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.
What to say about today…other than that it was a legit nero (a day with almost zero miles hiked). Our sole purpose for today was to get to the famous Hole-in-the-Rock Road for our prearranged ride at 11am with Scott our volunteer shuttle driver. The hike out was easy, only 7 miles via Coyote Gulch and Hurricane Wash. I had a quick pace, 4 mph, and was anxious to get to Escalante, not only because we were doing a zero day there, but because my wife was driving all the way from Tucson to meet me there. Damn I miss her!!
Thru-hiking has become more difficult for me now because of that fact, and even more so because of another variable that I will disclose at another time in this blog. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve thought about quitting this trail, not because I’m not having fun, but because I do miss her. But both her and I know that if I don’t finish this trail now, I probably won’t be able to do so for another 15 years from now. I’ve been talking about this trail ever since we met. My wife understands me very well and supports me. Thank God for that. She knows that I have always had a thing for big, arduous adventures like these and that it will kill my spirit to stop adventuring in the wilds. I owe her big time. She knows that the Hayduke Route will be my last hurrah for a loooong time because of a new adventure that both of us will embark on together. Thank you my love. I am hiking as fast as possible to make it back home to you.
Making into town, Belinda, Pete, Cuban B, Scott went directly to the burger joint to eat. I waited for my wife to eat despite my hunger as I knew she’d be in town in about 40 minutes. It was so good to see her, hug, and kiss her again, of-course, after we checked in to the B&B I had reserved and I showered. Believe me, after 8 days sans a shower, even I couldn’t tolerate my stench.
We also met three other Hayduke Hikers, Quetzal from Mexico City, Cougar Bait, and (damn I forgot his trail name). They’ve been hiking together for a while now. My group sat and chatted with them for a while to swap stories. They are taking a zero day here as well. Needless to say, we ate a lot food today in town. My hiker hunger is finally kicking in, especially because of the calorie deficit in this last stretch due to Garrison losing his food. I’ve lost about 5-10 lbs already, and I can see that when I saw myself in the mirror. I started the trail at 156. I probably weigh now 145. If i get below 137, my hiker hunger will really kick-in because my body will essentially have no fat to burn. I don’t want it to start eating away at my muscle. I still have 500 miles or so to go, and we plan to start cracking up the mileage to 19-25 mile days. Anyhow, I will eat my way thru Escalante.
I don’t know if I had mentioned it before, but we have been off the standard Hayduke Route and on an alternate (again). The standard route has you exiting Capitol Reef National Park via Moody Canyon in order to enter the Escalante River further up canyon. Having hiked and packrafted the entire Escalante River, I had no desire to do so again. Hence why I decided to explore terra incógnita (for me) and ended up doing the Baker Route and Steven’s Canyon.
Back to that, we left our cowboy camp by 0830, ready for more route finding in Steven’s Canyon. The route had us leave the canyon floor and climb to the rim in order to bypass a dry waterfall. Some of the rim walking had some scary exposure, where a misstep would lead to a 300 foot slide fall. After about two hours of this agoraphobic path, the route again dropped us into the canyon floor, only to pass thru a gauntlet of poison ivy. There was no avoiding it. It was everywhere. Damn!! I hate a poison ivy. I’m pretty sure I got some on me. It won’t be the first time. Oh well. The rash would start showing in about three days. Steven’s Canyon eventually fed us to the Escalante River, where we still had about a mile hike in the mid thigh deep water to get to Coyote Gulch. It also at this confluence where we saw the massive Stevens Arch. This would be my third time thru scenic and wet Coyote Gulch. This indeed is one of the most beautiful canyons ever and also very popular. We saw maybe at least 25 souls through out the canyon as we made our way up to our campsite at Jacob Hamblin Arch. On the way, we walked under Coyote Bridge. It’s no wonder this place is so popular, especially with all the flowing water and waterfalls. Cuban B and I where in drill mode and hightailed it very quick to camp, arriving by 5pm. We both have a very fast pace, especially with good trail. Belinda, Pete, and Garrison arrived about an hour later. Deep in this canyon we slept under the arch.
I am happy to report that Garrison made it back to camp safe last night by 11pm, albeit wet and cold due to the two hour rain storm. The bad news was the he did not find his food bag. Fortunately most of us in the group have an extra meal and bars, that we were able to supply him.
We were off by 8:30ish, and as we were hiking and beginning our climb over the water pocket fold, we realized that last night’s storm was great enough to fill almost every pothole in the WaterPocket fold. Even when we got to the other side of the fold into the Canyons of the Escalante, there was a plethora of water. Thank you Jesus!! That means we had a wet camp tonight. The climb over the fold was steep and all slick rock, essentially petrified sand dunes. Once on the precipice, we were granted panoramic views of the land: Navajo Mountain to the south, the Kaiporowits Plateau to the west, the Henry Mountains to the East, Lake Powel-Hall’s Crossing to the southeast, and even still Bears Ears. By this point, we couldn’t see any longer the La Sal Mountains or the Abajo Mountains.
After a too long break on the precipice of the Fold, we continued to follow the Baker Route down into the canyons. I was really enjoying this part of the day and the route was actually pretty well marked with cairns. Gotta have a keen, sharp eye for this country, lest you end up cliffed out or lost in these canyons. The landscape at this point was surreal. Red petrified sand dunes all over the place, giving the impression that we are in Mars. Yet, looking down in the canyons, you see cottonwoods, which to me always means good water down in there. After a meager 14 mile day, we found a nice camp over a slick rock bench above the canyon floor. Cuban B decided to set tent and sleep creek side. The rest of us decided to cowboy camp tonight, as thus far the weather doesn’t seem threatening. Tonight is the first night i cowboy camp while on the Hayduke and it’s about time. All the stars are bright tonight. The crickets are chirping and the Common Poorwill is singing it’s tune. Only thing missing is the owl.
The highlight of the day was definitely Halls Creek Narrows. Essentially we have been hiking in or along Halls Creek since leaving camp this morning, but 8 miles into our day was when Halls Creek really became narrow and boxed up into a deep canyon for 3 miles. It was these three miles that were the most magical. We took our time in this section, taking many photographs as we traveled slower than a 2 mph pace. The canyon walls were steep, up to maybe 500 feet high, with Desert varnish streaking them from top to bottom. At this point, the creek was flowing quite adequately, at times becoming up to mid thigh deep. When the creek made sharp bends, the canyon walls would take the form of huge amphitheaters, larger perhaps than any man made concert hall. The cottonwood trees, ever so deep in these narrows, grow tall, reaching as high as 100 feet, as they seek the light of the sun. These are my cathedrals, my cathedrals in the desert. As I pass thru, I do so with reverence, and reflexively find myself wanting to whisper as if I was in church. At the same time, I childishly want to shout just so I can here my echo. Sunlight, clouds, blue sky, shadows, steep canyon walls, water, sand, cottonwoods, songbirds, breeze: all these in harmony like the most brilliant symphony for all the six senses. What that sixth sense is, I bet you already know.
Leaving these three miles was difficult. I wanted to camp there in Halls Creek Narrows (heck maybe even live there), but in general thru-hike fashion, we needed to press for miles. We proceeded on for another 3 or so miles before making camp by 5:30. All was fine and dandy until Garrison realized he had left his food bag perhaps about 3.5 miles back when he had taken a break. Damn!! Needless to say, he proceeded to go fetch it, going all the way back to where he thinks he left it. By 7:30pm it began to rain and wind gust quite heavily. Oh damn!! It is 9:30 pm and he hasn’t returned. The rain finally has stopped after two hours. We hope he is ok. Stay tuned.
Capitol Reef National Park is really an undiscovered gem. While people race to see the more famous Southern Utah National Parks (Zion, Bryce, and Arches), they often times overlook Capitol Reef National Park. This park is for backpacker’s and it is best explored on foot. Which is why I am so thrilled to be here today. While I have explored the northern section of the Park before, I have never really ventured out on the southern end. Well, entering Lower Muley Twist Canyon from the Burr Trail Road, you essentially enter the gut of the Water Pocket Fold. These are the type of canyons I dream about. Deep red hued sandstone canyons with huge alcoves and amphitheaters. Yes, I am home. The canyon wren sings to me as I walk down the canyon, and the swallows fly high above giggling like school children in a playground.
For 16.3 miles we meander lazily down this canyon, wind and sun in our face, a heavy pack that is lightened by my cheerful mood. We are surprised to find sufficient water despite the ongoing draught in intermittent potholes along the way. Muley Tanks, adjacent Halls Creek is the most impressive of the potholes, indeed being more tanks than potholes, easily containing over 500 gallons. It was tempting to take a dip in for a nice body soak, but in this country, water this good is reserved for drinking. There is an old saying out here in the arid west, ”whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.” Not sure if we’d have water at our planned campsite, we decided to gather water here, as our campsite was only less than 3.5 miles away. Fortunately, there was water lightly flowing in the creek bed at our camp. Thank goodness for that. Even so, this trail has taught us to not take water for granted. As I doze off, I am delighted to be serenaded by the frogs that call that water home.
Today was an easy ten mile day leaving Tarantula Mesa and Swap Canyon. Since we knew we had such an easy day, we slept in again and started by 9am. Again, we followed the buffalo trail into Swap Canyon, where there was a good spring water and pool about 4.5 miles from our last water source and camp. Once in Swap canyon, the hiking was straight forward. Just follow the canyon out towards the amazing 100 mile long escarpment known as the Water Pocket Fold, which essentially makes up all of Capitol Reef National Park. The land feature is so massive, it is visible from outer space. I’m really excited for the next 5 days, as we will be hiking pretty much in the water pocket fold and even traverse it to get to the Escalante River.
So the reason for the shorter day today, was because we have 3 friends from Tucson meeting us at Notom road/Burr Trail junction in order to hike this 5 day section with us. Actually, only Belinda and Garrison will hike with us; Scott will be day hiking and will pick us up at the Hole-in-the Rock Road, where this section ends.
We arrived at that juncture around 1pm and the Tucson 3 wouldn’t arrive until 3:30. Hence, a long nap was in order, of course. While waiting there on the side of the road, we were surprised to see how busy this Notom-Bullfrog road was. I guesstimates maybe 30 cars and trucks rolled by. And out of all those vehicles, only one nice guy in a white Tacoma bothered to stop and check on us, even offering us water. He guessed correctly that we were Haydukers. Turns out he used to be a PCT trail angel when he lived in Wrightwood, CA. He stopped and chatted with us for quite a while. Nice man indeed.
Anyhow, once the Tucson 3 picked us up, we bee-lined it up the Burr Trail road to the Grand-Staircase-Escalante in order to camp for free and legally at large. Belinda bringing us our food resupply, we began to prepare our food for this next stretch. They even brought us fruits and cherry coke. We are all looking forward to tomorrow.
Was that cattle herd or a buffalo herd we heard last night? We don’t know but the rumble sounded thunderous. I was wondering if sleeping next to this spring was unwise. Being that it was cold last night and morning, as we were still high in the Henry Mountains, we slept in, not leaving until 9am. We only had a 17 mile day, so we didn’t feel pressed. It was mostly dirt road walking for the first 10 miles anyway. Those 10 miles were actually quite scenic and peaceful, with panoramic views 360 degrees. Looking out west, I could see the water-pocket fold in Capitol Reef National Park, a 100 mile north-south ridge-fold on the Earth. That is our destination soon after this section. Beyond the water-pocket fold, I could see, Boulder Mountain, the Aquarius Plateau, and the Pink Cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park. To the south, it was not hard to notice giant Navajo Mountain. I proposed to my lovely wife at the base of that mountain, at Rainbow Bridge to be exact. I don’t know what it is about this place, but it sure feels like home to me, especially this upcoming area of the Colorado Plateau I am about to hike thru. I like to think that perhaps I am a reincarnated old soul, an indigenous ancestral puebloan (Anasazi), that once roamed these lands. These lands sure feel familiar and like home to me.
So the bad news for today was that are two water sources on this road walk section were bone dry. The good news was that we still had about 3L each left. We’ve learned our lesson before on the Hayduke. Never assume the next water source will be dependable. The next supposed water source was 7 miles away. Well these next 7 mile were cross country and entailed route finding. The funny thing about these next 7 miles was that, what we thought were cattle trail and poop along the way, were actually buffalo trail. And yes, we actually saw a herd of buffalo. Yes!!! The famous Henry Mountain Buffalo, the supposed last pure breed’s of the Americas. Ha!! The Hayduke route was essentially following the buffalo trails, that led us to our camp spot and water. Let Totonka lead the way. Seeing those buffalo really made our day.
And about that water source, we at first were not sure about it. There was salt all around the water and the ground was orange. In other words, it looked alkaline and too mineralized. I tried about 50 ml after filtering and confirmed its quality. Yes, it was potable. Thank you Jesus. Viva Hayduke!! Viva Totonka!!
After a delicious breakfast at Blondie’s Restaurant, we proceeded to wait for Jared for a ride, but i think he had forgotten or perhaps something came up. We ended up offering the ATV rental place owner across the street $20 for the ride back to trail and he obliged. He got us back to trail by 9am. This set us up for a 21 mile day into the Henry Mountains. The day was uneventful and the hiking was easy since it was mostly on forest road. We climbed about 5000 total today in those 21 miles. We didn’t actually bother summiting the 11,000 foot something Mt. Ellen. I’ve done bigger summits, so it had no real appeal to all of us. Either, way we were allotted amazing views eastward of all the country we have thus far traversed. We saw the La Sal mountains near Moab, the Abajo Mountains near Blanding-Monticello, Canyonlands, Bears Ears, and even Dark Canyon. It’s amazing to be able to see from this perspective all the ground we have covered. Kinda humbling, yet empowering too. I love this country, Southern Utah. We ended up camping at Airplane Springs, where thankfully there is actually water. The only downside of the day was the we never saw the native herd of buffalo that roam these mountains. Hopefully tomorrow they appear.
Today was a zero day, meaning we did no hiking today. Zero miles. Period. Well, maybe we walked 1.5 miles today, just to the restaurants, grocery store, post office, and gas station. Essentially, it was an R&R day and a well deserved one for sure. It was also a day to catch up on blogging, gear repair, food resupply, call family, and catch up on sleep. Food wise, we ate more than usual, essentially calorie loading for the next week of daily calorie deficits. Walking strenuous miles day in day out burns lots of calories and there is no way to carry enough calories to make up for it. I feel I’ve lost already five pounds and my pants feel looser. Anyhow, tomorrow we made arrangements for a ride back to the trail at 0800 from Jared. Thanks again Jared and Hanskville for your hospitality.