Thursday, April 27th, 2023, 1000-1910
Tropic to just south of Noon Canyon Butte, mile 35 of Bryce Extension, just outside of park boundary
20.5 miles, elevation 7740′
We got a late start, as I was once again dragging my feet. Tropic is actually easy to leave, since a Hayduker can simply walk out of town, resuming the trail on what’s known as the Bryce extension. The official route skips the best parts of the park, entering it far to the south at a remote trailhead. We wanted to see all the hoodoos and pillars that the park is famous for. It’s named after a Mormon guy, Ebenezer Bryce, which gave rise to my invented Bryce ROUS: the Ebenezer Shrew. Ok sure, that’s probably only funny to me.
Bryce does have bears, though, so all overnight hikers are required to carry a bear canister, which doesn’t play well for Haydukers that are walking through and can’t return a rented one. Fortunately, national forest borders the park and the various trails make it easy to ditch out into these areas to legally camp for the night. So we didn’t need to bother with permits or canisters. There’s only like less than 20 bears in the area anyway. I never saw any prints or scat, so I imagine a bear encounter is rare.
The walk out of town was pretty easy and we met 2 on a bike, John and Marsha, that knew Adrian, the hiker we met in Moab. Small world. Mac caught up to us just as we entered the park, so we hiked as a quad the rest of the day. From there it was a pretty short distance before we came to a series of loop trails stemming from the visitors center…and hordes of people. I could see why, because we were almost immediately walking through all the pinkish orange hoodoos that Bryce is so famous for. Of our group, I was the only one who hadn’t visited them before, so I was pretty blown away. I wanted to stop to take a million pictures but I was also wanting to get away from the crowds. The wide easy trails encouraged a fast pace, so we all just kinda moseyed along, blowing past everyone else. The trail was like a fun rollercoaster, going up and down through all the fluted valleys but at a gentle grade. There were switchbacks!
I still took lots of pictures, just none of which I liked. I decided Bryce would need to be one of those places I came back to, just to take in more slowly. It was still very cool to walk the Peekaboo trail, connecting to the Under the Rim trail. We didn’t even think we could walk these trails when we first started the Hayduke, since they were still so buried in. Stellar and I had stopped at the visitors center nearly a month prior and it had the look of a ski resort in winter. So I was thankful that we were able to see the best parts of the park, after all. In fact, I bet we saw more of the park than 99% of most visitors. I’m sure there are plenty that merely drive to the overlooks, barely bothering to get out of their cars. We have been experiencing all the parks as Edward Abbey so passionately advocated for: by foot.
Speaking of feet, quite a few tourists were ruining their casual shoes this day. There was still some snow on trail and a whole lot of bright orange mud. I was entertained by the antics of some rather poorly shod walkers…like in dress shoes. At least I didn’t see any heels but it wouldn’t surprise me. As usual, we just slopped through it, splashing as we went. I expected soaked feet by the end of the day from walking through snow, so it didn’t matter. I videoed Mac making a mockery of the snow in a few parts but suspected it would be a real struggle the next day, if we stayed high on the under the rim trail.
We came to Bryce Point, beyond which only backpackers seemed to venture. A couple was there, asking where the trail back to the parking lot was. I guess it was hard to tell since it was covered by some snow. I could see cars driving by on the road, so I pointed in that general direction…it was just a guess since it was not where we were going. Instead, we headed down, hence the Under the Rim name. The trail meandered along more valleys and ridges, crossing some trippy orange streams. The water seemed unnaturally bright but one only had to look at the orange cliffs to understand the reason. This did not bode well for finding drinking water later but worst case, we could melt some snow.
It was quiet the rest of the day. I took it easy, falling behind the others, listening to a podcast. With an established trail, there was no need to stay together. There were a few tricky spots where the trail had been washed away by all the flooding, but easy enough to figure out. We passed only one other backpacker, then 4 campers near swamp canyon. I noted that there was a short connector trail coming from the road, which I assumed was the reason for seeing others. I hadn’t kept track of the milage since leaving Bryce Point but it certainly seemed like it wasn’t a very popular backpacking park. Maybe only now because of all the lingering snow.
Near the end of the day, we found a snow-melt stream that wasn’t too silty. Right after was a steep set of switchbacks covered by snow. Mac had already gone up so I simply followed his tracks. His big feet made it easy to step in. But it made me think about all the north-facing slopes that we’d be traversing the next day if we stayed on the Under the Rim Trail. I’d noted that it went up to 9000′ and could see all the snow to the south. We’d only been up to about 8300′, which was manageable, but another 700′ could make a big difference.
We went down a ways and exited the park just as it was time to find a campsite. There was a fence denoting the park boundary, and we joked that all the bears were trained to stay behind it. We were SAFE! Our pace and timing were perfect all day, almost as if we had planned it. My only regret was that we didn’t go down a little further to find an even better campsite under the ponderosa. As it was, I chose a juniper since it had such a nice flat spot, but missed my opportunity to camp under my favorite tree. Oh well. It got cold quick and I snuggled into my quilt. It was nice to be under the big trees, in a real forest. I just hoped there weren’t shrews.