Friday, October 16, 2020
We finished the Hayduke Trail today.
Got up and hiked down into the East Fork of the Virgin River. Aside from a hunter who was glassing the valley shushing us when we were discussing navigation, we didn't see anyone. (Side note: after discussing it, we think there were two days in which we saw no other humans, but zero days in which we saw no other humans or cars in which a person would probably come back to by the end of the day.)
The East Fork was freezing cold, but the aspen were gorgeous. We entered right about Rock Canyon, and there are some petroglyphs just opposite there. We explored upstream a bit but not too far; adding freezing creek crossings seemed unnecessary.
But descending was of course also cold, we basically had to cross the creek every few minutes. It obviously got warmer as the day went on, so it was fine. We stopped at Poverty Wash, where I went all the way to the grotto and a brief narrows at the end. It's worth checking out, though you just walk in the brushy/cattail-filled creek the whole way up. It's only about a 45 minute roundtrip.
A little bit more and we got to Misery Canyon, which was amazing. Right at the mouth was an emerald pool that required either a swim or a successful rock move to navigate. After that you were immediately in super tight narrows with short pour-offs, level after level, maze after maze. I could only get up two or three, before Nano came to give me a boost. (Yes, ha ha, short joke, you're so funny. Nano wasn't flexible enough to squeeze himself up the one he boosted me up, so only I could go further.) The water got soooo cold and the caves so dark, so after a couple more swims, I turned around once I was blocked--couldn't tread water ferociously enough to propel my whole body 4 feet out of the water. I safely downclimbs/downswam everything to the mouth, and then basically while just standing there, slipped and jammed my shoulder bracing my fall. (Nothing too bad, but now that we're done and my body thinks I might tell it something other than just "STFU and keep moving," it's a bit sore.)
After Misery we hit an amazing section of narrows, with wall to wall creek walking. We explored as far as the top of Labyrinth Falls. There's impassable rapids and it's also an off limits research area. There's a nice plaque commemorating when John Wesley Powell first ran it.
We climbed out of the canyon (DON'T do the authors route, known as Fat Man's Misery, go out by the plaque) and onto the slickrock. Nano briefly saw bighorn (we wanted to actually see some on foot instead of just on a raft). We took a few minutes to enjoy the view at the pass near Checkerboard Mesa, descended to the highway, and were done.
Nano's friend D was there waiting. We got a ride to Springdale, showered, and were back to "normal" things like checking in for flights and not forgetting your mask when you go anywhere.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Walked the highway frontage OHV trail to the edge of town and the soon-to-be old location of Bee's Marketplace, the local grocery (they're currently building a bigger new location right on the highway a bit further north). Bought way too much food. Check the expiration date on your grocery store pastries, kids.
Then walked through town, stopping at the post office to pick up even more food, send a couple things home, and pet a stray dog. None of the four people at the Post Office, including two employees, live in town, so they couldn't tell me where to pick up a used paperback. (I finished Ed Abbey's terrific Fire on the Mountain. The plot and its politics are a little simplistic but the description of the desert ranch life is beautifully evocative.)
Got coffee and verified with NPS that the East Rim Trail to Observation Point is in fact closed. So that means our hike essentially ends with the Barracks section of the East Fork of the Virgin River, which is actually supposed to be excellent. A bit unfortunate that we only barely cross into Zion NP, but such is life.
We finally left town around noon, as the town is rather spread out. Saw the US Marshalls drive by at least twice, but everyone in town was friendly. The route goes through the northern part of town (Hilldale, Utah as opposed to Colorado City, Arizona) which seems to have a higher concentration of compounds, with larger fences, and big UEP (United Effort Plan) letters emblazoned on the walls. The largest one, which I believe belonged to the Jeffs, is now a hotel, Zion's Most Wanted. No thanks. But we did buy some frozen yogurt from Finney Farms on the way out of town.
Then we were finally on trail again, in the Canaan Mountain Wilderness. It was spectacular, with wildly sculpted redrock, as I imagine the Wave looks, sort of. It was unfortunate that ATV tracks were present on the route the entire way through the wilderness. Is this use grandfathered in for some reason, or do certain locals just not respect BLM in addition to the DOJ?
The redrock calmed down and we entered a large hollow/wash that was just awfully sandy. The Hayduke giveth and the Hayduke taketh away, especially when you're near the end. Shoes again became repeatedly and painfully full of sand, and it was a scorcher. It was 37 degrees overnight, and for sure into the 90s during the day. Welcome to the desert in October.
We trudged along, and camped just after reconnecting our Colorado City route to the main Hayduke. We were a bit pissy with each other about how exactly we want to end things; I should be more grateful for having a ride out, but a little clearer discussion of what exactly the plan is/should be would also be cool. (For future partner hikes I should remember I've enjoyed it when everybody is in control of their own way out.)
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Well, not quite yet. We're in a draw just outside town. A little too close to the noisy highway to be truly pleasant, but in or close to the Cottonwood Point Wilderness. The timing was such that we could have camped in the nothing-but-sagebrush before the highway that we've been in all day and had more to walk tomorrow, or in slightly nicer junipers closer to town, except the highway is indeed really loud. (My fault, I of course always push for more mileage.) Neither of us wanted to go get a hotel room in town, as it was a further walk plus we don't know if smelly hikers will be received well.
Anyway, we walked roads all day, and there was plenty of water, but often nothing but sagebrush and tumbleweed as far as the eye could see. I quite liked, except for one sandy bit and a small headache.
One of the checkdams early on had some cow water. Then Yellowstone Spring had basically a swimming pool of water. Then Maroney Well was running, though it tasted of iron.
As soon as Yellowstone Spring we were on top of the rise 20 miles from Colorado City so we got cell reception. I binged on podcasts, but this actually makes the day feel slower and longer. Almost like I should enjoy the present moment and not constantly distract myself. Nah, that can't be it.
We'll hit the grocery store first thing, then maybe the Post Office if they're open, but otherwise we're booking out of town to get as close to Zion as possible.
Monday, October 12, 2020
Chugged a protein shake, coffee, and water this morning in order to be well hydrated before potentially never seeing water again. Then took off, and the miles came much easier than yesterday. The walls of Kanab Creek were still impressive, but rapidly came down in height as we moved along. We passed a junction with Jumpup canyon and then started finding trails that occasionally cut the corners off bends in the now-dry creek. The trail was occasionally sandy, but a heavy red sand that wasn't that bad to walk on.
The creek did reappear once, cold and clear just north of Chamberlain Canyon, so I drank more there, but was still carrying 7.5L or so, which was quite heavy on my shoulders. We finally turned out of Kanab Creek into Hack Canyon, and the trail got better, with big cowboy cairns. Obviously just a use trail for cows, but it made following it easy. We only saw around 5 cows total all day though.
There was one more spring, Willow Spring, that had a nice flow and a nice concrete lining, but signs saying the water is not fit for human consumption. Some of our resources say the water has uranium in it. My deep-seeded philosophy of "people are stupid" extends to my own tribe (hikers) so I'm not sure what to make of this claim. Other hikers have definitely drunk it; I carried 1L away for emergency use only, and washed myself in it pretty liberally. Remind me to email BLM about it when I get home. I'd bet (based on absolutely no information) that yeah, it's got uranium, because there's a lot of uranium around here, so don't drink it regularly, but once won't make a difference.
After Willow Spring we hit a fence and came out at an official trailhead and were then on dirt road the rest of the day.
All in all we made it about 30 miles today, possibly our biggest day. We are about 30 miles from Colorado City, a polygamist Mormon town. It's supposed to have a terrible vibe. Can't wait!
We did the math yesterday night. We now have about 30 miles to Colorado City, then 30 from CC to the Zion highway. All good routes to Zion are blocked (landslide took out the Weeping Wall trail and toxic cyanobacteria closed Orderville Gulch) but I'd still like to do the 20 miles out and back to the overlook (I haven't yet convinced Nano of the value of this; he's done that section before). But if we do almost 30 tomorrow (Tuesday), resupply quickly Wednesday morning and do 25 or so miles that day, then we could cross the highway and finish Thursday. Definitely by Friday, and I fly home from St. George Saturday.
There's some question about how hard that last section before the highway is, and where we'll get water (if the Virgin River has bacteria, does the East Fork, which we cross south of the park?) We'll cross that canyon when we come to it.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Couldn't have scripted it better.
I woke up, and immediately my stress over having to haggle about route choices dissolved because Nano and I agreed we should just start walking and stick out our thumbs/furiously wave hankerchiefs at any passing boats. So I washed off in the creek and we started following crummy game trails downriver. (There really isn't one at first, just walk the water's edge until you get to the boulder field, the whole reedy area is a big seep.) Ten minutes of that, and some use trails across a boulder field, and we started smelling bacon. Literally, from across the river, we smelled the bacon of the river group camped the closest after Deer Creek Falls. And the water was flat there, so there was no noise, and we could hear them.
OK Nano, how do we do this? Make a joke about smelling the bacon. Done. They respond jokingly, but no "where are you headed?" to segue to the truly important topic. Oh well, nothing to it but to do it: "uhh, if you have room for two extra, we could really use a ride six miles to Kanab Creek, 'cause there's no trail over here and we'd happily skip this section." And that was it. That's all it took. We waited on a beach on our side for them to pack up camp, then got a wonderful, splashy, actually quite chilly ride through two named rapids to the mouth of Kanab Creek. We were positively giddy.
We said our goodbyes to the Colorado and started up Kanab. We crossed frequently with no hope of keeping our feet dry, with huge red walls towering above us. It was like Stephens Creek, or Coyote Gulch without the people, or the upper Pariah again: incredible. We took a short break to jump off a boulder into a gorgeous pool, then took a short diversion up a side canyon to see Whispering Spring, which was well worth it. A narrow canyon that ends in a giant overhanging headwall and the spring is a hundred feet above you in the ceiling of the grotto, dripping down on you and forming a beautiful blue swimming pool.
Only the boulders kept coming. And coming. House and truck sized boulders stacked up against each other creating small pools, often deep enough to require either swimming or climbing around. Usually we climbed, though I waded up to waist deep numerous times to avoid scrambles when possible. Wading in the creek was surprisingly easy, given that the rocks were wet, round, and slimy--somehow they weren't very slippery. Scrambling over giant boulders was harder, and sometimes I fit in or under cracks Nano couldn't so I enjoyed it a bit more than he did. Did I mention this was an entire body climbing workout that lasted from 11am to 7 pm and we were moving one mile per hour? God I loved it. If I wasn't going to run out of food and wasn't worried about finishing the trail before my flight home, I wish every day was like this. I mean, there's water, and sand doesn't steal your forward progress! What more can you want?
Toward the end of the day we passed Showerbath Spring, a second overhanging spring of the day, and the creek really lost a lot of its power. Knock on wood, the boulders became a little less numerous and less difficuly to get around. We're camped by the creek, but expect it to dry up soon, and we need to be carrying a lot of water for the 60 miles left to Colorado City.
Saturday, October 10, 2020
What a day! Only 13.5 miles thanks to crazy terrain.
The night at Teddy's Cabin wasn't such a great sleep, as I was afraid to use my mattress on the metal cot, and the springs weren't all that comfy with just my sit pad. Anyway, we got a decent start and rolled off the porch steps down the drainage into Saddle Canyon. It was brushy at first but honestly not bad, because there has been a fire in the last few years and the regrowth is pretty slow. Still, we were only making about a mile an hour. There were a few pour-offs that required climbing around (left-right-right? Or was it right-left-left? Doesn't matter they were small.) Then there was a big honking pour-off that necessitated going on a ridge way above it. The route had a few cairns and you can either stick to the ridge, or whenever you can, drop off to the left and another wash that will put you back in the main wash soon enough.
Anyway, after this giant pour-off, the canyon narrowed and there started to be a bunch of slides. These often have pools of water at the end, so we thought we, and all our gear, were going to get wet today, but only half a dozen total potholes had any water, and only 2 of them required either of use even get our feet wet. Note: none of this water seemed drinkable, the water was shallow and dark with ash and dirt, and the first pothole we had to get our feet wet in had a dead rodent floating in it. Regardless, the slides were pretty fun, and challenging downclimbs.
The canyon opened up, turned a corner, and we passed the beautiful Stina Canyon and also Crazy Jug Canyon. We expected water here but there wasn't any, just a kind of annoying volume of anklebreakers. A couple miles later water did start running in the canyon and I enjoyed it. But only 3/4 mile later the flow from Tapeats spring came in and the flow was raging, and often from wall to wall. We forded maybe a dozen times, and had to walk in the creek for stretches. I didn't think this was all that terrible, but in heavier flow this could for sure kill you. Go down and you're not stopping, because it's really steep.
Maybe a mile and a half of that and then we passed the flow from Thunder River and hit official trail. This is apparently the shortest named river in the world? The entire flow just comes shooting out of the middle of a cliff. Isn't there some scene in Mad Max: Fury Road where they turn on the water and it comes gushing out? Or near the end of Indian Jones: Temple of Doom? It's basically that, but real. It's incredible.
Decent trail across Surprise Valley (shockingly good condition). Then we descended to Deer Creek, and the most amazing narrows where you're walking along a ledge a hundred feet above a torrent, that then drops off a cliff in a giant waterfall mere feet from the Colorado River.
We're camped near the falls and are hoping to get a ride downstream tomorrow morning. I'm not looking forward to waiting around, but I also don't really want to boulder hop the seven miles to Kanab Creek. Since we're at Deer Falls, boaters will for sure be stopping here, but will they give us a ride?
Friday, October 09, 2020
I'm sleeping on a cot outside an NPS cabin built and named after Teddy Roosevelt, who supposedly visited this spot (hunting, of course). I honestly can't remember any other NPS-owned cabins in National Parks that are open to the public. National Forest sure, but I guess this is a remote part of the park.
Anyway, today was all dirt road. It started quite cold, with lovely aspen and ponderosa pines. It didn't ever really get hot, just a lovely fall day. We did 26 miles or so along the rim, twice getting great views over the whole canyon.
Then we reached Swamp Point and the top of the North Bass Trailhead. We descended just a tiny bit to Muav Saddle and the cabin. Tomorrow we leave the trail and start the big-time craziness.
Notes: no water sources today. Carried 7.5L from north rim last night, thanks to mild temps still have plenty left. The road is generally good but silty in places. Saw maybe three cars drive by all day, half a dozen are parked at the North Bass Trailhead. Shinumo Amphitheater is never visible from the road, but worth a small easy climb over the ridge to check it out.
Thursday, October 08, 2020
We headed back to the South Kaibab trailhead. We could have gotten food at the deli, since they opened while we were standing there, but the line was too long, people were waiting for them to open. Caught the bus and just headed back down.
Nano was happy that we ran into a ranger. She was cool, and didn't ask to see our permit, but he insisted on showing it, since we are exactly on schedule, and it was such a hassle to get ("Aggressive itinerary! Hikers were warned.")
Once across the river we took a pitstop at Phantom Ranch to mail postcards and buy delightful expensive lemonade. Lunch at Cottonwood Campground, and then the amazing climb up North Kaibab. It's gorgeous. Unfortunately it's also popular with mules. The last few miles from Supai Tunnel are just beat to hell and full of that awful pulverized manure dust several inches deep.
At least there's water right at the top, where we washed our feet and tanked up for yet another 25+ mile waterless stretch tomorrow. At least it will be a bit cooler on the North Rim?
Listened to a bunch of Wizard of Earthsea book on tape today.
The rodent did indeed keep us up much of the night. Luckily he didn't eat our packs or anything else that belongs to us, he just ate the cactus right next to us all night. We woke up 1.5 hours earlier than usual so that we could try and get to the rim before the post office closes and before it got too hot.
Mission accomplished. The Tonto Trail isn't my favorite, never being maintained and slowly getting more and more overgrown with cacti and other sharp or scratchy plants. But at least it's fairly level. (Aside from the one unnamed gully right before you get to Tipoff, the junction with the South Kaibab trail.) We used the facilities at Tipoff by 11, had an odd conversation with a guy telling us we absolutely had to go to Sedona, and we were on the rim by 1:30 or so. I felt great, had drunk coffee, had just enough water left, and charged up the trail. We played name-the-movie-this-quote-comes-from much of the way up. We are both terrible at it.
One of the shuttle loops is still operating during COVID, and thankfully it was the one we needed to get from Kaibab Trailhead to everything else. We spent the rest of the day in the marketplace, post office, and deli, which are right next to each other. The wifi isn't great, Nano got bad reception with Verizon, I got none with Google Fi. The food at the market is twice a normal store, but it's basically a full grocery store. The gear selection is minimal. (I'd have bought new shorts if anyone along the way sold them.)
The rim campground isn't accepting new reservations, but they do have two hikerbiker spots, and they're only $6, and it's good for a week. Unfortunately the laundry and shower are closed due to COVID, but the bathroom facilities have power, so we charged our stuff and did some sink laundry.
I wrote a bunch of postcards while elk were bugling like crazy in the campground.
Tuesday, October 06, 2020
All aboard the struggle bus!
Rough terrain today. Left the saddle and contoured, then in and out a couple canyons, down into 75-mile canyon and out to the river, then Papago creek, with some class 3 climbing then right back down a slide, then Hance rapids where we saw a commercial group take the rapids and then onto the Tonto trail and then hot hot hot and we finally got to Page Spring a little after 2:30. I carried 7 liters from there. Up onto Horseshoe Mesa, back down to Cottonwood Creek (which had water) and back to the Tonto trail and contoured to the Grapevine canyon (which kinda sorta had water but not really, though it sure looked like lower down canyon there was water.)
There's a mouse in our campsite and I'm not happy about that, for the sake of every piece of gear that is salty (which is all of them). We're getting up early to try and get to the post office before it closes and to do the climb to the rim before it gets hot.
The river crew started a little later than we usually do, but it was neat to learn about their setup. Then we rode away with them. I think we did two named rapid (Kwagunt and Sixtymile). I would have appreciated a little bit more terror. I was in the biggest boat (18 instead of 16) and I got splashed, but that's it. The water is pretty low (7-9K cfs, I think they said) and these aren't the big rapids but it was still fun. We saw bighorn and a heron, making for more wildlife in an hour than we've seen so far hiking combined. They dropped us at the Little Colorado confluence, we forded the Little, which was nice a bright blue from minerals, and began the hot, hot climb on the Beamer Trail.
Did I mention it was hot?
The clif section finally ended and we had a long section of river access. I doused myself at least three times. Finally made it to Tanner beach (I mistakenly took a high-water route for the last bit--the route right along the water goes, even though it looks like it might not.) Then I doused myself again.
We climbed away from the river a bit, passed a ruin, and camped on a saddle with amazing views in both directions.
Did I mention it's hot?
We finished the Hayduke Trail today. Got up and hiked down into the East Fork of the Virgin River. Aside from a hunter who was glassing the ...