Back hiking South West to Hwy 89 and Kanab – mostly “Alt”duke

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).

Weird and wonderful rocks in the ‘Mudhills’

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.

Grovesnor Arch
The dining room

Camping near Grosvenor Arch and cattle tank

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).

Wildlife dozing in the morning sun
Descending into the slot canyon of Round Valley Draw
Cool rock inside Round Valley Draw
Brian sits out a dust storm at the end of the slot canyon

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.

Cacti starting to flower in Hogeye Canyon
Well camouflaged lizard in Hogeye Canyon

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.

The narrows of Starlight Canyon
Scrambling up the shoot at the end of the narrows in Starlight Canyon

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.

Ancient pictographs at the back of a cave (Starlight Cyn)

Looking out from the cave

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!

Hiking towards Molly’s Nipple
More spring flowers
Toadstool at Molly’s Nipple
Bright white rock layers with deep red iron-rich rubble (Molly’s Nipple)

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.

Hiking past cattle fences towards Highway 89 (and a lift into the town of Kanab) early in the morning

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!

Blistering into the Henry Mountains

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…

Hiking up towards the Henry Mountains (in the background)

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.

We never make fires when we hike…except when it’s -10°C!! Crescent Creek

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.

Return to Hanksville via the culvert under Highway 95 – too many blisters
With local singer Rod Asay!

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.

Back.on the trail, soon