Hanksville, Utah/Higheay 95 to Escalante, Utah/Hole-in-the-Rock Road
Hayduke Trail, Days 12-18
Total Miles: 305
After a day of rest and exploration of the tiniest of tiny American west towns, which basically meant visiting the two diners and small market, picking up resupply boxes at the PO, and then introducing Kasey to The Bachelor (Rachelle, aren’t you proud?), we set off from Hanksville on another 6 day stretch into the (mostly) unknown.
We spent our day off also going through our maps and guidebook. After the first 10 days on trail, I wanted as much information possible before diving in again. As Kasey and I are figuring each other out and our hiking styles we have quickly realized my slow, methodical, gather as much information possible before I take a single step personality is different than his get the information you can and then go for it approach. The beauty of how we operate together is a fine balance between pausing and forward movement. If I didn’t have him on the trail I would probably be stuck on a cliff about 5 days in refusing to move and he might be stuck down in a canyon someplace. Both approaches are needed at different times and it is a daily practice of letting go, communicating, and offering grace to each other.
This stretch between Hanksville had some incredible highlights and challenges. The Hayduke is a finicky route. I’ve come to a realization that I should never think I have it figured out because as soon as I do the Hayduke tosses an unknown, unforeseeable surprise our way. This can be exhausting! Part of what I love about thru hiking is getting into a rhythm and rolling the entire day, giving my brain space to think, process, relax. The route does not offer that same space. My brain is constantly on alert as I looked for cairns, footpaths, check the maps, double check the gps. I’m always wondering if we are on the right route.
But . . . In the midst of this uncertainty there is the reminder to look up, be aware of what’s around me and soak in the desert sunrises and sunsets, massive rock walls uplifted from the earth, spectacular arches, and Kasey’s companionship.
The first day out of Hanksville we headed up the Henry’s Mountains, hoping to take the high route over Mt. Ellen. After doing about 4 miles in 4 hours, postholing through ice crusted snow that left ice burn and numerous cuts on our legs, we decided to head back to Wicciup Pass where we had seen a fire ring. Drying out shoes and socks and thawing our numb feet around the fire, we made the call to head back the next day and take a low route around the mountains.
While disappointed to not take the summit route, we started the next day before sunrise to ensure the snow was hard on our way down. We were rewarded with a full moon and clear sunrise happening at the same time! That same day, as snow and mountains gave way to heat and sand, we ran into the friendliest group of folks enjoying the day on their ATVs. The Hayduke is so remote your rarely run into people. This extrovert was super excited to chat with everyone! The best part was that these trail angels offered water, not just water but COLD water! Who knew how much cold water and tootsie rolls could do for my spirit?
The high spirits didn’t last too long as the day continued. Two dry water sources, a maddening, steep descent into a canyon, and then pushing the miles trying to make it to a water source before nightfall. We made it, found some not so pretty but drinkable water, and called it a day.
The following day, day 14 on trail, was one of my favorite days so far! Mostly straightforward, we hiked into Capitol Reef National Park and were rewarded, after hiking up the Burr Trail Switchbacks, with views, another group of people, and the opportunity to hike through the entire 10 miles of Lower Mulley Twist Canyon. If you are ever at Capitol Reef do this hike!! I spent the afternoon in awe of the walls and amphitheaters around me. That night, after a dry couple days, we got to a water source called Mulley Tanks. For a PNW backpacker who is used to a plethora of water sources, camping near water has become a gift!
We continued from here the next day through Halls Creek Canyon, deciding to take an alternate route around the Escalante river wade of 25 miles. This day had its highs and lows. We were by water most of the day but had some bush whacking and route finding that gave way to frustration. The day ended with the pleasant surprise of hiking up and over the Waterpocket Fold on the “old Baker Trail”. We spend so much of our time in canyons on this trail . . . this mountain girl enjoyed the chance to set up camp up high with a view of the Henry’s.
Day 16, we dropped from Waterpocket Fold into Steven’s Canyon. This was probably one of the most difficult days so far, mostly due to the difficulty of finding the route through the canyon. We decided to push reset at lunch and worked together the rest of the day to make sure we were making the best decisions possible about our route. Steven’s Canyon dropped us into the Escalante River where we waded though silty water, quicksand river bottom, and tamarisk branches to Coyote Gulch. A sandy shelf in an amphitheater above this creek provided respite that night.
Hiking through Coyote Gulch on our day into Escalante was quite different from what we have done so far! Flowing water, trees, other backpackers, natural bridges . . . It’s a popular place! We were trying to make it to Hole-in-the-Rock road early enough to get a hatch into Escalante. This is a 33 mile hitch on a dirt road. We had heard stories of people waiting 24 hours for a ride (we saved to instant oatmeal and pop tarts just in case we were there for awhile!). About a mile out from the road, I saw a group of backpackers in front of me. Some of you know I’m a competitive person . . . When I see other hikers in front of me it’s like this instant motivation to pick up the pace just to see if I can pass them within a certain distance or time. It gives me something to work towards and takes my mind off tired legs and feet. I also thought, “that’s a potential ride.” And, so it was! We got a ride with the nicest group of BYU students who very willingly crammed us and our gear into their cars, dropping us in Escalante. What was supposed to be the most difficult hitch was the best!
Today is Day 18 on this surprising, unknown, crazy, delightful, difficult journey. We rest today. Our bodies and minds are tired. This rhythm of rest on the Hayduke seems essential. Essential to our well-being, decision making ability, interaction with each other and the world around us. For me today is a “tending to my vital heart” day as Rumi says, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. Tend to your vital and all that you worry about will be solved.” Today I’m trying to not worry about what the Hayduke has in store for us tomorrow. I’ll do what I can to prepare today, gather the information needed, and then try to take on some of Kasey’s “just go for it” approach.
Thanks for all the support and well wishes! Much love, friends, from the land of Everett Ruess, slot canyons, arches, lizards, Navajo sandstone, and kind people! Happy Trails!