Grand finale to the edge of Zion National Park

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.

We hiked north through the streets of the town of Hildale from the Utah-Arizona state line into Caanan Mountain, the high ground in the background
We soon left the town for a steep ascent up Water Canyon
Into higher ground over beautiful cross-bedded sandstone
The scenery just got better and better – Zion National Park in the background
Colourful campsite on flat ‘slickrock’
We hiked up to the high rim of Water Canyon to see its arch
Looking back down Water Canyon
Some great hiking on the rock slabs
We can’t afford to be choosy when it comes to water! We carried this with us but thankfully later found a better supply
Amidst surreal black iron accretions sitting on top of the cream coloured sandstone
At ‘The Notch’ on the cliff tops looking south across the ‘Arizona Strip’ and back to the edge of the Grand Canyon
This is an old winch or ‘Windlass’ used to lower timber down the 1000ft cliff to the plains below
2nd night camp with grand views to Zion National Park
Morning hiking with Indian paintbrush
Looking towards Zion before descending down an old stock trail
Slow going on this route with energy sapping sand, cross country and here, on an old ‘stock trail’, rubbly descents
…desert now in full bloom…
…bloom…
Back into town to pick up a rental car!

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!

Grand Canyon III- feeling hot, hot, hot

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.

Teddy’s Cabin – we dropped down a short way from Swamp Point on the North Rim to this cool ‘bothy’

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.

We bushwacked our way down through the scrub in upper Saddle Canyon
Old burn area with lots of wild flowers

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.

Saddle canyon drops down into great polished slickrock chutes and plunge pools. Superb and exciting stuff, unfortunately I then stored the camera away in a waterproof bag for safety!

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.

Hayduker Peter with huge Bighorn sheep skull we found in Upper Tapeats Creek
Hiking down Tapeats Creek before the roaring spring water was reached
First flowing water!!!

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).

Thunder Spring – a roaring cascade of spring water gushes straight out of the limestone cliff
Surprise Valley
Deer Creek narrows

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.

Down at the Colorado River

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.

Camping on the way out of the canyon
4 am start to avoid the heat
Final ascent on Bill Hall trail up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

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!

Decadent town stop

The Grand Canyon part I

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!

The Arizona Trail (AZT) a “proper” trail to follow

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.

Snow melt and springs galore!

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.

Down the Nankoweap trail
Nankoweap trail
The final descent,  now in the desert and 5000 feet below the rim but still going strong despite the 30C heat
Prickly pear paradise (this is only one of 5 flowering species we saw)
Agave utahensis var kaibabensis
Nankoweap creek meets the Colorado

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..

Our generous river rafters packing up in the morning
Heather and Martina head down the river with boatman Brian (Big Dill)

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.

View of the turquoise blue Little Colorado Rivet
Collared lizard posing by the trail

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

Camping at Lava Creek (left bank)

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!

Hiking at first light
The River is a green corridor
Tributaries to the Colorado form deep canyons that the trail follows until we can cross them, making our route very wriggly
Lunchtime cup of tea cooling in the Colorado
Heather uses a lunchtime stop to rinse her hair
Afternoon hiking towards the bottom of Hance Rapids, our next campsite
Meeting up with our boating friends again at Hance rapids where they moored and we camped too. We were invited to their evening campfire circle and dinner.
Dangers of the Hayduke
Hiking up to the South rim via Hance Creek, Horseshoe Mesa and the ….Trail
Gaining hight on the trail and changing vegetation zones – Sweet smelling vetch
Topping out of the Grand Canyon on the South rim after 6 days, dusty but happy!

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…..

Into Arizona…

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).

Supplies for the next few weeks

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!

Heading towards Wire Pass from Buckskin Gulch
Narrows at Wire Pass

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.

Brian at the Northern terminus of the AZT

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.

Taking water from a “wildlife guzzler” on the AZT (straining some “wildlife” out with a handkerchief before treating the water)
To avoid setting the dry forest floor on fire with our stove, we usually cook on a flat rock…but if none are available a cow pat does the trick!
The AZT on the Kiabab plateau
vintage transport at Jakobs Lake

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……