South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park to Highway 389/Colorado City
Hayduke Trail, Days 38-46
Total Miles: 788.1
I woke up about 2am, our second night out from the South Rim, to the sound of Kasey vomitting outside his tent. “Is that the first time?”, I asked. “Second”, he said. Oh, boy. This could get interesting.
While at the South Rim we went through the maps in our resupply boxes and realized that we had somehow gotten our mileage a little off. This was going to our longest section and, according to the guidebook and other data, one of the toughest. We set off from the rim already knowing we were about a day low on food and would need to ration.
We then made the decision to bypass one of the canyons on the official route due to high spring run off and frigid temperatures. This added even more miles to the section and took us a little off the grid on our own “Tim-Tammando” alternate. (Side note: once we got into town we heard about two missing hikers who were swept away in swift water in the area we would have been traveling through if we hadn’t taken our alternate…)
So, I lay there in my tent the night Kasey was sick thinking through options for us – both best and worst case scenario – and reminded myself to get some sleep. “You’re going to need it.”
We left the South Rim of the Grand Canyon after spending days 38 and 39 as tourist in the crowds of people snapping pictures from a comfortable distance of this wild place. We headed down the Bright Angel Trail on day 40, slowly leaving behind the tourist crowds the further we dropped into the canyon. With a late start, our goal was to push as far as possible that day. We ended up doing a Rim to Rim hike that day, arriving on the North Rim as the daylight disappeared.
The next day was when we needed to make a final call about our alternate. After seeing the water level in Bright Angel Creek and the snow melt off happening around us back on the Kaibab Plateau, we decided heading around the canyon was the best option. Stitching together a series of snowy forest service roads we slowly made our way toward the Bill Hall Trailhead which would take us back down to the official Hayduke route.
The night and morning Kasey got sick, we were camped in a snowy meadow. We decided to keep moving forward hoping the worst was over for Kasey. That was a day of many breaks – 45 minutes on, 15 off. Kasey dug deep and incredibly pulled out some big miles that day so we could make it to the Bill Hall Trailhead.
Day 43 brought our fourth and final climb down into the Grand Canyon. Kasey woke up feeling much better so we began our descent on a lesser used trail in the GCNP trail system. The canyon hadn’t disappointed the entire time we were there and this section was no different. Steep switchbacks brought us into Surprise Valley and then over a boulder field into Deer Creek Canyon where cold spring waters gushed out of a hole in the side of a rock wall.
Earlier in our Hayduke Trail experience we got a ride from one of the trail’s co-founder. As we chatted with him, we asked if there was any last advice he had. “Yeah, don’t do the section between Deer Creek and Kanab Creek. Hitch a ride down the river on a boat.” The section he was referring to was an almost 8 mile section of boulder hopping and bushwhacking along the Colorado River. He was not a fan. When the co-founder tells you to skip something, you feel okay about trying to skip it.
We had no clue what to expect as we got closer to the river. We didn’t even know if this was a place where boaters stopped. As we enjoyed the shade of the spring, Kasey noticed a group of people heading up the trail towards us . . . Boaters! As we chatted with them briefly, they told us to talk with Captain Jim down at the river about a ride. This might work!!
We enjoyed the last mile down Deer Creek, hiking on a ledge above a narrow slot canyon with fast moving water that eventually cascaded down to the river in the beautiful Deer Creek waterfall. Captain Jim was standing at the base of the waterfall when we arrived and quickly made his way over to us, pretty much offering a ride and the most amazing hospitality before we barely said anything (including fresh fruit and cold beer!). We took a break, waiting for the group to return from their hike, and then loaded our bodies and backpacks onto the supply boat. Glade and Tony took us down river, including a few sets of rapids, to Kanab Creek. Wet from the rapids and excited to have just run the Colorado River (however short), we marveled at how everything had come together so perfectly.
Once in Kanab Creek, we walked up this narrow canyon, climbing over and around large boulders, each of us trying to find the path of least resistance and make our way up the 23 miles of this canyon. This was our fourth time hiking out of the Grand Canyon . . . Four different ways in and out. What an incredible opportunity and way to explore this place! Kasey still was not feeling 100% so this afternoon was an arduous one for him. We found a small patch of sand to set up camp for the night and reveled in the good fortune of our day.
Day 44 began with the reality of what hiking in Kanab Creek was like and the goal to make it through the remaining miles of this canyon. I began to feel the achiness and nausea early that morning. My turn. About noon the stomach bug hit in full force. Kasey and I reversed roles from a couple days before, as he took charge, found spots for me to lay down, and at one point carried my backpack and told me to stop being stubborn. I didn’t have the energy to argue . . . At least not as much as I normally would argue.
This was probably the most difficult hiking day I’ve ever had. That day and the next two are a bit of a blur. Neither of us had an appetite for anything and we still needed to move. The goal became get to town, drink a big glass of sprite with ice and a straw, and find a hotel. The hiking became hot and unshaded across the Arizona Strip, offering more motivation to keep moving.
When we arrived at Highway 389, we once again were gifted with an incredible hitch. Jason not only gave us a ride to the post office in Colorado City so we could pick up our resupply boxes, he waited for us and then dropped us off 25 miles down the rode in Hurricane, Utah. We found our sprite with ice, comfy beds to crash in, and Kasey has his appetite back (mine is slowly getting there).
When I’m sick I take care of myself. I figure it out by myself because I have to. This is what I would have done had I been out there, sick and by myself. It’s how my life works. And, as I told Kasey to lay down while I packed his backpack the day he was sick, I was reminded that Kasey is used to operating the same way. Kasey and I are used to doing things on our own, including thru hiking.
But . . . We weren’t alone this past week. As hiking partners, we are in, whatever “in” means at that moment. We only move as fast as the slowest person, we go as far as is possible for them, resting as much as is needed. And, even with the strong individuality Kasey and I both bring to this partnership, neither of us question that.
Perhaps the biggest testimonies of how relationship and community transform us is when we are able to let go of our own agenda, become increasingly aware of what is happening in another person, and allow someone to care for us. Trusting that person will see us on our knees vomiting in the dirt, vulnerable and weak, and will stick around. Knowing deeply that I no longer need to prove anything about my strength or ability for them to be “in”. This is when the true self shines through in all it’s messy, beautiful glory, offering us the opportunity to know others and be known.
While Kasey and I both could have figured this section out hiking on our own and being sick, I’m so grateful I didn’t have to. It was much better sharing the experience of both rafting the Colorado River with Kasey and having him there to help me take my backpack off when I was sick, both hiking Rim to Rim with him and packing his backpack for him so he could rest. Through thick and thin, strength and struggle. I don’t take for granted this partnership with Kasey or other people I am honored to share life with.
What a stretch – 7 days, 144.9 miles, a Rim to Rim hike of the Grand Canyon, rafting the Colorado River, two gracious hitches, a creative alternate, and being sick on trail. This felt like our final exam of the Hayduke Trail. As soon as my appetite is back we head out for our last stretch – less than 50 miles from Colorado City to Zion National Park. Unreal that this experience is almost complete! Onward to Zion!
Much love, friends, from the land of the most delicious sprite I have ever tasted.