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…..

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!

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 Arch 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 (16 miles) as an overnight backpack
Spring is slowly starting to add colour to the desert
The Boulder Mail Trail follows the route once taken by the mailman and his horse from the town of Boulder to Escalante before there was a road. This is the spectacular terrain it goes throughout!
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).