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.
Damn it was cold this morning! 27 degrees F. I thought I’d be used to it by now. What was worse was that our socks and shoes were frozen from yesterday’s all day wet hiking in the Paria River. It didn’t help for me also that I fell into knee deep quick sand while getting clear natural spring water from the side canyon we camped adjacent to. Quick sand is as quintessential as blue skies and wind in this Hayduke country. Hence, my pants were wet as well. We waited for the sun to shine on us on our corner of the canyon, at least to get my shoes thawed out so i can put them on.
Off by 9:15-ish, our latest start of the day ever, we had our goal to reach Tropic, 22 miles away, by 6-7pm. No big deal, since 12 of those miles were on trail and the rest on dirt-paved road. We eventually left the Paria River, and began up Sheep Creek Canyon, which led us to the confluence of Willis Creek, where there were both ancient and modern petroglyphs. And yes, of course, we had to stop to investigate them. The petroglyphs were the 10 mile mark for the day and also our lunch spot. It was at this confluence where we saw many day-hikers, and we knew we were so close to the Skutumpah Road. After a nice hour lunch there, we bee-lined it the 1.5 miles up Sheep Creek canyon to Skutumpah Road. Pete, Cuban B, and I agreed that if we were able to score a hitch for the 10–12 miles to Tropic, we would take it. So, almost immediately once we got to the road, a car was approaching. Pete said, “alright BearLee, work your hitch-hiking magic.” For some reason, I’ve gotten good at hitch hiking. Maybe it’s my benign looking baby face, or my shiny aura. Who knows. Either way, the first car didn’t stop despite how much plenty of space it had for three hikers. Surprisingly, the next five-passenger car, already with 4 passengers, did stop. These were the nicest older-retiree folk ever. They offered us a ride in there mini-SUV. Pete rode in the back seat with the other passenger and his pack in his lap, while Cuban-B and I somehow barely were able to fit in the trunk with our packs. We essentially had to keep the back hatch opened. So off we went, packed like sardines on Skutumpah road. After about 4 miles, the dirt road turned to asphalt and the driver didn’t feel comfortable driving fast with us in the trunk and the hatch open. Either way, we were happy and greatly appreciative. So off they went and we continued our walk along the road.
All of sudden, no more than ten minutes later, the driver that picked us up before came back for us with an empty car. We were in shock. He actually came back for us. What a true saint. So he gave us a ride to Cannonville, the town 4.5 miles shy of Tropic and where he was staying. He asked us how much further we were going. We told him Tropic. Being that he was a tourist from New York, he wasn’t familiar with this area. So off he went, off we went, saying our thank you’s and goodbyes. Back on the main road, Highway 12, we began our march once again to Tropic, occasionally sticking out my thumb for a hitch. No kidding, 10 minutes later, the New Yorker came back for us again. I guess he felt guilty. We, of course, accepted the ride and were even more appreciative. Thank you New Yorker. God bless you and may karma pay you back soon. So, here we are, a day early into Tropic and at the hotel by 4pm. Trail magic does exist on the Hayduke Route and so do the trail angels, even the ones that didn’t know they were trail angels. We will take a nero and zero here in Tropic after this last 7 day stretch.
It was colder than usual this morning, but the thermometer, very stoically and objectively said it was only in the 40’s F. Ahh, but the wind was the true culprit in putting a bite in that chill along with sting in our eyes, with it’s ally the sand. Yes, sand everywhere in everything now. There is no escaping it. I feel my teeth are being ground down with how much sand I’ve chewed with my food.
As we were hiking out the last stretch of Hackberry Canyon this morning, I couldn’t help to compare it to the more famous Zion Canyon. But where Zion Canyon is more overwhelming, Hackberry Canyon is more bite size. Also, there are no crowds except for the ever present cattle (and there shit), which I’ve come to the conclusion are the primary wildlife (feral) in our public lands. Gotta have our burgers, right? The sun vanished for a brief moment while in Hackberry, covered by ominous clouds that suddenly began sprinkling snow flurries. Yes, snow. Better than rain we thought. Fortunately the sun ended up winning this battle for us, but not without the wind having the last word.
Leaving Hackberry, we had about a 2.5-3 mile road walk on Cottonwood Road before we jumped into the silty Paria River, another tributary of the Colorado River. I’ve actually hiked this River further down from Buckskin Gulch to the Grand Canyon years ago. This time, we are hiking it north, upstream against the current and with a mighty and annoying wind in our face. Despite, the wind in our face all day, the quicksand, the mud, and deep sand, I personally enjoy the beautiful scenery in the Paria. There is apparently the Old Paria Townsite or Ghost town along the River which we didn’t bother to look for more evidence of because I read recently that some jack-asses burned them down years back.
Eventually, we made it to camp at Deer Creek Canyon, where there was fresh spring “clear and not silty” water. That was a 21 mile wet feet all day for us. Hmm, I hope my shoes and socks don’t freeze overnight.
We left our food cache camp near Grosvenor Arch by 8:45 and I personally bee lined it to the restroom near the Grosvenor Arch parking. Yes, an actual restroom. Granted, it was a pit toilet style restroom, but at least I didn’t have to dig a hole.
From there it was a 4.5 mile walk to the trailhead to Round Valley Draw, one of the highlights of the day. I’ve actually been looking forward to this part of the trail because it was an actual slot canyon, albeit a non technical one. I love slot canyons. Despite its nontechnical status, someone had already rigged a rope which we used to lower our packs only. The rest of the down climb was easy, requiring some easy stemming moves, which all of us had done plenty of canyoneering in the past to facilitate this portion. The slot portion was only about 1.5 miles long, eventually opening up. This canyon then dumped us into Hackberry Canyon, which I had never explored before despite being on my to-do-list forever. Thank you Hayduke for bringing me here. The upper part of Hackberry was dry, but eventually as the canyon led further down, cottonwoods began to be visible. You know what that means. Water!! Sure enough, the canyon began to flow with water, ever more so the further down we went. Also, as we travel more down canyon, the canyon walls began to turn red. After about only 20 miles, we finally stopped to camp. And the best part was that there was still flowing water. Yes!! A wet camp. The winds persisted even by the end of the day. As a matter of fact, they were quite the nuisance all day, especially when the gusts where up to 50mph. I got sand all over myself and my gear, even places i thought where inaccessible. We can’t really complain. It comes with this territory.
On side note, we thought we’d see the other three Haydukers, but we did not. Maybe they slept in or where hung-over. They claimed they had lots of booze in there Grosvenor Arch cache. We didn’t care to join them. Getting shit-faced and hung over is not my thing, and I’m too old for those shenanigans anyways. I’d rather stay up star-gazing instead. We
never saw them at all today, not even their footprints. Oh well.
Yes, we have made it to the halfway point today, and it took us 29 days (including rest days). I’m gonna be honest, this last stretch was kinda boring for me and not very scenic in my opinion. It was essentially a stepping stone for this next 3.5 day leg which is supposed to be more interesting and scenic. We will be hiking in and around the Paria River drainage system. This River, like the Escalante is a tributary of the Mother River of the Southwest, the Colorado River. The Paria River essentially begins in what is known as the Aquarius Plateau/Bryce Canyon. This whole area we are about to hike thru in the next week or so makes up in essence a big grand staircase that descends towards the mother of all canyons: The Grand Canyon. That is essentially where we will end up. The Pink Cliffs of Bryce Canyon are the top layer of this cake or staircase.
Anyhow, back to the days events, the day was really uneventful. We left camp at our usual time of 8-8:30. After about 7 miles, we exited this canyon to get onto a dirt road where we would eventually follow to Grosvenor Arch and our food cache. We thought the day would be a 19 mile day, but somehow those miles stretched to 21.75. WTF?! At least they were easy road miles. Clouds rolled in and made to walk cooler too. As usual, Cuban B took off like a bat outta hell, walking his usual 4mph pace. Pete and I were in no rush. We still finished by 5:15pm. 21.75 miles in 9 hours, including an hour lunch. Closer to Grosvenor Arch, two girls in Jeep sped by us going the opposite direction, not even bothering to slow down to check on us. We saw them again going back towards the Arch. What the heck!?! We are in the middle of nowhere and they didn’t bother to check on us. Maybe we look sketch!?! Maybe I stink that bad? Anyhow, I always pull over for hikers, bikers, shit, even illegals, when I drive down a dirt road to check on them and or at least offer water and a ride. They definitely were no trail angels. Maybe just trail demons or simply human. What’s the differenc?
We awoke to another cold morning; 27 degrees F to be exact. I was tired this morning, and if we weren’t so driven, we’d sleep in. But we knew we had miles to walk and miles had hikers to beat down. As we packed, we couldn’t help to notice the smell of some kind of fossil fuel. Maybe diesel, oil, grease. It finally dawned on me when I kept noticing the coal coming off the canyon walls. Oh yeah!! We are close the Smokey Mountain, that part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument where coal is burning and smoldering under ground. Many people don’t know that about GSENM. They also don’t know about the major paleontological digs and finds that happen hear. So why do Utah lawmakers and POTUS want to shrink this monument. Well, I bet you know the answer.
Moving along, we were happy to see that Last Chance Creek had water in it all thru out the day as we hiked up canyon. Oh, thank God for that. Water is not guaranteed in these parts, and seeing so much water all day really makes me happy. Even better, the canyons we hiked today were so much easier to navigate thru. So much so that we hiked 23 miles, even with two long breaks in between. We eventually made it to Paradise Canyon where the water had dried up. Rumor had it, however, that there was water one mile up canyon from Last Chance Creek Canyon. Walking up, I was praying that there’d be water. Sure enough, about a mile up, I noticed the canyon floor become moist and salty. Then cottonwoods appeared. You know what that means. Cottonwoods mean water!!! And just like that, at our 23 mile mark for today, we had a wet camp, with decent puddles of water for our taking. Granted, they were somewhat fouled by cattle. Heck, in this country, we can’t be picky. Water is life. Needless to say, we filtered that water. Heck we even treated it chemically with bleach. Gotta make sure we kill the viruses and prions too, especially in this cattle country.
Wow! What a day. I am tired. The Hayduke Route really kicked my (our) asses today. Traveling down Monday Canyon entailed the use of hands and feet, climbing over and under huge boulders. Sometimes the boulders would pile up, essentially choking the canyon and preventing easy passage. Sometimes we’d have down climb sketchy rock faces, and sometimes jump off them them from 5 feet high with heavy waterlogged packs. That was the part that was so tiresome, especially on the knees. Surprisingly, when we got to Rogers’s Canyon, there was flowing water and flowing for miles. This water was totally unexpected and welcomed. It was even ice cold. On the negative note, we had been hauling 6-7 liters of water for what we thought would be a 30 mile dry stretch according to our trail data. Such is the nature of the Hayduke Route. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Leaving Rogers Canyon, the down climbing ended and the uphill on Navajo Canyon began. Just when we thought the hard part for the day was done, Navajo Canyon had it’s own cruxes. The guidebook mentioned that this canyon was straight forward with just one pour-off to climb over. One pour-off my ass!! I counted at least 6 pour offs that required quite the moves to get around. To top it off, when there was easy passage it was choked up by large bundles of stabbing tumble weed, that even with pants and long sleeves, we felt the daggers while bushwhacking thru. Ouch ouch!!
Finally, after what seemed an eternity thru Navajo, we climbed an old jeep road to a main dirt track that eventually led us to another old abandoned jeep road. That abandoned jeep road dropped us into the canyon that would drop into Reece Canyon. By then it was 7pm and we called it a day. It was a dry camp, but fortunately we still had plenty of water until the next source 5 miles ahead.
On a side note, we keep on coinciding with and frog-leaping the other Haydukers we saw in Escalante (Cougar Bait, Corey and Quetzal). Looks like we will be on the same pace as them. The funny thing about them, that I just realized, is that Quetzal (from Mexico) barely speaks English and Corey doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, and apparently they are an item. Cougar Bait is essentially the third wheel that is leading the group since he has all the maps and beta on the Hayduke. Ha!! What a threesome.
Quetzal (which means feather in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs) likes conversing with Cuban B and I since we both are fluent in Spanish. She apparently is quite the traveler and loves thru-hiking. She did the PCT last year, the year with epic, record snow pack. She has aspirations to be a triple crowner and has dreams of extending the Continental Divide Trail into Mexico, essentially making it a multinational trail. Heck, why not extend it all the way to Patagonia. A ultra thru-hiker can dream, right?
Today was a tough day, both emotionally and physically. I’m not gonna lie, I was considering going home with my wife instead of continuing the trail. I even asked her, “Do you want me to go home?” She essentially said, yes and no. I must finish what I started.
After breakfast in Escalante and a one hour drive down Hole-in-the-Rock Road, we arrived back to the trail where we left off by 10:00. After our goodbyes, we climbed the 3900 feet, 7 miles from the road the top of the Fifty Mile Bench (aka the Kaiparowits Plateau. The views were quite spectacular looking out east towards the Canyons of the Escalante River. What was also spectacular were the 50 mph winds, which made for tough hiking. I either couldn’t see due to all the sand blowing in my eyes, or the wind nearly knocking me on my ass. After 9 miles, we arrived at our last water source for 30 miles. It was a protected from the cattle spring, where spent about 1.5 hours eating lunch-dinner and topping off with water for this next dry 30 miles. Pete and I I left with 7.5 liters, Cuban B, 8.5. On top of that, 4.5 days of food, so needless to say, our packs were heavy. We didn’t leave the spring until 4:30pm, so we concluded that our 20 mile day goal was not happening, since we only had 3 hours left of sunlight in rough terrain.
As we left, the wind continued, and it began to get chilly. By the time we were making our way down narrow Monday Canyon, it began to snow. Damn!! Luckily it didn’t last, which is good because there was absolutely no where to camp in this tight canyon. After 15.7 miles, we finally found a decent place to camp by 7:30pm, which is kinda late for us. If we want to have a wet camp tomorrow, we need to do a 25 mile day. I doubt that will happen with the rough terrain we have to traverse. Fortunately, it will not be hot (actually cold) next few days, which will enable us to stretch our 7.5-8L of water.