We are out walking in the local hills and coast a fair bit most times, especially during the last two years of lockdown. But with the Hayduke in mind we have tried to do a few more miles over flatter ground during the winter. The coastline north of us from Fortrose to Rosemarkie to Cromarty offers pretty perfect terrain; sand, boulders, trail, cross country, minor roads and even some bushwacking – it also happens to be great fun!
The Hayduke Trail is a 800 mile hike and scramble through the canyons of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah and northern Arizona USA. The route links six stunning National Parks…. Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion.
The route connecting the parks stays pretty much in public lands including the wonderful Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and numerous National Forests, BLM Districts, Primitive Areas, Wilderness Areas and Wilderness Study Areas. According to the Hayduke Trail website
‘the route is not intended to be the easiest or most direct route through this incredibly varied terrain, but is rather meant to showcase the stunning redrock wilderness of the American Southwest‘.
Created by Mike Coronella and Joe Mitchell, who spent years exploring the area and who published a guidebook in 2005, only a handfull of hikers have set out on the Hayduke each year. Roughly following the line of the mighty Colorado river south west, the Hayduke heads down into the Grand Canyon before heading north west to finish in Zion National Park. It goes down to about 1,800 feet at river level up to 11,419 at Mount Ellen in the Henry Mountains.
Mostly the terrain is arid and high desert but the plateau is cut into by a labyrinth of canyons, some with seasonal running water and springs. The prefered time of year to hike is the spring or autumn, between the blisteringly hot summer and the cold, snowy winter. Underfoot, much of the hiking is cross country, sometimes following canyon bottoms, wading rivers, hiking on sand or bushwacking through willow and tamarisk. There are a few good trails though, particulary in the national parks and jeep and dirt roads of various levels of use also provide easier travel across the plateau.
The Hayduke is not signposted or recognised as a national trail so hikers have to be self sufficient if they are to make it through the sometimes harsh, dry conditions. Above all though, the countryside is one of the most beautiful anywhere with the red walled canyons, clear skies, remoteness, lush green riparian corridors and stunning colourful rock strata.
Although there is a guidebook, the nature of the terrain leads itself to a plethora of alternate routes and this appealed to us to research and explore our own variants. We, Brian and Martina, planned to set off hiking on the Hayduke in mid April 2014 and head westwards with lots of variations in mind.
Edward Abbey The name ‘Hayduke’ is from the main character in the novel ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang’ by writer and environmental campaigner Edward Abbey. This has become a classic fictional story of ‘eco-warriers’ fighting back against the spread of industry and urbanisation of the wild areas of the US south west. ‘Hayduke’ set out to blow up railways and dams in the desert and in his run from the law, scrabbled his way through the harsh but beautiful landscape.
“In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.” Edward Abbey
Preparation We stay on the ‘Black Isle’ (but neither black or an island!) in the north of Scotland, a country with a rather wetter climate then the Colorado plateau. Not to be daunted though, during the winter of 2013-14 we did lots of hikes trying to replicate the Hayduke conditions as much as we could, covering around 20 miles a day seeking out rough sandy trails.
A local loop walk between the towns of Fortrose and Cromarty, along a rocky and sandy coastline with some climbing and rough dirt tracks proved to be about perfect- apart of course from the weather! It also happens to include superb geology and a range of coastal wildlife from dolphins, seals and the occasional otter to oystercatchers, fulmars, cormorants, shags and ravens. You can see the Site of Special Scientific Interest document for the coastline here.
In early April 2014 we headed out to Denver Colorado ready to start the Hayduke. Here we are on our first day in the rain at the edge of Arches National Park about to start hiking!
Mike Coronella Co-founder of the trail and co-author of the guidebook.
Hayduke website Co-founder of the Hayduke Joe Mitchell’s website.
Hayduke Trail guidebook If you are thinking of hiking the Hayduke then the book is a must…
Across Utah! Jamal David Green’s excellent and extensive website describing his crossings of Utah with lots of Hayduke overlap. Also includes a superb Hayduke section. A treasure trove of information- nice videos too!
Grand Enchantment Trail Brett Tucker has created many other backpacking adventures in the south west including the G.E.T, the Northern New Mexico Loop and the Sky Islands Traverse. Each has a mapset and planning pack-superb!
Andrew Skurka Hayduke map bundle and resources pack.
Nicolas C Barth Sublime Hayduke photos and well described alternates with maps.
Michael Kelsey’s guidebooks These are wonderful guidebooks covering a lifetime of adventure on the Colorado plateau. ‘Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau’ is a must for inspiration and researching alternates but the others are great too!
Edward Abbey Writer, environmental campaigner and inspiration behind the Hayduke Trail.
Grand Canyon permits You will need a permit for your Hayduke hike through Grand Canyon National Park…..
Slot canyons of the American south west Lots of information on hiking the canyons.
Arizona Trail The Hayduke makes use of this trail for around 60 miles in Northern Arizona. The AZT continues all the way south through the state of Arizona for 800 miles.
A 350 mile approx. variation from the CDT in southern Montana and northern Wyoming The Big Sky variant or Butte Super Cut-off is a route that we hiked in 2009 that travels from the CDT south of Yellowstone (at Two Ocean Pass) north to meet the CDT again north of Butte (at Delmoe Lake).
It cuts out the Montana/Idaho border section of the CDT and travels through Yellowstone east and north boundaries, Gallatin Petrified Forest, Spanish Peaks and the Tobacco Root mountains.
We are not the first to thru hike this way. Jim and Ginny Owen did so northbound in 2006. The Onion hiked a roughly similar line in 2007, provided good notes and mapped out the northern half from Delmoe Lake to Yellowstone north border in ‘Jonathan Ley style’ maps downloadable on-line. Skittles and Recess have hiked it in 2008 too. I am sure that there are others.
Why hike the Big Sky variant?
Well, we did it primarily for a bit of fun and adventure away from the CDT and to explore different ground. Southbound we thought the CDT in mid-Montana a bit dull with lots of lodgepole pine and the alternative provided some varied scenery.
It was also refreshing to be heading out on our own making the route up as we went along- or at least it felt like that. Somehow if we got into less interesting hiking we made more of it because the route felt ours more than the CDT. It covers some interesting territory too- the Spanish Peaks offered the best mountains we had hiked since Glacier NP, Gallatin Petrified Forest has nice ridges and … petrified trees, and we meandered on a long hike through remote, scenic and wildlife rich parts of Yellowstone. Yellowstone isn’t quite up to Glacier or the Winds but it still provides a worthy hike on good trails with few other hikers around.
It’s also a fair bit shorter than the CDT equivalents; about 353 miles as described, to the CDT Butte route’s 576 miles and the Anaconda cut-off’s 517 miles. A mileage breakdown is shown on the overview map.
We used days saved on the Big Sky to spend more time in the wonderful Wind Rivers further south in central Wyoming.
Click here for our photos from the Big Sky variant
Below are annotated topo maps for the route, please note they were produced in 2009 at the latest and so may be out of date in parts!
Other Useful Maps
You could navigate the route as we hiked it using the downloadable maps above. Listed below are other useful maps which would be handy for planning.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton Travel Map ($4.95) I couldn’t find this on the web but can be purchased locally and is great- almost a must have for planning. Extends from Union Pass in the Winds, Togwatee Pass, Two Ocean Pass to Yellowstone and also the Grand Tetons. Also good for planning another alternative between Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons to Green Lakes in the Winds but that’s another story…
National Geographic 201 Yellowstone Good overview of Yellowstone NP although it doesn’t show campsites.
Beartooth Bozeman, Big Sky,West Yellowstone Covers the Skyline trail in Yellowstone, Gallatin ridge, north of Yellowstone over to the Spanish Peaks. Sometimes the Beartooth maps lack detail but I was glad I carried this one.
Beartooth Tobacco Root Mountains I haven’t seen this but it looks nice and it should cover Ennis to Whitehall.
Southwest Montana Interagency Visitor/Travel Map This has been updated for 2008. I had the 1996 one but it has no contours and I wouldn’t buy or carry it if hiking the route again. The Beartooth maps would be better IMHO.
Yellowstone camping guide You have to book campsites in Yellowstone but as a CDT thru hiker you can do it over the phone. This link provides details and a campsite map for the park.
2006 Hike Jim and Ginny Owen’s journal
The map here shows our tentative itinery including an expected arrival date at towns along the way from Mexico to Canada. There are a few variations included as things could well change through the summer ! Thanks to Cookie and Paul for providing the base map.
We have gathered lots of information to help us with our walk this year. The Continental Divide Trail isn’t really a complete path, but is a mix of walking trail, vehicle track, cross country routes and suggestions. Our intended start to the route from Columbus New Mexico will not actually cross the official trail or the actual Continental Divide until about 150 miles! We are choosing this route as we think it will be more interesting and it has potentially better water sources.
Brian loves maps and has collected various types for the trip starting with Delorme state road maps for an overview of each state. These provide us with a view of nearby towns, roads and route options for our walk.
We also have some Trails Illustrated maps which are available for popular areas such as Yellowstone and Glacier National Park in Montana – these are about equivalent to UK OS maps.
Our main maps though are those produced by Jonathan Ley, who hiked the trail in 2001 and has since produced maps available on CD and updated each year with hiker comments. The trail is everchanging- new trail gets built, better options are found, trail gets flooded- and Jonathan updates his maps with these details. A great resource!
Jim Wolf at the CDT Society also produces excellent guides to the trail, less frequently updated than Jonathans maps but again very useful and we will be carrying these.
Finally we have town guides from ‘Yogi’. She has researched the details of towns near to the trail with overview street maps, useful addresses of POs, motels, gear shops, groceries, stove fuel availability. We will be thankful for these!
South California Mexican border to Walker Pass (650 miles)
The PCT’s southern terminus at the tiny outpost of Campo is in arid, semi desert, chaparral terrain and that is one of the main features we would encounter in Southern California. The route of the trail keeps for the most part to high ground, thus avoiding the worst of the dry hot areas. However there are many small mountain ranges crossed from Mt Laguna, San Jacinto to the San Gabriels north of LA and snow lingers on these ranges into early summer.
On the higher altitudes we could expect pine and cedar forests which would give us much needed shelter. We could cross arid desert and the next day find ourselves on snow covered hills and thus we had to consider carrying gear for both hot and cold conditions in these first few weeks (as a result we received a few strange looks walking in the desert with ice axes attached to our rucksacks!). So the country we would be crossing would not be mountainous particularly but would give us a fresh new experience of semi desert hiking and perhaps some easier hiking than we could expect later on.
Our main adversaries we thought when starting out were ; to avoid injury and build up our stamina slowly, ensure we get enough water, rattlesnakes, sunstroke and avoiding any ‘gun-tottin’ locals!
The Southern California section finishes at Walker Pass- a major east-west road crossing -Hw 178- and near the foot of the higher Sierra Nevada mountains of Central California to the north.
We had a week to spare based in LA before our intended start date around 25th April and we managed to drive out for two days skiing near Big Bear City and to climb Mt Baden Powell which, at nearly 10,000 ft, is the PCT’s highest point in southern California. The mountain was packed with snow on its tree lined slopes and provided an energetic 3000ft climb to its summit. The weather systems accompanying El Nino have been blamed for an unusually large amount of snow on the high ground and it was handy to see what this meant for our intended walk as it could have a major impact on our progress across hilly terrain.
We are Brian and Martina, two Scottish based walkers and climbers and in 1998 we decided to attempt to walk across the United States from the Mexican border to Canada. You can see pictures of the other outdoor things we get up to here. The route we aimed to follow was the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which, at 2,600 miles in length, is one of the hardest but also most magnificent long distance walks in the world. Being keen on camping wild, that is carrying a tent or shelter away from the road and preferably high onto mountains, the US long distance trails looked like an exciting adventure and one where we could enjoy an extended six month journey of continuous hiking. There are three main established US long distance trails:
- Appalachian Trail (AT)– 2,000miles on the east side of the US
- Continental Divide Trail (CDT)– up to 3,000miles along or near the crest of the US Rockies
- Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)– 2,600miles along the western mountain ranges
The AT is the most popular and travels through forest for the most part. The CDT is tougher and not entirely complete as a trail with fewer hikers attempting it. The PCT appealed as it meanders through a great variety of landscapes from desert in Southern California, the volcanic chain in the north, the Cascade mountains in Washington and the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains in California (an area we had already visited in 1996 on a climbing holiday to Mt Whitney and Yosemite valley). I had a read a book by an English hiker, Chris Townsend in the 1980’s, (The Great Backpacking Adventure) which described his journey on the PCT in 1982 as well as other hikes and this more or less set the seed in my mind that I would like to take six months off work and attempt it.