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!
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……