Links to sections below:
"The Hayduke Trail is an extremely challenging, 800-mile backcountry route through some of the most
rugged and breathtaking landscapes on earth. Located entirely on public land, the trail links six of the
National Parks on the Colorado Plateau in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona with the lesser known, but
equally splendid, lands in between them. Encompassed in the route are 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 and numerous National Forests, BLM Districts,
Primitive Areas, Wilderness Areas and Wilderness Study Areas. The Hayduke Trail is not intended to be
the easiest or most direct route through this incredibly varied terrain, but is rather meant to showcase the
stunning Redrock Wilderness of the American Southwest." -www.hayduketrail.org
The Hayduke Trail traverses one of the last great wildernesses of the United States. It spans two vertical miles in elevation range from the bottom of the Grand Canyon at 1,800 ft to the top of Mount Ellen in the Henry Mountains at 11,522 ft. While some of the travel is on dirt roads or established hiking trails, much of the Hayduke Trail traverses untrailed slickrock, slot canyons, washes, rivers, thick vegetation, quicksand, sand dunes, scree slopes, cliffs, and even alpine peaks. As such it requires keen navigational skills, excellent fitness, and proven capability over sometimes rough or exposed terrain. The landscape can be harsh. Water, too much or not enough, is the desert's mantra out here. It is possible to go days without seeing a single water source only to have a torrential downpour trap you on the wrong side of a vicious flash flood. Depending on the time of year, the temperature can range over 100°F while hiking the trail. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, cacti, and posion ivy all may be encountered.
The Hayduke Trail was first conceived by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella back in 1998. The first through-hike of the "trail" wasn't until 2005 by Brian Frankle. Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail (or countless other long hikes traversing the US), the Hayduke Trail receives a comparitively miniscule amount of section hikers and only a small handful of through-hikers every year. The trail is named after fictional character George Washington Hayduke III, the rough-and-ready radical ecowarrior/ecoterrorist defender of the Southwest in Edward Abbey's novel "The Monkey Wrench Gang." Hayduke personified many of Abbey's longings to protect the wilderness of the American Southwest by any means necessary. The trail name is a fitting tribute to Edward Abbey's tireless advocation for the preservation of wilderness and strong opinions on how that wilderness should be enjoyed. The Hayduke Trail is precisely how Abbey would have wanted Americans to experience their public lands:
"In the first place you can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk,
better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of
blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe." -Edward Abbey
My longtime friend Ryan Weidert (trailname: Tuna Helper) and I began planning our Hayduke Trail through-hike well over two months in advance— permits, food, gear, water, route—there was much to plan. He was an experienced long distance through-hiker; I had never backpacked more than 8 days at a time. We both have a very strong fascination and love for the landscape of the Colorado Plateau; this, combined with the fact that we would seldom be following an actual trail, peaked my interest and convinced me that this could be the long-distance hike for me. We decided to embrace the choose-your-own-adventure mentality of the route, penciling in several shortcuts we wished to try, adding in stretches of packrafting and technical canyoning detours, passing on the large detour up to Bryce Canyon NP, creating our own route linking Hackberry/Buckskin/Paria/Vermillion/North Rim, and arranging for a 4WD pick-up at the end of the Grand Canyon to Parunuweap to ferry us across 40 miles of sandy open terrain. We often questioned why the route went "there" when it could have gone "here" (sometimes this was obvious when we got there, other times not). So we would certainly be taking some liberties with the idea of a Hayduke Trail through-trip. We planned to average 20+ mile days, and complete our hike in about 38 days.
We set off to begin placing our caches on the 10th of September 2013. We had hoped to coincide our hike with the tail end of the monsoon season (usually very reliably the beginning of September), which should give us enough of a window to get through the Grand Canyon just before it started to get wretchedly cold and wintery. This however turned out to be an extremely atypical year. The biggest storm of the season (some Utah locals told us the biggest in 30 years!), hit southern Utah just before we left. This complicated things considerably as many of the roads we wished to place caches along were horribly washed out (House Rock Road, Long Canyon Road, Cottonwood Rd, Hole-In-The-Rock Road) so we had to cache them in often much less ideal locations.
Because of these delays we did not began hiking until September 13, 2013. Though we were fortunate to have only one wet rainy night (the first night!), many nights we got very lucky with storms passing left and right of us. Rogue thunderstorms continued for two weeks often as thick afternoon accumulations. A couple storms produced impressive downpours and/or flash floods that forced us to run to shelter and wait out the storm (usually only about 30 minutes). We pushed to averaged 20-22 mile days, often requiring hiking an hour or two past dark. A few times these long day pushes were ill-conceived, but often they allowed for pleasant hiking in the cool night (beautiful moonlight at the beginning of our trip) and was a good opportunity to bash out "commuter miles" (dirt roads, etc. linking more stimulating parts of the trail). In hindsight, planning on 15-mile days is probably an ideal way to maximize enjoyment.
The first half of the hike was going great...we weathered 21 days of long days, storms, flash floods, high winds, cold temperatures, quicksand, scorpions, cacti, packrats, thick vegetation, poison ivy, mosquitoes, tricky navigation, rivers, sketchy drop-offs, loose rocks, and all varieties of suspect terrain, only to arrive at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and be escorted out of the national park by rangers with tasers because of the US federal government shutdown beginning October 1st, 2013! Such an end was very disappointing, but disgusting more than anything. This was the most logistically intense stretch for us, and by far the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. Of all the factors involved in pulling this trip off, I never would have anticipated that we could not complete our Hayduke Trail through-hike—which required nothing from anyone else but the ability to traverse public lands protected for the American People—because of petty nearsighted politics. Hayduke would have continued hiking; we did not. Hopefully we will be given the opportunity to pick up where we left off sometime.
Information on this webpage is provided with the aim of aiding and inspiring Hayduke Trail hikers. It is intended not as an all-inclusive guide, but as a supplemental reference. Use all contents of this website at your own risk—I assume none. Hikers should refer to The Hayduke Trail Guidebook (available via Amazon), hayduketrail.org, current public land regulations/permits, and other online resources to plan their trip. Lastly, I assert that there is no substitute for preparedness, resourcefulness, fitness, confidence, ability, skill, and most of all, proven experience in the sort of terrain that the route traverses.
A selection of 260 photos from the September-October 2013 partial through-hike (or view album at source here):
On such a committing and remote undertaking as a through-hike of the Hayduke Trail, careful selection of minimalist, lightweight, reliable gear is paramount. Every gram counts when you carry it hundreds of miles. Removing labels from water bottles, cutting labels off clothes, trimming the foam sleeping mat to a minimal size, repackaging food...it can become an obsessive business! Nevertheless, careful planning and preparation can assure you take just what you need and nothing else. Luckily Ryan is a very experienced long distance hiker so I could differ to his good judgement when necessary. This was pretty much my first venture into ultralight backpacking so I had to recalibrate my definition of luxury items (SLR camera, spare clothes, camp towel, headlamp, phone), nearly all of which would stay behind. Although I was skeptical at first, as we hiked I relished the minimal weight and the simplicity that I was carrying just what I needed and almost nothing else. My pack weight (11.4 lbs) and on person weight (4.1 lbs) gave me a total base weight (excluding food and water) of 15.44 lbs. Ryan's was a pound or two less, even though he was carrying a lot of the group gear.
Preparing caches for our through-hike / Grand Canyon packrafting kit / Grand Canyon canyoneering kit (minus 60 m rope)
A couple notes about gear:
A complete pack list can be expanded below for those interested.
Hayduke Packing List - Sept/Oct 2013
Excel file available here: HaydukeGearNCB-RW2013.xls
|Item||Quantity||Weight (g)||Weight (oz)|
|Hat- Tilley T5 7 1/8"||138||4.87|
|Bandana- Ex Officio||48||1.7|
|Shirt- Mountain Hardware long sleeve||219||7.73|
|Boxers- Ex Officio||83||2.93|
|Pants- REI Sahara Convertible||321||11.32|
|Socks- Wrightsock Coolmesh II (pair)||2||27||0.95|
|Sunglasses- Flying Fisherman 7830BS w/ microfiber + ziplock||26||0.92|
|Chapstick- Blistex 5 Star SPF 30||9||0.32|
|Olympus WS-710M MP3/recorder w/ AAA + headphones + ziplock||61||2.15|
|Gaiters- Dirty Girls||32||1.13|
|Shoes- The North Face Hedgehog||852||30.05|
|1843 g||65.01 oz||4.06 lbs|
|Pack- Aether 70L pack||2155||76|
|Pack liner- Gossamer||38||38|
|Quilt- Enlightened Revelationx||661||23.31|
|Sleeping Pad- 32" x 15.5" RidgeRest (w/ cut corners)||140||4.94|
|Ground Tarp – Gossamer Gear polycro||41||1.45|
|Trekking poles- Komperdell TrailLite Compact AS (pair) +6ft duct tape||473||16.68|
|Spoon- Long handle Ti Sea to Summit||14||0.49|
|Bowl- Fozzils 500mL origami||40||1.41|
|Pen- Pilot refill, Rite-In-The-Rain (6 sheets), cable ties (2)||10||0.35|
|3890 g||137.21 oz||8.58 lbs|
|Jacket- Mont Bell Puffy, synthetic||252||8.89|
|311 g||10.97 oz||0.69 lbs|
|Flashlight- ThruNite T10 (w/ AA, cable tie and safety pin)||33||1.16|
|Garmin Legend Cx GPS (w/ 2 AA)||148||5.22|
|iPhone w/ case||144||5.05|
|USB drive- Staples Relay (with maps, etc backed up)||2||0.07|
|393 g||13.86 oz||0.87 lbs|
|Olympus TG-1 Camera w/ battery||228||8.05|
|AU Camera case||25||0.9|
|Olympus battery (spare)||2||21||0.75|
|Olympus camera float||19||0.65|
|314 g||11.07 oz||0.69 lbs|
|Toothbrush w/ Sensodyne Pronamel toothpaste, 2ft floss, soap strips||36||1.27|
|Drugs- Ibuprofen (10), Tylenol/Codeine (4), Melatonin (10), Benadryl (8)||13||0.46|
|Sunscreen w/ bottle||45||1.58|
|Contact kit- contacts (2 spare pair) w/ solution & case||71||2.5|
|Ointments- Bactroban, Hydrocortisone, Purell, lotion||70||2.47|
|Mole skin (1), Blister patch (3), bandaids (5)||18||0.63|
|253 g||8.92 oz||0.56 lbs|
|On Person Weight||1843 g||65.01 oz||4.06 lbs|
|Pack Weight||5161 g||182.04 oz||11.38 lbs|
|Total Base Weight||7004 g||247.06 oz||15.44 lbs|
|Shared Group Gear (Ryan)|
|Shelter – 8'x10' silnylon tarp||395||13.93|
|Alcohol Stove Pack||102||3.59|
|Titanium Pot – REI||119||4.19|
|Sawyer Water Filter||96||3.38|
|Filter Cleanout Syringe||33||1.16|
|Aquamira Drops 2x1oz||86||3.03|
|Swiss Army Knife||72||2.53|
|903 g||31.85||1.99 lbs|
|Shoes- Merrell Moab Ventilator||824||29.07||Tropic Cache|
|Gloves- Seirus (pair)||84||2.96||Buckskin Cache|
|Patagonia thermal bottom||135||4.76||Buckskin Cache|
|Under Armor Long sleeve top||202||7.13||Buckskin Cache|
|Moab Packraft Kit|
|Explorer 200||2815 oz||99.3 oz||6.21 lbs|
|Grand Canyon Packraft Kit|
|Packraft- Supai Flatwater II||680||24|
|Paddle- Supai Olo||354||12.5|
|Seat- Alpacka (inflatable)||150||5.3|
|PFD- MTI Journey||378||13.3|
|Inflation Bag- Alpacka||106||3.74|
|Bow/strapping line- 22'4" x 3mm PMI||47||1.65|
|Knife- Petzl Spatha w/ carabiner||84||2.95|
|Boat Patches (4)||9||0.32|
|Bailing Sponge- car wash type||50||1.75|
|Splash Guard- trash bag||22||0.78|
|Neoprene socks (pair)||213||7.5|
|Gloves- Hyperflex Access 3.0 neoprene (pair)||87||3.07|
|Dry bag- 65L Sea to Summit||312||11|
|4195 g||147.97 oz||9.2 lbs|
|Wag Bag (holds 32 oz)||69||2.43||GC requirement|
|Fire Pan- 12" dia x 2.5" deep Al pan||41||1.45||need if on river permit|
|Paddling (garden) gloves (pair)||54||1.9||alternate|
|3mm Wetsuit||926||32.65||if not taking 4/3mm|
|Paddle- Airhead AHTK-P1 (2 sections)||564||19.89||alternate|
|Grand Canyon Canyon Kit|
|Rope- 200' x 9.2 mm Bluewater Canyon||3965||144.87||Whispering 170ft rap|
|Pull cord- 200' x 2mm New England DynaGlide||151||5.33||Crazy Jug 55ft rap|
|Webbing- 40' x 9/16"||313||11.05|
|Harness- BD Couloir||234||8.25|
|Safety- 9/16" webbing||35||1.23|
|Descender- Pirana w/ locker||172||6.07|
|Rap ring- SMC hollow Al||4||12||0.42|
|BD locking carabiner||2||56||1.98|
|Knife- Petzl Spatha w/ carabiner||84||2.95|
|Helmet- Petzl Elios||323||11.39|
|5736 g||202.35 oz||12.6 lbs|
|Headlamp- Petzl NAO||194||6.84||maybe|
The beauty of the Hayduke Trail is that it is not really a trail, it's a choose-your-own-adventure in one of the U.S.'s greatest outdoor playgrounds. In that spirit I present a series of alternate routes below that I decided were worth other people taking. Most of these alternates are generally designed to maximize enjoyment and interest, and minimize suffering and trail length (though in some cases increasing necessary logistics). Pick and choose them as you see fit, my goal is to provide options that I think will improve the trail.
The alternate routes below are arranged from "A to Z" (Arches to Zion, or roughly east to west). The sections referred to below are those described in the Hayduke Trail guidebook by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella. The Hayduke Trail (in the sense of the "by-the-book" route) has been abbreviated HDT for simplicity. "True right" and "true left" refer to right or left respectively when facing down a drainage or river.
Use these routes at your own risk. Do not attempt packrafting or technical canyoneering alternates without prior experience. Feel free to contact me with suggested updates (see Contact page).
Google Earth kmz file available here: Hayduke Trail v1.0 NCB-RW 2013.kmz This includes several minor or untested alternates not described here. Note that internet searches should bring up instructions on how these routes and waypoints can be converted to file formats that can then be uploaded and displayed on certain GPSs.
Click on route name below to expand content.
Click on an aerial map to open up a larger view of the image.
Hover the pointer over a photo for a description of the image.
Devils Garden Start
This was our chosen start to the Hayduke Trail (HDT). By parking at the bike path trailhead just north of Moab near the Courthouse/Colorado confluence and hitching into Arches NP to Devils Garden, we eliminated the more complex logistics involved in arbitrarily starting in the middle of nowhere north of Klondike Bluffs. We followed the trail past several nice arches including Landscape Arch (the longest natural arch in the world with a span of 290 ft) before veering off near Dark Angel to join the Hayduke Trail at its Mile 2.0 in Salt Valley. There is one easy cliff band to navigate between Dark Angel and Salt Valley. This route is 4.5 miles long, which means it adds 2.5 trail miles to the HDT (Section 1).
Klondike Bluffs Start
Untested. This is an alternate start that more closely follows the original HDT start but with a bit more spice and enjoyment. This route skirts a nice cliffedge, passes through a fin garden, and visits two very nice arches (Tower Arch and Parallel Arch). Gaining the top of the Klondike Bluffs looks straightforward and following the edge of the bluffs should make fantastic travel. It looks like it may be trickier finding a way down off the fins at the edge of the bluffs, but it also looks like there should be several possible routes. Navigating the fins near Tower Arch may be the crux of the route, but again it seems there are probably multiple options. This route is 4.3 miles long and joins the HDT at Mile 3.8, which means it adds only 0.5 miles to the HDT (Section 1).
It had just rained and further thuderstorms were continuing to threaten. The Willow Spring drainage had an atypical amount of flowing chocolaty water. We knew Courthouse Wash would be in bad shape with flood debris from recent big storms, deep mud, quick sand, muddy high water and rampant mosquitoes, so on-the-fly we opted for a cross-country slickrock route instead. Although the route goes across the grain of the drainages in the area, the drainages are not that well formed and the route does go with the grain of the joints in the sandstone which is probably more important. The key is to aim just to the left of the point of two flat-topped sand dune areas on the slickrock surfaces (see aerial photo). The route turned out to be very enjoyable—rather than hiking down "yet another wash" (as we were soon to be of the mindset), we sampled some world-class slickrock. Once at the Great Wall cliff, we found a well-placed sand dune ramp that was key to descending through the two cliff bands to Courthouse Wash. This part of the route was particularly great and presented a welcome taste of some of the slickrock scrambles we would encounter later on down the HDT. We crossed Courthouse Wash as fast as we could (see description above), but I still managed to pick up about 30 mosquito bites! From here we cross-countried towards Courthouse Tower, just past the main park road, then proceeded up the popular tourist trail of Park Avenue (also looking very wet). From the parking lot at the top we then cross-countried over sand and slickrock to the cliff overlooking Moab. Here some (straightforward) route-finding was necessary to thread our way through several short cliff bands. At the obvious final dryfall we traversed right over a steep and loose scree slope to gain the last ridge down to our car and Moab. This route leaves the HDT at Mile 11.4 and joins it again at Mile 23.1. This route is 7.7 miles long and shaves 4.0 miles off the length of the HDT (Section 1).
What is better than hiking? Letting the river do the work for you! The section of the Colorado River from the Hwy 191 bridge to the Canyonlands park boundary is managed by the BLM and requires no permit for non-motorized private parties- just go do it! This 22+ mile stretch of the river has no rapids or hydraulics of any kind and only requires keeping a careful eye out for occasional branches which could puncture your boat. Although speed will depend on the river flow (cfs) and wind, we averaged 2–4 mi/hr floating with casual rowing. Because of the nature of the river here (and good road access), the trip is relatively non-committing and can be done by those with limited raft experience (just test it out in a pool or lake first). Instead of using real packrafts (which we had cached at the Grand Canyon) for this stretch of river we each purchased Intek Explorer 200s (well-built glorified pool toys available online for $20). The boats are relatively comfortable and provide excellent floatation when properly tempered but weigh about 6.2 lbs each, which is why we cached ours at the takeout for later retrieval.
Due to logistical reasons we started our packraft from just inside The Portal west of Moab, but I would highly recommend starting from the Hwy 191 bridge if possible. Along the way you'll float past several arches (including Corona Arch and Jug Handle Arch), some nice fins, a couple rock climbing areas, a potash mine, the Potash boat ramp, and buildings of the Base Camp Adventure Lodge and Caveman Ranch. Near the boat ramp you will also pass through a giant anticlinal fold in the rocks (north of the boat ramp the rocks dip to the north, to the south they dip to the south). Because of this, the cliffs and rock units change along the river and provide good variety. I thought it was one of our most enjoyable days "on the trail." Ryan magically happened upon a floating unopened can of PBR which totally made his day! This packrafting option leaves the HDT from the Hwy 191 bridge at Mile 23.4 (Section 1) and rejoins the trail around Mile 45.7 (Section 2 Mile 6.0). This route is virtually the same length as the portion of the HDT it bypasses (but is considerably better travel).
We spied this possibility on Google Earth and were eager to test it. The HDT take a big sweeping turn to contour around the head of Lockhart Canyon before finding an uncliffed entry into it. This route beelines for the nearest cliff and threads its way down to rejoin the HDT just above the Lockhart Canyon Jump. When we arrived at the edge of the cliff it looked intimidating (difficult to impossible), but we carefully scouted around. Although we each found a seperate way down the cliff, I highly recommend the route I took (as marked). If you do not follow the route carefully as marked you could potentially waste a lot of time or find yourself in a bad spot. If you follow it, the capable Hayduke hiker will have no trouble at all. Two scrambly downclimbs lead to a slickrock bench which should be traversed towards the pinnacle-style arch (a crab-walk downclimb may be necessary to get off this slickrock bench). Just in front of the arch is a boulder cave. Climb down about 5 ft into this boulder cave (a pack pass may be nice), then continue out the bottom entrance of this cave. Traverse easy slickrock benches and flats back towards the jump. We thought it a really neat little route. This route leaves the HDT at Section 2 Mile 16.8 (Mile 56.5) and rejoins it at Section 2 Mile 20.9 (Mile 60.6). This route is 1.0 miles in length and cuts 3.1 miles off the HDT while adding interest and challenge.
Cyclone to Butler Direct
This route takes in a bit more of the otherworldly (and generally very cool) Cyclone Canyon graben and then finishes with an easy scramble down scree/boulders/cliffs to the floor of Butler Wash. The floor of Cyclone Canyon provides easy travel compared to the bouldery/sandy washes of Red Lake Canyon and Aztec Canyon. Despite its steep appearance, the cliffbands and scree leading down into Butler Wash were surprisingly easy to navigate (we generally headed down and to the left). This route leave the HDT at Section 3 Mile 6.2 (Mile 93.0) and rejoins it at Section 3 Mile 8.5 (Mile 95.3). This route is 1.6 miles in length and cuts about 0.7 miles off the HDT.
Untested. Though not the most difficult or unbrainless, Butler Wash was one of my least favorite portions of the Hayduke Trail. The HDT follows the wash for about 14 miles. We found the bouldery/muddy/pooled lower 1 mile of the wash from Chesler Canyon to be horribly awkward and unpleasant (though we did hike this stretch at about 8-9 pm at the end of an already long day and about a week after major floods). There are several awkward climbs up boulder chokes or dryfalls and a large 40 ft+ dryfall that requires backtracking down the previous dryfall and hiking up a scree slope all the way out of the canyon to bypass. Then there are 10 miles or so of sinuous open sandy wash, all the while giving distant teasing glimses of the epic needled landscape just a mile or two to the north. While hiking this boring middle section of Butler Wash all I could think is, "Why aren't we over there!!?"
So after some post-trip research I put together this [untested] vastly more interesting route through the heart of the Needles District, largely following existing roads, trails and washes. The only two downsides I see are that this route cuts off Cyclone Canyon, one of my favorite features of this portion of the HDT (though this route adds portions of the similar Devils Lane and Devils Kitchen grabens), and that this area is not as remote and receives much more visitation than Cyclone Canyon and Butler Wash (with good reason I think!). This route follows a 4WD road south from the start of The Grabens down over into Devils Lane, then continues across Devils Kitchen. A good trail then skirts around and through the Needles to Chesler Park (though I wonder if some exciting shortcut right through the middle of the Needles is possible?). Continue across Chesler Park, taking the awesome Joint Trail along the floor of a very narrow slot through to Chesler Canyon. Chesler Canyon looks to be very similar to middle Butler Wash in terms of terrain but is much less sinuous and appears to have a well-established foot trail paralleling it for much of its length. One potentially tricky (fun?) saddle seperates the head of Chesler Canyon from easy travel down an unnamed wash to join Butler Wash.
This route leaves the HDT at Section 3 Mile 3.2 (Mile 90.0) and rejoins it more than halfway up Butler Wash at about Section 3 Mile 16.1 (Mile 102.9). This route is about 10.9 miles in length and cuts about 2.0 trail miles off the HDT, while adding some of the most beautiful landscape in Canyonlands and potentially a couple challenges. I can't wait to try this stretch- if you hike it let me know!
Dark Canyon Plateau
Nothing revolutionary here but a slight variation on the HDT that follows a couple ridges instead of the wash, which seemed kind of unpleasant. This route has a few fun climbs up through cliff bands, the top one being particularly fun/challenging. At the top of the upper cliff we had good cell reception, which was our first opportunity to communicate with loved ones since Moab. We saw lots of signs of those before us (pottery and bear tracks) as we walked across the plateau to join the HDT. This route leaves the HDT at about Section 3 Mile 36.3 (Mile 123.1) and rejoins at Section 3 Mile 38.5 (Mile 125.3). This route is 1.9 miles long, 0.3 miles shorter than the HDT.
Dirty Devil Escape
The Dirty Devil sucks, at least it did for us. The river was flowing high (high thighs at the choicest crossings) and we found abundant evidence of an enormous flood event from probably a week before. This meant the river terraces had been completely reamed, the thick late summer vegetation was unpleasant to bushwhack through, and quicksand/shin deep mud was overabundant. Travel was painfully slow.
With still another 1.5 miles to go to reach Posion Spring Canyon, Ryan spotted an intriguing set of animal trails disappearing at the base of the shortest part of the cliff bounding the Dirty Devil Canyon. After consulting our map, we decided that if we could get up that cliff we should have no trouble finding an easy route into Posion Spring Canyon. So we climbed the mudrock scree slope high up to the base of the topmost 20–30 ft of the sandstone cliff. Gaining the cliff requires following a ledge/crack of sorts diagonally up to the right. For about 20 ft this mild climb is extremely exposed (be very careful), but there are decent handholds along the ledge and adequate footing. We cleaned a few loose rocks off this surface suggesting it has only been used as a game trail previously. From here follow a drainage up to reach an old uranium mining road. You well see the remnants of a wood building and a green metal bench someone went through considerable trouble to bring here. We dropped our packs and followed the washed-out road up to the mines for a quick look. There is an old shack and some mining artifacts left just inside the most extensive tunnel. We only went in a short distance (for fear of radon accumulations), but enjoyed seeing petrified wood in the walls and ceilings, partially replaced by yellow uranium minerals. Back at our packs we followed the road around the corner and then bombed down the hill through all the road switchbacks to arrive at the floor of Poison Spring Canyon (taking the entire road is about a mile longer).
This route leaves the HDT at about Section 4 Mile 19.4 (Mile 174.1) and rejoins the HDT at about Section 4 Mile 21.3 (Mile 176). This route is 1.4 miles long (excluding a pack-free detour to the uranium mines), 0.5 miles shorter than the HDT (though with an extra 300 ft elevation gain). If you have had enough of the Dirty Devil and can stomach a little exposure, this could be your route.
The Arsenic route is best when combined with the Little Egypt route for a more scenic, diverse and shorter Hayduke Trail. Instead of more of the same in Poison Spring Canyon, turn off up the Aresenic Canyon tributary which features a nice stretch of cottonwoods and beautiful slickrock. A detour up to Arsenic Arch is possible. There are also several technical slot canyons here, which can be walked up to the last obstacle. This route does pass through two short sections of slot canyon with some modest climbing challenges (which can be bypassed if necessary). The lower slot has an 8 ft dryfall to climb (pass packs) or bypass. The upper slot has a 13 ft high dryfall with a chockstone at the top- we found this to be an easy chimney climb (good friction) and passed packs (see bottom right). Some experience chimneying and a length of rope may be handy. From here walk a series of roads to the edge of a bench, then down to Hwy 95.
This route leaves the HDT at about Section 4 Mile 29.1 (Mile 183.8) and joins the Little Egypt alternate at Hwy 95, 4.3 road miles south of the HDT. The Arsenic route is 6.9 miles long and is 1.1 miles shorter than the HDT when combined with Little Egypt.
I really enjoyed this scenic little alternate of ours. From Hwy 95 go cross-country to the little rock formation garden known as Little Egypt. It is certainly worth spending 15 minutes enjoying the whimsical shapes and forms of the red-and-white rocks not dissimilar to those at the more famous Goblin Valley SP. West of the main formation area is a particularly impressive hoodoo worth a visit. The escalator up to the top of the cliffs is a steep mudrock scree slope in the next major drainage north of the prominant hoodoo. Be cautious of your footing when scrambling up this slope (this section may not be passible after heavy rain). Once up you will rather abruptly hit a road. Here you have two good options: either climb up the two slightly awkward dryfalls in the drainage facing you then hike up to gain a remarkably flat old alluvial surface toward the large stock ponds (good views and more interesting) or follow the road left (south then west) towards the stock pond (easier). From here there are many converging roads so be sure you take the correct one, through the gap in the upturned rock layers. You will pass two neat cabins including an old homestead cabin that looks exceptionally old. From here just follow the road up the outwash surface past Eagle Bench Airstrip and up to the junction of the HDT. The narrow slot canyon of Crescent Creek is an excellent 1 hour detour if you have the time (there is a 50 ft high dam/waterfall at the top so unless you have rope the canyon is best enjoyed from the bottom up and then returning the way you came).
This route continues from the Arsenic alternate at Hwy 95 (4.3 road miles south of the HDT) and joins the HDT at Section 5 Mile 8.0 (Mile 197). The Arsenic route is 6.9 miles long and is 1.1 miles shorter than the HDT when combined with Little Egypt. Highly recommended.
South Creek Ridge
Following this prominant ridge provides a short but worthwhile alternative to dropping directly into the confined headwaters of Sweetwater Creek. Although this route is a little loose in a couple places, we generally found cattle tracks the whole way down that provided pretty good travel. This route leaves the HDT at Section 5 Mile 20.2 (Mile 210) and rejoins the HDT at about Section 5 Mile 21.9 (Mile 211.7). This route is 1.5 miles long, only 0.2 miles shorter than the HDT but probably easier going.
Below Tarantula 1
This one will definitely not be for everyone. Rather than following the HDT around a wash on a bench before dropping into the wash, we boldly went for the direct route down the cliff. We only found one way down all three cliff bands. I would call the middle cliff band downclimb moderately difficult- we passed packs and spotted each other on this loose 15 ft high slotty downclimb with an awkward overhanging bit at the end and an equally awkward landing. Pay close attention to the aerial photos to stick to our route. Maybe someone will find a better way. This route leaves the HDT at Section 5 Mile 35.7 (Mile 226.1) and rejoins the HDT at Section 5 Mile 37.1 (Mile 227.5). This route is 0.7 miles long, and cuts 0.7 miles off the HDT.
Below Tarantula 2
This one is great- easy, interesting, and much shorter than the trail, though good navigation is necessary. From the spring work your way up the small tributary with some interesting coal outcrops (including small chunks of amber). One little climb out of this tributary and then one more scramble out of the second drainage (trickiest part will be finding a break in the cliff to regain the bench where the trail is. This route leaves the HDT at Section 5 Mile 37.1 (Mile 227.5) and rejoins the HDT at about Section 5 Mile 40.4 (Mile 230.9). This route is 1.2 miles long, and cuts 2.0 miles off the HDT.
The Escalante River: world-class scrub bash or world-class packraft trip? When we arrived at the Escalante River in late September we found it in very poor shape. The banks of the river were absolutely coated in late summer thickets of tamarisk, Russian olive and other horrible plants which had then been tangled by an enormous recent flood event. The river itself was too deep and soft floored for any sort of travel but crossing so back and forth we went through the thickets. We stepped up our efforts to try to make good time down the Escalante using our trekking poles to thread our way downstream. Despite expending more effort overall than I had hiking any previous portion of the HDT, we still were averaging a painfully slow 1 mi/hr. After 6 hours we were only 6 miles down the Escalante with 20 miles to go to get to Coyote Gulch (which we had both been to before). All the while the Escalante was flowing past us at a dreamy 20 cubic feet a second, a liquid conveyor belt that was moving at least 4 mi/hr! Paired with the fact that short-cutting the Escalante and hitching to Tropic would put us back on schedule for our Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area permits, the Escalante was pyschologically more than we could take so we abandoned it and escaped up Scorpion Gulch (see below). I am resolute in never having a desire to hike that part of the Escalante River again, but would packraft it in an instant!
The two key logistics that need to be overcome in packrafting the Escalante on the HDT are (1) you need to carry the gear in from Burr Trail (a couple days walk), and (2) you need the Escalante to be flowing at more than 1.6 cfs. See this trip account. Surmount those two issues and you are in for a real treat. This route is technically the same length and route as the HDT, but will save you vastly more time and maximize your enjoyment.
Update: March 2014. Along with two others I carried out a 3-day packraft trip from the Egypt trailhead (north of the Moody confluence) to Coyote Gulch. We then hiked up Coyote taking the Jacob Hamblin Arch exit (south side) to our shuttled vehicle. The river was flowing at a dreamy 15-18 cfs the first two days and a noticeably bumpier 4 cfs the last day (only 4 miles of river). Our timing was near perfect. It was the first time packrafting for one of the three of us and she had no issues. We each had Alpackas, and I would reccommend the same. The river is pretty easy to read. The riffles and small drops are fun but have little consequence (we felt quite safe without lifejackets or helmets on this small river). With paddling, we averaged about 4 mi/hr below Scorpion Gulch and a little slower above due to the river.It is sometimes necessary to lift your butt to avoid scraping on shallow rocks over several broad riffles. Wetsuit or other cold water protection may be necessary in cold weather, but likely would be unnecessary much of April-October. We encountered two manditory portages (one a little above Fools Canyon and the other a little below) at places where large boulders block the river; otherwise everything was easily navigable at the conditions we encountered. Fantastic trip well worth carrying the packrafting gear 2-3 days between good cache sites if the river is in condition!
As per our Escalante woes discussed above, we opted for an on-the-fly escape up Scorpion Gulch to Hole-In-The-Rock Road. If such an escape is desirable for any reason, this is a good route to have in mind. The bottom 0.5 miles of Scorpion is remarkably riparian with lush foliage indicating water year-round. Unfortunately this also meant poison ivy so we stayed in the creek and waded across the clear, refreshing pools rather than stomp through the vegetation. This is the last water before Hole-In-The-Rock Road so fill up if you need it. There are a few boulder climbs at the end of the riparian section and then it is mostly sandy wash travel (there are some high benches with cattle trails that provide decent travel). Just past three large alcoves on the north side of the canyon (well worth a visit!), we climbed up a steep slabby slickrock nose. The steep bit is at the bottom and only about 15 ft high, but is not a place you would want to fall (I almost fell). Alternatively staying in the sand dune-choked Scorpion Gulch will lead you to a sand dune ramp out of the canyon. Either way you must now cross-country over slickrock to reach the seldom-used Early Weed Bench Road. After passing a trailhead with a register you will reach a road junction (left, Cat Pastures Road, is the most direct way to Hole-In-The-Rock Road). This route is about 14 miles in length. Scorpion Gulch and the slickrock were both surprisingly nice.
Alternatively an Escalante bypass that rejoins the HDT at Coyote Gulch is also possible (untested). We spied what appeared to be an excellent game trail route to exit the south side of Scorpion Gulch. From here cross the expansive slickrock plateau around the head of Fools Canyon and straight for the fin above Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch (GPS waypoint would be handy). From here there is a short easy/moderate/exposed slabby descent down the rib to the bottom of Coyote Gulch, right at its best spot (amazing spring and camping on the outside of the next bend downstream). This downclimb may involve one tricky move where it may be necessary to drop your pack, climb down, then grab it again. Be confident you can downclimb this before attempting this route. This cross-country Escalante bypass route is about 8 miles long, cutting over 25 miles off the length of the HDT. Though it also misses Stevens Arch and much of the good stuff in Coyote Gulch downstream, dropping your pack for a detour downstream would be well-worthwhile (travel is easy and there are more springs downcanyon). These may not be default options for most, but it may be very beneficial for hikers to have a route description and maps for these alternates handy.
We vetoed the 110 mile HDT detour to visit Bryce Canyon just because it is a national park (Sections 8 & 9). Too many "commuter miles" just to visit a corner of Bryce Canyon. Besides we had previously been to Willis Creek Slot, which I imagine has to be the highlight of all that otherwise generic wash and valley walking. Although we had cached enough supplies to hike from Kodachrome Road to Hwy 89 via Round Valley and Hackberry Canyon, we took a fortuitous hitch down Cottonwood Road instead to put us back on schedule for our Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness permits (also we had been to the good part of Round Valley slot canyon and Lower Hackberry up to Stone Donkey on previous hiking trips). This route connects the HDT to Hwy 89 via either the Paria River or Cottonwood Rd (faster). If walking follow the Paria River the last 3 miles to Hwy 89. The Paria Ranger station nearby has an outside water faucet (and can sort you out for Paria camping permits).
This route leaves the HDT at Section 8 Mile 23.1 and joins the Long Canyon Road alternate at Hwy 89, about 15 road miles southeast of where the HDT crosses Hwy 89. From the Cottonwood/Paria confluence, the Cottonwood Road route is 8.9 miles long.
Long Canyon Road
Good stuff. Pleasantly surprised. The road made for quick and easy travel, even passing on a bench above a neat looking slot canyon for about a mile (although we did not check, it looked like there was a large dryfall that would prevent upstream progress otherwise it would be an awesome detour). The road then climbs a ridge to gain a sparsely vegetated plateau. There is a large water trough that looked modern, reliable and clean up here if you were too lazy to go to the ranger station. From here the road turns into a trail bee-lining for the edge of Buckskin Gulch. Although there are many ways to get down from here, we pretty much followed the nearest drainage down some beautiful slickrock stretches, including some friction-y slab downclimbs and pothole avoidances. Down towards the bottom there are some nice teepee rock formations reminiscent of those in the Coyote Buttes. Fantastic geology through here (and this is only the set up for what is to come). This route is 6.5 miles long and joins the HDT at Section 9 Mile 59.3 in Buckskin Gulch.
First an obligatory mention that a detour up Wire Pass and to the fantastical rock formations of Coyote Buttes North (home of The Wave) is absolutely necessary (hard to get permit required though). We took vastly more photos here than anywhere else up to this point along the trail. The nature of the permit process is ill-suited to through-hikers attempting to appear at a certain location on a certain day despite hundreds of pre-existing factors, but it can be done. Section hikers that plan ahead should have no trouble. Stash your pack and plan to spend several hours here.
The HDT leaves Buckskin via Wire Pass to pick up the Arizona Trail on its beeline to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon via trees and meadows. While this is clearly the most direct and fastest route to the Grand Canyon, this is where you should be spending some of those Bryce Canyon miles you didn't hike. Here you have the opportunity to hike down the sinuously, echo-y, refreshingly cool narrows of Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world at about 13 miles in length. After this you will sample the best of the Paria River, climb an awesome escape route up onto the 7000 ft high Vermillion Plateau with its one of a kind view of the upper Grand Canyon, before descending through a remarkable route down otherwise shear 800 ft cliffs. These were easily some of my favorite days on the HDT. The first mile or so of Buckskin below Wire Pass can have some deep mud and pools after floods, but hang in there, the bliss is coming. The canyon rapidly dries out making for sublime travel. There are a few wider stretches with lush pocket gardens alternating with razor straight-stretches of canyon following prominant joints in the sandstone. The canyon often ditches these fractures abruptly with sharp 90° turns such that on approach it gives the distinct illusion that the canyon just ends. The narrows that follow these turns are some of the most sculpted I have seen anywhere in the Southwest. There is only one exit to the canyon, about halfway down, where it is possible to climb out to the south (good camping) or to the north (petroglyphs). Near the Paria confluence there is one short boulder choke that requires a short downclimb of about 10 ft. There are typically ropes left here and carved moki steps to aid descent (passing packs may be helpful but we didn't). A short distance further the regal confluence with the Paria River appears abruptly. This route leaves the HDT at Section 9 Mile 63.2 and continues 11.9 miles down Buckskin Gulch to the confluence with the Paria River. Advance permits are required for camping in Buckskin/Paria (see BLM website for more information).
The Paria River now has an entirely different character to the last time you saw it up on Section 8 where it was a trickle down a wide and open wash. Here the river has you and there is no escape from the majestic sheer walls for miles around. Bliss. The river is extremely sinuous, like the Escalante, but so much easier travel with wide weedless benches, a gravel streambed and an ankle-biting river. Adorned with beautiful walls, alcoves, springs, gardens, and delicate reflections, there isn't a bad moment on this hike. The stretch from the confluence to Big Spring has some of the best campsites around (some are hidden up on hills, others are in alcoves, or obvious ones down on sandy flats near the river). Springs also become less abundant downstream of this point. Savor this part of the hike, you will not find another canyon like it until you reach Parunuweap near Zion NP, hundreds of miles away. The canyon will gradually open up as you head downstream. Just when it looks like it might be possible to climb out of the canyon, you do. Downstream of Bush Head Canyon the Paria opens up to a wide and comparitively uninteresting wash for 11 miles to where it joins the Colorado at Lees Ferry, Mile 0 of the Grand Canyon. You would then find yourself many miles away from the HDT with only a busy Hwy 89A to get you back on track. So instead climb up to the seldom-visited Vermillion Cliffs via the Bush Head route. The Paria Canyon route is 17.8 miles from the Buckskin/Paria confluence to the base of the Bush Head Route onto the Vermillion Cliffs.
Bush Head Route
This is another route I scouted from topo maps and Google Earth but had no idea whether it would go until we got there and tried it out. It ended up being a fantastic route with fun routefinding and only a couple short, straightforward climbs through a cliffband near the top. We found a couple cairns through this trickier stretch indicating we were not the first to find this route. It is probably best to have a GPS coordinate for the base of the route. This route uses two scree slopes to gain the tops of two cliff bands near the river and then traverses into an amphitheatre-like drainage (see photo of route below). From here take the path of least resistance through many short (3-6 ft high) cliff bands to gain the prominant ridge. A hard ~10 ft thick layer of sandstone may appear difficult, but there is a wide crack slightly left of the ridge which can be used as a ramp. From here traverse left and then up the prominant scree slope (left skyline in photo below). Near the top the scree slope narrows considerably and you will see the final cliff band you need to climb up. There are a few ways up but I found the easiest route to be a slightly exposed climb up and over a nose of rock (easy just watch out for loose rocks underfoot). From here more generic Hayduke-style scrambling takes you up to the trees and dunes of the Vermillion Cliffs Plateau. Be sure to find a good vantage to enjoy the well-earned view up and down Paria Canyon! This route ascends 1800 ft in 1.0 miles from the Paria River to the Vermillion Cliffs Plateau. It took us about an hour to ascend for the first time in the dark (so should be even easier to decipher in daylight).
Although this route admittedly involves lots of sandy roads (and listening to an audiobook was key), there are some interesting ranch buildings, rock formations and indian artifacts to break up the monotony. And then when you finally cross the plateau and the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs suddenly drops before you presenting panoramic views of the upper part of the Grand Canyon, Page, Navajo Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks, it all becomes more than worth it. Our route passed three semi-abandoned ranches, the first (Bush Head Reservior) had clear water, the second was dry best I could tell, and the third Joes Ranch, had a spring, large reservior and amazing rock formations. All three ranches had buildings that would provide some degree of shelter in an emergency. There are many road junctions up on the plateau so it is crucial to have a GPS or good navigation. From the climb out of the Paria Canyon, head for Bush Head Reservoir (on topo maps) and pick up a sandy road. From this point stay on roads until heading cross-country from Joe's Ranch to another road. Once most of the way across the plateau, we veered off the road and found a great place to camp near the edge of the cliff. In my opinion this is one of the best places to appreciate the Grand Canyon; here at the head of its Marble Canyon it has the appearance of a narrow crack rifting open a flat earth. The next time you see the Grand Canyon is at North Rim or Nankoweap where it appears dramatically different- as the infamous tiered layer cake of geological time spread out over a vast and deep expanse of complex spires and tributaries. More great views are to be had near the top of the Sand Hill Crack route. This route is 25.0 miles from the top of the Bush Head route to the top of the Sand Hills Crack route.
Sand Hill Crack Route
We found this to be a great and surprisingly easy route down through the cliffs. There is some information available on it online but again we found it to be very straightforward with a lightly worn trail most of the way. It is probably worth having a GPS coordinate for the top of this route though. Descend 1800 ft through the cliffs. Then follow the old road at the bottom of the scree slope to Jacobs Pool (ruined house) and then on to Vermillion Cliffs monument at Hwy 89A. This route is 4.1 miles long.
Hwy 89A to Arizona Trail Connector
Untested. For the obsessive through-hiker (we hitched from Hwy 89A to to Jacobs Lake). Nothing special but gets the job done. It mostly follows roads. This route is 14.1 miles (+5.2 miles along Hwy 89A) and rejoins the HDT at about Section 10 Mile 31.2 on the Arizona Trail.
Grand Canyon Packrafting (BC Permit)
Packrafts can be used to help minimize a lot of the Grand Canyon hiking woes. Rafting the river is faster, more direct and typically spends much less energy than hiking the rough trails and routes of the Grand Canyon. It is also just plain fun when done properly. Hikers, canyoneers, and packrafters intending to float the river on a backcountry permit must check the box on the backcountry permit application indicating that packrafts will be used. Packrafting on a backcountry permit is limited to a maximum of 5 river miles per trip. This mileage may be broken up, but no more than 5 miles of floating is allowed between Lee’s Ferry and Diamond Creek per trip. More details here. To maximize your 5.0 miles from Nankoweap to Phantom, I suggest an itinerary that takes in three stretches of the river (Above the Little Colorado, Below Unkar, and Above Hance Rapid) and two short river crossings.
Note: Returning to the North Rim for a new permit before continuing on to Deer Creek and Kanab Creek would count as a separate 5 miles and allow you to packraft much of the river between Deer and Kanab (only 2 rapids which can be bypassed), which seems to be developing a reputation as being the roughest, least fun stretch of the HDT.
Experience and proper gear are absolutely necessary. Even then the rapids and potentially riffles and probably best avoided. Do not underestimate the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon- it is 46°F, boasts some of the biggest navigable whitewater on North America, and you will be in a very small boat designed to be lightweight more than to punch through rapids. See our lightweight packrafting kit for gear suggestions.
Grand Canyon Packrafting (River Permit)
The river is yours! Special conditions/exemptions apply for packrafting on a GCNP river permit so consult the NPS website. Much of the river between Nankoweap and Phantom can be packrafted by experienced packrafters (with the likely exception of the Upper Granite Gorge which has major rapids confined in a canyon so narrow that they cannot be portaged). All other major rapids along this stretch (e.g., Hance Rapid) can be portaged. What a way to top off your HDT adventure this would be.
Some fantastic detours for the experienced canyoneer in this area (normally 5+ day backpack to access but you are passing through here anyway). See our lightweight canyoneering kit and the book Grand Canyoneering by Todd Martin.
West Rim/Kolob Canyons Finish
Although it provides quick access to beer and pizza in Springdale, the Weeping Rock bus stop is one of the most arbitary places I can think of to end your epic traverse across the Colorado Plateau. Hayduke would have kept going and so should you. There still remains 35 miles of high quality but seldom used trail (apart from the Angels Landing access) for you to enjoy. Along the way you can detour up Angels Landing (maybe chuckling to yourself at how much gear tourists are carrying for a 2 hour hike), walk the West Rim which provides some of the best views of Zion Valley, enjoy panoramic views from the top of a cinder cone, and detour to Kolob Arch, the second longest natural arch in the world. All this and then end your HDT adventure at a stunning 360° view of the Kolob Canyons and the Basin and Range before you, from the very western edge of the Colorado Plateau. From here it should be an easy hitch to I-15 and perhaps to Hurricane or Springdale.
So take the shuttle bus into town if you need to resupply or sort out Zion NP backcountry permits, but I would highly recommend you pick up again at the Angels Landing trailhead, walk right to the very edge of the Colorado Plateau, and then perhaps yell "Hayduke lives!" This route extends the HDT by about 35.3 miles.
Copyright © 2013 Nicolas C. Barth. All Rights Reserved.