Twig Adventures

2023: Introducing the Hayduke T̶r̶a̶i̶l̶ Route

See here for my gear list.

It seems like I’ve been stuck in the past for bit on this blog but it’s finally onto 2023! I did have a lot of catching up to do after last year. But really, I’ve also been preparing for another busy season of hiking. The Hayduke Route is the mother-of-all for eating up planning time and resources. Stellar, once again my hiking buddy for this rugged desert SW route, and I have actually been eying it since 2020. It was a no-go that year, for obvious reasons, but so too because I was still recovering from a blood clot in my brain, suffered after a long and tough 2019 hiking season. For one reason or another, we’ve put off the Hayduke for 3 seasons now. This has been a good thing, because it’s given us time to sharpen our desert route-finding and survival skills. We’ve covered vast expanses of Arizona and New Mexico, now it’s time to experience Utah!

So what even is the Hayduke Route? The name “Hayduke” pays homage to the main character in The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, a fictional story that takes place in this region. Similar to the GET and MRT, which were put together by Trail/Water Whisperer Brett Tucker, the Hayduke Route is a compilation of a few existing trails, dirt roads, and mostly cross-country travel, pioneered in the late-1990’s by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella. They spent hundreds of days exploring the Colorado Plateau and then wrote a guide book about it. The route basically aims to connect 6 National Parks in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, numerous National Forests, BLM Districts, Primitive and Wilderness Areas.

Since its original conception and the resulting guide book, others have developed countless alternates, taking advantage of more scenic canyons, short-cuts, and access to the few and far between ‘towns’ along the way. There is no one direction or straight-line that this route follows. The general theme is to navigate carefully up one canyon, cross some long-forsaken remote plateau, then clamber down another canyon until…one finds water, a cache, a town, a road, or some other measurable reward and/or marker of progress. We’ll be following the standard guide book direction from the NE terminus near Moab to the SW terminus in Zion National Park.

The Hayduke is certainly one of those ‘whatever you want to make of it’ type ‘trails’. The hardest part in planning for it has been collecting and organizing the information from so many different sources. We have the guide book (which I’ll admit, I still haven’t read), maps from several sources such as Andrew Skurka, tons of credible and not-so-certain GPX files, and various blogs. A lot of information is pretty dated, especially the guide book and Skurka’s bundle & water report. I’ve gleaned insight on more current conditions from the Hayduke FB page and my PCT friend Plant’s 2021 blog. Other useful blogs were from: Carrot Quinn and Drop-N-Roll 2017, Wired 2015, and of course, Buck30 2013. Everyone hiked different variations of the main route, so I really had to pick through the information carefully to understand all the options.

Perhaps one of most helpful resources has been Jamal Green’s excellent site Across Utah! He offers a ton of great alternate route details, plus great pictures and videos. Stellar and I have spent many months going through all this info and I think I reached overload about a month ago. Honestly, it’s almost been too overwhelming. I had to start planning for other ‘easier’ hikes for later this year, just to take a break, HA!

So much thanks goes to Stellar, because he’s done the lion’s share of mapping work, given his CalTopo prowess. Because of him, we’re going to have the latest and greatest GPS-enabled maps and tracklines. We’ll be using a feature-rich mapping app called Locus, as we did on the MRT and GET. These were like our practice hikes in using this technology, so we feel pretty confident in our navigation abilities. What is much more uncertain is the weather and potential damage from flooding. The southwest had a bumper year of precipitation over the winter. On the one hand, this is great for alleviating a 10 to 20 year drought in the area and assuring us of some better water sources. On the other hand, so much rain and snow has likely caused alterations to the many canyons that we’ll be navigating.

Rangers in Grand Canyon Nation Park have already reported significant water damage to the North Kaibab Trail, which is central to our 10-15 days of travel through the canyon. We submitted our GCNP permit request way back in December, well before the snow began collecting. Now there’s record snowfall on the North Rim (10 feet or more!) and it’s questionable whether we’ll be able to hike any of our planned route in the park. Questions remain about Bryce and Zion as well. Luckily, we only bothered with advanced permits for GCNP and Canyonlands, so not too much money and time is on the line. We decided to take more of a show-up and see-what-we-can-get approach with the other parks. This is seeming like a good strategy at this point. I’m guessing we also might as well forget about summiting the highpoint of the route, 11,527′ Mt Ellen. I can’t even imagine how much snow is up there right now and there’s no SNOTEL meter in that range. Fortunately, there are lower-elevation routes around the Henrys but still, it’s going to be a shame if we have to miss the only mountain-top summit of the hike.

Ironically, we did plan to start later than most have historically set out on this thru-hike. Our target date of April 1st may be a fool’s errand but the consensus from many blogs was that early to mid-March was a tad bit early for the conditions. Now I wish we could push our start date back 2 more weeks but we have permits and travel reservations to contend with. All typical pre-hike dilemmas and worries that will probably sort themselves out like they always do. I have many reservations about this hike…falling off canyon cliffs, drowning in river crossings, sinking into quicksand, freezing to death…but so too did I have similar existential concerns about the PNT, and it turned out to be one of my best hikes. At least in Utah, there will be no concerns about grizzlies! And I have full confidence in my hiking buddy… that goes a long way.

I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to keep up with this blog. The tiny towns that are so few along the way are notorious for bad internet/cell service. Plus, I’m running out of storage space on my hosting platform. So I’m apologizing in advance if blogs may be more word-heavy and picture-light…or even few words and a long-time overdue. It’s a shame, because I won’t come close to being able to describe the many amazing landscapes. Neither would my crappy phone pictures do it justice either, so there’s that.

There’s lots more to mention about our travel logistics, caches, and other plans, but I’m running out of time before I depart Florida. Stellar’s driving out from Ohio to pick me up in Colorado, where we’ll then drive an abbreviated version of the route to stash some water and food along the way. We hope to leave his vehicle somewhere in Kanab or Page, then backtrack to Moab…how we get there, TBD? Anyone driving that way near the end of March? We’ll most likely thumb-it…commence uncertainty and worries from the start. Need I ever worry about my ride/hitching luck, though? Things always miraculously work out, but still I worry.

Perhaps in a vein of inviting unlucky developments (counting chickens before they hatch), I also wanted to mention my tentative plans/hopes to connect the Oregon Coast Trail to the Bigfoot Trail to the PCT to the Tahoe Rim Trail this summer. I’m calling it the Pacific Coast Bigfoot Crest Rim Trail (PCBCRT). It’s meant to be somewhat of a continuation of where I left off on the PNT and in a reverse theme…from the ocean back to the mountains. I’m really excited about the prospects of linking such diverse trails/routes and environments. My plan also offers some fun opportunities to link-up with past trail friends and angels. I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest all over again last year and can’t wait to experience more of it. So hopefully stay tuned for some fun, if only my poor old body, gear and mind can handle it all!

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