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. I was also been preparing for another busy season of hiking. The Hayduke Route is the mother-of-all in planning time and resources. Stellar and I had actually been planning 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 put off the Hayduke for 3 seasons. This was a good thing, because it gave us time to sharpen our desert route-finding and survival skills. We covered vast expanses of Arizona and New Mexico, now it was finally time to experience Utah.

So what 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 in canyons, 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 other 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’d 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 was collecting and organizing the information from so many different sources. We had 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 was pretty dated, especially the guide book and Skurka’s bundle & water report. I 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 we really had to pick through the information carefully to understand all the options. Perhaps the most helpful resource was Jamal Green’s excellent site Across Utah! He offers a ton of great alternate route details, plus pictures and videos. Stellar and I spent many months going through all this info and I reached overload…it was almost too overwhelming. I had to start planning for other ‘easier’ hikes for later in the year, just to take a break.

Stellar did the lion’s share of mapping work using CalTopo. He amassed the latest and greatest GPS-enabled maps and tracklines. We used a feature-rich mapping app called Locus, as we did on the MRT and GET. These were our practice hikes in using this technology, so we felt pretty confident in our navigation abilities. Much more uncertain was the weather and potential problems from flooding. The southwest had a bumper year of precipitation over the winter of 2023. On the one hand, this helped to alleviate a 10 to 20 year drought in the area, assuring us of some better water sources. On the other hand, so much rain and snow caused some troublesome barriers.

Rangers in Grand Canyon Nation Park reported significant water damage to the North Kaibab Trail, which was central to our 10-15 days of travel through the canyon. We submitted our GCNP permit request way back in December2022, well before the snow began collecting. With record snowfall on the North Rim (10 feet or more!), our planned route in the park was out of the question. Questions remained about Bryce and Zion as well. Luckily, we only bothered with advanced permits for GCNP and Canyonlands. We decided to take more of a show-up and see-what-we-can-get approach with the other parks. We also had to forget about summiting the highpoint of the route, 11,527′ Mt Ellen. Lower-elevation routes around the Henrys were better options.

Fortunately, we did plan to start later than most have historically set out on this thru-hike. Our target date of April 1st could have been a fool’s errand but the consensus from many blogs was that early to mid-March was a tad bit early for the conditions. I wished we could have pushed our start date back 2 more weeks but we had permits and travel reservations to contend with. All typical pre-hike dilemmas and worries that would probably sort themselves out like they always do. I had 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.

There was lots more to mention about our travel logistics, caches, and other plans. Stellar was driving out from Ohio to pick me up in Colorado, where we’d then drive an abbreviated version of the route to stash some water and food along the way. We hoped to leave his vehicle somewhere in Kanab or Page, then backtrack to Moab…how we got there, TBD? Things always miraculously work out, but still I worried.

I also wanted to mention my tentative plans for the summer. I hoped to connect the Oregon Coast Trail to the Bigfoot Trail to the PCT to the Tahoe Rim Trail. 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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