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!

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, with gale force winds and we camped in relative shelter amongst aspens at the edge of the cliffs dropping down into the Grand Canyon. Next morning we started our 6,000 foot descent to the Colorado River at dawn.

The heat ramped up as we descended down to the inner cauldron of the Colorado River. We camped that night at the bottom of Nankoweap canyon on the shore of the Colorado Rivet itself with stormy gusting 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 acquaintances from all over the US. Their figurehead “Uncle Dave” was very welcoming and, once we had sourced a life jacket for each of us, generously 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.

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 with our rafting friends camped opposite us on the other side of the river.

Because the mid day temperatures are way above 30°C, we start hiking at dawn now (5am). The best time to hike for beautiful light as well!

Tributaries to the Colorado River form a labyrinth of deep canyons that we followed until we can cross them, making for a wriggly but beautiful route. Some scrambling added to the interest- this is a great hike in the depths of the Grand Canyon.

By chance, we met up with our boating friends again at Hance Rapids on the Colorado River where they had moored and we camped too with good access to water from the river. We were invited to their evening campfire circle and dinner.

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…..

Hiking up to the South Rim via Hance Creek, Horseshoe Mesa and Grand View Trail
Topping out of the Grand Canyon on the South rim after 6 days, dusty but happy!

Hiker Notes

Route We mostly followed the Hayduke in this section apart from at the end where we hiked out of the Grand Canyon to the south rim on the Grand View Trail. This shortened the route a bit and we had already hiked the remainder part along the Tonto Trail and up South Kiabab Trail in 2014. This part was also our least favourite hike due to the heat and paucity of water!

South from Jacob Lake the Hayduke follows the well maintained and relatively popular Arizona Trail (AZT) for about 30 miles. Good AZT water report website.

Its dry from leaving the AZT til hitting Nankoweap Canyon about 8 miles down from the North Rim on Nankoweap Trail. This trail is really scenic and makes for a superb hike. Nankoweap Canyon looks like a perennial stream with a gushing spring source just 10 or 20m downstream from where the trail hits the stream.

Once you hit the Colorado River there are a number of places to access the river for water. You can’t do this anywhere though so best keeping an eye on the map. the Nankoweap Granaries are definitely worth the side trip.

The route along the Colorado River between Nankoweap and the north of the Little Colorado can be pretty slow going over boulders with bushwhacking so allow plenty of time and best to start early if its going to be hot. We have managed to get lifts across the river to the Little Colorado outlet pretty easily within a few hours both times we have been there.

Hance Creek had a good, if small, flow of water.

Overall, from Jacob Lake to South Rim is a brilliant hiking expedition and if there in May, the main challenge is the heat down in the bottom of the canyon.

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 the town of Escalante to Highway 89 and the next town stop of Kanab. Heading in a South Westerly direction our route would join and cross the Hayduke for a while but taking an independent line for much of the way. Information about this route was gratefully gleaned from Jamal Green’s website and blog. You can click on the overview map below to enlarge it. (Our route in purple, and red where joining the Hayduke).

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 ‘The Mudhills’ with muted greys and some surreal landscapes.

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

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
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, Hogeye, Paria, Kitchen and Starlight…

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 Canyon (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.

We had seen the pointy landmark that is Mollies Nipple on our first day out of Escalante town, 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!

Hiker Notes

Route The route we took between Escalante town and Highway 89 was really enjoyable with a particularly great sequence of canyons in the middle in the area of the Paria River. Overview map here We pretty much joined up 3 alternatives described by Jamal Green along with some information from Michael Kelsey’s guide;

firstly Via Escalante West

then Stone Donkey to Hogeye

then a short hike down the Paria River before going up Kitchen and Starlight Canyons. Jamal Kitchen/Starlight text here and Kelsey’s Paria River Guidebook had useful information on upper Starlight, the cave and Mollies Nipple.

Alvey Wash- 04/25/22 About 5.5 miles south of Escalante town on Smokey Mountain dirt road- there was water running here where the wash narrows.

Mossy Dell- 04/25/22 This is about 19 miles from Escalante town and mentioned as a water source by Jamal but we couldn’t find any water here unfortunately.

Collet Canyon forks- 04/25/22 The jeep road crosses a few forks of upper Collet Canyon but all were dry for us. It looks like they might flow for a bit following rain.

Headquarters Springs- 04/26/22 A number of small flows of water here. We couldn’t find the cabin marked on the map though…

Corral south of Grosvener Arch- 04/26/22 Two good full tanks of water here, see map below.

Round Valley Draw, HT Section 8 mile 2.9- Our second time down these narrows and this is an excellent scramble.

Hackberry Canyon, HT Section 8 mile 11.2- 04/27/22 Water started from about here. Bear in mind its a tough walk down canyon from the narrows of RVD to this point in deep soft sand. Also this area was fouled by cattle making the water a little less inviting!

Hogeye Creek- 04/28/22 Excellent water flow in two shady sections in the middle of Hogeye down to maybe half a mile before the Paria River.

Paria River- 04/28/22 This was flowing quite clear between Hogeye and Kitchen.

Kitchen Canyon- 04/28/22 Very, very muddy flow. The canyon is so rubbly and loose that it looks like it the water flow is full of mud and silt from the side walls sliding into the wash.

Starlight Canyon- 04/29/22 Lovely flow of good water up the length of this canyon to where we exited at the cave.

1/2 mile to north of Kitchen Corral Spring (HT 43.4) – 04/30/22 Good small flow 1/4 mile east of Hayduke Trail dirt road along side canyon on jeep road. Go over barbed wire to small spring that is piped off so the canyon looks dry before you get to the spring.

Testing the feet around Escalante

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”.

Phipps Wash day hike (see also the banner of this page)
Although with car, we preferred to camp on the beautiful slickrock, a short walk from the road.

After a couple of day hikes we walked the Boulder Mail Trail as an overnight backpack between the towns of Boulder and Escalante. This follows the route once taken by the mailman and his horse from the town of Boulder to Escalante before there was a road. It goes through spectacular canyon and rock slab terrain!

Spring is slowly starting to add colour to the desert
After about 40 miles of test-hiking the feet had sufficiently recovered and allowed us to head onwards on our intended route through the desert on the Hayduke (and alternates).