March 31st, 2013 was my last day of work and my new job would not begin until May 1st, which left me plenty of time to hit the trail! My friends “Skittles” and “Buck-30” were thru-hiking the 800-mile Hayduke Trail (HDT) and agreed to let me tag along with them for a week or two. I had heard many stories about the Hayduke Trail over the past few years – the amazing scenery, the raw landscape, the big water carries and stories of woe and hardship. It was time to head out there to see for myself what was real and what was hype.
…..May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. Edward Abbey
According to the official Hayduke Trail website (hayduketrail.org) the HDT is “named after George Washington Hayduke III, a fictitious character in Edward Abbey’s novel The Monkey Wrench Gang.” The trail is entirely on public land and links six National Parks in southern Utah and northern Arizona: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion.
The HDT is more route than trail. It’s not marked, it’s not “official” and you won’t find a manicured trail blazed every few hundred yards. But there in lies the beauty of the Hayduke. This “trail” is a raw and real jaunt through the American Southwest’s redrock landscape. It’s just as winding and crooked as Ed Abbey’s quote from above – as the crow flies, the trail’s eastern terminus (Arches NP) and western terminus (Zion NP) are only 215 miles apart, yet the Hayduke Trail hiker will wind and crook almost four times that distance during a thru-hike of the HDT.
I didn’t have the two months needed to walk the entire trail so I joined Skittles and Buck-30 for the 130-mile stretch up and over Utah’s Henry Mountains from Hanksville to Escalante – an 8-day section. I typically don’t do 8-day hikes between resupply so I needed to go light on gear but have a pack that was beefy enough to handle 8 days of food and 20+ mile water carries – my Gossamer Gear Gorilla fit the bill perfectly and performed flawlessly.
Our first 10 miles was spent gaining elevation as we climbed dirt roads up into the Henry Mountains and to the HDT’s high point: 11,419’ Mt. Ellen. We began an equally lengthy descent cross-country and down into washes that ultimately dropped us into Capitol Reef National Park. Lower Muley Twist Canyon was a highlight for me – huge sandstone alcoves and rock cliffs peppered with pinyon pines, junipers and cottonwoods just leafing out.
Route finding is a constant on the Hayduke, but luckily the HDT Guidebook and Andrew Skurka’s mapset and water chart have made hiking this trail a bit more attainable. The biggest on trail issue that we dealt with was water. Not just the 20+ mile carries, which were standard, but also water quality and specifically alkaline water. You could almost always tell which water sources were alkaline by the white chalky residue rimming the water source. If the alkalinity wasn’t too high, the water was fairly palatable. When the alkalinity was higher than usual, a fair amount of “gastrointestinal distress” would soon follow.
We crossed the Escalante River and a few miles further on I discovered that quicksand is not a joke as we saw the remnants of a bull that fell victim to it’s grasp right along the edge of the Escalante Detour’s Harris Wash. I dumped out the water I had pulled out of Harris Wash just downstream of said bull. Yikes!
Our last night before arriving in the town of Escalante, I spent the evening bivied beside a lowly juniper tree. The stars were out and the absence of clouds let me keep my SpinnTwinn packed up. I gazed out at the Milky Way and soaked it all in. What an incredible place to be!
I’m already dreaming of how and when I can complete the HDT. This trail more so than any other trail in recent memory has captured my imagination. It’s a hell of a trail and an even bigger adventure. It’s
humbling and stunning, harsh and astounding, frustrating and rewarding – pretty much everything I hoped it would be.
The desert Southwest has a way of casting its spell on you – it certainly did on me and I can’t wait to get back out there!