About the First Days on the Hayduke Trail . . . And Adjusting Expectations

Hayduke Trail Northern Terminus, Arches National Park to Highway 95/Hanksville, Utah

Hayduke Trail, Days 1-11

I’m not sure where to begin describing the experience so far of hiking the Hayduke Trail. It has been some of the most challenging and exhilarating moments of all my outdoor experiences wrapped up into one. Instead of a straight forward trail it is a series of obstacles and problem solving that force you to stop, evaluate, calculate risk, trust your own abilities and your partner’s, and make the best decision possible with the information you have available.

The trail humbled us from the first day as we bushwhacked through the Courthouse Wash in Arches National Park, running out of daylight and not getting as far as we had planned for the day. It slowly dawned on us that this was not your normal thru hike – our pace would be slower as we walked from washes to canyons to 4WD roads to cross country navigation.

The first major obstacle was a massive wind storm that came thru our third night. Salt Lake City reported gusts up to 110mph. After getting pelted with wind, sand, and rocks in our tents for over 5 hours, my tent poles finally gave way leaving me in a flurry of denier fabric and sand swirling around me as I held up the tent with one hand and shoved my belongings in my backpack and sleeping bag with the other. I ran to Kasey’s tent as the snow started falling and we settled in for another 4 hours of restless sleep and bracing his tent with each gust.

The next morning we started the hike back to Moab – 16 miles of walking and 4 unique hitches later we were back in town to breathe, buy a new tent, and figure out next steps. Because of the remoteness of the trail and difficulty of getting back to where we were the might of the storm we decided to skip about 26 miles of the route to our next resupply point at Needles Outpost outside of Canyonlands National Park. The best thing about this decision is that we had the amazing opportunity to get a ride to Needles from one of the Hayduke Trail creators himself, Mike Coronella. We grilled him with questions and soaked in the chance to listen and learn from the person who originally had a dream of this route. One of the things that stood out during that drive was Mike’s comment, “The Hayduke isn’t a thru hike. It’s an experience.” SO. TRUE. I have felt this numerous times the past 10 days.

Returning to the trail, we traveled through the glorious Canyonlands National Park as the afternoon sun slowly turned to dusk. The next day involved maneuvering through Young’s Canyon up and down numerous huge pour offs. I’m still recovering from the excitement and chaos of this section so if you want to read more check out Kasey’s facebook post (which I’m having trouble hyperlinking on the ol’ iPhone so look up Kasey Lawson).

Following Young’s Canyon was a day of hiking the incredible Dark Angel Canyon finding our way along shelves above the river. Getting out of Dark Angel was only possible via a 1200 foot climb in less than a mile. That night we arrived at Hite Marina near Lake Powell. There were bathrooms and running water at the visitor center so . . . We stayed the night!

After holding it together the past few days and feeling out of my element, I had a little freak out moment that night. The mental and emotional exertion of this trail was more than the physical exertion. I know I can physically hike long distances but I questioned my ability to handle the mental fortitude the Hayduke and the desert were asking of me. After a night of good sleep and processing what was going on I knew I wanted to keep going. I actually had enjoyed the challenge of the trail so far but was not used to being pushed out of my comfort zone so much each day.

That day after Hite was tough. Both Kasey and I were battling blisters and different areas of pain from a rolled ankle to cranky knees. Our first challenge was a class 4 chimney climbing out of a wash that involved some creative hauling of backpacks up and over the chimney (again, read Kasey’s description!). We walked across the Red Benches, in and out of ravines, near the old Chinese mining trails, until reaching a gnarly drop into Fiddler Cove Canyon. Once into the canyon we were rewarded with a fairly easy walk along the canyon bottom. Thinking the day would be easy from there on out we finished our day with surprisingly the most difficult part of the day, a climb out of the canyon that we were not expecting. We both slept soundly that night and finished our last day through this section with a 20 mile trek along dirt roads, fording the Dirty Devil River, and through Poison Spring Canyon to Highway 95.

After a hitch into Hanksville, Utah, we are now resting for the next section up and over the Henry’s Mountains towards Escalante. On the PCT I didn’t find that I needed much of a rest in town. I could be in and out in a day and back on trail. The Hayduke Trail is forcing me to stop, breathe, rest, and let my body and mind catch up with what we are doing.

The Hayduke Trail is already transforming me. Having worked for organizations whose philosophy and mission are wrapped up in the transforming power of outdoor experiences I recognize those things taking place – from personal growth, character development, teamwork, leadership development and more. I don’t want to shy away from the challenge or allow fear to control my life. I also know that in each moment I need to be realistic, calculate the risks ahead and make smart decisions. I carry many people I love with me on this journey and most importantly is returning home to share life with them. I’m moving forward recognizing the gifts of this experience, the privilege to do what I love, and the opportunity to explore a world of incredible beauty.

Each night I write in my trail journal what I’m grateful for from each day. Repeatedly so far each day has included:

  • Kasey: I wouldn’t want to do this route on my own! He has been a great hiking partner and it’s been fun to see how our communication and trust in each other continues to be shaped. For people who are used to thru hiking solo this is a transition.
  • Good weather: After that windstorm . . . Sheesh. I’ll take all the sunshine and calm I can get!
  • My support system: From my parents mailing packages to my friends sending me voice recordings that I can listen to on the trail when I need a boost, I don’t underestimate the power of relationships and community in my life!
  • The scenery: I can’t use words to describe what I get to look at each day. I wish daily that I was hiking with a geologist who could explain the formations I’m seeing. The desert landscape is beautiful and I am in awe of the things that survive here.
  • Space: While I had some guilt about being away with everything happening in the world right now, the space to process and step away had been healthy.

A friend sent a message a few days ago and it’s been going thru my head as I hike. In the midst of chaos and contentment, fear and peace, frustration and happiness, I remember these words that she shared from the Prayer of St. Patrick as we continue onward:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Much love from the desert, friends!

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One thought on “About the First Days on the Hayduke Trail . . . And Adjusting Expectations

  1. Erin says:

    So grateful for this narration and can’t wait to read Kasey’s description. It’s hard to quite imagine it all, but it’s fun to try and so good to have a tiny vision of what you have been journeying through these past 10 days! xoxox

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