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!
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……
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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”.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Two nights rest and a lot of rain in the town of Moab and we are off again. We are following the mighty Colorado river. In 2014 we paddled down it. This time we are walking in and out of canyons, over ridges and along ledges.
At first we still shared our trail with mountain bikes and ATVs. Although this is very remote country, there are some one or two homes out here and the people who live off grid are usually very hospitable. Like Tom and his tortoise Kobe. He shared his drinking water (which is hauled in by 4×4 over some fearsome rugged terrain) and some good stories about hikers that have come past on the Hayduke and ATV drivers he has had to rescue over the years. He also has installed a Frisby golf course on his property but we didn’t have time…
Although we are following the Colorado, we only stood on its banks with our toes in its water once. The rest of the time we were high above it on ledges and weaving inland to go around (and sometimes into) steep tributary canyons. There are still some areas used for seasonal cattle pasture (less so now after an ongoing long draught).
One of the best things in Canyon country is camping with a view of the landscape below at dusk and dawn. And in between the clear night sky and the complete silence…except when there is a cricket…or an owl…or a coyote. Then it’s even better!
After 4 days we arrived at Needles Outpost, a privately run campsite and store at the edge of Canyonlands National Park and we are having a rest day in one of they glamping tents. Comes with a hammock. Very relaxing! We picked up one of our resupply parcels here with food for the next section. So far we have come about 105 miles. Doing some kit repair and enjoying a hot shower before hiking on into The Maze.
We did the Amasa back alt which was nice. Stopped at Base camp and chatted to Tom who kindly let us fill up with water as well as admiring the tortoise! There were 2 river access points to Colorado for water south of Base Camp. Chicken corner HT6.8, we took a direct alt south up a mellow wash with a couple of 2-3m high scrambling steps to short cut the HT indirect jeep road. Worthwhile. HT11.3 We left the HT just south for an alt down Hermit Cnyn based on Kelsey. Followed a lovely limestone bench above Colorado narrowing to a meter or so in places. see pic below.Also cool Tangren old horse camp. Couldn’t find the spring to the east from Kelsey though. Continued on bench along rim of Lockhart north fork back to HT at foot of Nic Barth alt descent and big dryfall. Scenic and recommended. Can write up better notes when home after trail. Small clear flow of water just after above dryfall on HT but may dry up soon. Lockhart had a flow for about 1/3 mile Rustler dryfall. Small pool just above but dry below. Direct route under chockstone was fun! Indian Creek. Pools of water but no flow. We hope so wash. Good pothole of water. Took the alt out to the Colorado river neck lookout, nice view and short diversion starting from 200-300m before pothole. Would be a nice campspot too…
We hopped across the Atlantic from Glasgow to Denver and holed up in the University and all-round outdoorsy town of Boulder, Colorado, for two nights. Here we shopped for hiking food for 17 days and packed two boxes to send forward with supplies: one to Caleb who currently runs Needles Outpost just outside Canyonlands National Park and one to the post office in Hanksville Utah. We will hopefully meet those boxes again!
Winter was still lingering in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Boulder. Paths amongst trees held compacted old snow and the vegetation was parched. We went for a walk around the Flat Irons (rock formations above the town) in bright sunshine and cold clear air.
In the afternoon of the second day we returned the hire car at Denver airport: feet only from now on! A 45 minute flight in a bus size plane took us over the Rockies to Moab airport with one rucksack each, all our belongings within and 3 days food.
We walked from the desert airport across Highway 191 and towards the Klondike bluffs, a wall of red rock formations at the edge of Arches National Park. A couple of hours on but still outside the park, we made our first camp, snowy hills to the East in the glow of the setting sun, the warm air juniper scented and the distant hum of unfeasibly large American trucks..we were back!!!
Now, three days later, we have seen many rock arches, tiptoed over prickly balls of Russian thistle (a sort of angry tumble weed with spikes that gets blown around where it is flat), been checked out by Ravens as a potential source of titbits more than once, exclaimed at the sight of lizards on the rock, pointed out interesting paw prints in the sand to each other (coyote, beaver), seen one live and one dead jack rabbit, drunk water from a stream, crossed the same stream over and over again, watched the sun rise, shared a canyon with a flock a turkeys for the night, found some marvellous petroglyphs and pictographs in insanely scenic places and exclaimed at every new flower that has opened around us as spring is slowly unfurling (not many leaves on the trees here yet either).
Now we are having our first town stop in Moab, another outdoorsy place. To our great delight it has been raining last night and today which will fill the rock holes, boost the streams and enliven the springs we depend on for water as we hike on along the mighty Colorado from here.
The Hayduke Trail is a 800 approx. mile hike and scramble through the canyons of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah and northern Arizona USA. The route links six stunning National Parks…. Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion and crosses great places in-between.
And hey, we are heading back in Spring 2022 to hopefully hike in this area again with some cool variations after a previous hike in 2014 and a few other visits to this amazing land of canyons and high desert. We aim to start hiking direct from Moab airport into Arches National Park in the east at the end of March through to Zion NP, perhaps beyond in May/June and will be adding posts in here as we go along!