What follows is a bullet list of the days and summary of activities (mostly for my own accounting & recall) of the week off from the Hayduke. We needed time to rework our plans for the upcoming segment of the Grand Canyon and to let more snow melt. In the interim, I decided that the extreme conditions (record snowpack, flooding, damage to trails, and trail closures) were leading to too much uncertainty. To finish the Hayduke route as it’s officially outlined in the western Grand Canyon seemed impossible. The North Kaibab trail was closed and Saddle Canyon and Tapeats creek were likely to be flooded. We submitted permit requests for an alternate route, the North Bass trail. A day after the permit was approved and paid for, someone wrote back to say they “strongly advised against doing the North Bass trail.” Why even was our permit approved then, I wondered? This worried me greatly.
I had another significant thing weighing heavily on my mind: my aunt Peggy’s memorial service on May 20th. It had been scheduled months after my Hayduke planning began, coinciding with dates for our original GC permit. I’d vested so much time and money into the trip already, plus I didn’t want to leave Stellar hanging. But I’d really hoped there would come a way that I could still make it to the memorial. After all the changes with the Grand Canyon conditions, routes and permits, I realized that my time and energy would be better spent attending the memorial. As such, I decided to end my hike at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I just wish I’d come to this conclusion before paying for more nights on our altered permit, but oh well. At least it seemed easy enough to get a ride from there to Las Vegas, where cheap flights to Denver abounded.
This being my 11th long distance hike, it felt pretty weird to be my first uncompleted hike. But then again, the official western terminus at Zion had always felt a little odd….kind of forced. There was a long, hot and boring connector piece to join the Grand Canyon called the Arizona Strip. And then a landslide in 2018 had closed the trail to the weeping wall, the official terminus in Zion. So most Haydukers were now ending at the first park road intersection…a rather unceremonious an uninspiring location. I actually liked the idea of finishing the trail at the South Rim, with its prominent world status and famous vistas. It also involved a different state, Arizona, which also somehow seemed fitting for a finish. I’d done enough of the Hayduke and hiking in Utah to understand completely the flavor of the experience. Plus, I could easily come back to the South Rim to complete the official route through the western side of the canyon when conditions were much more favorable. The more I thought about it, the more comfortable I became with my decision.
Stellar would of course continue on, as would Artemis. It was a bit awkward separating myself from our partnership…one that had began years ago on the PCT and persisted through 5 more long distances hikes, including the Hayduke. We had been a team that had always succeeded to the end of every trail and route…and even miles beyond the official termini…as in the case of the MRT and Long Trail. It’s easy to get hung up on equating value and self worth to the completion of a trail. One can get into a pretty negative mindset of feeling like a failure, especially when the others in the group are willing and able to continue on.
But in doing so many long distance hikes, I’ve also come to terms with how arbitrary a “trail” can be, especially these routes that were basically invented by 1 or a few people. As such, we had already made up our own endings in several cases. The Hayduke had been perhaps the most arbitrary of trails I’d done, as we’d probably spent over half the time on alternate routes. It was a choose-your-own-adventure route, a thing that didn’t make any demands about being a purest. The point was to have fun and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Maybe to also expand one’s limits and comfort zone, to an extent. As if I needed some affirmation, I received a fortune cookie that had this to say: it is sometimes better to travel hopefully than to arrive.
Anyway, that’s where I was in the midst of this week off. Even the process of taking a week from the trail derailed my motivation a little. I’m usually pretty goal oriented towards finishing a trail once I begin, rarely taking more then 2 days off in succesion. I don’t even take that many zeros…4 during the whole AT, 5 on the PCT. I’d greatly surpassed those numbers on the Hayduke, in just a quarter of the distance. I felt a little rudderless. It was good to commit to an end date and location so I get back to my family.
Sunday, April 30th, 2023: zero in Kanab, reworking plans.
Monday, May 1st: Drove to Escalante and then 22 miles down the Hole In the Rock Road, day hiked a 5 mile loop up Peekaboo slot canyon then down Spooky slot canyon. Funny sign at trailhead depicting the width of the slots…if one can’t fit through the bars, then one might get stuck and need rescue. I mistakenly brought my backpack as a daypack, otherwise the width wouldn’t have been a problem. Camped a few miles before Egypt trailhead.
Tuesday, May 2nd – Wednesday, May 3rd: hiked 3 miles down to the Escalante River, dropped packs for a 4 mile side trip to the Golden Cathedral, continued 2 miles up river, went up Choprock canyon about 10.5 miles to a mesa, found water in pipe trough, camped among junipers next to a wash. Next day went 10.5 miles down Silver Falls Canyon, crossed the river, went up Harris Canyon a bit to collect water, then climbed out of the canyon near the rincon feature to go 5 miles cross country along the bench back to the trailhead. Total distance: 35 miles. Really amazing canyons similar to Muley Twist, Stevens, and Coyote Gulch. Went back to town for dinner and stealth camped just outside of town near the trailhead we planned to hike the next day.
Thursday, May 4th: woke up at 5 am to pack and drive to Trail Angels Steve and Page’s house, got a ride up to Boulder with Steve on his way to work, dropped us off near the Boulder airport to start the Boulder Mail Trail by 7 am. Total distance: 16 miles, lots of up and downs through drainages, cool section through Death Box Hollow, tons of waterpockets…swimming pool size, and gorgeous white slickrock throughout. Great day hike or overnight. Saw about 8 other backpackers, including Fancy Feast, a hayduke hiker from Fall 22 (hiked with Horsepower, who I met on the PNT). Finished the trail around 2:30 pm and was picked up by Plants, who just happened to be in town guiding a trip for Andrew Skurka. Had a late lunch reunion at the Outfitter pizza place. Drove back up to Boulder to stay with Jared, another PCT hiker that had reached out to Artemis about offering trail magic. Turns out he manages and chefs a B&B that’s owned by his aunt. He’d offered to make us dinner and let us take showers and do laundry…so incredibly kind and appreciated! The meal was fiesta lime chicken cutlets with rice and beans…delicious! The evening got late and JJ Giveaway (his trail name) graciously offered for us to stay in a spare room at the the B&B. It was the most luxurious accomodations and pampered treatment we’ve had all trail!
Friday, May 5th: We had an amazing and professional breakfast of locally produced sausage, egg, and oven baked pancakes with buttermilk syrup. Jared also gave us the VIP tour of his family’s home, with beautiful landscaping all around and a peaceful stream running through. Met his parents and later his aunt, who owns the B&B and also runs the well-provisioned general store and gas station…I gave her a hug. Jared took us to the Singing Slot Canyon, down the Burr Trail, so we could practice our vocals. It’s a very short and easily accessible slot with wonderful acoustics. We finally bid farewell to Jared and headed a short ways back towards Escalante. We stopped at Calf Creek to camp at the BLM site for the night and go for the 5 mile round trip to Calf Creek Falls
Saturday, May 6th: drove back to Kanab and I hurriedly worked to ship all my extra stuff home so that nothing was left in Stellar’s car. I worked on some other logistics for how to end the hike and get back to Denver. I got in touch with Sky and worked out a plan to meet up and hike the Grand Canyon on their permit, since the combined permit with Stellar and Artemis was now completely irrelevant to my new plans and it was too late to change (no one I could even get ahold of on a weekend). We met up with new-to-us Hayduke hikers Weekend and Double Happiness, a couple that had been about a week ahead of us when we’d started. They’d skipped ahead to hike the Zion portion and were now back in Kanab, ready to begin the GC section. We had dinner together, which felt rather subdued given all the uncertainty and changes. I was anxious to just get back to hiking the route for a final week.