This site has blogs from Brian and Martina’s longer walking trips in the great outdoors. We have done 3 multi-month hikes in the USA over the years and there is a blog of each here; the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and the Hayduke. Plus lots of other stuff including Canada, the UK, Austria, Spain...There are some se kayaking posts too.
We stay in the village of Fortrose, Scotland- near to the highlands, home of some great mountains, coastal and island scenery. We get out into the mountains most weekends or more but escape from the variable weather to sunnier climates abroad whenever we can! That includes rock and ice climbing, camping, sea-kayaking, hiking and lots of sheep farming as well – in both our home country of Scotland and on trips afar. You can see these activities from our photos link on the menu.
For the last section of our Hayduke hike we headed north from the Utah Arizona border to Zion National Park. Typically for us, we deviated from the actual Hayduke route to instead cross an area to the west called Caanan Mountain. Although to be fair to us, the final route used by the Hayduke in Zion NP (Weeping Wall) is currently closed due to rockfall so variants are pretty valid.
Many thanks for all the help we have received with planning and logistics for this hike from Charlie Neumann, Joe Mitchell, Li Brannfors, Monica Stapleton and Jamal Green; and for support, inspiration and shared enthusiasm from fellow Hayduke hikers Heather K, Nathan K, Mike Tyler, Ryan, Peter, Race, Not Guilty, Sprinkler and ‘Butcha; also the numerous wonderfully generous Americans (and two Danes) who gave us lifts in their cars to town and those we met who gave us fruit, water and kind words of encouragement!
The attractively named “Swamp Point” high on the edge of the North Rim (no swamp, just a few mosquitoes) was our departure point back into the Grand Canyon after resting, eating and watching out for the endemic Kiabab Squirrel in the campground near North Rim Lodge.
Just below the trailhead lies Teddy’s (Roosevelt) Cabin. Apparently the great man stayed here on a cougar hunt – the cabin was built (and named) afterwards. From this piece of civilization our route headed into the wilds, sans trail, bushwhacking down Saddle Canyon and then Tapeats Creek.
After a few hours of that, the walls of the lower part of Saddle canyon suddenly rise up and form smooth alcoves above and slick chutes and channels under foot and we found ourselves sliding and scrambling down polished half pipes and overhangs into dark pools of water. By that time we were joined by a fourth hiker (Peter) and were able to assist each other, passing packs down the steep drops.
After the shady but steep narrows of Saddle Canyon, we joined Tapeats Creek which was dry and hot at mid day. But after a couple of hours of sizzlingly hot hiking with a few rests in the shade we thankfully reached pools of water, then flowing water and then to a roaring clear river which we had to cross numerous times.
Travelling through this terrain without trails is challenging and we took 12 hours to cover 11 miles that day, arriving at our intended camping spot near the junction of Tapeats Creek and Thunder River at dusk. We were welcomed by a large pink rattlesnake who slithered away and happily was not seen again during the night!
Next morning at 5 am we climbed up 1400ft to Thunder Spring, a gushing waterfall high up in the rock layers. We knew the day would be hot, so the early start maximised the comparatively milder morning temperatures (and beautiful morning light).
We rested for a couple of hours at the oasis-like Deer Creek in the welcome shade of cottonwood trees and descended the beautiful Deer Creek narrows before reaching the banks of the Colorado River itself around 11am. We were not alone: Deer Creek is a must-see side trip for river rafters.
We found ourselves a shady cave under some big boulders and tried to sit out the heat. The forecast at river level had been for 107 F (41.6 °C) that day and the next.
We passed the day reading, venturing out only occasionally to dip in the pool below Deer Creek falls and to talk the boaters arriving at the beach. In the afternoon we (Brian and Martina) decided that it was way too hot to enjoyably continue hiking down the canyon (an off trail route requiring boulder hopping on the steep riverside most of the way for 8 miles or so, we had done this in 2017 but in cooler temperatures).
So we hiked back uphill that evening and, with a 3.30am alarm the next morning we continued upwards when it was cooler, all the way to the North Rim on the scenic Bill Hall trail. About a 4,700 climb in all. There we got a lift with some friendly hikers from Idaho to the town of Hurricane, Utah.
Heather and Peter have hiked on (hardier than us!). We are hopping forward and with the help of a cooler weather window hope to continue our route into Zion National Park…meantime we are enjoying a decadent town stop!
After a day’s rest in South Rim village, we descended once more into the Grand Canyon and hiked to the North Rim on the popular Bright Angel and North Kiabab trails. The forecast was for temps of a sizzling 97 F down at the river so we decided to set off early….
At the small lodge of Jacobs we joined forces with Heather whose three hiking partners have all left the trail for various reasons. Good to have more options when it comes to the point where we have to draw lots about which member of the expedition to eat when we run out of food, for we were now heading back out on a pickup truck to the tough part if the trail: the Grand Canyon!
But first the trail keeps following the AZT on the plateau up to 9000 feet altitude through aspen (still mostly leafless), fir, spruce and pine forest with open alpine meadows in between. Winter is only just retreating here.
We reached the edge of the Grand Canyon at Nankoweap on our second night out, camped early and started our 6000 foot descent at dawn.
We camped that night at the bottom of Nankoweap canyon on the shore of the Colorado Rivet itself with high winds whipping sand and river water at us. We were not alone however as there were two big motorised commercial river boats moored on our beach with about 25 clients. A private boat trip with 6 small rubber rafts was moored in the next bay downstream. In the evening we walked up to a viewpoint and afterwards chatted to the private rafters. They were a group of friends, relatives and aquaintences from all over the US. Their figurehead “Uncle Dave” was very welcoming and, once we had sourced a life jacket for each of us, invited us to travel 9 miles down river the next day with them..
After a fun (and wet from rapids) morning on the river with our boater friends, we got off at the Little Colorado River confluence with the Colorado and said our farewells.
Our target for camping was Lava Canyon rapids and the trail stayed high above the river on balcony ledges until we got there. The wind was back and buffeting but at least helped keep us coolish in the 30C heat. We chose to camp in a dense grove of trees that provided shelter from the wind. When it got dark and the wind abated we sat on the beach for a while. Our rafting friends were camped opposite us on the other side of the river
Because the mid day temperatures are 30°C and more, hiking starts at dawn now (5am). The best time to hike for beautiful light as well!
After 5 nights and 6 days hiking we arrived at the South Rim on May 11th. Fresh food, showers and rest beckon! Next we will hike back down into the canyon bottom and up to the North Rim to continue our hike…..
During our rest days in the town of Kanab we bought food for the trail ahead and sent 8 days of supplies to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and, with the help of a friend, 6 days to a remote diner/hotel called Jacob’s Lake (also on the Northern edge of the canyon).
We started putting our thumbs up on Highway 89 out of Kanab at 7am on 04 May and got a lift back to the trail with an 82 year old gentleman who was driving a portable water tanker for supplying firefighting crew in New Mexico. He was driving it there from Montana!
The Hayduke goes through some spectacular sandstone country in and around Buckskin Gulch and then picks up the Arizona Trail (AZT) for approx 65 miles. The AZT itself starts at the Mexican border and finishes after 800 miles at the Utah border. We were hiking it southward ‘against Wainwright’, meeting lots of northbound hikers who were nearing their finish line.
Once on the AZT we climbed very quickly up onto the Kiabab Plateau, a high limestone area that forms the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We left behind the slick gold and red sandstone and spent two days in dry pinyon juniper forest.
After two days we got to Jakobs Lake, got a hotel room and picked up our food parcel ready for the next 6 to 7 exciting days headed for the Grand Canyon……
It had always been our plan to hike an alternate to the Hayduke from Escalante to the next town stop of Kanab, heading in a South Westerly direction and not going into Bryce National Park. Information about this route was greatfully gleaned from Jamal Green’s website and blog.
On Monday 25 April we finally walked out of Escalante, blisters dried and dressed, with all our belongings and 6 days food on our back to climb up the Smokey Mountain Road onto the Kaiparowits Plateau. We then followed the tad morbidly named ‘death ridge’ jeep road for a while. After that the reds and yellows of the rock and grand ponderosa pines give way to muted greys and some surreal landscapes (see banner pic at top).
We hiked through this grey landscape for a day and a half past Canaan Mountain into the very remote Wahweap wash drainage system where we found precious water at Headquarters Spring. From there we briefly picked up the Hayduke trail to Grosvenor Arch and camped near a luxurious cattle tank from which we prepared dinner, breakfast and our daily water ration.
In the morning we met a torpid snake warming itself in the sun. It wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry, in contrast to which we were eagerly heading towards an exciting slot canyon in Round Valley Draw (leading to Hackberry Canyon- both part of the Hayduke trail proper).
We camped that night under red rock walls in Hackberry Canyon with running water (a rare delight). On our fourth day we headed west out of Hackberry, leaving the Hayduke again and striking out above the canyons over golden sands with fantastic views in all directions. Our itinerary now followed some imaginatively named canyons: Stone Donkey and Hogeye.
We crossed the Paria River at the mouth of Hogeye and met not only the Hayduke trail again at this point but also, by pure chance, our fellow hikers Heather, Ryan and Mike – the first two reclining in a pool in the river! After stopping for a chat we headed out on our alternate route and walked up Kitchen Cyn (a very actively eroding bright red rubble-fest with muddy, silty water) and into Starlight Canyon- also bright red and collapsible looking but with clear cold water flowing down from multiple springs. This lovely canyon also had some narrows and a fun scramble up a waterworn shoot.
We camped below the narrows. The next day we reached a large cave with pictographs painted in soot at the back on a white wall. Very impressive.
We had seen the pointy landmark that is Molly’s Nipple on our first day out of Escalante, rising above the plateau. Now, on day 5 we were aiming to hike across its flanks. More steep sand (with ever more flowers coming out) but amazing technicolour views!
From the Nipple a sandy ATV track took us into the red valley below and reunited us with the Hayduke trail for the last 10 miles. Final camp was made under a juniper near a spring 7 miles from Highway 89. On our last day we got up at dawn to hike in the cool of the morning. A lovely couple from Colorado gave us a lift into the town of Kanab.
Kanab is a fabulous little town: it has two independent supermarkets and many shops are shut on Sunday (including one of the supermarkets!). It’s back country used to be a favoured movie location in the 40’s and 50’s so it has a hint of Hollywood to it. Clint Eastwood shot ‘The Outlaw Josie Wales” near here!
Between 17 April and 25 April we based ourselves in and around the small town of Escalante. We looked after the car of a fellow hiker Nathan who has joined Hayduke hikers Heather, Mike and Ryan for a 6 day section and by generously leaving the car with us, we were able to pick them all up from their destination trailhead when they had finished.
Meantime we were able to treat blisters and go for day hikes of increasing length to test progress. We started with a visit to Phipps Arch, a day in upper Pine Creek and then two days on the Boulder Mail Trail. Here are some shots of our “test hikes”.
On Wednesday 13 April we left Hanksville to hike for eight days to the town of Escalante. We got a lift to the trailhead from a young rancher who was taking horses in a trailer into the range to round up cattle. He told us his grandfather used to walk the herd 100 miles from their winter to summer pastures up the hill. He dropped us off at “Little Egypt”. Before us loomed the refreshing looking snows of the Henry Mountains. And uphill we went…
Little Egypt gets its name from the curious rock formations found there. We were hiking upwards through layers of sedimentary rock of ever changing colour and consistency, traversing forward in time from the oldest to the youngest layers.
Some of rock layers around the foot of the mountain contain metals. Uranium is still mined in this area. Our trail led through the site of a now vanished gold mining town. Only a couple of cabins remain.
First water appeared after 10 miles and we made camp. The creek was already fringed with thick icicles. We knew from the forecast it was going to be a cold night at 7500 feet. Our water froze in the bottles over night.
Next day it was sunny but still bitterly cold and very windy. We opted to go over a pass (9000 ft Copper Ridge) rather than the top of the mountain and hiked 10 miles to the next spring (Airplane Spring). Here we made hot tea and took stock.
Brian’s blisters had multiplied again, were painful and some were bloody. So the sensible decision was made to retreat. That still meant climbing back up over the pass and back to the freezing camp. Luckily the weather got a bit milder on the second night there. On Friday 15 April we were back at the roadside and hitched a lift into Hanksville.
Since then much has happened. We have met more Hayduke hikers (Marty, Not Guilty, Peter), took in some great live music and through mind-blowing generosity obtained the use of a car for a week without which we would really be stuck. Thank you Nathan!!!
Now we are in the town of Escalante, eating well, resting and hoping to be back on the trail by the start of next week.
On this section we were mostly on an alternate to the Hayduke Trail to take in an area of very remote and intricate canyons called “The Maze” which we hadn’t seen before. In 2014 we took another alternate and what both have in common is that from Needles in Canyonlands National Park, we end up at the Colorado river at a place called Spanish Bottom, climb up again over remote plateau and end up in the well named Happy Canyon and then cross the even more appropriately named Dirty Devil river (a very muddy tributary of the Colorado). Credits for the route go to Jamal Green who describes it on his excellent Across Utah website.
The Needles area of Canyonlands is mostly known for spiky stripy rock formations but it also has a sunken valley known as a graben called Cyclone Canyon which we hiked along. This is not made by water erosion like most canyons but by a collapse of underground salt deposits.
We camped near the banks of the Colorado on the first night. Brian had arranged for a ferry operator to pick us up at 10:00 and take us across. They were taking hikers from Moab to the opposite northern shore. From there a trail leads steeply up 1000 ft to a place of rock spires called the Dolls House. It was made in the 19th century by shepherders to allow their flocks access to the river.
Inside The Maze we saw green cottonwood trees for the first time and the character of the landscape was less severe, more gentle. There was water! Not flowing but emerging in small clear dips in the sand.
We were not the only people to find the Maze hospitable. Pictographs lefts by people variously referred to as Fremont or Basketmaker people. This is near the famous Harvest Scene (another pictograph panel). More images here.
Fabulous camp on a rock fin in the Maze.
From the Maze we had a few miles on jeep trails over a plateau called Hans Flat, named after rancher Hans Andersen who ran cattle here. Then we descended North French Spring Fork of Happy Canyon. This was quite exciting as it involved route finding (no trail here). We came across three black donkeys who live happily down there in a green(ish) valley. They took one look at us and ran.
After the donkeys we got onto another 100 year old stock trail down down down until we hit Happy Canyon.
Happy Canyon had water! Yes, this is a delicious clear (once the tadpoles and mosquito larvae have been shoo-ed out of the way) first rate drinking water. Ignore the white rime. That’s just minerals deposited as the water evaporates…
The second best thing about Happy Canyon, after the water, is that it turns into a slot Canyon for the last mile and a bit. So so beautiful!
Happy Canyon stops very suddenly when it meets the Dirty Devil. This is a long river that goes through layers of rock that produce a lot of very fine silt…so it is muddy and its bottom is very silty. Not much fun to cross and even worse to drink.
We didn’t have to drink it. We hiked on to Poison Spring Canyon which, despite the name, had a clear spring.
Now we have come over 180 miles and there are some signs of wear! Brian has taken to wearing his socks upside down because the sand has eroded the soles! There are also some blisters and we are now in the tiny town of Hanksville, resting up and preparing for the next section over the Henry mountains to the town of Escalante…..
Needles visitor centre to Colorado River – We saw no water on the trail from Big Springs down Cyclone Canyon then Lower Red Lake. We took water from the Colorado.
Standard descent from west of Chimney rock to Pictograph canyon – small pothole on scramble descent and small potholes at canyon bottom about where marked by Kelsey as a spring.
Wash north of the Harvest Scene, on the west side of the canyon junction -small seep flow
Foot of the Maze Overlook trail – Good water in pools with a small flow.
North Trail canyon – small pothole just before steep zig zag exit. We didn’t notice any water between Maze Overlook and here.
Hans Flat Ranger Station- sells gallon jugs and open between 8 and 4.30.
North French springs fork – Medium pothole of water in wash above steep constructed trail descent. Well used by ferral donkeys though and we didn’t take.
North French springs fork- Constructed trail descends steep section round a nose to the boulder filled wash at bottom and then continues criss crossing wash to easier ground after boulder section. Makes for a relatively easy passage.
North French springs fork- Slickrock pothole area down wash was dry
Happy Canyon- small seep 1 mile below French fork junction. Good pools and seeps 3 miles below. We also saw these in April 2014. Happy narrows had some small potholes, maybe better than Dirty Devil…
Poison Springs- Good flow about 1 mile below and 2 miles above.
Two nights rest and a lot of rain in the town of Moab and we are off again. We are following the mighty Colorado river. In 2014 we paddled down it. This time we are walking in and out of canyons, over ridges and along ledges.
At first we still shared our trail with mountain bikes and ATVs. Although this is very remote country, there are some one or two homes out here and the people who live off grid are usually very hospitable. Like Tom and his tortoise Kobe. He shared his drinking water (which is hauled in by 4×4 over some fearsome rugged terrain) and some good stories about hikers that have come past on the Hayduke and ATV drivers he has had to rescue over the years. He also has installed a Frisby golf course on his property but we didn’t have time…
Although we are following the Colorado, we only stood on its banks with our toes in its water once. The rest of the time we were high above it on ledges and weaving inland to go around (and sometimes into) steep tributary canyons. There are still some areas used for seasonal cattle pasture (less so now after an ongoing long draught).
One of the best things in Canyon country is camping with a view of the landscape below at dusk and dawn. And in between the clear night sky and the complete silence…except when there is a cricket…or an owl…or a coyote. Then it’s even better!
After 4 days we arrived at Needles Outpost, a privately run campsite and store at the edge of Canyonlands National Park and we are having a rest day in one of they glamping tents. Comes with a hammock. Very relaxing! We picked up one of our resupply parcels here with food for the next section. So far we have come about 105 miles. Doing some kit repair and enjoying a hot shower before hiking on into The Maze.
We did the Amasa back alt which was nice. Stopped at Base camp and chatted to Tom who kindly let us fill up with water as well as admiring the tortoise! There were 2 river access points to Colorado for water south of Base Camp. Chicken corner HT6.8, we took a direct alt south up a mellow wash with a couple of 2-3m high scrambling steps to short cut the HT indirect jeep road. Worthwhile. HT11.3 We left the HT just south for an alt down Hermit Cnyn based on Kelsey. Followed a lovely limestone bench above Colorado narrowing to a meter or so in places. see pic below.Also cool Tangren old horse camp. Couldn’t find the spring to the east from Kelsey though. Continued on bench along rim of Lockhart north fork back to HT at foot of Nic Barth alt descent and big dryfall. Scenic and recommended. Can write up better notes when home after trail. Small clear flow of water just after above dryfall on HT but may dry up soon. Lockhart had a flow for about 1/3 mile Rustler dryfall. Small pool just above but dry below. Direct route under chockstone was fun! Indian Creek. Pools of water but no flow. We hope so wash. Good pothole of water. Took the alt out to the Colorado river neck lookout, nice view and short diversion starting from 200-300m before pothole. Would be a nice campspot too…