We made it to the South Rim. From Jacob Lake to the South Kaibab trailhead, the distance was 127 miles total and not 108 miles like I had anticipated. One thing we have learned while on this journey is that that guide map miles do not match the actual GPS miles. The miles are less on map and more while on trail. Either way, we finished this last section in 7 days as planned, despite the longer miles over rougher terrain. Speaking of rougher terrain, having hike many times all through out the Grand Canyon before, I knew that these bigger miles in the canyon would be taxing on my body. I never felt I got enough sleep at night during this stretch in order to aid in body recovery. It was quite the grind.
We left our camp by 7:45ish making our way to where the Tonto Trail meets up with the S. Kaibab Trail 5.3 miles away. Once on that trail it was 4.5 miles with about 3800 feet of climbing to the Rim. After being in very remote trails with minimal human traffic, it was somewhat a shock and annoying to see so many people on this trail. It was sensory overload for me, and I just wanted people to get out of my way so I can hike faster. Like I’ve said before, give me a route and I’ll grind it out. Give me an actual well maintained trail, and I will fly. Well, that is just what happened. When I saw the train of mules carrying humans unwilling or unable to enjoy the act of hiking up, i ran to get in front of them before they blocked me from passing for miles. Pete and Cuban B didn’t bother to pass them and stayed behind. Cuban B stayed behind because he wanted to text his girlfriend because she was attempting a R-R-R run that morning. He essentially wanted to check up on her to make sure she was ok. I was in beast mode at that point and just wanted to hike up as quickly as possible. I was the first one up to the Rim. Pete and Cuban B caught up about 45 minutes later.
So here is the big surprise. We are stopping here. I am stopping here. South Rim is my final destination on this Hayduke Route journey. I am not continuing on to Zion National Park. The reality of it all is that I am 5 hours away from home, and I have been missing my wife more and more ever since she came to visit me while in Escalante. My wife’s gravitational pull at this point is greater than escape velocity. The gravity of my nostalgia sank in even deeper yesterday as I was hiking under Shoshone Point, the point in the Grand Canyon South Rim where my wife and I married less than a year ago. I definitely did not factor in how much I would miss my wife while on this journey. So here is the other surprise. My wife is 5.5 months pregnant. The fact that I will be a “first time” father sank-in deep in my heart, mind, and soul when my wife came to visit me in Escalante. My wife had told me that our baby had started to kick a lot. When at our hotel, I placed my face on her slight 5 month belly and felt our child kick me in the face. Our child literally kicked me in the face. How much more tangible can this be for me? That was the spark. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to hike faster without killing myself and trail companions in order to get home quicker. So when I say that my wife’s gravitational pull is greater than escape velocity, I recognize that it is also our daughter’s gravity that is pulling me home. Yes, we are having a daughter. I long to be home soon so I can feel our daughter kick me in the face.
You are probably wondering why I even left for this journey knowing that my wife was pregnant. Well, the reality of it all was that we had not planned to get pregnant until after my hiking the Hayduke Route. Obviously we jumped the gun. I was conflicted about leaving her while pregnant, but Vanessa knew how much this trip meant to me and how long I had been planning for it. She knew this was my 40th birthday celebration trip. She also knew that anytime she wanted me back home, all she had to do was say the phrase, “come home”. She knew that she always meant more to me than Hayduke Trail.
Hayduke Route was not only a trip to celebrate my 40th, but it was my last hoorah. At least it’s my last hoorah of this caliber. I have been on many wilderness adventures during the last 17 years of my life. I was never married and never had children in that time span. I guess you can say I lived for myself and backcountry wilderness adventure. I’m not giving up the adventure lifestyle, but I will tone it down a few notches for the sake of family life. My priorities are shifting. The last 47 days on the Hayduke Route were definitely cathartic, a time for reflection and mental preparation for this point of transition in my life. If you’ve ever spent an extended amount of time in the wilderness, especially the desert, hiking, you’d know what I mean. Not to compare myself to Jesus Christ, but I feel that the Hayduke Route for me was similar to what JC did, fasting and praying (meditating) for 40 days and 40 nights before he began his 3 year ministry. Wilderness forays have always been to me not only a place to recreate, but a place to pray, meditate, and reflect, something difficult for me to accomplish in the omnipresent distractions of modern society-civilization. I guess you can say that I can feel God loud and clear out there.
Although my intention was to complete the entire Hayduke Route this season, I have no qualms about not hiking the last 150 miles to Zion. If you want to know the truth, I have already seen the nitty gritty, the main attractions of those last 150 miles. I have hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Heck I’ve run that twice already as a 47 mile ultra run rim-rim-rim. I’ve seen Grand Canyon’s Tapeats Creek, Thunder River, Surprise Valley, Deer Creek, Kanab Creek, and Shower Bath Springs. I’ve done extensive canyoneering, backpacking, and hiking in Zion National Park and even canyoneered Fat Man’Misery into Parunweap Canyon and the East Fork of the Virgin River, where the Hayduke Route has its grand finale. The parts in between those main attractions are essentially just hot, dry, dirt road walking. Being that there are so many alternate routes that hikers can take while Haydukeing, I’ve never really felt the Hayduke Route was like your typical thru-hike. There is the official route, but even the creators of the Route intended for hikers to cater it to their own liking. Like the cliche goes, “hike your own hike,” and/or “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey .” If it was really all about the destination, than we’d all hurry up and die. Either way, hiking thru these lands for 47 days was not my first, only, and last time visiting the Colorado Plateau. The Hayduke Route was never just another thru-hike for me, a notch in my meager thru-hiking resume. The Colorado Plateau is my spiritual home. I will always keep coming back to these lands, however, next time with a wife, child, and dog in tow. And they too will understand what Hayduke is all about. It’s not just a trail or route; it’s a state of mind, a state of heart, a state of soul. It’s a love affair.
In closing, I am looking forward to being home with my wife and beginning this journey called fatherhood/parenthood. Heck, while this Hayduke journey may be the best gift I gave myself for my 40th birthday, I feel my wife has one-upped me. This child will be the best 40th birthday present ever. I love you Vanessa.
I have to admit, I’ve been loving the Tonto Trail ever since we’ve gotten on it. If you are a lover of large panoramic views, this is the trail to be on. You are granted so many amazing views of the Canyon while hiking along this trail. The trail meanders for miles from Tanner Beach to way beyond Indian Gardens towards the western end of GC, generally contouring about 1000 feet above the River. Occasionally it maybe drops 100-200 feet when traversing a canyon, only to climb back up. Well, that is pretty much what we hiked on all day.
As expected, it rained off and on for most of last night. Heck, it even rained-hailed off and on today. We actually were ok with the rain. The Tonto Trail is known for its minimal water sources and dry-hot terrain. The temperatures never got above 65F and it was mostly cloudy today. Thank god for that. We got the brunt of today’s rain and hail in the morning hours as we were climbing towards Horseshoe Mesa. While this isn’t part of the Tonto, we decided to go thru this part, despite the 1200 foot climb, because the historical mining aspect of this mesa intrigued us. Before the GC became a National Park, a lot of mining activity took place here in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. The mining interest was apparent to me on the mesa. Rocks with blue and green ore dotted the ground, which to my knowledge signifies copper. There was a Keep Out sign on one particular mining shaft indicating radioactivity, apparently a uranium mine. Pete apparently had been here before with his caving group while surveying a new cave. So he was familiar with the area. Being that this part of the Canyon is on the Redwall Limestone, I am not surprised of the abundance of caves here.
Leaving the mesa, we made our way back down to the Tonto, passing Cottonwood Creek and Grapevine Creek, which were both flowing. We had lunch at Grapevine Creek Canyon. From there it was about 8.7 miles to our destination for the day, Lone Tree Canyon. Along the way, we passed right under Shoshone Point on the South Rim. That is where my wife and I married last August. That is where we said our vows.
I don’t know if I had said this before, but I never took into account how much I would miss her during this Hayduke journey. I guess it hit home even more as I was walking just under Shoshone Point. She understands me and is patient with my wish to have hiked this trail, especially being that I wanted this for my 40th birthday celebration.
Anyhow, Pete, Cuban B, and I were happy to have found water at Lone Tree Canyon, even more so that water and campsites were right on trail. We camped here for the night.
Today was the day we left the “comforts” of the Colorado River. For the past 3 days, we have been pretty much at waters edge, which means we have not really needed to worry so much about potable water. Leaving Tanner Beach and Rapids, we hopped on the famous Escalante Route for the next 12.5 miles, which the GCNP deems as one of the hardest trails in the Canyon. Please! 🙄 I feel they say that about every damn trail. Having done the Escalante Route before, I knew what was in store and definitely was quicker this time. Heck, I even squeezed in a nap during lunch. While not particularly difficult for the seasoned and experienced Grand Canyon hiker, I actually could see it being challenging for hikers not accustomed to route finding. If you are used to well groomed trails and still get lost, don’t do the Escalante Route. You may die. If you have to Google the word “cairn”, don’t do the Escalante Route.
Anyhow, our saving grace for the day was this storm system moving in that made for a cloudy day and, hence, cooler weather. On that note, looks like we are to expect rain tonight into the morning tomorrow. Hey, I’ll take it. Knowing how hot the Tonto can get, I embrace rain and cooler weather.
Once getting off the Escalante Route into Red Canyon and the junction of New Hance Trail, we hooked up with the Tonto Trail, which we will be on for the next two days. The Tonto Trail climbs about 1000 feet from the River and pretty much stays that high above the River, meandering and paralleling the River. We will eventually take the Tonto to the S. Kaibab Trail, where we will exit the Canyon. It was 6.2 miles from Red Canyon to Hance Creek, where we camped after a 18.5 mile day.
The Grand Canyon is kicking my ass. I never really got sore muscles since I started the Hayduke Route, but ever since hiking in the Canyon, my muscles are soar and tired. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if we were just doing 10-12 mile days. But we are over the 15-16 mile range.
We were up by 5am, knowing that we had to be at the ferry spot sometime before 11am, as discussed with the private river guide yesterday. We knew these next 4-6.5 miles would be brutal and that it would take about 4 hours, as we were expecting a 1.5 mph pace. There was no trail. We were essentially just hiking along the river, looking for the path of least resistance. Sometimes that path was a game trail, sometimes a walk on a beach, sometimes a bushwhack, and sometimes boulder hopping. Either way, it was a slog.
We just barely made it to the ferry point. Pete and Cuban B arrived before me, and I arrived just as the rafting party was pulling in. They were expecting us. It was three rafts with 3 persons per raft. They were quite the nice group, kind, considerate, and happy to ferry us across. They, of course, were curious about our trek and even offered us beer and snacks. Once over to the other side, we landed near the Confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado River (LCR). The LCR was flowing turquoise blue just as I expected, as it wasn’t a high snowpack year. This Confluence is a hotly debated area, as developers have been trying to buy out the Navajo’s in order to build a resort at the confluence and a gondola at the rim to bring tourists down. This part of the Grand Canyon is part of the Navajo Reservation and not the GCNP. The issue is that the Navajo’s and especially the Hopis consider this place sacred. The Hopi’s creation story is centered at the Confluence. About 2 miles up river from the confluence along the LCR exist what is known as the Sipapu, a mound with a hole in the center, resembling a geyser. It is from this spot that the Hopis claim they emerged from to inhabit the 4th world that we live in now. Save the Confluence. Respect Native American holy lands.
After about a 1.5 hour lunch and swim at the Confluence, we forded the LCR and hopped onto the Beamer Trail for the next 11 tedious miles in order to make it to Tanner Beach and rapids. Despite the fact that we were on a trail, the miles still did not come easy. These GC trails are non main corridor trails. In other words, these were not the fufu trails for novices. These trails require a little bit more grit, time, ambition, and patience. By the time we arrived to Tanner Beach at around 5:20 pm, I was ready to be done. Tomorrow will be another long one, heck, maybe an 18 miler.
I’ve never done these kind of big miles in the Grand Canyon before. Having done many backpacking trips here in the past with friends, I think the longest days were maybe 14 miles. Actually, I lie. Having done a Rim-Rim-Rim trail run twice already, my longest day ever here in GC was 47 miles in 12-13 hours. But that doesn’t count in the sense that I wasn’t really carrying pack weight.
Either way, all three of us are really tired, even Cuban B, yet I know he doesn’t really want to admit it. This is the first time I’ve ever done the Nankoweap Trail, and thus far it is my favorite of all the GC trails I’ve done. Disclaimer though, it was not that easy, but there is a cherry on top with whip cream too. Starting at almost 9000 feet, the trail drops you all the way down to the Colorado River at 2800 feet. You do the math. I usually don’t have knee pain going downhill, but this trail gave it to me. Also, if you are afraid of heights, I warn you. This trail has steep drop off exposures with narrow trail. The funny thing about this trail is that it meanders, contouring along the Supai formation (of course after dropping from the Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap formation, and Coconino Sandstone) for about 5 miles until it finds a fault and break in the Redwall Limestone. Those 5 miles were all soft foreplay. All of a sudden..Bam!!!! Take that up the ass. The trail just starts dropping elevation, practically made us base jump, almost 2500 feet in 3 miles. More so, the Bright Angle Shale layer had lots of loose pebbles resembling marbles. I didn’t fall thank god, but I came close several times.
Finally at mile 10 for the day, we arrived at Nankoweap Creek, yes, an actual perennial creek. Lunchtime was had here along with a break and wetting of our feet and face. We still had 3 miles to the Colorado River. It was near here, the mouth of Nankoweap Canyon where the famous cliff granaries are located. And of course we climbed up to see them. I’ve been wanting to see these ancient granaries for years. Finally I witnessed them. These granaries are perched up about 700 feet above the River. The views of the River and the Canyon from the granaries are, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and amazingly picturesque. Wow!! If you can only ever do one hike in the Grand Canyon, you gotta do this one, just so you can have the honor of this view. Pictures won’t do it justice. You have to see it in person. I was really disappointed in Pete for not bothering to climb up to see the granaries and the view. All this way to miss out. It’s like going to the Sistene Chapel and not bothering to look up to enjoy Michealangelo’s artwork. WTF, Pete?
After the granaries, our mission was to make it to Kwagunt Creek 4.5 miles away along a “trail” (more of a billy-goat trail) next to the River. Haa!! It was ugly slow going, definitely not pretty. Despite the arduousness of this billy-goat route, we did make it to Kwagunt Creek by sunset. Overall, 20 miles or so we hiked from 7:30am to 7:10 pm. Good night!!
Waking up this morning, I was glad I did not abandon some of my cold weather gear in the last cache. It still gets to freezing at night on this trail, especially at 9000 feet, which is how high the Kaibab Plateau gets to. That is the nature of this country. The terrain and elevation profile is so varied, that the weather can shift so suddenly. As soon as the sun came up, we were warm. However, that is when the winds started, and have persisted all day, gusting up to 40 mph. Winds seem to be another constant in these lands.
Our route kept us on the AZT for most of the day. Heck, I think by the time we end up in the Canyon, we will have done about 67 miles of the AZT. I will say, I have been loving this part of the AZT. This section stays between 8400-9200 feet and is punctuated by so many beautiful open meadows. Makes me feel I am in the Sierra Nevada Mountains high country. So beautiful. And of course, at this high, not only do the Ponderosas and Douglas firs permeate the landscape, but so do the Aspens and Spruce Pines. There are still patches of snow as well from the meager winter we had. Despite being high, water is still scarce. Our usual sources are catch basins, ponds, and small springs that unfortunately are most of the time fouled by the bovines. I swear, I bet there are more cattle in these wild lands than deer.
Along the trail where it crossed a dirt road, we crossed paths with these two hunters. Apparently Pete, who was in front of Cuban B and I, had a positive interaction with them with ended up benefiting us later in the day. We reached our last decent water source for about 19 miles at our mile 13 for the day. We had lunch here and camel-ed up, each hauling out 6 liters of water. After about 5 miles, we finally reached the official Grand Canyon National Park boundary and the road that was to lead us to Nankoweap trailhead, which was another 7 miles. After about a mile we heard a gunshot close by. Hunters! Not more than 5 minutes later, those hunters cruised by and offered us a ride. Pete was way behind us, and they had remembered him from earlier. We all jumped in onto the truck-bed, where they already had a fresh turkey kill. They took us all the way to Nankoweap TH and along the way, shot another turkey that was near the road. Those hunters were very nice people. They didn’t have to take us all the way to Nankoweap, for they were not even going there. But they did so anyways. I love trail magic.
Once at Nankoweap, all 3 of us were in awe of the panorama before us. I’ve been to GC many times before but never to this trail head and viewpoint. Way out Northeast, I could still see the Kaiparowits Plateau and Navajo Mountain. To the north, the Vermilion Cliffs, Bryce Canyon, Aquarius Plateau, and Boulder Mountain. Right below us, of course, was Marble Canyon and the Grand Canyon. To the southeast I could even see the Little Colorado River Gorge. Damn, I know this land oh so well. Can you tell how many times I’ve been out here?
Breakfast at the Jacob Lake Diner was the best part of the day. Yes, breakfast at 8am sharp because we had miles to hike. The good thing about such a late breakfast was that we were able to sleep in. I am glad we took a zero day in Jacob Lake, especially after that 29 mile day on day 39.
We left Jacob Lake Inn by 9:15am, with our goal of a 20 mile day, which is easily attainable with such a well maintained AZ trail. At this point along the way, we are still hiking on the Kaibab Plateau. Kaibab is a Paiute word that means mountain laying down. Very appropriate in my opinion, especially knowing that this plateau tops out at over 9000 feet elevation. The weather forecast called for a 10-20% chance of rain. While it did not rain, the backdrop of solemn, dark, ominous clouds over a burned forest had us feeling we were walking in a post apocalyptic world. I kept feeling that zombies or cannibals would suddenly pop out of nowhere. I think this section of the forest burned about 10 years ago. Likely human caused like most of our modern day forest fires.
Fortunately, not all of the forest on this here Kaibab Plateau was burned. Pine trees, particularly Ponderosas and Douglas Firs and Aspens dominate the scenery. We were not lucky to see the endemic and unique Kaibab Squirrel. Maybe we will see it tomorrow. We did however see a wildlife biologist with her radio antenna tracking the famous California Condor. These archaic creatures (I say archaic because they’ve been around since the last Ice Age) almost went extinct in the early 80s due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT in the 60s and 70s. Actually, many raptors almost went extinct because of DDT. Apparently DDT made it into the ecosystem and eventually the birds via the food chain. DDT affected the birds by not allowing the eggs they laid to harden enough for successful incubation. Essentially the eggs were too brittle and cracked easily.
When the population dwindled to 22 birds, scientists initiated a captive breeding program. I think it took almost 20 years for the scientists to feel comfortable enough to release them into the wild. It was in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument that they were released. They have become so successful in these parts that you even see them in the Grand Canyon. Sure enough, we were lucky to see one today. Heck, we were so high on the Kaibab Plateau, we were granted views of those Vermilion Cliffs, Navajo Mountain, and even Marble Canyon, where the Grand Canyon starts, just below Lee’s Ferry. Even better, I even saw Mount Trumbull to the west. Damn, I love this country.
By the 20 mile mark, we made it to our camp and water source, Crane Lake. Actually, I think the more appropriate name for this watering hole should be Crane Cesspool. This is some of the nastiest water I’ve filtered. Even after filtering, the water was yellow. Oh well. Water is life. Here is hoping we don’t get sick.
I’m hurting. 29 miles in one day is what we walked today. Ouch. So that wasn’t the original plan. The original plan was to do this section in 2 days. However, we ended up dropping two food caches on the AZ/UT state line because Jacob Lake Inn does not offer the services of holding resupply boxes for hikers. Knowing that this section can be waterless and we did not want to carry 9 days worth of food, we decided to do these 29 miles from the AZ/UT state line to Jacob Lake in one day. So instead of 9 days of food on our backs, we set off with 7 days of food for our Jacob Lake to South Rim stretch and 3 L of water each. That being said, my bag felt like it weighed about 45 pounds. Not that bad unless when you are hiking over 20 miles, which after that many miles, both the feet and shoulders start to feel the strain. I think Cuban B’s pack was the heaviest, perhaps 65 lbs at least was my guesstimate. Our saving grace was that today we hiked on the very well maintained Arizona Trail, which the Hayduke Route piggybacks on for about 60 miles. A well maintained trail equals easier terrain and quicker miles.
The other issue with today was that we originally thought this section would only be 24 miles on trail plus 2 on the highways if we didn’t score a hitch. That was according to the Hayduke Maps that I was referencing. However, when i referenced my AZT app on my iPhone, it added 3 more miles. Oh well!! 29 miles it would be.
The AZT climbed quite steeply for 5 miles leaving stateline, climbing to the Kaibab Plateau, and, as always, once on the precipice, the views were amazing. I love it when the trail elevates me to these high points, as it allows me a panoramic views of where we’ve hiked. I was able to see Bryce Canyon up north, Navajo Mountain to the east, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Makes me feel so small, this vast Colorado Plateau. Humbles me for sure. Once on the mesa, the trail does have minor ups and down thar after 29 miles the cumulative elevation gain totals to almost 4500 feet. The flora is juniper and pinyon but once above 7000 feet, the ubiquitous ponderosa pine dominates. We were surprised to find about 3 to 4 water caches near where the trail crosses a dirt road, left behind I’m sure by trail angels sympathetic to us thru hikers. Thank you trail angels. I’m not gonna lie, despite having done longer mileage days on the PCT, this 29 mile days was definitely wearing down on me. I start to feel the pain, especially on my new heel blisters around mile 23. I actually had to stop to drain the blisters at lunch time, mile 14. But that didn’t really help.
At lunch time, Pete and I were concerned that we wouldn’t make it to Jacob Lake Inn in time for dinner, as the grille closed at 7:30pm. At that point I decided to hike as fast possible, me being the faster one, in order to make it there in time so that I can order him something before they close. We were not worried about Cuban B because, with his cruising trail speed of 4.5 mph, we were sure he’d be there by 5pm latest. That was the case by the way. So off i went at my meager, blister pained, 3.3mph cruising speed. I think I made it to Hwy 89 by 6:30 pm and right away stuck my thumb out for a hitch. Nobody ever stopped for me as I was walking towards Jacob Lake. As I was walking towards Jacob Lake, I was really worried about Pete, as he had never walked 29 miles in one day. I was praying he wouldn’t get out onto the highway in the dark and that he’d at least score a hitch. Son of bitch did score a hitch from a Navajo man in a truck and they stopped for me half mile from the inn. Thank you! Of-course, Cuban be was already there waiting for us. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to check in to the room because it was under our name. Needless to say, we barely made it in time for dinner, and of course we ate a big dinner.
Last night was eerie. I was awakened several times by what I think was a lone coyote. Speaking of coyotes, we haven’t heard a single coyote or pack throughout the trail. What’s up with that? Anyhow, what i thought was a lone coyote sounded like it was mourning or in distress, like it was looking for someone, perhaps it’s pack? Then again, the superstitiousness in me was thinking, perhaps it was la llorona. (If you are Mexican, you know what I’m talking about.) Hmm…we were near Park Wash, and from what I gathered from the sounds of frogs, there must be water. This mourning coyote (or llorona) woke me several times. Who knows!?
The rest of the day was straight forward. After the 5ish mile dirt road walk towards highway 89, we made it to Buckskin wash. The best part of that easy dirt road walk was that I had cell signal, which means I got to talk to my wife. Damn I miss her a lot. Can’t wait to be home and see her. I definitely didn’t factor in how much I would miss her.
Upon entering the wash, we saw the most depressing thing ever, a dead mule dear tangled up on the barb wire fencing. Apparently it misjudged how high to jump. Seeing this really got me upset. Have i mentioned how many thousands of miles of barb wire fencing we’ve witnessed in our public lands while hiking the Hayduke. All that fencing just to contain free range cattle. Seeing that dead tangled dear really got me thinking about becoming vegetarian.
Continuing on Buckskin Wash, we couldn’t deny the smell of another dead animal. This time it was a cow. Damn putrid smell permeated for about a quarter mile. I suppose the only good thing about all these roaming cattle in our public lands was that they actually stamped out a decent path in the wash to facilitate easier hiking.
At the 13 mile mark, we finally reached House Rock Valley Road. Here is where Pete decided to ditch Cuban B and I in order to dirt road walk directly to our food cache and camp. Cuban and I decided to stick to the standard route and continue on the Route into Buckskin Gulch. I am glad we did. While I had done Lower Buckskin Gulch (the longest slot in the world) and Lower Paria Canyon, I had never done this 4.5 mile stretch. It was very scenic and this part also slotted up. We even had to remove our shoes in order to wade deep mud. Oh well. Adventure has its price. Exiting the slot, we were dumped onto Wire Pass, where to the left was the famous Wave (which require permits), and to the right was the road to our food cache and camp. Thank god Pete had already brought down the buckets from our hiding spots by the time we got there.
Despite the fairly easy terrain today, I feel worn down and tired. Actually, in the past 3 days, I have been feeling more tired than usual by mile 16. Even my knees are starting to hurt. Either way, gotta push on, keep the momentum of 20 mile days or more. The hardest part of today was walking in all that loose sand, really slows us down. About a third of the day was on dirt road. However, even some parts of that was loose sand. Leaving our camp, we road walked until we reached Bull Rush Gorge which was quite scenic and even had a spring. Actually, we were surprised to find so many opportunities for water in the form of springs and cattle tanks. However, one of the tanks had about 6 dead mice in it. No thanks. One tank was brand new and looked like a sparkling pool. With how hot it was today, it was tempting to jump in.
After Bull Rush Gorge, we traveled on Park Wash for the rest of the day. It was hard not to notice the transition from Grey Cliffs, to White Cliffs, and then Vermilion Cliffs, which is where we camped. We are making our way, literally, down the grand staircase. Going down this staircase, of course, means drop in elevation, hence the warmer temperatures.
We ran into a group of three Hayduke section hikers, Larb, Horizon, and Jackrabbit. It turns they did the PCT in 2015 just like Cuban B and I. Ha! Small world. What was even more surprising today was seeing a female Hayduker going the opposite direction. She apparently just finishes the AZ trail and figured why not also hike the Hayduke. Wow! Good luck!!
We were done today by 7:20 pm after 22.4 miles. Tomorrow we have another long 20+ mile day before we reach our food cache at the AZ-UT border.
Nobody was lost today. We all made sure we stayed within eye and ear shot. There was alot of climbing and descents and despite all the downhills, we actually topped out at 9000 feet near Rainbow Point, which is where the Under the Rim Trail elevated us to. The views from that point were quite stunning. However, the views became even more so better and panoramic as we started going down from 9000 feet. The Under the Rim trail gave you mostly a view towards the east. But as we descended, the trail began curving towards the south. Here is where I gawked for a bit. Oh what a view! Pictures can barely describe what i saw. To the east I could see the Kaiparowits Plateau. To the north-east, the Aquarius Plateau and Boulder mountain. To the South-east, Navajo Mountain. And down south, I could already see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Here is where it began to sink in that we were essentially traveling thru time geologically. At 9000 feet, we were on the very top of this Grand Staircase, the pink cliffs of Bryce Canyon, the icing on the cake, the younger layers of rock. Making our way down south towards the Grand Canyon, we will gradually drop in elevation, eventually making it to the Colorado River, the very bottom of the Grand Canyon, elevation approximately 2500 feet, where the Vishnu Schist rock is found, the oldest layer of rock. We are talking millions of millions of years. Yes, I am not only a thru hiker, but one that travels thru time. Mother Earth has a way of making me feel so small and insignificant, yet at the same time so privileged and empowered. Definitely feeling humbled too.
After today, I can finally say that I have hiked thru pretty much all of Bryce Canyon National Park. Leaving the park, we find ourselves back in GSENM. Yes, we are back in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Yes, this Hayduke Route does meander quite a bit. We are still about 43 miles (2 days) from the AZ-UT border and our next food cache.
Finally we are back on trail after two zeros in Tropic. Why two zeros? Well, we had planned to leave on Friday the 20th of April, but a snowstorm rolled into the area, leaving us no choice but to stay in town one more day. None of us wanted to battle cold snowy winds. Fortunately, it was only a one day event. Saturday (today) was clear blue skies and perfect temperatures for hiking. Needless to say we finally left, making our way into Bryce Canyon National Park via the back door. We bee lined it the 6 miles to the visitor center in order to get a backcountry permit from the rangers in order to camp legally inside the park.
From there, the trail leads 4 miles along the Rim for impressive views of the famous Bryce Canyon hoodoos. We took our time here and took more than enough pictures before descending into the canyon via the Under the Rim trail. This trail goes for many miles, before exiting you from the park. Our goal was 20 miles today which brought us to Right Fork Swamp Canyon campsite, where our legal permit said we had to camp. We were not expecting a wet camp. Fortunately we found water 1.5 miles back near another old campsite. That is where we lost Pete. Yes, literally Pete was lost. When Cuban B and I arrived at camp 10 minutes shy of sunset, we expected him to arrive 10-15 minutes later. After 20-25 minutes with him not showing up, I knew something was up. We had even already set up camp. Shit!! So after grabbing my headlamp and inReach, I told Cuban B that I would go fetch him. When I got back to the junction, the last spot we saw him, I saw that his footprints were going up the wrong trail. Instead of taking the direct 1.1 mile route to our camp, he took the longer, steeper 3 mile route. I was the first to leave the junction, followed by Cuban B. I could have sworn Pete saw what direction I went, and I am sure he would’ve seen Cuban B go in the proper direction as well. But I knew Pete was tired, and when that happens, he gets tunnel visioned. He apparently didn’t see the direction we went while he was rearranging his pack after gathering water.
Once I discovered Pete’s mistake, I sat-texted Cuban B the news. Cuban B proceeded then to climb the trail loop to intercept him, and I began following Pete’s prints up the incorrect trail he took. Fortunately, not more than 5 minutes up the trail, I saw the beam of a headlamp approaching me. It was Pete. Thank God. He realized his mistake about a mile up the trail and even took out his iPhone to reference his map on his Gaia map app. He essentially has the Hayduke Route track points on his maps. Pete seemed embarrassed, yet happy to be found. He said he knew to go back to where we last saw him and wait it out there, knowing we would look for him there. He had food, water, and shelter too.
So what was supposed to be a 20-21 mile day ended up being about 23-24. We all didn’t have dinner until 9:30-10:00pm, our latest ever. We were all tired and hungry. Close call today. In hind sight, i feel partly to blame for this close call. I actually did notice how tired, hence tunnel visioned and scatter-brained Pete was. We should have waited for him and made sure he went the correct direction.