. I saw yesterdays paper…can’t believe another massive storm is poised to destroy TX…
House Rock Valley, September 24th
The Amity Express dropped me off at the AZT Trailhead along Hwy 89 in the morning after an enjoyable evening catching up. Her friend Aaron made a fresh green salad and about a gallon of curry quinoa which was a real culinary treat! The day was quite enjoyable. Very easy and pleasant walking through ponderosa forests, which eventually transitioned to pinyon and juniper, and then finally to juniper and sage. Despite carrying 3 gallons of water, I kept a steady pace throughout the day. According to the maps and Slorides water notes, it is ~53 miles of dry hiking between Jacobs Lake and a spring near Park Wash. I plan to cover that distance in 2 days. Originally I had thought it would be ~70 miles of dry hiking, so 53 was a relief! Dropping into Government Meadow I was treated to my first views of the canyon country awaiting me. Like a layered cake, the red, then cream, then pink cliffs (Bryce Canyon NP) rose on the northern horizon. The trail from Government Meadow to the FS/BLM boundary was pretty obscure at times and covered with tumbleweed…it seems as if this where all tumbleweed tumble to. Once I reached the BLM land, the trail was much more distinct. At times the wind was quite strong today. Me and the wind do not always get along and I had hoped to reconcile our differences during this hike. I am glad to report that I only made positive associations with the 30 mph tailwind gusts, and no tantrums were thrown. A moment of atmospheric maturity for me…
About midday I stopped to watch as 12 Ravens were playing in the air currents…twisting, corkscrewing, diving bombing each other and even flying upside down. Some may shout blasphemy at the idea of animal consciousness, but watching those Ravens it would be hard to argue that they were doing anything else other than just having a good time. Intentional fun, plain and simple. Other wildlife throughout the day included: jackrabbits, hawks, turkey vultures, and lizards. Other than Mr. Bovine, a pretty standard day for this country.
Eventually I climbed out of a wash and crested a small knoll where I was able to look east. In the foreground, the red, orange, and cream colored whipped swirls of Coyote Buttes, and the Paria Plateau stretching beyond towards Navajo Mountain standing alone on the eastern horizon. Shortly, I began my descent to House Rock Valley Road via a ridge of Larkspurn Canyon. Stretches of the descent were either burned, or stained a strange reddish-pink from the fire retardant dropped from planes, however the color did not seem out of place. I eventually dropped into the Stateline Trailhead along House Rock Valley Rd…a nice camp with interpretive signage, outhouse, and 4 campsites. Dick and Marge from Phoenix had arrived earlier and we had a pleasant conversation about the area and the Arizona Trail. They were also kind enough to share a few spoonfuls of dinner and a liter of water. All in all a long but pleasant day. I am excited to be back into Utah and am looking forward to the canyon country ahead. ~24 miles for the day
Into the White Cliffs, September 25th
Awoke this morning and headed ~2.5 miles north along House Rock Valley Road before swinging into Coyote Wash. Shortly the wash narrowed significantly, to about the width of my shoulders, and snaked its way through Wire Pass. A very nice section of narrows made even better by the rising sun illuminating the upper walls and casting a golden light into the canyon. After another short section of narrows and a few chockstone drops, the canyon broadened as Buckskin Gulch joined it from the north. I turned up Buckskin Canyon and after a section of muddy, shallow pooled narrows, hiked into the broad upper canyon. This section of Buckskin was ringed by towers, domes, and a colorful variety of stratified sandstone shapes. The wash meandered about, but the footing was very solid and made the walking easy. In a few miles I crossed the House Rock Valley Road again and continued up Buckskin Gulch while watching an aerial dogfight between a Raven and Hawk. I am not sure who was the ultimate victor, but before the dueling birds disappeared over the canyon rim, it seemed the Raven had the upper hand.
I stopped for lunch on a shady sandstone ledge and relaxed for an hour before hoisting my pack and continuing up canyon, where I saw a roadrunner bolt from the brush, cross the wash, and disappear. In a few hours I began to hear the zoom zoom of speeding traffic and shortly crossed HWY 89, followed it briefly eastward, and then turned left onto Kitchen Corral Rd which had been recently graded so the going was nice and smooth. SloRide had mentioned there was an old rancher living a few miles down the road and I was anxious to meet him and chat. I’d hope to meet some ranchers during this hike and hear their opinions about issues in the west. Sloride also mentioned he had offered them water which would be a bonus.
Eventually the ranch appeared and I saw an old man sitting on the porch, drink inhand. Before opening the fence and heading onto his property I called out a `hello’ and gave a wave in his direction. Apparently he did not notice me as he left the porch and went inside. Undeterred I opened the gate and walked up to his porch. When he came out we exchanged greetings and I met Chuck. Chuck was the caretaker for the corral and cabin and lived out here year round with his dog and horse since 1988. He drank water straight from the Spring a few miles up the road, and told me as long as I was, “…not a city slicker,” I’d be fine drinking it straight from the source. Chuck had first come to S. Utah to do work on the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960′s. During construction he met a fellow by the name of Johnson who needed ranching help. Chuck told him as soon as he retired he’d look him up. In 1988, he did and has been living rent free and helping out where he can. I asked him what he thought about the Grand Staircase Monument and he was 100% behind the designation and thought that most ranchers were as it undid a lot of bureaucracy that made things difficult to operate before. He only had 2 complaints about the designation: 1)tourists trying to drive cars (not trucks) down the road and inevitably getting stuck, and 2) increased ATV traffic. He went on to say he does not mind ATV’s but has come to the conclusion that anyone that rides an ATV cannot read because they do not stay on the roads like the myriad of signs ask them to do. After Chuck offered me some water and we talked a bit more, I said my goodbyes and continued along Kitchen Corral Rd. Along the way I met a man and woman on horseback herding cattle and getting ready to move the cows to the winter range south of Buckskin Gulch. We talked for a spell and they echoed Chuck’s opinions. I discovered that I was talking to Mr. Johnson, the man whose cattle outfit this was. Native born, he’d been ranching 110 sections of BLM lands since the 1950′s. As I departed he mentioned upcoming water sources a few good campsites for the evening.
I think it has been a major tactical error of the modern day environmental movement to alienate folks like these from the good fight for better air, water, and increased conservation. Many would scoff at the notion that a rancher would have any sense of conservation in their line of work, but in fact, in many cases I think most ranchers have a stronger sense of conservation than folks that consider themselves `green’… after all a ranchers livelihood is dependent on it. While we may recycle, donate to the Nature Conservancy, and participate in non-motorized recreation, (while driving SUV’s to go do it) I think it could be argued that a rancher has developed a land ethic more complex than most.
Certainly cattle can be bad news, and it does not seem fair to subsidize an entire industry, but it seems that both of our concerns could be addressed if we could recognize the common ground that exists and not just continue with our polarized arguments.
Anyway, camp tonight is a on a hard ledge overlooking the road and wash. The gentle mooing of nearby bovines is making my eyes heavy, so I’d best sign off…~24 miles
Bound for Bryce, September 26th
Cool this morning! Despite my reluctance to leave my warm cocoon, I managed to get up and get hiking shortly after dawn. A few miles of road walking led me past a faded petroglyph panel and then to the hardpan of Park Wash which I would follow for ~9.5 miles to Bullrush Gorge. The walking was quite nice despite following the tracks of a lone ATV up the wash. The white walls of No Man’s Mesa and Deer Spring Point rose upward on both sides of the drainage. Interesting turrets and spires of stone would occasionally pop up, adding a whimsical tone to the morning.
I cannot imagine hiking this wash after a storm. The clay would be such a burden to slip and slop around in, and would add pounds to each step. As is, the surface is much like a sidewalk.
I am currently at the confluence of Park Wash and Bullrush Gorge, relaxing in the shade beneath a Pinyon Pine.
The wind has picked up a bit, and although it is refreshingly cool, it is seems to be carrying a great deal of pollen as my nose is leaky and my eyes feel a little swollen. Basically an allergic mess, which is not contributing to an otherwise perfectly good day on the Hayduke. After lunch I headed up Bullrush Gorge which turned out to be a very delightful canyon. Cool, lush, and interesting for most of its length. Along the way I noticed a few good sized junks of petrified wood, as well as these crazy spheres of conglomerate. The maple in the gorge were beginning to turn and their deep red was a pleasant contrast to the green fir, oak and juniper. After crossing the road, the views opened up slightly and the pink and orange cliffs of Bryce Canyon were visible in the distance.
An aspect of long distance hiking that I enjoy tremendously is seeing something on the horizon that may be a few days away, and slowly making progress towards it…all the while the perspective changing slightly as you get closer. My first glimpse of these same cliffs was 2 days ago after dropping into Government Reservoir on the Kaibab Plateau.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent following the meanders of upper Bullrush Gorge until reaching an ATV track that led me to Lower Podunk Rd and the Lower Podunk Trailhead to Bryce.A few miles further and I was greeted by the sweet water of Riggs Spring, where I decided to eat dinner and filter water before getting a few more trail miles in during the evening. Camp tonight is perched on a small saddle, the surrounding cliffs aflame with the setting sun, and a rainbow has formed on the eastern skyline.
I actually pitched the tarp this evening, the first time this trip, as the skies are sprinkling a bit and the clouds ominous. I hope that will keep the overnight temps moderate… either that or I suppose I could wake to snow.
From this 8,000 ft vantage I can pretty much trace the route for the day, as I am looking down onto the tops of No Mans Mesa, Calf Pasture Plateau, and Deer Spring Point. Quite stunning. ~24 miles
Under the Rim Trail, September 27th
Last night was a bit of a chore. Gusty winds, plenty of lightning, and the occasional rain shower made for a fitful rest.
As such, since I was already awake, I headed out in the pre-dawn darkness, breakfast bowl in-hand and climbed slowly to ~1,100 ft to Rainbow Point. When I arrived a few hours later, the sun had risen and a few tourists where tourist-ing about. A cold, biting wind kept their visits short… a few oh’s and ah’s, a couple snapshots, and then back to the heater in the car. The views from Rainbow Point were absolutely stunning — the best of the trip thus far. Tushar Mtns, Aquarius Plateau, Table Cliffs, the Paria Drainage, Henry Mtns, and Navajo Mtn all visible. The views of Bryce Canyon were also quite striking…the colored limestone cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau snaking northward, alit by the sun.
After a few snapshots, a bathroom break, and a trash dumping, I headed back down to the Under the Rim Trail, eager to see the landscape from below. The Under the Rim trail is a fantastic route along the eastern boundary of Bryce. Although there are a few climbs/descents, it pleasantly contours below the cliffbands dipping in and out of the forest (Ponderosa, White Fir, Aspen, Mtn Mahogany, etc) and crossing pastel-colored drainages during its ~23 mile course from Rainbow to Bryce Point. I am currently stopped at Natural Arch Campsite for my midday break, beneath mixed skies — sometimes scorching, sometimes a cool rain — and between the hourly thumping of helicopter tours overhead.
I left the Hayduke Trail about a 1/2 mile back, as it leaves the park and descends to Willis Creek via a ~9 road walk. My route will take me the length of the Under the Rim Trail, before climbing up to Bryce Point, and then dropping back below the rim and heading into the town of Tropic, UT for my re-supply. From Tropic, I’ll have a paved/dirt road walk before returning to the Hayduke at Willis Creek.
The rest of the afternoon was all around pleasant. More pink/orange cliffs, contouring trail, and a few quick-passing squalls to keep me guessing about the weather. I am camped tonight along the North Fork of Yellow Creek which surprisingly has flowing water. Along the walk up this drainage, I spotted a few River Birch which I had not yet seen. Great tree. One of my favorites. Despite passing a number of impressive Ponderosa stands during the day, I am leaned against a truly lovely specimen as I write. It seems after rain, Ponderosa exude a fragrant toffee smell which I find quite nice. This particular tree is so fragrant that I cannot smell myself which is always a welcome relief at the end of the day. ~24 miles
Tropical Tropic, September 28th
Cruised into Tropic, UT for my resupply after a last great ~6 miles in Bryce Canyon National Park. After leaving my camp (another lightning and wind filled evening) I climbed up to Bryce Point, passing The Hat Shop — impossibly thin columns of crumbly limestone supporting a large boulder on the top of each. From Bryce Point the views north were pleasant enough, but I was anxious to descend into the basin along the Peek-a-boo Loop Trail to get a first hand view of the hoodoos, arches, and spires that line the rim. This section of Bryce is what most postcards capture, and is certainly more intriguing (in the small-picture sense) than the southern end of the Park. The trail itself winds precipitously downward, switchbacking amongst the most improbable sculpted and balanced rocks. Mixed in the with the menagerie of colorful rock are Ponderosa, Fir, and Oak. Quite simply a very stunning landscape. I managed to hike through this section early in the morning and thus had the trail mostly to myself — no mules, only one helicopter, and a handful of tourists. Nice for my mental state as well as for photography.
After descending and looping around to Bryce Creek, I headed out the drainage towards Tropic which I found ~3 miles down a dirt road, got my box, and settled in at the Bryce Inn as I’ll be taking a rest day here tomorrow. ~9 miles
Rest day in Tropic, September 29th
As rest days go, it has been a pretty restful one. Dustin, the co-owner of the Bryce Canyon Inn offered the use of his truck if I cared to cruise around. I took him up on his offer and headed out to Kodachrome Park to check it out, but also (and more importantly) to talk with Grandma Ott about her time in the region and her relationship with the landscape that her family has been involved in for 4 generations…nearly 150 years. In Cannonville (~4 miles south of Tropic) I stopped at the Visitor Center to read some interpretive signage about the area and check out some maps. The displays were nicely done, simple, and informative. Nice to see the BLM doing a good job with the `people component’ of monument management.
I arrived shortly to Kodachrome, paid my $5, and headed out to see Shakespeare Arch and Chimney Rock.
Although pretty in their own right, compared to the landscapes I’ve walked through the last month, I was left with no real sense of awe or wonder. Maybe the Hayduke has made me a `landscape elitist’…I suppose it could have also been that these `wonders’ were so easily accessed via a vehicle, that perhaps undermined their perceived value in my mind. Whatever the case, I left with an appreciation for the sights, but little connection. Like many places in the New West — whether monuments, state/national parks — they often have a pre-packaged experience vibe to them…evidence I fear of the downward spiral towards the outdoors becoming a `consumerable amenity’ for our culture. The basic appreciation of open land for the sake of open land being replaced by land having to have an entertaining or amusement oriented purpose to give it value. Not good. Anyway, just down the road I stopped in to visit with Grandma Ott. She was busy cleaning the cabins, but still talked to me for about a half hour. I enjoyed hearing her perspective about the landscape, the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument, and the changing face of the West. One theme that has been consistent in talking with ranchers and others in the area is their absolute disdain for ATV riders that do not stay on designated roads.
I headed back to Tropic after our chat, stopping briefly at the Cannonville Cemetery to look at old headstones. I find cemeteries in small towns interesting as they provide further depth and context for a respective community.
When I returned to the Bryce Canyon Inn, I got to meet Dustin’s brother who manages the Paria Plateau (and other areas) as a BLM employee based out of St. George. It was great to talk with someone knowledgeable about that area, as most folks have no idea. It is currently muzzle-loader season for deer, and he was in Tropic after a hard day of deer hunting.
The rest of the afternoon was spent loafing about, elevating the legs, and eating. I cannot say enough good things about my experience here in Tropic. In my miles of trail hiking, I cannot think of ever getting to a place and NOT having a person asking me “Why?” when they hear about long distance hiking and my current trip. Maybe the folks here are just not interested, but I believe they understand the need to be in open space and the desire to be in the landscape, interacting, and living simply. They understand the need for solitude, independence, and freedom from common constraints. Despite our different approaches to achieving it, we seem to share a common ground of appreciation. That has been a refreshing conclusion to come to and recognize, and one much different than I’ve experienced with `recreationalists’ that you’d think I’d be able to relate to. Again, I think it relates to a developed an complex land ethic, as opposed to looking at the landscape as an amenity for entertainment or amusement. Not a spiritual thing, but rather a deep sense of familiarity and appreciation for something that you know plays a central role in your life and perhaps your identity. Certainly a deeper connection than a simple walk in the woods.
Anyway, thank you Dustin and Cecilie Ott for the hospitality and conversation.
Tomorrow I head out towards Escalante, ~100 miles of narrow canyons, open washes, and a high desert peak thrown in for good measure.
I hung out in Tropic until just after lunch…one more salad to eat. Before I left I was fortunate to meet another of Dustin’s relatives, Jack Chynoweth. Jack has lived his entire life in the Bryce Valley, and his father was born (1894) in the town of Paria which is now a ghost town. He was great to talk to and I asked him to look over my maps and suggest any routes, or point out any sites he knew along the way. Like most folks that know a region well, he had a different name for everything that was on the map, and each canyon or spring he described would turn into a story. Pretty cool to visit with him. I eventually managed to leave town and started out on the road walk to get me to Willis Creek Trailhead for the evening. Half was paved, half was dirt. Not to bad, and a good way to break in the new shoes.
I will say that the Hayduke is exceptionally rough on footwear. The pair of lightweight hikers (heavier than what I normally use) that I am wearing would easily get 500-700 miles on the AT, PCT, or CDT. Last pair was happily retired at mile 476, and probably could have been replaced 100 miles sooner. The combination of heat, water, and generally abrasive terrain definitely accelerates the wear. Anyway, my feet are much happier and I hope this pair lasts until the end — I guess they will have to since I do not have another pair in a upcoming resupply.
I was expecting to see some other people at the trailhead this evening seeing as it is Friday, and was not proven wrong — Bruce from Salt Lake City, and two college kids from Flagstaff. Bruce took some photos and then headed out while the youngsters headed into Willis Creek with 45 min of daylight and no maps. Although I was tempted to make some comment on the youngsters plan, they gave me some grapes and an orange so I kept my mouth shut.
The Paria, October 1st
Headed out in the cool morning and made my way down through Willis Creek and its few sections of narrows. Water flowed the entire length of the creek until joining up with Sheep Creek. Despite making an attempt to find some petroglyphs on the walls of Willis, I somehow missed them. I started down Sheep Creek following the tracks of ATV’s, meandering below some very impressive white cliffs…much like the hike up Park Wash a week ago, but narrower. It made for a very pleasant morning.
Shortly I came to the confluence of the Paria and continued downcanyon. Bull Valley Gorge, a large side canyon of the Paria came into view in a bit, and I dropped the pack for some side canyon exploration. I would continue with these excursions throughout the day — exploring five canyons of different width and length. In the early afternoon I came upon Crack Spring (which is not mentioned in the Hayduke Guide), which is a piped spring flowing strong and cool directly from the red sandstone wall. On the surrounding cliffs are a number of old cowboy-glyphs as well as less significant modern scribbling’s.
While I was eating and drinking I heard the unmistakable whine of machines in the distance. Shortly a slew of ATV’s and a few motorbikes came crashing and splashing directly up the Paria. Instead of letting it spoil my afternoon, I just imagined Grandma Ott on horseback (much like Abbey’s one-eyed cowboy), high on the canyon rim with an old Winchester in hand, taking aim on the front tires of each machine and calmly pulling the trigger, reloading, and repeating 8 times until the canyon was once again quiet. By the time my imaginative scenario played itself out, the riders, their stench, and their noise had vanished up canyon.
The remainder of the afternoon was quite pleasant as I continued down the Paria and the occasional side canyon.
The Paria is really quite a canyon system. One could certainly spent awhile exploring all its nooks and crannies. I have spent some time in the lower sections of the Paria, but I’d have to say the upper Paria is every bit its equal — other than the lower portion is protected from our motorized friends. It be great to have a continuous wilderness canyon corridor from the Bryce Valley all the way to the Grand Canyon…
Camp tonight is a few miles past Kitchen Canyon. A physical day today as I was either walking directly in the water, slipping in mud, or struggling through the sand. A warm breeze is blowing from the south, so I am sure I’ll wake with plenty of sand in my ears, nose, and mouth…par for the course on the Hayduke! ~22 miles
Hackberry Canyon, October 2nd
The evening was very warm and I had difficulty drifting off to sleep, despite my fatigue and a nice soft camp. I eventually scooted out of camp close to 8 am. Down the Paria I continued, crossing and re-crossing the silty flow of water countless times through the morning. After a few miles the familiar whir of rotor wash could be heard as a helicopter came cruising downcanyon, only ~150 ft above the canyon floor. Fortunately it disappeared as quick as it came and the morning returned to normal as I passed by the old Paria townsite. Eventually Cottonwood Wash joined the Paria, and I swung a left and headed up the shady streambed, a flock (14) of turkeys casually crossing ahead of me. Cottonwood Wash certainly lives up to its name as it is lined with its namesake. Galleries of old cottonwood trees are getting scarce in Southern Utah, so this was a real treat. After a few miles of walking, a slight, but steady flow of water emerged from canyon left before disappearing into the sands of Cottonwood Wash. This flow marked my entrance into Hackberry Canyon.
The canyon walls quickly rose to hundreds of feet as I followed the flowing water upcanyon. The streambed was lined with willow, cottonwood, and what I assumed was Hackberry. The canyon kept a pretty narrow profile for a few miles and then broaded — benches now rising as an intermediary between water and cliff. A little tired of walking in the water, I wacked my way through the willows and climbed to the sage covered bench lands. The walking was not much better, but I did appreciate the open views to the canyon rim, and the cobalt skies above me. A strong south wind kept me cool. Once my allergies kicked in I descended back to the creekbed, and in doing so, came upon a long abandoned cabin. Most of the structure was still intact, the chimney still stood, and the roof was still in place. The front door had been removed, but leaned against the north wall inside. The remaining soil roof was even supporting some cactus life. The oldest inscription I could find was 1921, but “Chynoweth” was carved above the door — perhaps this was one of Jack’s fathers cabins? After lunch I continued upstream, pushing through sage and bashing through willows for most of the afternoon. Mid-afternoon I did explore one side canyon with a unique pouroff and climbed to a few alcoves as well. Not much wildlife during the day other than hawks, and loads of turkey tracks. The canyon did begin to narrow up a bit in the late afernoon, and I was forced to walk directly in the water again. Fortunately, as I neared the last spring, the water depth was minimal so I was able to keep my feet dry.
Although I have no idea what a healthy desert canyon ecosystem is supposed to look like, it seems Hackberry would most likely qualify. I saw very few of the invasive tamarisk, and signs of cattle were minimal. As such, willow grew along the creekbed in thick clusters, along with a variety of grasses and forbs, all of which enjoyed the shade of the cottonwoods on the flood banks. I even noticed some small fish in the lower sections of the creek where the flow was stronger. About a 1/2 mile short of the spring I stopped and filtered enough water for the next 2 days of hiking…~48 miles to Escalante, my next known water source. I also decided to cook and hydrate before pushing on to better conserve the water I needed to carry. The flow was so minimal I dug a hole and created a small dam across a portion of the creekbed. After letting the pooled water settle, I’d fill my cookpot which I’d then pour into the bag of my gravity filter. After waiting for the pool to refill, I repeated the process until I had collected ~3 gallons for the upcoming miles, and drank an additional gallon for the evening. Once that chore was complete I cooked dinner but only ate half, saving the rest to eat at my camp. After breaching my dam to the dismay of the recreating water skippers, I heading off again with a full pack and it was not long before the creekbed was completely dried up. As such, the canyon was no longer lined with vegetation, but open and easy to navigate.
The walls of this portion of Hackberry Canyon are gorgeous… streaked sandstone of varying hues. Hard to sum up for a hack trail- journalist, but quite stunning. Camp tonight is beneath a juniper on a sandy hillock, a good distance above the wash. ~20 miles
Round Valley Draw, October 3rd
Another surprisingly warm evening. Awoke and got hiking up Hackberry Canyon. More of the same as the previous days walk…stunning multi-colored cliffs. Desert canyon walking at its finest! After a few hours I came to the junction of Hackberry and Round Valley Draw which was my exit. Round Valley Draw narrowed up immediately as I swung into the canyon corridor. Walking along its cobbled floor, I was thinking what I love so much about the western landscape: its vast scale, contrasted with pockets of intimacy scattered throughout its topography…really the last thing you’d expect staring out over the landscape. The perfect dichotomy.
Continuing up Round Valley Draw the canyon continued to narrow. Then it got narrower. Then, it somehow managed to get even more narrow…just the width of my shoulders despite rising hundreds of feet towards the sky. At a few spots it was necessary to remove my pack to heave it over a few chockstones, while slowly sinking in mud.
After a 1/4 mile of such obstacles, I was getting a bit fatigued! Shortly I came to the final barrier between the narrow canyon floor and the blue-skied world above: a 15 ft climb up a near-vertical sandstone pour off. A stout juniper branch had been wedged (by person or by water?) into the sand at the foot of the climb to conveniently give me a leg up. Before I tried it with the pack, I scurried up the exit to make sure it was within my range of ability, and then climbed back down to retrieve my loaded pack. I was not comfortable wearing the pack and climbing up, so I hauled the pack in front of me…hoisting it up as I climbed up, setting my feet, and then hauling the pack up again. After doing this a few times I was able to wedge the pack in a groove, climb around the pack to the top, and then with one final pull, hauled the pack to the rim of the pour off. Upon reaching the rim, the first thing I noticed was the wind blowing hard from the south. Really hard. At least the remainder of my route for the day would have the wind at my back. My calves would have to make due with the scouring from the windblown sand. After taking a short break I headed up the wash, then intersected a jeep trail which I followed to Cottonwood Road. The Hayduke turns right at this junction and heads off into the Kaiparowits Plateau. My route turns left and heads up near Canaan Peak to eventually drop me right into the town of Escalante for my resupply. From my understanding the founders of the Hayduke did this same route in early (1998?) recon hikes. A mile of road walking brought me to a junction and I headed along the Slickhorn Bench. Upper Round Valley Draw dropped off to my right, while Big Dry Valley and the colorful cliffs of Bryce Canyon were on my left. I continued along a dirt road that began to drop towards Horse Canyon. Not wanting to descend quite yet (the views!) I continued along the flat, juniper filled ridgeline for a few more miles before dropping down to join the canyon.
Horse Canyon is a nice walk. A few old remnants of bygone mining days (stove, ore sledge), no footprints, and good shade made for a pleasant afternoon. As I headed the drainage I intersected an ATV trail which I followed past some No Trespassing signs to the lower flanks of Canaan Peak and my camp for the evening. Trying to get out of the wind I found a nice clearing below a Ponderosa Pine which is encircled by a dense stand of Scrub Oak…can’t go wrong with pine duff! Temps are quite cool as I am back up at ~8,200 ft for the evening. ~22 miles
Into Escalante, October 4th
Again, to my surprise, another warm evening! I guess these south winds keep temps moderate even at elevation.
Headed off hiking under overcast and windy skies towards a high point just off the flank of Canaan Peak. This area is littered with new roads (at least newer than the info on my maps) and I was in a state of confusion from the get go. I’d follow a road that was in the general vicinity of where I wanted to be and it would either just stop, or lead me to more Private Property signs. Growing frustrated, I decided to get to the high point and decide on a course of action based on what I could see and confirm on my maps. Meanwhile, the winds continued to blow, and a few sprinkles began.
From my vantage at the high point, I could easy discern the forks of Waheap Creek below me, as well as the pink cliffs of Canaan Peak above. Trails supposedly existed near the peak and also in the drainage…both of which were about the same distance and elevation (gain or loss) from where I stood. I tend towards always taking the higher of two potential routes, and in this case I followed suit, despite climbing up into potentially worse weather and having more of a bushwack to get where I wanted to be. Eventually though, despite whacking my way through oak thickets and negotiating steep slopes, I came to the base of Canaan Peak and easily found the pack trail denoted on the map. Elated at making a good navigational decision, I sped off, trying to lose some elevation before the bulk of what looked to be a nasty storm decided to arrive.
The views south from ~9000 ft were fantastic as I could see a large portion of the Kaiparowits Plateau as well as Bryce, and much of the terrain I’d spent the last few days traversing. In a short time I descended to Horse Spring Canyon where I discovered more unmapped roads, a few full cattle troughs, and no sign of the pack trail I was hoping to follow. Besides that, the skies finally opened up and a short, intense rain and hail storm ensued. My mood and body now dampened, I decided to just head down Horse Spring Canyon for a while until an obvious notch, and then continue cross country, contouring out of the creekbed to a road that I had intended to join earlier. Along the way I passed more full cattle troughs, as well as road sign #679 which was directly in the wash. Unfortunately no road bore that # on my maps, so again, I was bit perplexed.
I think this area has so many roads due to Clinton’s declaration of the Grand Staircase National Monument. Fearing massive road closures once the designation went into affect, I’d heard rumors that many locals in southern Utah towns fired up their tractors and made sure that things looked to be in a `pre-existing’ state so their `roads’ would get inventoried as such. After talking with locals thus far, it sounds like little did change (other than more tourist $) with the designation and all those personal grading projects were for not. Anyway, my maps were not up to pace with the locals efforts.
After an hour or so of walking in the drainage, I happened upon the notch, and contoured around along a road (again, surprise!) that meandered in roughly the direction I wanted to go. In a few miles I noticed a section marker on a stately Ponderosa and referenced the maps…excellent! …exactly where I needed to be. In another few minutes I passed an old Forest Service shed and intersected the road that would eventually bring me to Escalante.
The rest of the afternoon was spent walking along a lonely road, checking out the sites, watching ravens, and getting some really bad songs stuck in my head. The weather was on the cool side, the skies had since cleared, but the wind was a steady companion.
By mid-afternoon I joined Smoky Mountain Road which in another ~10 miles brought me to Escalante. The last few miles were tough as I was walking into the wind and the blowing, swirling sand it carried. Fatigued, I was getting blown all over the road…my footprints zigging an zagging like those of a wandering drunk. Anyway, I’ll be taking a rest day in Escalante tomorrow as I am a bit ahead of schedule and will be meeting my friend and hiking co-conspirator Brandt for the next section of trail. ~23 miles
Rest Day in Escalante, October 5th
A slight change of plans to report. Brandt has come up with a really great alternative to my original Hayduke alternative route, so tomorrow I’ll head out of town via the Escalante River corridor instead of a dirt road walk along the Hole `n the Rock Road where I was originally going to rejoin the Hayduke Trail in Coyote Wash. The guidebook described Hayduke Trail enters the Escalante at Coyote Wash and then heads upcanyon for 20+ miles of walking in the river until reaching Middle Moody Canyon. Personally I have no desire to walk that much of the Escalante… too much bushwhacking, and too much other spectacular terrain to ignore. This spring, during the Hayduke Trail founders thru-hike (westward) attempt, they actually floated this section in packable boats! Brandt’s route will add ~4 days to my itinerary, but that is no big deal — more tasty desert terrain to drink in, and in good company. So, in a nutshell we’ll be hiking a portion of what is referred to as The Overland Route, dubbed so by Steve Allen who is a guidebook author for the Colorado Plateau. Basically the route is semi-technical and stays above the Escalante River, crossing canyons and drainage’s without ever descending to the river…at least that is the theory. At one point we will cross the Escalante to swing around to join the Hayduke (as originally planned) at Coyote Wash. The second portion of this route is to head into Steven’s Canyon, exit via the historic Baker Trail and drop into the site of the old Baker Ranch (1912) which is normally submerged by Lake Powell. From this point we will head up Halls Creek and rejoin the Hayduke at the base of Red Slide before heading into Lower Muley Twist Canyon. Anyway, for those following along with map in-hand and possible hiking plans, I’d thought I mention the new route.
I am really looking forward to the route and the next 14 days of hiking as the coming days promise to be challenging, incredibly scenic, and a bunch of fun with Brandt’s company.
Along the Escalante, October 6th
Left Escalante this morning with a bounce in my step, and walked a short distance down HWY 12 before turning off the road for the Upper Escalante River Trailhead. The road passed by the Cemetery which I was happy to poke around in for a few minutes. 1881 was the oldest headstone I noticed, and I got acquainted with some of the early names that I’d no doubt be seeing scrawled into the sandstone in the coming week. Alvey, Pollock, Baker to name a few. After signing the register I headed downcanyon, crossing the COLD waters of the Escalante a number of times through the morning.
This route is a popular dayhike for folks, so the trail was easy to discern. After a few hours I passed by Death Canyon and after a few more I stopped at Sandy Canyon for the evening despite the early hour. I only have an hour of hiking to the HWY to meet Brandt tomorrow, so I took the afternoon off to climb around on the slickrock above the river corridor. Massive walls and domes of sandstone were the standard visual treat for the day, and my camp this evening is on a nice slab of slickrock, the green ribbon of the canyon below with streaked walls, and checkered domes on every horizon.
Brandt Hart’s Arrival, October 7th
I pushed off from my camp and continued down the Escalante River, numbing my feet first thing with a cold crossing. Shortly I passed beneath an arch, and in a few more minutes I walked by a good sized natural bridge before spooking a gaggle of wild turkeys. Eventually I walked to HWY 12, where I passed beneath the HWY bridge and continued down the river corridor along a private property easement. I was hoping to see some sign of the Old Boulder Highway as that was my route up through the cliffs, and along the Haymaker Bench to my rendezvous with Brandt. As I passed a Private Property sign I noticed what appeared to be the remnants of a rock retaining wall a few hundred feet above me. I quickly crossed the private driveway, scampered up the sandy sidehill, and was pleased to discover that my hunch was right…I’d found the old road and made easy progress as I switchbacked up through the cliffs.
The Old Boulder HWY is the original route that connected the towns of Boulder and Escalante that was suitable for wagon traffic. As such, there a number of sections along the route where the worn grooves of wagon wheels could be seen. After an hour or so I crested a small ridge and was delighted to see Brandt’s van parked, and my good friend emerge from the vehicle to meet me at the gate. After hugs and greetings we loaded up and headed back into Escalante for lunch, package up our cache buckets, and to pay a quick visit to the festivities of Everett Ruess Days — an arts and crafts festival going on in Escalante. Tom (whom I met up with Zion) was displaying some of his photographs at the festival and it as nice to catch up with him as well. With the new hiking plans (which I detailed in an earlier post) it is necessary for us to utilize a single cache to break the 10 days that Brandt will be hiking with me into 2 sections…Brandt with 2 sections of 5 days, and me with a section of 5, and a section of 8. It was our feeling that the terrain was challenging enough that attempting to carry 10 and 13 days of food would be unsafe by greatly increasing the likelihood of physical injury. I had hoped to show that the Hayduke Trail is a feasible route to do without caches, and I still believe it is. My original route from Escalante was 10 days to Hite Marina, with the first 2 days being an easy road walk and straight-forward trail. A number of exceptional alternative routes exists in this area, so be sure to investigate the options if you are planning a hike. Anyway, our cache involved ~4 hrs of driving and hiking time before returning to Escalante for dinner. After dinner we drove out of town to camp for the evening.
Bloody Shins and a Fox, October 8th
We awoke early, fired up the van, and headed back up to where I originally met Brandt atop Haymaker Bench to begin our hike along the Overland Route. After loading up the packs we headed NE and dropped into Boulder Creek which was flowing cold and strong. The next 3.5 hours were spent bashing our way though dense willow thickets, wading in Boulder Creek up to our waists, soaking in the scenery, and in general having a really good time. The guidebook describes Boulder Creek as a canyon with “bucolic ambience”…although quite nice, our bleeding shins might disagree.
Just before lunch time we passed an old USGS Gauge Station and then in a few more minutes found our exit route, a 60 ft slab of Class 4+ sandstone with a noticeable crease that ran along its length. The climbing was easy and we were happy to be out of the canyon and up on the bench of slickrock which was much easier hiking. Thick storm clouds and a steady wind picked up, which would continue to keep us guessing about the weather for the remainder of the day.
After ascending to an obvious saddle and then descending the backside into a swirling gully of colorful stone we where excited to see a fox scrambled among the boulders. Following a thin bench above Boulder Creek, we eventually downclimbed to the creek, and then bushwacked a short distance to our exit route…a narrow slot filled with weedy vegetation, loose rocks, and tricky climb out its end to reach the open country of Brigham Tea Bench.
After consulting the maps and getting our basic route figured, we set off across the bench — a mixture of sage, sandy slopes and slickrock. We crossed a few drainages, climbed to a few knobs, and eventually found our way into The Gulch via an old cattle route.
After entering The Gulch we took a short break, and then continued with our planned exit — a 30 ft Class 4 climb up a blocky pour-off. Upon cresting the top of the pouroff, we continued upward, climbing through ledges and up steep slabs of slickrock before finding much easier terrain above. An hour later after hiking along great slickrock, and then across an open sandy bench, we descended into Horse Canyon via an old cattle route. The cattle routes throughout the Escalante area are really quite interesting works of cowboy engineering. Often times steps can be seen that are chiseled into the sandstone which gave the cows and horses a bit of traction. Some blasting was done as well, so short exposed stretches off relatively level sandstone exist along cliffs or steep slabs.
Camp tonight is just up canyon from the confluence of Death Hollow and Horse Canyon — among a nice stand of cottonwood. Brandt had camped with his wife Anna at the same spot earlier in the year during their loop hike of Little Death Hollow and Wolverine Canyon. Total Hiking time: 10 hrs
Overland, into Canyons, October 9th
After a fitful nights rest Brandt and I left Horse Canyon, climbing to the Big Bown Bench along a constructed cattle trail. Once on the bench, we followed lengths of galvanized pipe leftover from a defunct pumping project to a dry stock tank beneath some large alcoves. From the stock tank we again followed old piping eastward, over a few rises and then into a shallow, broad drainage. Climbing from the drainage we took a quick bearing and headed to a huge pouroff via a narrow slot. The views south were impressive as always: Fifty Mile Ridge, Navajo Mountain, the Escalante River corridor, and the huge walls of the canyon below made for a scenic resting spot. Swapping navigational leads after our break, we eventually found our descent route into Silver Falls Canyon. The route down made its way through Navajo, Kayenta, and finally Windgate Sandstone to the canyon floor. Beneath a large cottonwood we ate lunch and consulted the maps for the afternoon hike.
Since day one of this section of hiking we’ve been struggling to keep pace with our schedule which is largely based upon the vague range of times provided by a few guidebook authors. Typically we are on the low end of the times provided. We’ve made no navigational errors thus far either, but since bushwhacking through Boulder Creek yesterday, we’ve been behind. Although the original plan was to stay above the Escalante River, we decided to hike down the canyon and join the river to make up a much needed few hours. A bit reluctantly we headed down river, sometimes wading in the water, sometimes bashing and bleeding through the thickets of willow, tamarisk, and russian olive. On every trip, I have at least a few days where I wish I was someplace else and this afternoon certainly qualified. Sometimes it is a thin line between screams and smiles. Anyway, we eventually emerged from the river corridor after ~6 miles at Choprock Canyon and linked back into our original route — a great traverse along Kayenta ledges to Neon Canyon. The hiking was exceptional, and easy compared to earlier in the day. A welcome change as evening approach. Feeling quite fatigued, we descended into Neon Canyon, dropped the packs, and walked upcanyon to check out Golden Cathedral — an improbable dual pouroff…basically enormous eroded potholes in the roof of a huge alcove.
After a brief break soaking the scene in, we returned to our packs and made camp in the lower canyon.
Today was a very mentally and physically draining day — certainly one of the toughest of the trip. Despite being painful and frustrating at times, it was nothing a pot full of noodles, a soft sandy camp, and the company of a good friend could not overcome. Total Hiking time: 11 hrs
Brandt the Guest Writer, October 10
Honorary guest writer Brandt Hart at your service, typing from the backcountry for what I think is the first time.
Today was amazing and was the kind of day you dream of when planning these kinds of trips. After a decent, yet breezy nights rest we instantly had to wade a short section of the Escalante River below Neon Canyon to get to an old constructed cattle trail. Just a few hundred yards later we found our exit. Something more needs to be said about the constructed cattle trails of the Escalante, they truly are works of art, historical remnants from a bygone era. They are often chipped out of solid slickrock crossing or ascending steep slabs, occasionally an old juniper log will be pinned in place to hold rocky fill. To me they are a joy to find and I hold them nearly equal to finding a set of Moqui steps as both serve similar function, can make travel possible, and are culturally significant. Thankfully though most of the cows that once roamed the canyons of the Escalante are gone.
After ascending to the rim of the Escalante escarpment on the cattle trail we contoured around to Ringtail Canyon and quickly found suitable slabs of slickrock that allowed us to cross it. Continuing along the Overland Route for a bit we left it as planned, and just above the mouth of Baker Canyon began to search for another abandoned cattle trail. Down at the river again we were able to make relatively decent time to our sand dune exit below the mouth of Twentyfive Mile Wash. We will remain on the west side of the river until we cross back over to Stevens Canyon in a few days.
Just a few miles down river from where we exited an extremely important task is taking place. Sometime within the next few days National Park Service ranger Bill Wolverton and a group of Sierra Club members will finish up a week of hard work removing russian olive, an exotic species introduced during the 1800s for various reasons. Russian olive is Evil and will out compete even tamarisk further replacing native vegetation and destroying critical riparian habitat. Over the last nine or so years Bill and countless volunteers have managed to clear around thirty river miles of the thorny invader, more than half of the river length managed by the NPS as a part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. I would highly encourage anyone to join in on this effort. An organization called Wilderness Volunteers routinely assists Bill in a job no one could be more passionate about than Bill.
After climbing the dune we navigated up to and across Scorpion, a broad area of benchland between Twentyfive Mile Wash and Scorpion Gulch. A few hours of mixed walking across sand and slickrock brought us to our decent canyon that would lead us into Scorpion Gulch, despite gusty winds and overcast skies the occasional views we had into the Escalante corridor and side canyons were incredible. At the foot of the side canyon in Scorpion Gulch we sauntered upstream in hopes that the large spring might be flowing, it was not so we ventured down canyon and came across a small guided party. These are the first people we have seen since leaving Hwy 12 three days ago. We are now camped at a nice spot downcanyon from them near a pothole and are back on schedule.
Total walk time for the day was about 10 hours.
Day of ledges, views and domes, oh my!, October 11th
Well, looks like Brian is too lazy to write and has passed the duty on to me. Today was another great day. Brian declares it has been one of the best days since leaving Zion National Park. Perfect weather as well as dry feet and stunning views. From our camp in lower Scorpion Canyon we started the day by walking back up canyon a few minutes to our exit. For much of our route the ledge forming, river deposited Kayenta layer has been our friend, today would be no exception. We gained Kayenta ledges and traversed above the Wingate narrows of lower Scorpion Gulch and made our way to the Scorpion horse trail high above the Escalante River. Steve Allen, who wrote the bulk of the information we are using, calls the Scorpion horse trail “the best ledge walk in the Escalante.” I could not agree more, though it appears to be seldom used the tread is nice and easy to follow and all along its length the Escalante River flows far below. Along the trail we came to the huge sand dune by a rincon below George’s Camp Canyon and were glad that we did not have to climb up it. We continued along the Kayenta ledges southward, contouring in and around side canyons to our exit. There was little discernable trail south of the dune, only where a constriction forced animals and the few people who use this route was there anything to follow on the ground. Nearing a key Navajo slickrock dome we made our way to the top of the Kayenta. We exited through the 5.2 pouroff and crack that Allen describes. Brian went first and I was able to hand packs up to him.
On top again we mostly walked across pleasant slickrock along the Escalante rim to get to our decent route into Fool’s Canyon. We descended a beautiful Navajo slickrock rib with an old chiseled horse ladder into a bowl and eventually, after a short 4th class downclimb, reached the floor of Fool’s Canyon. We then thrashed against the grain of the flood bent brush and vegetation up canyon for ten minutes to a large pool of water. An idyllic swim hole but it seems that water has not flowed into the pool for sometime, its surface covered with a thick film. Brian showed me how you can throw rocks into such film and watch the film close back around the newly created opening. We are camped above the pool at the base of our exit route, another old cattle trail that looks improbable from below. Camp is on durable and barefoot friendly slickrock.
We got to camp early this afternoon and although we had three hours left of light we decided to stay. A good thing as I have been behind in taking care of my body, and have since been able to catch up. Brian also has a stomach ache and I think welcomed the rest. Hike time for the day was about 8.5 hours including a long lunch. Tomorrow is onto Coyote Gulch and if all goes well our cache. It is great to finally be doing this trip. I clearly remember plotting portions of it on my maps late one night at my kitchen table when I lived in Logan several years ago. And to be doing it with a great friend as part of his larger trek adds to its importance. Today, like other days, was filled with quality conversation and overall good times. Brian and I also work well together when it comes to map reading/navigation and route selection.
Finally, I’d like to say good night to my amazing wife Anna and our crazy cat Sylvester. I hope all is well back home on the Navajo Nation.
We left Fool’s Canyon by climbing up through Kayenta ledges along (you guessed it…) an abandoned cattle route. The trail was great, switchbacking lazily towards the canyon rim. A short section of blasted sandstone led us to the top.
After a few minutes hiking through a series of domes and washes, we could easily discern the saddle of King Mesa, our intended route.
Upon cresting the saddle, we were treated to an expanse of slickrock benchlands — domes, drainages, and frozen waves of swirling stone. We descended just left of the Long Branch of Sleepy Hollow, occasionally taking a moment to stare into the depths of the narrow canyon. Within an hour we discovered a ramp of steep slickrock into the main canyon of Sleepy Hollow, and a few minutes of bushwacking brought us to the much anticipated junction with Coyote Gulch. While taking a short break we noticed a women wandering about the slickrock with toilet paper and an orange Potty Trowel in hand. Brandt and I had a good laugh imaging her trying to scrape out an 8″ deep cathole in the sandstone. After our break we started down Coyote Gulch, doing our best to keep our feet dry, and our eyes on the scenery. Cottonwood and Willows lined the creekbed while streaked walls of sandstone rose skyward.
In a short while we re-joined the Hayduke at Hurricane Wash and by lunch time had passed around Jacob Hamblin Arch. After lunch we continued down canyon passing under Coyote Natural Bridge.
Ed Abbey said of this spot:
“I walked under the bridge, feeling the sensuous pleasure of moving through a wall of stone, wading through the stream that made the opening, standing in shadow and looking back at the upstream canyon bathed in morning light, the sparkling water, the varnished slickrock walls, the fresh cool green of the cottonwoods, and pink and violet plumes of tamarisk.”
I can happily say that the scene and sense of place that Abbey described is still very much intact, although Bill Wolverton and his invasive plant militia have managed to remove the tamarisk and their colorful plumes. It was certainly a treat to walk a canyon that was not under siege from exotic invaders. It actually reminded me a bit of Hackberry Canyon in the sense of illustrating what a healthy desert canyon ecosystem might look like.
A few more hours of hiking brought us around and through a number of waterfalls and large pools, where Brandt and I took a moment to clean up. Refreshed, we continued downcanyon, passing a number of other hikers, and scenic Cliff Arch.
Just a few minutes shy of reaching the Escalante River, we gathered some water and then headed up a ~600 ft sand dune to the canyon rim where we had stashed our cache 5 days earlier. Camp tonight is in a shallow depression of slickrock, thankfully wind free and relatively flat. We retrieved our cache buckets, so we at least have some comfortable camp stools for the evening. My stomach ache has escalated to `intestinal difficulties’ and I was hurting most of the afternoon, with a few emergency catholes being dug (with no Potty Trowel!) during the course of the day. I’ve taken some meds, but we’ll see how I feel in the morning before pushing on…could be a quick stomach flu or it could be some prolonged condition such as Giardia which I would need to treat ASAP if I have any hope of completing the Hayduke Trail. Brandt and I have discussed the possibilities of a brief retreat from our route to acquire some meds and get my belly back on track before continuing. Unfortunately that would mean Brandt not joining me for the second half of our planned trip — something in which he assures me is not a big deal, but I feel bad about. I am trying not to be Chicken Little and proclaim that the sky is falling, but it is better to deal with my stomach issues immediately than take a chance and be dealing with it in an even more remote spot. I tend towards conservatism with my health, and feel that pushing on without getting my bowels straightened out would be a real crap-shoot…
Anyway, may our evening be restful, our spirits refreshed, and may my stool be solid come daylight…
Total hiking time: ~10 hrs
Intestinal Conclusions, October 13th
Uncertain of my intestinal issues, we both slept in a bit this morning and lounged about camp, waiting for some signal from below that all was well. I had hoped to make a decision by mid-morning as to whether we’d continue on or head back to Escalante to trouble shoot my illness. By 11 AM I had had enough (as I am sure Brandt had as well) of second guessing every grumble and rumble from my stomach and made the decision to pack up our gear and head off as originally planned. We needed 6-7 hrs to get where we needed to be for the night and it took us an hour to pack, re-cache the buckets (for later removal) and make our way down the Crack in the Wall — lowering our packs ~40 ft to the sandy dune below and then down climbing the route we’d climbed up the previous evening. Less than an hour later we were standing in the Escalante River, snapping pictures of Steven’s Arch (Sky Arch for the Old School) and making our way slowly up canyon against a strong water current. When Lake Powell is at full capacity, the reservoirs fetid waters actually inundate the mouth of Coyote Gulch. As such, walking up the Escalante the actual streambank was ~6 ft above our heads for a brief time.
Shortly we left the Hayduke Trail and entered Steven’s Canyon, a place that Brandt and I have long wanted to visit. We made our way slowly upcanyon through the typical thickets of willow and tamarisk. Occasional patches of poison ivy kept our attention as we meandered along criss-crossing the flowing creekbed. Eventually we came to a large pouroff and a steep boulder field. Dropping our packs we skirted around the slope and into a grotto that the pouroff formed, to see Hanging Arch — a shapely rib of stone spanning the grotto. Ferns hung low on the walls and dripped with a light musical tune. Quite a soothing scene. Leaving the grotto we made our way up the steep slope, doing our best to avoid the poison ivy during the ascent. Reaching the top we stopped for a short lunch before continuing upcanyon.
More bushwhacking, a few small patches of slickrock, and two massive undercuts, brought us to another pouroff and a set of intimidating Moki Steps which ascended a near vertical wall. We backtracked a few hundred yards to a ramp of stone and sand which we followed up to a steep Class 3+ slab to the top of the Windgate wall. Contouring, we climbed into the trusty ledges of Kayenta stone and traversed above the canyon until spotting a pothole full of water and locating a suitable ramp to descend to the canyon floor. We filtered our water and have made camp on slickrock. The moon is casting a nice glow on the upper cliffbands and an Owl’s hoot has added to the evenings pleasantries.
My stomach has thankfully behaved all day, and I hope the trend continues! Overall it was a very pleasant day of hiking despite the late start and we did not see anyone else during the course of the day.
Hiking Time: 6.5 hrs
The Baker Trail, October 14th
Today began like most, a steep climb out of a canyon to gain a desired route. From our camp in middle Stevens we went up a rubble slope in order to continue up canyon. After a few hours of pleasant walking we were at our exit, the Baker Trail. The “elongated potholes” used to find the exit were dry. Up the exit route we went. At first the navigation was straight forward but as we approached the top of the Waterpocket Fold the terrain became more confusing. Certainly the most difficult place to find ourselves on a map since I joined Brian at Hwy 12. The domes of slickrock all looked similar. Eventually though we were on top, and before we even tried to find it we ran into cairns of the Baker Trail. We enjoyed lunch from the shade of an old juniper tree and enjoyed commanding views of the Henry Mountains, the Bears Ears, Lake Powell, Mancos Mesa, and even a distant view of the La Sal mountains near Moab.
After lunch we began to follow the Baker Trail down to Halls Creek. The “trail” was put together by the Baker family who in 1919 moved from Escalante to their ranch on Halls Creek. According to Capitol Reef NP history the ranch not only dealt with cattle but also had extensive orchards and fields under cultivation. Sadly, in 1963 I think, the ranch was bought by the NPS. As far as we can tell the historic Baker Ranch is now entombed by a massive amount of silt topped by tamarisk, the aftermath of a reservoir the size of Lake Powell.
Despite very infrequent travel the Baker Trail was easy to follow, just the right amount of cairns marked our route. Without the cairns navigation would have been difficult and undoubtedly we would have been descending some steep slabs. However, near the bottom we lost the cairns in a sea of slickrock and continued toward our goal. One thing we really had no idea of for today was water. I had failed to ask around about Halls Creek and after filling up at a nice spring we walked a bit and Halls Creek has a good flow of the liquid gold. Maps sometimes show things like streams or springs but like some politicians, maps can lie. We then continued up Halls for about 5 miles, good but hot walking through the ever present and introduced cheat grass and tumble weed. We are now camped on smooth slickrock slabs near the mouth of Millers Creek as an owl hoots and a fuller moon shines bright. ~10 hrs hike time, no people
What a great day of hiking! Climbing from camp up Steven’s Canyon to the top of the Waterpocket Fold was exceptional as was the Baker Trail to descend to Halls Creek. Navigation was a bit of an issue on the ascent to the ridge, but once we ignored the details of the route description and just picked our way upward through the maze of stone, we were much better off. Views from the top of the ridge were most likely the best of the trip… views of 80+ miles in all directions despite a slight haze.
As Brandt mentioned the cairned Baker Trail was our descent route to Halls Creek and was a highlight of the day for me. It is amazing to see what people were able to accomplish in 1919 with a strong will and the heavy weight of faith prodding them to succeed in such a formidable landscape. Likewise, the waters of Lake Powell are a testament to people’s ability to push onward with an agenda despite all of the facts, figures, and illogic of a given project — driven by the faith that the promised economics will pan out.
A few miles of bushwhacking, sand, heat, and hellacious thistle brought us to our camp in early evening.
It was nice to stop early as I have a bit of mending to do…holes in my pack, gaiters, shorts, and shirt.
The shirt is really beyond any feasible repair as it already has duct tape and dental floss holding a good portion of it together. Portions on each shoulder and areas of the back are worn completely through. Each time I wash it, I am uncertain if it will come out of the machine in one piece. However, regardless of its filth or form, each morning I am happy to don the shirt for another day as it has been on my back for nearly 3,200 miles of hiking. It only comes out of the closet for big trips, and I am sorry to think it will undoubtedly be retired in ~280 more miles. I hope it makes it…
The shorts are my other concern. After ~1,500 miles of hiking, they are growing a bit thin in the seat, and one fall could easily leave me quite exposed…not a big deal in the backcountry, but probably frowned upon along the streets of Moab. I’ll defiantly have to hit the thrift store before heading home. Brandt on the other hand is clad in a number of new garmets…even at our cache he was unwrapping new clothing from its protective plastic! While he sleeps I may have grab a few things to save for later…Near full moon tonight. Writing sans heap lamp…
Capitol Reef National Park, October 15th
Despite the glowing moon, Brandt and I slept well and headed from our camp. The morning was cool but pleasant. In about an hour we crossed into Capitol Reef National Park between two posts with faded Park Boundary signs attached. Not too official, but they confirmed our location on the map, and my 4th National Park of this hike. A bit of bushwhacking and creek walking led us into the narrows of Halls Creek about mid-morning. The narrows are ~3 miles long. A few narrow sections, nice pools, deep undercut meanders and towering canyon walls made for pleasant walking. The going was a bit slow as the canyon floor was muddy, and the wet slickrock had a thin layer of slippery goo. The 3 miles took us nearly 3 hours, before we emerged into the sunshine to eat lunch beneath a nice cottonwood and dry out a bit. Scattered about our lunch spot were some cowboy relics. This section of Halls Creek does get some use, so we were happy to discover a beat out single track which would eventually led us ~9 miles distant to the Hall’s Overlook Trail. The trail roughly followed the old wagon two track that led to Baker Ranch back in the 1920′s. The flow of Halls Creek ran dry just after exiting the narrows.
Mid-afternoon we passed beneath Red Slide where we re-joined the Hayduke Trail. The lower slopes of the slide have some balanced towers very similar to The Hat Shop in Bryce Canyon, but certainly far fewer and less colorful, but every bit as interesting. The Hayduke climbs up the slide and it looked to be a long, sunny affair, although it was easy to discern the old uranium mining road that it followed from below. By early evening we had reached the junction to the Overlook which left ~4-5 miles to our goal of Muley Tanks for camp. Tired and a bit delirious we pushed on, eventually finding a cattle route/old two track that basically led us to a the tanks (series of large slickrock potholes) an hour before sunset.
Again the the moon is bright, and Brandt and I are watching lightning on the horizon — hoping it blows through without incident! The clouds appear friendly, but one never knows just what will happen in these parts…
Anyway a really nice day of walking made better by a variety of scenery, momentary lapses of intense laughter, and a nice camp. My intestinal issues seem to have cleared up, so it was either a lapse of hygiene on my part, or some pothole water that my stomach disagreed with. Either way, my energy is back up and I feel much better.
~11 hrs hiking
Well, I’m not sure about “friendly clouds.” Brian and I just moved camp from the nice slickrock to the lee side of a juniper and put up the tarp. It’s 9:20pm. The wind is picking up, lightning is closer, and rather than be reactive we chose to be proactive and perhaps sleep better in the process. Currently dark clouds surround us.
Like Brian reported yesterday his clothes are becoming quite ragged. Frankly, I’m not sure he will make it to Hite much less Moab. Let’s hope he doesn’t frame his shirt. This will likely be my last post as the Lower Muley Twist traillhead is ~14 miles away. We should get there by mid afternoon tomorrow. On the way to meet Brian in Escalante I stashed a bicycle there that will, if all goes as planned, allow me ride the ~44 miles along the Burr trail back to my car on Hwy 12. After that I have the washboard filled joy of driving the Hole in the Rock Road again to remove our buckets at Crack in the Wall. Then I travel back home to my wonderful wife, with her beautiful voice, and to our cat.
The ironic thing with the Escalante is that for me, the end of the Hole in the Rock Road is less than 100 miles from where I live, as the crow flies, but it takes me seven hours to drive from the end of it to my driveway near Mexican Hat, Utah. The beauty of the Colorado Plateau geography. I must say that for me to be able to join Brian on this section has been outstanding. I have seen many places that have been on my list for many years. My body has held up much better than expected, too. Plus, the weather has been superb. But most of all Brian is a great friend and it has been great to hike with him. In the nine hard days of hiking with Brian we have managed to not cross a single currently used road, have seen not one ATV track, and have only seen other people on two of those days. Pretty good stats if you ask me. Hearing thunder clearly now, perhaps that’s a sign to go to sleep…
Well, I guess I didn’t talk much about today. Today we walked up Halls Creek. It was nice. Just kidding, to the east of Halls Creek is a long escarpment, rather attractive, and I have found myself wishing I knew more about its geological content. While to the west is the Waterpocket Fold. We have walked by the mouths of many canyons that look inviting and someday I hope to return and explore some of them. Sound of light rain now, time to sleep.
Muley Twist and Beyond, October 16th
After a poor forecast on my part and excellent foresight on Brandt’s, we spent a relatively comfy night beneath the tarp as the rain moved through. Morning brought a fresh scent to the desert which made up for our general lack of enthusiasm to get hiking. As we packed up, a large pack of coyotes greeted the morning. We left camp and in a few minutes found our entry into Lower Muley Twist Canyon — a canyon so twisty, the cattlemen said it would, “twist yer mules.” Finding a sunny patch of slickrock we ate a late breakfast and dried out some of our gear.
Shortly we headed into the canyon, ~14 miles from where Brandt and I would part ways. The canyon itself is pretty unique as it runs north to south and splits the fins of the reef during its course. As such, very large walls enclose the canyon, and it was pleasant to be walking in the shade most of the day. Adding to the intrigue of Lower Muley Twist is also the fact that early cattlemen ran wagons full of supplies through a good portion of its length, and their inscriptions can be seen throughout the canyon. D. Allen, 1881 was the oldest one we saw, but most were 1921-1924. Axle grease seems to last awhile…
Eventually we reached the Burr Trail (a dirt road) where Brandt had stashed his bike. The Burr Trail was named after John Atlantic Burr who was an early rancher. He died in the backcountry because of a urinary tract infection, which he had tried to `fix’ himself using a piece of wire. Ouch. Folks were certainly hardy back then. After getting Brandt’s bike and retreating to a shady picnic table, we both re-packed, had a farewell snack, and said our goodbyes. I needed to get in another ~8 miles of hiking, and Brandt had a ~40 mile bike ride ahead of him.
At ~4 pm I set off down the 6 switchbacks of the Burr Trail to Swap Canyon. Shortly I left Capitol Reef National Park and entered a Wilderness Study Area along a cattle path. The walking was very easy and it was nice to be in terrain different than the last 10 days of slickrock and sandy washes. Swap Canyon is quite colorful, but in a more subdued manner…browns, grays and pastels. Continuing upcanyon I arrived at my planned stopping point for the night, a dismally poor spring near the head of the canyon. Camp tonight is beneath a nice juniper with plenty of soft duff — which has been unavailable for sometime. A playful Raven keeps buzzing my camp, circling overhead and bombing me. I looked around for a nest, but did not find one, so I am pretty sure it is all in good fun. As long as I react, it continues with the game. It feels a little strange to be alone again. Certainly not uncomfortable, but certainly different than the last 9 days. I am confident in getting through the upcoming challenges solo, but sometimes it is nice to be able to share the duties and stress of a backcountry adventure with someone you enjoy and trust. Anyway, with only ~2 weeks remaining I have to say that the trip feels like it is winding down and I know things will progress rapidly from this point sans injury or sickness. I feel strong. ~22 miles
Into the Henry Mtns, October 17th
After a disappointingly restless night of sleep, I gathered up my gear and continued a short ways up Swap Canyon to the exit route. Surprisingly the route had a cairn at its base, and although obvious, it was nice to know I was on course. The authors of the Hayduke Guide mention occasionally placing cairns so I was interested to see how many, and their location during the days route. After climbing out of Swap Canyon I traversed along Swap Mesa; some xc hiking, some cattle trails, and a short stretch of abandoned mining road. Occasional cairns marked my whereabouts, but the going was straightforward. Looking back towards Capitol Reef was quite stunning and the added elevation afforded a different perspective than the previous days walking below and through the reef. The scale of the entire uplift was much more relevant as it stretched south and north as far as I could see… a seemingly continuous band of domes, towers, and colorful convolutions.
By mid-morning I had dropped into a drainage near the base of the cliffs which rise from Swap Mesa to the edge of Tarantula Mesa above me. Water flowed from a weak spring and I tanked up for the day, snacking and hydrating in the cool confines of the canyon. Climbing from the drainage via a conveniently cairned exit point, I ascended to a dividing ridge up a steep and crumbly cattle route. More contouring xc and along cattle trails dropped me into Muley Creek, which I then followed up canyon to the first side canyon coming in from the west. Following the drainage I could easily discern my exit route to Tarantula Mesa, a steep slope of crumbly earth and loose rock. The authors make the recommendation to only attempt this route as a descent due to the steep and loose nature of the terrain, and also forewarn of having to use rope to haul packs. All cockiness aside, I prefer to go up really steep slopes instead of down them as I feel it is easier to control speed and maintain balance. Besides, looking at the slope I felt that it was entirely manageable and doubted I would have to remove my pack for any portion of it. Anyway, I down shifted in low gear and climbed steadily upward. 25 minutes later I had reached the rim climbing through steep loose dirt, and negotiating two small cliffbands. All in all the ascent was much easier than described and no pack haul was necessary.
Once on top of Tarantula Mesa I took a quick bearing and set off to intersect a dirt road which I would follow for ~8 miles to the base of the Henry Mountains. It was a pleasant change to be hiking in open country again. While the confines of canyons are beautiful, seeing the vastness of the land and sky is always preferred in my book. The afternoon was pleasantly overcast and I enjoyed a few burritos for lunch as Brandt had given me a few remaining tortillas from his leftovers before his departure. Just a simple tortilla and my taste buds were alive again! Thank you Brandt! Even a little variety after 1.5 months of the same food is much appreciated!
Continuing towards the Henry Mtns I was overtaken by a few fellas on ATV’s. Seems Chip got lucky and drew a deer tag (1 of 13) for the upcoming rifle season in a few weeks, so he and his buddy Speedy were checking out the terrain and doing a little recon before the real chase began. They invited me to their camp for a cool beverage — pop, beer, or Gatorade. The only rule was whatever I chose, I had to have two. Much obliged, I cracked open two Gatorades and happily pounded both immediately. I learned that Chip and Speedy are both from Price, UT which is in Emery county, just north of the San Rafael Swell. Speedy just retired from the coal mine, while Chip still worked there — 24.75 years to date. It was interesting to listen to them talk about mining and how much automation has changed what they do during the last 20 years. They also mentioned that the mine was hiring: $21/hr Union, or $25/hr non-union for a basic laborer. I made an effort to steer the conversation towards land issues, and Chip and Speedy were happy to talk about National Parks, Wilderness, Motorized Access, and all the issues that face most westerners who recreate. Like most blue collar Americans they bemoaned the status of US manufacturing and the widening gap between rich and poor. Again, I am happy to discover more common ground with folks I may have originally discounted as having little in common with. Certainly we had differing viewpoints about some land management issues, but all in all we probably found common ground in 75% of the topics we discussed. Anyway, after farewells and the promise of a recommendation on my behalf if I came to work at the coal mines, I continued down the road a few more minutes to my junction with Sweetwater Canyon which was my ascent route into the Henry Mtns.
Following the creek in Sweetwater Canyon quickly became a major chore despite the cool flowing water and the changing colors of the willows along the creek. As it narrowed, I was forced to either bushwhack and boulder hop in the main channel, or hike the sidehill just above the creek which was quite steep and treacherously loose. Most of the time I stayed in the creek but had to ascend very steep, loose, rotten rock slopes to skirt two pouroffs during my struggle up the canyon. Although not miserable, it was generally unpleasant and if I was to do it again, I’d opt for ascending a pinyon and juniper lined ridge to either side of the creek. I eventually emerged a few hours later at a dirt road and made camp a short distance off the road.
I believe the Henry Mtns were the last mountains in the US to be discovered and mapped. They rise to over 11,000 ft and and unfortunately show the scars of many mines and roads. They are a remote range that get very few visitors despite offering unparalleled views of Utah and being home to a herd of introduced wild bison. I’ve wanted to climb the Henry’s for some time and it feels good to be spending an evening on their slopes near 8,500 ft. ~20 miles
Over the Henry’s…, October 18th
Chip and Speedy had mentioned that a storm was blowing in and I had made camp as high as feasible on the slopes of the Henry’s to try to get the ridgeline hiking done with before the weather hit. No such luck. Although only a few drops of rain fell during the night, by the time I had left camp and climbed ~1.5 miles to treeline, the wind was gusting and rain stung my face. I had looked at alternate routes the previous night and basically had 2 options other than the original exposed 11,000 ridgeline route of the Hayduke Trail. The first was a forested road walk south which wrapped around the Henry’s to Crescent Creek and actually trimmed a few miles from my day. The second was a northbound roadwalk contouring at treeline towards Bull Creek Pass where it would rejoin the Hayduke Trail.
Since the storm was blowing from the south, I opted for the northbound route — despite being higher elevation having the storm at my back is generally my preference. The rain intensified as did the wind, but shortly the gusts died down as the temperature dropped and the stinging rain turned white and began to collect on slopes above me. The initial novelty of having snow fall was quickly disregarded as I hurried my pace to keep my body temp up and make every effort I could to get to a lower elevation. Unfortunately, sub-9,000 ft (my guess at snow line) elevations were ~6 miles distant and I still needed to climb to 10,500 ft Bull Creek Pass before my descent. Cold and wet but still smiling I put my best foot forward, making slower progress in the thinner air. Despite the snowfall, I did spot ~10 does and a few big-antlered bucks roaming about.
Rounding a bend I saw an ATV (2nd of the morning) and stopped to talk with the lady driving it. She looked genuinely surprised to see me walk out from the snow and fog… especially so since I was still in shorts and she appeared to have every article of clothing from her closet on. Her and her husband were loading up the truck and heading down the mountain and offered me a ride which I politely declined. They have a slice of private property on the Henry’s and were up working on their cabin. I guess their family (Darfey?) were some of the original homesteaders to the area and therefore could build. What a place to have a cabin!
Shivering, I said goodbye and got walking again, anxious to rebuild the heat I’d lost during our conversation. I finally rounded a corner and crested 10,500 ft Bull Creek Pass under still snowy skies. A few minutes later the Darfey’s pulled up in their truck and again offered me a ride with, “We think you are making a terrible mistake…” added to their invitation. Again I declined. Shaking their heads, Mr. Darfey handed me 4 mini snicker bars with a look in his eye that told me I’d better not refuse the offer. I thanked them both, smiled broadly, and told them to have a great day as they pulled away. Immediately I unwrapped and ate all 4 bars as the snow kept falling.
The remainder of my morning was spent periodically swinging my arms, and generally walking at an accelerated pace. The snow stopped shortly and although the skies were overcast and threatening, nothing wet came from them for a few more hours. By that time I had descended the Henry’s to Butler Wash and began my short climb out of the wash to an old road above. The sky began to boom with thunder and gentle rain, but within a half hour, the thunder bellowed deeper and lightning began to flash on the horizon. I could see the storm heading my way quickly, and no sooner had I found a dense juniper and started into my lunch, the skies opened up and the rained poured down heavily. Lightning and thunder continued, flashing so closely I could not focus on the bolt, and the thunder cracked intensely. Growing a bit anxious, I I took my groundsheet and wrapped it over my head and around my legs, trying to trap what little warmth I had while sitting out the burst. Fifteen minutes later, the fury subsided, leaving the desert pleasantly fragrant and quite muddy. I trudged onward, glop sticking to my shoes and making each step a bit heavier.
I followed dirt roads the rest of the afternoon and evening, crossing rain swollen washes and slipping along through the thick red mud.
Around 4 pm I crossed HWY 95 and continued down Poison Springs Canyon. Crazily there is a graded dirt road in the lower portion of Poison Springs Canyon and, like hiking trails, when it rains the road becomes the channel for water movement. Although only 1-2 inches (but 4-6 ft wide) deep, it was interesting to walk along and through the flood waters, each canyon I passed adding a little more to the overall flow. Strangely, at some point I actually passed the beginning of the flood waters and was walking dry road in front of the flood! Growing weary after a long day of hiking, I spotted a small overhang and excitedly climbed up to it in hopes of finding a sheltered camp for the evening. Luckily it was just large enough for me and my gear and most importantly, dry. As I was cooking dinner, the flood waters caught up — a distant hum and then the front of the wave slipping over rocks and slowly filling pools before continuing downstream. It was kind of eerie to witness.
As evening set in, the storm re-intensified and the channel flow continued to increase. Suddenly I heard the whine of engines coming upstream, and a group of 3 motorcycles appeared — 2 riders in the stream channel and the other on the bank. It looked to be a real struggle as they disappeared upcanyon. Thunder, lightning, and more rain continued. Again, to my surprise I heard engine noise. This time it was much more loud as a group of 9 more cyclists came upstream. These guys were all on shore and I watched as 2 of them sank their fronts wheels in the mud and toppled off their machines. With the help of their buddies, they dug out and got moving, only to become bogged down again a few hundred yards upcanyon. This went on for a good 10 minutes before they all managed to stay upright, and stay out of the mud — all the while I stayed beneath my overhang unnoticed. Had they needed an Oatmeal Creme Pie to lift their spirits I would have been the first to offer…
The evening has continued to be quite a show. The creek continues to rise as the rain continues to fall, and the pouroffs from the cliffs above are all active — sending steady streams of water and the occasional boulder shooting over the edge. Poison Springs is flowing so strongly that I can hear the subdued clanking of stones moving downstream with the flow of water. As happy as I am to be experiencing a flood in canyon country, I am growing a bit trepidatious about attempting to cross the Dirty Devil River tomorrow. Along it’s ~80 mile length there are countless drainages all of which are adding to its total water flow. Crossing could be quite a task, and I did not pack my water-wings. I suppose it is entirely possible that I will just have to wait until the increased flow subsides to cross safely. I have a few extra eats, so waiting a day would not be too uncomfortable. The other concerning factor is that of quicksand. With the increased rainfall the transition zones between water and shore are no doubt a gooey, shoe-sucking affair. Assuming I can cross tomorrow, I will undoubtedly use the high water road walk alternative route to make forward progress and stay out of the river corridor altogether.
Before I turn in for the evening I should mention something about thunder in canyon country. It is amazing to hear it clap and then reverberate through the canyon corridors, its intensity seemingly amplified by the echoes and channeling of the sound as it dissipates. At times it seems you can actually feel it. A new and unique experience for me.
Well, may the waters recede, the sun shine bright, and the mud dry out come morning…either that or I hope Noah is kind enough to pick up a smelly hiker. ~26 miles
A Merciful Devil, October 19th
I left camp early this morning anxious to see what the situation was ~6 miles down canyon at the Dirty Devil River. The upper portion of Poison Spring Canyon was no longer running, but by mid-canyon a small flow of water resumed.
I stopped at Poison Spring for some water. The spring itself flows directly from the sandstone wall and into a mortared catch basin which has a pipe on one side and an actual hinged metal door on the front. Certainly keeps the cattle out! Filling up with 2.5 gallons, I figured if I could cross the Dirty Devil immediately, I could dump some out, but if I needed to wait around a day, I’d have just enough to see me through.
Continuing down canyon the yellow cottonwoods provided a nice contrast to the red canyon walls. I passed a few good panels of rock art as well, and then exited Poison Springs Canyon by climbing up a short grade and then dropping to the banks of the Dirty Devil River. My worst fears (and then some!) were confirmed as the river was incredibly swollen…just about filling the entire canyon corridor, and the central channel appeared quite swift. Swallowing hard, I edged out into the water-covered flood plain to check depth and get a feel for the current. The flood plain was ~30-50 yds wide on each side of the river, and was anywhere from ankle to waist deep. The flow was steady and a jumble of debris was caught in the tamarisk, willow, and sage that normally line the banks of the river. I managed to get within ~10 yds of the main channel and was amazed to see the volume of water going by. Retreating, I climbed to a highpoint for some lunch and to mull over my options. In the meantime, it was a fun to watch the variety of flotsam in the current, and I was surprised at the size of some of the logs floating by. Things definitely did not look good! I was 100% certain I would not be able to cross the river at the typical crossing, and did not have any confidence that simply waiting a day would change a damned thing. Despite not raining for nearly 15 hrs as far as I could discern the river had not receded a bit. Heading back to HWY 95 and road walking to Hite did not seem viable either, nor did the hopes that some gracious river runners would happen by and be able to give me a lift. I did eye a spot upcanyon that presented a possibility — a long straight section that was moving fast, but for one reason or another did not seem near as threatening. After lunch I decided to check it out just for the sake of satisfying a curiosity. Getting to it looked to be a challenge in itself…a steep slope split by a rotten band of sandstone, which led to a thin shelf above the raging waters.
Traversing delicately, I stopped above the cliffband and lowered my pack and trekking poles over a ~10 ft drop, and then cautiously downclimbed the crumbly rock. Rejoining my pack I made my way across the thin shelf and eventually dropped to the soggy banks of the river. I continued upcanyon for a few minutes to a sunny bench where I dropped my pack and waded out through the floodplain again. Some story as before, up to waist deep along the floodplain and then dropping precipitously into the main current. Discouraged, I staggered back to my pack through the skanky waters — whole cow pies bobbing past in the flow.
I have to say that water is my least favorite element. Other than for drinking and bathing, I find it wholly intimidating and most times an inconvenience — whether falling from the sky, or blocking my path in a canyon, I find it a nuisance. I am not a swimmer by any stretch of the imagination, and flotation for me is a struggle to say the least…I am just skin and bones so I sink. So, what I am about to say should surprise you as much as it did me: I decided to build a raft.
Worse case I would eat away some of the afternoon being creative, best case would be that I create a flotation device that I might deem worthy for my safety and actually get across. Slim chance, but what the hell.
I found a few sizeable chunks of driftwood and hauled them back to shore. After wrapping my trekking poles with my foam sleeping pads for additional flotation (yeah I am using 2 pads) I lashed the poles horizontally across the logs with enough distance between them for my body and pack to fit. My theory was that the pack would be on my back with its bottom resting on the rear trekking pole brace, while the two logs were lashed shoulder width apart. When in the craft, the logs would support me beneath my armpits, and my feet would dangle in the current…kicking wildly to provide propulsion. In addition, with the pack riding on the rear brace it would effectively be supported, leaving my upper body relatively free for paddling, grabbing at plants on the shore, or for clasping together for a final prayer as I drown.
Once completed I took my craft to the waist deep flood plain to christen it and she how she handled. I was happy to see that it did indeed float and when loaded with my body weight, did in fact support me. Strangely this idea was taking hold in my mind as being feasible. I would float across the flooding Dirty Devil. As soon as the idea came to me in its full recognition I began to shake rather violently — probably more so in fear than new found confidence.
Returning the craft to shore, I ate and drank a bit to calm down and then waded back to the swollen waters to scout out a good spot to launch. I found a swirling eddy that would allow me to get completely situated in the raft before to committing to the current. Returning to shore I went ahead and waterproofed the pack as best as I could, consolidating my gear and wrapping my `critical’s’ (sleeping bag, dry clothes, maps) into my groundsheet and tying it off. Not waterproof, but the best I could do. I then chugged a gallon of water, further committing myself to the plan.
I put my pack on (sans hipbelt), and hauled the raft out across the floodplain and onto the edge of the launch eddy. Easing into the swirling waters I was delighted to see that my theory panned out, the rear brace did support the majority of the pack weight while also raising the front brace and sleeping pad float up so it rode higher in the water. The logs fit comfortably beneath my armpits and I was able to hang onto the willows along the shore. The eddy, as if trying to talk me out of the idea, kept me pinned against the edge of the main channel. I slowly worked my way out of the eddy, and was suddenly subject to the full fury of the current. Losing grasp of the willows I was launched into the current and heading downstream at a brisk pace. Slightly panicked I started kicking madly to work myself towards the middle of the channel.
Fully committed and my heart racing, I got my arms stroking and feet kicking, and made it to the middle of the flow. Relaxing momentarily I got a fix on the patch of willows I was hoping to make it to on the opposite shore. They were fast approaching and my arms and feet worked double time to address my desperation. Growing cold and noticeably fatigued, I let out a yell and pushed harder…just managing to grab the willows and rotate the craft into the thicket. Still unable to touch bottom, I pulled myself closer to the willows knowing that they had to be rooted at a reasonable depth.
Land Ho! My feet found a slippery purchase and I clambered out of the main channel into the waist deep floodplain, my trusty vessel still in one piece and my body shaking as the adrenaline coursed through my veins. I stumbled, a bit light headed and nauseous, across the ~30 yds of water to the dry sandy bank, where I dropped the raft, my pack, and then let out a triumphant and jubilant scream. I staggered about for a few minutes, still not completely convinced I had just made it across the river, laughing and shaking uncontrollably.
Eventually I gathered myself and unlashed the trekking poles from the logs and disassembled my raft. Carrying the logs back across the floodplain to the main current, I thanked them both and threw them back into the current. They deserved an adventure of their own instead of becoming a part of someone’s bonfire.
Wading back to the shore, I threw on my pack and headed downcanyon to rejoin the dirt road high alternate route of the Hayduke Trail…silently thanking the Dirty Devil River for its mercy, before climbing out of the canyon.
As you can imagine the rest of the day was pretty anti-climatic. I walked on the old road for a few miles before dropping into Hatch Canyon and finding an overhang for the night. Surprisingly Hatch Canyon is flowing as well.
Most of the evening has been spent reflecting on the days events and the decisions that were made. Each time I scold myself for taking the risk, a broad grin spreads across my face, I shake my head, and I laugh. ~15 miles
Hustlin’ to Hite, October 20th
Awoke refreshed and set off down Hatch Canyon to the confluence with Fiddler Canyon. Heading up Fiddler for 5 meanders, I located the exit route and climbed to the rim…~750 ft in .10 miles. Nice and steep. A large cairn marked the descent. On the rim, I took a quick inventory of landmarks and set off across the Red Benches. Crossing drainages, walking ridges, and finding a few monstrous cairns, I eventually made my way to the downclimb into Rock Canyon. Lowering my pack ~30 ft, I followed down the awkward crack to a shelf above the canyon floor. A short descent down ledges and talus brought me to the muddy bed of Rock Canyon.
Back in 2002, Brandt and I did a 7 day hike in this same area, so I was familiar with the route out of Fiddler, across the Red Benches, and down to Rock Canyon. Although I did a different route across the benches, the terrain seemed familiar so the going was easy. Two miles further and I joined a road which I followed ~4 miles to HWY 95. Once at the HWY I had ~2 miles on the pavement to the Hite turnoff. After crossing the Colorado River on the HWY bridge, I cut xc and shaved a little distance and saved my feet the pain of a few miles of pavement and arrived at the Hite General Store at ~4 pm.
I was happy to get my box and some treats from Brandt: a bag of cookies and a Louis L’Amour book which is set in Dark Canyon where I am heading tomorrow. Thanks Brandt on all accounts! An e-mail from Brandt also mentioned that the Dirty Devil peaked at 12,000 CFS and was running at 3,440 CFS as of this morning. I am not sure what it was at 3 pm on OCT 19, but I am probably pretty lucky to be alive. Justified reasoning has a funny way of only being right at the time, and incredibly wrong upon reflection!
Re-packed, I did a load of restroom-laundry, finally able to get the sand and silt washed out of my clothes after nearly 2 weeks of continuous hiking. Not like the real thing, but helpful nonetheless. Despite multiple rinses and soaping’s, my hair is still quite nasty. It looks as if my no-shower record of 14 days is going to fall along the Hayduke Trail. All records are eventually broken…
Since the marina is closed due to low water in Reservoir Powell, this place is eerily deserted. Two picnic tables all to myself! I’ll camp in the scrub tonight and head out early tomorrow morning. ~18 miles
Into Dark Canyon, October 21st
I left Hite at 7 am in the darkness of the morning, walking along the centerline, not particularly motivated for the day to begin. ~2 miles of pavement led to my dirt road turnoff that I would follow ~10 miles to the TH for Dark Canyon.
Sometimes I look forward to road walking but this morning was not one of those times. Despite being a crisp, blue skied morning I was a bit grumpy and my feet were making it known that they felt the same.
I trudged along for a few hours…
During a brief rest stop I noticed a viable xc alternative route. Jumping at the chance to get off of the road, I wandered off and had a nice 2 mile stretch of open desert before rejoining the road at Squaw and Papoose Rock. Unlike a lot of named rock formations, Squaw and Papoose Rock actually look exactly like its name. Turning off the road in 5 minutes I was at the signed TH for Dark Canyon. Despite being a Friday, there was only one car parked, but no fresh footprints. Excellent! Dark Canyon is pretty remote so I doubt it is ever really crowded, but the fewer the folks the better.
After a overly cairned ~2.5 miles I was at the rim of the Canyon, staring ~1,700 ft down into its depths and being immediately reminded of the Grand Canyon… just in general appearance, not its scale. Limestone capped by sandstone and a healthy flow of water.
After an hour break on the rim I headed down the jumble of loose boulders that is known as the Sundance Trail. It was incredibly rough going, and was something I would have much preferred to be ascending. The descent did nothing to improve my mood. Nearly an hour later and ~.7 of a mile I reached the canyon bottom, sweaty and a little sore in the knees. I headed up canyon, sometimes along the muddy shores, sometimes along ledges of limestone, or sometimes contouring above on game trails. However, where ever I was hiking it was very rugged and physical — certainly the most demanding terrain since the Grand Canyon. Normally I do not mind such terrain, but today it felt like a major burden. The canyon itself is quite beautiful despite its recent flash flooding. The flood has left everything with a thin layer of mud and the cascading waterfalls and pools are a rusty orange, instead of a blue-green. Regardless it is a very lovely place. Further up canyon the ruggedness relented a bit and the north side of the canyon walls were covered with mossy seeps. I filled a few liters from the strong seeps before continuing on to the mouth of Youngs Canyon which was my intended stopping point for the day, and ~7 miles from the base of the Sundance Trail.
The mouth of Youngs Canyon is guarded by a ~20 ft waterfall. It looked like the left hand side of the canyon wall could be traversed on a thin ledge to get around the obstacle. I dropped my pack and attempted the route with no problems. Other than one section of noticeable exposure, it was not difficult. Retrieving my pack, I delicately made my way across the ledges and across the exposed gap of rock to gain access to the canyon. I was greeted by a large, clear pool of water and another short wall to surmount. Hoisting my pack to the top of the wall, I followed and was happy to notice that things leveled out. Continuing up canyon for a spell, I came upon another large pool and a nice section of limestone ledges. A sloping pour off and cottonwood made the perfect backdrop for a great camp. Checking out the pool, I decided to get naked and go for a little swim. The water was the perfect temperature. It took a bit of convincing to dive in, but I felt incredibly refreshed and my grumpy mood lifted as I emerged from the pool — seemingly re-energized and clear headed. Fantastic! Maybe after my Dirty Devil experience a few days ago, I have reconciled some of my hang ups about water.
The night sky is quite striking this evening as the moon has not yet risen…already a few shooting stars. Although I enjoy solo hiking immensely, sometimes you come across a place, time, or feeling that you wish you could share with someone else. Tonight is one of those times and places, and I find myself thinking of friends and family. ~23 miles
Into Fable Valley, October 22nd
Another hard day in Dark Canyon! I am certain I am a little fatigued after 2 weeks of hiking with no rest, but this place is rugged! After a peaceful night, I awoke and continued my way up Young’s Canyon. As described in the Hayduke Guide, there are a number of pour-offs to `negotiate’. Obviously that term is open ended…did that mean I would be able to get around them easily, would they require a pack haul, or would I have to skirt them by climbing around? Many questions, all to be answered by mid-morning. Descending canyons with pour-offs is generally no big deal. You get to one and then realize that you need to go around. Hiking up canyon is a roll of the dice because as the canyon walls begin to narrow, you can anticipate a pour-off ahead, but you have no way of knowing its height or difficulty until you arrive. Even with the most detailed maps, it is impossible to tell of impending impossibility. I wrongly made the assumption that the pour-offs (other than the one specifically mentioned in the guidebook) could be tackled head on, and thus spent a good portion of my morning walking up to a pour-off, and then turning back down canyon to find a route around. Sometimes these routes were cairned, other times they were not. Although scenic, it was not the most efficient way to make forward progress. Eventually though I made it ~3 miles up canyon to the big, guidebook noted pour-off, and climbed up loose boulders to the canyon rim. Once there, I followed the plateau for about a mile and dropped back down into Young’s Canyon. Many thousands of feet hiked to gain ~1.5 miles. Like I said, tough country. ~5 miles in ~4.5 hrs time.
Just a bit further along I came to Horse Pasture Canyon, which I soon discovered had a few pour-offs to negotiate as well. Towards the top of the canyon I had a pleasant lunch and then continued to a full stock pond, jumped on a road for ~1/2 a mile and then headed due north xc into an arm of the Fable Valley Canyon system. Although not as steep as Young’s, this canyon was also slow going, picking my way through dense juniper, desert scrub, and yes, negotiating a number of pour-offs. A few hours later I emerged at the confluence with the main canyon of Fable Valley with more tears in my ever-deteriorating shirt, but happy to find decent trail. The next ~4 miles were spent along a gentle contour above Gypsum Canyon until I reached the remote Fable Valley TH. Since the beginning of the year, only ~20 people had signed the register, starting with the Hayduke Founders on 4/12/05 during their thru-hike attempt.
With sunset approaching and ~15 miles on the odometer for the day, I headed down a series of dirt roads before turning off into Beef Basin Wash.
Following freshly hoofed cattle trails I made good time until crossing another road a few miles later, where I decided to make camp for the evening beneath a fine juniper tree. Nice to have a camp that is not in a canyon…the sunset lasts much longer up on the plateau country! All in all the day was wonderful. Certainly a tedious struggle at times, but one that I feel good about how it was managed. Looking forward to heading into Canyonlands National Park tomorrow and doing an alternative route I have planned. ~18 miles
Canyonlands National Park, October 23rd
I awoke to a very cool morning and struggled a bit to get going… sometimes the coziness of a sleeping bag is difficult to abandon. I continued up Beef Basin Wash for a few miles before detouring to Homewater Spring to fill up with water for the next 1.5 days. As I did so, the sun finally made its appearance and began to melt the light frost that covered the low-lying vegetation. After filling up I backtracked to the exit drainage and climbed to a dirt road near the rim, which I followed shortly before heading xc through a nice sage flat for ~1 mile. Climbing to a rocky saddle, I made my way eastward dropping into an unnamed drainage before contouring along slickrock benches to a narrow gap between two colorful sandstone domes. I was searching for an access drainage into Butler Wash. Recognizing that I had turned a little prematurely, I was positioned one drainage west of the intended route. Not really seeing it as an issue, I descended the smaller drainage via a crumbly ramp and soon joined the intended route just down canyon.
The canyon itself was quite nice, alternating between a sandy and slickrock floor, and only 2 pour-offs to negotiate. The first required me to lower my pack with rope and then down climb. The second passes directly beneath Seldom Seen Bridge, (discovered and named by the Hayduke Founders) which I managed to down climb first and then hand-lower the pack to myself. A few miles later I entered the main canyon of Butler Wash.
Butler Wash is a pretty large drainage that meanders about and eventually makes its way into Canyonlands National Park. The Hayduke Trail follows it for ~17 miles…nearly its entire length. I’d decided to walk most of it, but leave the wash at a 4WD road to join up with a mis-mash of pieced together roads, hiking trails, and xc washes and re-join the Hayduke in Elephant Wash. I did this because I wanted to walk through `The Needles’ of Canyonlands and not bypass the area by walking to the west. I also anticipated correctly that walking ~17 in a sandy wash would bore me to tears. Although no tears were actually shed, I was ecstatic to leave the wash and see beyond the sandy hills that limited the horizon. Upon emerging from Butler Wash the entirety of the landscape became visible — colorful towers and domes rising skyward in every direction. I enjoyed walking through the maze that the stone formations created before linking into a stunning stretch of single track trail which climbed to a thin gap between two red-spired ridges. The descent into The Devil’s Kitchen was along hand-hewn steps of juniper log. Crossing the open meadow of The Devils Kitchen I came to a one way 4WD road, passing a few outhouses and picnic tables in the process. I followed the road and was quite surprised at it ruggedness…more of a 4WD obstacle course than a driveable road. I was glad it was a Sunday evening and I did not have to smell burning rubber or hear the grinding of gears within the narrow walls of the canyon that the road followed.
Continuing down canyon I left the road at a wash and am camped between two massive boulders. It is a pleasant and quiet place, and a spot that convinced me to untie the shoes earlier than normal. ~18 miles
Canyonlands Needles Outpost, October 24rd
Strolled into Canyonlands Needle Outpost for my resupply pick-up just before noon today.
The mornings walk through Elephant Wash and then along the Confluence Overlook Trail was nice…good trail, great views, cool temps. I saw some folks at the TH this morning…the first folks since leaving Hite 3 days ago.
A short road walk along SR 211 led me to Little Spring Canyon where I left the road and entered the wash. Following game trail and the wash bottom for a few minutes, I came to a confluence and exited the canyon onto the plateau.
Taking a eastward bearing, I bee lined across Squaw Flat directly towards the Outpost. Crossing a few washes, a dirt road, and a barbed wire fence, I eventually came to the front porch and met Tracy and Gary — the proprietors of the Outpost for the last 10 years.
I stocked up on a few treats for lunch and got a campsite and shower token for the evening. Looks like the new no-shower record stands at 17 days. Unfortunately no laundry, so my shower will feel refreshing until I have to put my stanky clothes back on. Anyway, I may take a rest day here tomorrow. Only ~64 miles to Moab and then ~26 through Arches National Park. I was surprised to hear and see images of the current batch of hurricanes.. ~11 miles
Rest Day at the Outpost, October 25th
I decided to take a rest day. I was feeling fatigued and did not see any sense pushing myself when there was no need to.
I suppose I am also I bit apprehensive to finish this hike up. Despite having been hiking for 50+ days, I’ve yet to grow weary of the routine. However, in saying that, I know as soon as I hit the trail tomorrow I will begin to feel a sense of closure and this ‘ol horse will be anxious to get back to the barn.
Hanging out at the Outpost has been fun. Gary and Tracy are quite hospitable and know the area very well. They started coming to the Colorado Plateau in 1975 and have explored a good portion of the area by airplane, truck, and foot. I’ve enjoyed learning about their operation here…the nuts and bolts of running an isolated business like theirs. It sounds like a tough row to hoe, and one that I am not sure I would be cut out for despite the romantic appeal of the idea. I’ve had a good time sharing stories about my own small business and being able to relate to some of their daily concerns. They have quite a diverse customer base — Boyscouts, groups of teachers, random vacationers, RV’ers, and a string of wealthy folks who fly in for lunch occasionally to land at the Outpost’s remote dirt airstrip.
Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the stop here. Despite not having a payphone, the facilities are great, as is the food and conversation. Heading out to Moab tomorrow.
Back on Route, October 26th
Yesterday afternoon I had met a group of folks flying ultralight aircraft from the Outpost’s airstrip. They had told me if the weather looked good in the morning, they’d have me in the air by 8 am (Thanks Chuck and Amy!). Despite the allure of such an activity, I awoke early and headed out before sun-up.
A few miles of dirt road led me to the head of a drainage which I descended into entering the Indian Creek Wilderness Study Area. Following the drainage for a short while, my mind began to wonder and I lost track of my `meander count’ — a simple way to keep track of myself when hiking in a drainage. A bit perturbed at my lack of attention, I took a short break to try to figure out where I was and where I was heading to. After getting about 75% assured of my location I continued down canyon coming to what I believed was the correct branch drainage. From the mouth I could see a feasible notch that would allow me access to the rim and the reassuring views of open country. Working my way to the head of the drainage and then contouring through layers of strata, I popped through the notch and onto the rim. Sure enough, my location become 100% clear and I was right on track. Locating a series of ridgeline pyramids, I contoured along a flat bench wrapping below the landmarks until finding myself above my entry route into the flowing, and cottonwood lined Indian Creek. The views from this ridgeline contour where interesting…seemingly infinite branches of canyons spreading out below me in a twisting, and intimidating manner. Glad I have maps…! The La Sal Mountains were also quite stunning on the NE horizon.
After an elusive descent route with a short downclimb thrown in, I followed Indian Creek to its junction with Rustler Canyon which was not flowing. I ate lunch beneath a shady overhang with my feet in the refreshing waters. Simple pleasures. Despite being quite relaxed, I cut lunch a bit short and continued hiking up Rustler Canyon. A few meanders and a nice pouroff which I was able to climb directly up, eventually led me to a 3-way division of the drainage. Hanging a left, I headed up the northern most drainage and shortly exited and walked cross-country before finding the Lockhart Road.
This would be my route for the next ~8 miles…a well graded, contouring dirt road that would lead me into Lockhart Canyon. It traverses along a large bench between the Colorado River and an impressive band of huge cliffs; on top of which is the Canyonlands Overlook. Lockhart Canyon was a pleasant walk. The tall cliffs gave me some relieve from the sun, and I did pass an interesting old A-Frame shack along the way. Hiking alongside a few enormous sand dunes, I soon found myself at the mouth of a side canyon that promised water and my exit back to the rim.
Dropping my pack at the split in the canyon, I walked up to a large alcove and found the spring. Described as a pipe dripping into a trough, it was unfortunate to find that the troughs had been overturned and moved away from the piped spring. While the spring was still dripping, it was relatively weak and took ~20 minutes to fill a liter. Regardless I needed water for the upcoming ~40 miles of dry country. I found another seep in the alcove and filled my cookpot to get dinner water going, while I swapped out bottles every 20 minutes at the pipe. Eventually I’d collected ~5 liters, one of which I chugged after dinner, before pushing on into the darkness. Fortunately the exit route was straightforward and another 15 minutes along a constructed cattle trail brought me onto the bench above. I had wanted to get out of the canyon to avoid the sinking, cooler air temps for the night.
All in all a great day on the Hayduke. A challenging half day of navigation and relaxing road walk in the evening…all beneath cobalt skies and red rock. ~26 miles
A warm night brought a pleasant morning and I was up and hiking again at first light. Easy going along the flat bench following a vague cattle trail, dipping in and out of shallow drainages. My goal was to get to a large canyon ~2.5 miles distant which I’d be able to follow to re-join the Lockhart Road. As is often the case, my mind was bit slow to start processing the days events and I managed to walk right by the canyon — noting to myself that it was a very large side drainage (Clue #1). A bit further along the bench, I recall noting how it was nice it was to see the Colorado River again (Clue #2). Stopping to take a short break, I checked my watch and made a mental note that my pace was a bit slow as I should have made it to the exit canyon ~30 minutes ago (Clue #3). Despite the obvious clues, I was oblivious to my blatant oversight and continued to amble along, content with my morning. Rounding a knob I spotted a few Bighorn Sheep. As they began to move away from me, the `few’ became 7. I backed away into the shadow of a boulder and watched as they scampered up among the cliffs. Within 10 minutes they were ~1,000 ft above me and ~1/2 mile away, casually traversing steep stone. Always a treat to see elusive animals, although I hate to disturb them. Continuing along the bench I walked to the rim of a side canyon where I could see the Colorado River flowing lazily by. Finally! I thought, my exit canyon! Checking the maps, I was astonished to see quite clearly that the Colorado River should not be able to be seen from the correct exit canyon — but yet there it was, right below me. Hmmm. Not good. It did not take me long to figure out my position…just awhile to forgive myself for the oversight. A bit grumpy with the situation I set out to find a suitable exit without having to backtrack to the known route. The other catch worth mentioning is that I seemingly forgot to mail myself one map in the last re-supply. Of course, it would be the map I needed now to find an alternate route to the rim and Lockhart Road.
Intentionally ignoring the rational conclusion of just backtracking, I found a side canyon that looked to allow access to the rim. If I could make it up, I’d be back on the maps I did have and it would not be difficult to find Lockhart Road. Heading up the canyon I immediately came to a sizeable pouroff with no obvious and easy route around it. However, there was a thin shelf that ran along the northern wall of the canyon. If I could gain access to that shelf, I could get above the pouroff and continue upcanyon. Backtracking down the canyon, I kept my eyes attuned to any weakness in the canyon wall. Shortly I noticed a large, detached boulder with a tree growing between it and the cliff. Dropping the pack and making a closer inspection, the gap was just wide enough (when I inhaled) to squeeze through. An easy chimney led me to the shelf, and I was able to contour around and above the aforementioned pouroff. Fingers crossed I continued up canyon, traversing slabs, hopping boulders, and then making my way along a Bighorn trail through a crumbly cliffband to gain the rim. Success! I immediately returned to my pack, rigged up the webbing, and hauled the pack up to the shelf, then returned to the rim via the route I’d just discovered. Once on the rim it was only a few minutes of bench walking before I came to Lockhart Road.
I am sure if I’d just backtracked from the get go, I would have arrived in the same spot in about the same time, but I know I would have been harassing myself the entire time. Seeing the sheep and finding the route out, I felt redeemed and was able to forgive myself for my inattentiveness. Anyway, the rest of the day I was passed off and on by a group of mountain bikers, jeeps, and a few motorcycles as I followed the Hayduke along Lockhart Road. I was supposed to continue on this dirt road for the remaining ~25 miles to Moab. Fortunately in the late afternoon I came across a support vehicle for some of the mountain bikers. Kirsten, of Rim Cyclery in Moab, offered me some water which I was grateful for as I was cutting it a bit close for the remainder of the day and for getting into Moab tomorrow. She also offered me a yummy sandwich, and a banana both of which I stuck in my mouth and immediately incinerated.
She also recommended another route into Moab — linking up a few old dirt roads, and a bit of single track trail to drop me right at the pavement of Kane Springs Road. I was excited to hear about the route as I was growing weary of Lockhart and its associated traffic. Looking at the maps, Kirsten’s route would have me passing around Jacksons Hole and climbing to Amasa Back. I would also pass by the Potash Ore Processing Facility on the opposite bank of the Colorado. The route looked good, and I was certain to find a better campsite than along the roadside of Kane Springs.
So, as the last bike riders and the support vehicle departed, I continued my trudge for another few miles before swinging left down a side road along Kirsten’s route. Kirsten gave me great directions and I had no trouble following the route…it is well traveled by cyclists judging by the tire tracks. I am camped below Amasa Back and should be in Moab before noon tomorrow for my final resupply. ~25 miles
Moab…Extreme Adventure City USA, October 28th
Strolled into Moab this morning before 10 am after a great morning of single track hiking above the Colorado River. Very pleasant. After a few miles along Kane Springs road, and after passing a number of defaced petroglyph panels en route, I arrived at the PO — the wind gusty from the south and the skies threatening rain.
Can’t say I am thrilled to be in Moab other than to get my final resupply box and get out of town. Never much cared for this place despite trying to like it. The community here is great, certainly friendly folks, but something about the constant marketing vibe that runs through town just bugs me…Adventure This! and Adventure That! Extreme! I know it is a seasonal-tourist based economy and one that caters to thrill seekers (whether motorized or not) but it just is a bit over the top. All that is missing is a Bungee Tower shaped like Kokopelli and painted `sandstone.’ Anyway, a few chores to do before heading into Courthouse Wash and Arches National Park for the final ~25 miles of hiking.
Arches National Park, October 28th
Eventually I made my way out of Moab, but not before stopping at the Thrift Store for some new clothes for the bus ride home as well as a brief stop at Mike Coronella’s place. He is one of the co-founders of the Hayduke Trail and someone I was excited to meet in person. We talked for a bit about the Hayduke and the Colorado Plateau. It is always great to talk and listen to someone who is enthusiastic about what they do or where they have been, and Mike was alit regaling tales of his hiking and listening to some of my memories from the route. Despite likely being able to gab for hours, I filled up with water and continued on with my day of hiking. I was headed to Courthouse Wash via a road walk along the Highway and a scary walk across the bridge (no shoulder, no sidewalk!) that spans the Colorado River on the north end of town. Managing to get across without incident, I arrived at the mouth of Courthouse Wash and headed upcanyon entering Arches National Park…the 6th and final NP along the Hayduke. The wash is quite nice…towering walls, changing leaves on the Cottonwood, and deep pools of water. Although tempted for a final swim, the skies have opened up and put a damper on the afternoon — cool temps, and a steady solemn drizzle.
I continued upcanyon in the rain, criss-crossing the wash a few times and continually tripping myself up on the piles of cut tamarisk. Late afternoon I arrived beneath the bridge which spans Courthouse Wash and provides vehicular access to the Park. Legally, this is the furthest into the park you can camp without a permit. More importantly, it is dry. It is quite humorous that my final night along the Hayduke Trail is likely going to be spent beneath a bridge, listening to the THUMP, THUMP of traffic, but I’ll take being dry over aesthetics any day!
Having hiked ~8 miles from Moab, that leaves me with ~17 for tomorrow. I hope the skies clear come morning as it would be wonderful to end on a note similar to the previous 59 days of the hiking…sunny, cobalt skies, surrounded by warm stone. ~16 miles
And so it ends…, October 29th
Well, today I finished the Hayduke Trail. ~932 miles in 60 days of hiking, and became the first fellow to successfully complete the route end to end in a continuous effort. Typical of the terrain the route follows, I had to work for every mile to the finish…
After a decent nights rest beneath the Courthouse Wash bridge, I awoke early and got moving at first light. The vegetation was damp, but the wetness seemed to amplify the rich colors that surrounded me — the cottonwood appeared a sharper yellow, the cliffs a deeper red, and the sage a crisp, subdued green. The skies were overcast, so the soft morning light stuck around into early afternoon. A stunning morning. Working up the meanders of Courthouse was classic Hayduke…thrashing through thickets of willow, tamarisk, and cattail, criss-crossing the flowing wash, and finding isolated pockets of quicksand. No matter how much I wanted to be able to allow my mind to drift along the waves of `trip nostalgia’ it was necessary to be paying attention to the route and my footing. I eventually made my way to the head of Courthouse, passed by the flowing Willow Spring, and climbed along benches of slickrock to come to the Willow Springs road — the original dirt road entry into Arches National Park.
Taking a short break, I soaked in the views…the La Sals, Herdina Park, Balanced Rock, and a number of buttes and towers scattered across the landscape. I did not have a real plan to get to the end of the route, rather wanting to wait to see what my mood was and create a route on the spot. As such, I checked out the maps to see what my options were. Thankfully I had an old (1959) 15 minute series map of the area which included the entire original entry dirt road route. The new road merely a proposed purple dashed line. The newer 1996, 7.5 minutes series map does not have this old route. Feeling nostalgic, I thought a walk along the old entry road would be the best way to get down from the benchland into Salt Wash and on towards Delicate Arch which I had designated as the end of my Hayduke hike. What better way to experience the entry into Arches than the original, unpaved, get-here-if-you-can, Abbey-endorsed road? Hopefully I’d be able to find the old route. Continuing for a few miles down Willow Springs road, I came to a rise just before reaching the Balanced Rock Picnic Area. The current outhouse position supposedly marks the spot where former ranger Ed Abbey had his trailer and began to formulate some of his thinking about the landscape — chronicled in Desert Solitaire. Not Mecca for myself, but interesting nonetheless. From my vantage I could discern a vague car-width swath in the distance. Despite the efforts of the NPS to re vegetate the old dirt road, the scar still exists, although now only frequented by the tracks of animals, and not the wheels of vehicles. Working my way along the old road, zig-zagging between sage and thistle, I took my last lunch beneath a shady juniper. The Fiery Furnace and the colorful expanse of Salt Valley were my viewshed for the last celebratory spoonfuls of lentils and potatoes. Pushing on, I dropped down to Salt Wash and passed beneath the new road, an easy curving paved affair with a steady flow of weekend traffic. The floor of Salt Wash was muddy…the glop building on the bottoms of my shoes with each step, but the going was straightforward and presented no navigational challenges. Shortly I met the road which led to the Delicate Arch TH — the parking lot of which was full and over-flowing with vehicles. Ugh. I was not expecting the TH to be empty, but it looked like I’d have plenty of company for the ~1.5 mile hike to the Arch. Setting off, I had a steady but unhurried pace up the gravel and slickrock trail, passing by the remnants of the Wolfe Ranch. The views back into Salt Wash were nice, the tamarisk plumes golden in the afternoon sun, while the La Sal Mountains on the opposite horizon were topped with a light snow.
The trail to Delicate Arch is a nice piece of work as the arch itself is hidden from view until the last possible moment. As you round a corner on trail cut from a steep sandstone wall, the arch suddenly appears…its opening framing the distant horizon to the snow-capped La Sals. Suddenly my hike was finished. It is always odd to have an arbitrary point as a trail terminus. Suddenly the trip just ends due to your arrival at Point B from Point A. One of these times I am going to plan an open ended hike and finish when I feel like it…maybe that will feel less forced and more natural.
Despite having been exposed to images of Delicate Arch so many times from postcards, pictures, and billboards, to the Utah State license plate, I was surprised to find that it appeared completely breath-taking. Truly a spectacular setting and scene and one that I would have liked to sit around and enjoy for an hour with less company about. I took a few celebratory pictures, observed a moment of silence for the upcoming retirement of my much beloved hiking shirt, and then departed back down to the trailhead; recognizing that the hike had drawn to a close, but making an effort to ignore the fact that it was. Lived it. Loved it. Time it leave it. Thanks for reading. I’ve also posted some concluding thoughts in the next report.
Concluding Thoughts: For what it is Worth…
First off, if you have any questions in regard to planning your own Hayduke Trail hike (sections, thru, whatever) please feel free to contact me. The route is your’s to plan. My thoughts are my own and by no means ‘right.’
Strategy: Re-Supply, Water, Mileage, Gear, and Rest
As I discussed in earlier postings, I tackled the Hayduke Trail in typical long-distance hiker fashion: frequent re-supplies, higher daily mileages, and with a focus towards lightweight equipment. This presented some challenges and resulted in a longer distance hiked than the described route, but I think this strategy is critical to implement if you plan to tackle this rugged and demanding route… especially so in the context of thru-hiking the Hayduke.
Re-Supply: Manageable for most…
I would consider the re-supply on the Hayduke Trail convenient considering the location of the route. Typically the distance between re-supply is less than ~120 miles…manageable even at a casual pace (less than 15 MPD) if your gear is light. I think the logistics of backcountry caches for re-supply along the Hayduke are not worth the additional time, money, or worry. Pack lighter, walk further. Being a new route, re-supply stops along the Hayduke are not accustomed to long distance hikers, so some explaining might need to take place about your trip. Do not expect a trail register or hiker exchange box at the PO . I found the majority of people very receptive to the hike and very accommodating in the services they provided. As the Old West dies and the New West takes shape, most of these re-supply stops are changing over from an insulated, one dimensional economy to a dynamic and busy tourism based economy. Some towns have embraced the change while others are not so receptive to the idea. Be prepared.
Water: Too Little or Too Much…
As a number of people have pointed out about water in the desert: you’ll either die of thirst or drown. After spending 2 months hiking in the desert, that seems accurate. Feast or famine. The most H20 I carried was ~3 gallons and did so on 3 occasions. On each anticipated dry stretch of 40+ miles, I was surprisingly able to find water — unmarked cattle tanks, seeps, or car campers. Other times, I only carried 2 liters as there was ample opportunity throughout the day to fill up. I’d say on average I had ~1.5 gallons in the pack and only dry camped a handful of times. Generally water availability dictates the framework for my schedule and the miles per day that I hike. Spring water along the Hayduke was surprisingly good. Keep in mind Utah had an above average winter snow pack and a wet spring in ’05. Without question some sources that were running strong this year, may not be available in leaner years to come. Of the long trails I’ve done, I drank the most untreated water on the Hayduke — 7 sources total. Thus far, I’ve had no intestinal issues come up. Judge the sources yourself.
MPD: Miles Per Day…
For me it was difficult to accurately plan a realistic MPD calculation as I’d not done a long hike with as much XC terrain as the Hayduke Trail presented. As such, I tended toward the conservative side — ~932 miles in 63 days with 6 planned rest days averaged out to ~16.8 miles per day. In reality, the terrain was manageable and I found I could cover 20+ miles. Therefore I was able to do the hike in 60 days, including 8 rest days, and averaged 18 mpd. Longest day was 27.
Gear: The Lighter the Better…
My base weight for this hike (minus food, fuel, water) was ~12.5 lbs. In addition to the standards, I also carried ~40 ft of 1/2″ webbing, a bunch of 7.5′ series maps, and a back-up water filter which brought my base weight up a bit higher than normal. Regardless, they were items necessary for the success of the trip, but just not in my standard kit. Most of the route is pretty rugged walking, and a lightweight gear set-up allowed me to maneuver more easily and avoid basic stress and impact related injury. In addition, when negotiating obstacles (pour-offs, cliff bands, pack hauls) a lightweight pack is much less cumbersome to deal with.
I chose a mid-top lightweight hiking boot (!) for footwear…a decision I do not regret. Although they performed well, they were ready for retirement after only ~375 miles of hiking — the midsole softened and the tread pretty much worn down. I sent myself a new pair at mile ~475. The ankle support was much appreciated negotiating steep slick rock, and crumbly side hills. During road walks, I did not lace the uppers for better ankle mobility. Total blister count: 4. If you decide on running shoes, I’d have no less than 4 pairs at the ready and a good pair of tweezers to pull the cactus spines out of your toes. Mesh panels will be destroyed quickly and your socks will be filled with sand from day one. In this case, I believe slightly heavier, non-mesh footwear is the better choice.
Obviously this is dependent on how you are feeling mentally and physically, but I took 8 rest days. Most of these I did not feel were necessary for my mental or physical well-being, but rather as forced preventative maintenance. As a result I avoided injury and maintained my health for the duration of the trip.
Route: Trail, Direction, Navigation, Weather, Guidebook
The basic corridor of the Hayduke Trail is exceptional. I think the Founders of the route did a great job with its layout. While the route appears quite circuitous on a map, and knowing that the Colorado Plateau is an incredibly convoluted region, I had anticipated a `choppy’ and disconnected feel to the hike, but was surprised at the routes sense of continuity while hiking. Many of the areas you hike through I would consider `technical’ walking…meaning you need to be paying attention to your feet. When on actual trail or dirt road the footing is (not surprisingly) quite good. However, the XC portions are a jumble of loose rock, sand, spiny plants, bushwhacks, mud, or some other such impediment to safe, `turn off your brain’ kind of hiking.
Direction: Eastbound vs. Westbound
The direction you chose to hike the Hayduke Trail should be related to the season in which you decide to hike it. Although no consensus exists, it seems accurate to state that if you start in the Spring, you head West. If you start in the Fall, head East. The reasons for this thinking should become obvious once you get into the planning of your hike. I do not think one direction is ‘easier’ than the other. The route is rugged either way you look at it. Physical and navigational challenges exist at both ends, as do relatively high elevations that present challenges in regard to weather and on-trail conditions. Personally I feel there are fewer variables to have to potentially tackle in the Fall. While seeing snow is a very real possibility, actual accumulation should be minimal. A strong monsoon is typical for the region in late summer, which helps to re-charge water sources, but can lead to flash flooding. Be aware. As I mentioned beforehand as well, the range of temperature extremes is less in the Fall and the weather is generally more stable. The Spring has a guarantee of some snow pack and associated runoff — not flash flooding, but potentially high water levels that are quite cold. Obviously this provides ample water, but would make foot travel very difficult due to mud, and water depth in narrow canyons. Again, it will be obvious where when you get into the planning. The Spring is also less stable in regard to the weather. A greater range of temperature extremes makes for a wider variety of necessary gear to be carried, as well as resulting in windy conditions.
Navigation: Where the &%#$ am I…?
I did not find the navigation too difficult. In fact the compass stayed in my pocket for the majority of the trip. A few times it was helpful to orient the map or take a quick bearing, but typically you are either in the bottom of a canyon, along a dirt road, or in a well-signed National Park. However, note that I was carrying 7.5 minute series maps. Plenty of detail. I did use the maps from the Guidebook for some of the road walks. The tricky spots are finding the correct entry/exit points into and out of canyons and washes. GPS might be handy in knowing the exact waypoints for these spots, but overall I think it would be dead weight. Evaluate your navigation skills and plan accordingly.
Weather: Rain, Snow, Floods, Wind
During my hike I was fortunate to have exceptional weather. I did not set-up my tarp until ~400 miles into the trip. No rain to speak of until the higher elevations of Bryce Canyon National Park . All said, 6 nights of rain, and 1 day of pretty much continuous rain and snow when crossing over the 11,000 ft Henry Mountains . That one day of precipitation caused extensive regional flooding and the canyons and rivers where I was (Dirty Devil) definitely felt the impact (Oct 19 Journal entry). Water crossings demanded attention, and walking through canyons was fatiguing in the mud and slippery stones. Crossing the Colorado in the Grand Canyon was no big deal. Plenty of friendly river folks to hitch a brief ride with. Wind was thankfully never a real challenge, despite a day or two of blustery conditions. Again, the less fluctuation between high and low temperature extremes in the Fall helps to keep the winds down.
Guidebook: Future Authors Take Note…
I think the Hayduke Trail Guidebook represents the future of long distance hiking. Routes that are described in a general sense — providing basic details to facilitate additional planning. In the spirit of the man whose name the trail bears, the route itself is open to interpretation depending on how one wishes to spend their time, and alternatives are easily accessed and plentiful for a wide range of abilities. I think the guidebook is consistent in this philosophy as it gives you enough detail to get you started but by no means is enough info to answer all your questions or guarantee success. As such I styled my own Hayduke hike to my own preferences and did include alternative routes in the hike. Although I followed the majority of the `official route’ I feel that my digressions made re-supply easier and enhanced my hike overall. Much like the CDT used to be, each person will probably hike a different Hayduke Trail than their predecessors, and that is one of the beautiful aspects of a `route’ vs. a `trail.’ Basically I used the Guidebook to plan the route at home, and then used more in-depth sources and notes during the actual hike.
A number of other hikers have now successfully completed their own versions of the Hayduke Trail. Their journals (and thus perspectives) are below:
2008 Ryan Choi
Recommended Reading : The 6 P’s…
1) Steve Allen: Canyoneering 2, Canyoneering 3
2) Michael Kelsey: Assorted Text – Paria, Canyonlands , Colorado Plateau
3) Brett LeCompte: Southwest Circle Quest
Dustin and Cecilie Ott at the Bryce Canyon Inn
Gary and Tracy at Canyonlands Needles Outpost
Mike Coronella who was helpful with answering questions about the Hayduke Trail pre-hike, and whose enthusiasm at its conclusion for my hike was gracious and genuine. Thanks Mike!
Brett Tucker, a fellow long distance hiker and founder of the Grand Enchantment Trail (and other unique hikes) was also helpful in doing some re-supply recon for me in the Spring during a vacation around the Colorado Plateua in the Spring. Many thanks Brett.
Tom Jones, canyoneer, photographer, and desert enthusiast was a great help in curtailing some of my pre-hike anxieties. Thanks Tom for the rendezvous’ and the confidence.
Jerry Goller for his outstanding shuttle services provided to and from the trail back to my home in Logan, and good companionship my first day on the Hayduke.
Last, but certainly not least, many many thanks to my friend and co-conspirator Brandt Hart. Without Brandt’s help in overall planning the trip would have certainly been less spectacular than it turned out to be. His knowledge of the area, appreciation for the landscape and its history, greatly enhanced my hike as did his company during 9 days of hiking with him in the Escalante. Brandt also provided a steady supply of weather info, good humor, and re-supply surprises along the way. Thank you my friend.