Friday, April 6, 2018

Hayduke Trail: The Wrap-Up

I descended the crudely paved pathway, back and forth along a series of a million switchbacks. Below, I could see it. The parking lot. The end of the Hayduke Trail. And I felt... nothing, really.

When I reached the parking lot, no celebratory crowd greeted me. No sign marked the western terminus of the Hayduke Trail. People scarcely paid me notice at all, as they herded kids and pets and Uncle Frank up the trail.

It was the perfect end, really. A Hayduke-style end. The Hayduke isn't like the AT, the PCT, or even the CDT. No one knew or cared that an 800-mile backpacking route, the epitome of "wild and remote" in the lower 48, ended right here. When people asked what I was doing, I told them that I was out hiking for a month. Just that. Hiking for a month. The Hayduke flies under the radar.

I didn't hike the Hayduke to get 'likes' on Instagram. I didn't hike it to impress friends, or because it's a bucket-list goal in an otherwise well-rounded life. I hiked the Hayduke because I love hiking, love adventuring, love wild places, and love the desert Southwest.

I hiked the Hayduke Trail.

And that's remarkable in a way. Because I'm a very, very average person. I'm no backpacking guru with ten thousand miles on my feet. I'm no superhuman busting out 30-mile days. I'm the guy who always was the last one picked for games of playground kickball. And in terms of trails hiked, I came with only the Appalachian Trail under my belt. Presupposing that hiking the AT prepares you for hiking the Hayduke - that's like saying that operating a Sea-Doo prepares you for piloting an aircraft carrier.

And yet I hiked the Hayduke - in six trips over four years. Am I not blessed?


Section 13 - the brutality: The Hayduke has a reputation for being brutal and tough and demanding. I found that to be an exaggeration, for the most part. However, Section 13 is an exception. Those miles are every bit as brutal as they're made out to be. Saddle Canyon - it's a heinous bushwhack, a steep and exposed ridge, and then a series of ice-cold plunge pools that you have to jump or slide down slippery limestone chutes into. Those four miles took me five hours. And I was lucky. Other hikers, much faster and stronger than me, have taken up to nine hours. And after Saddle Canyon, you continue with the 1-mph terrain, boulder-hopping down a rocky watercourse, fording swift and deep water. And then an endless rockhop down the banks of the Colorado River. And then up Kanab Creek, crawling over, around, and sometimes even under huge blocks of sandstone in an attempt to avoid the deepest pools of water. I called it the Thirty Miles of Chaos before I started the section - it lived up to its billing.

Section 13 - the beauty: I wasn't expecting it. Saddle Canyon was amazing. Thunder River is a huge spring, an entire river, gushing out of a random rock wall - as if Moses had spoken to it and/or hit it with his staff. Deer Creek Narrows were phenomenal. And Kanab Creek blew me away. Wow, wow, wow.

Humbled: While descending the sketchy ridge in Saddle Canyon, my right side water bottle pocket got bumped, sending a bottle tumbling and careening several hundred feet down, off a cliff, into who-knows-where. While not an immediate concern, I suddenly only had four liters of water storage capacity - and I was facing a 41-mile waterless stretch a few days down the line. While survivable, those miles promised to be extremely, extremely unpleasant on only 4 liters of water. So I swallowed my pride and shamelessly begged a group of river rafters I saw the next day for an empty Gatorade bottle. They didn't have an empty disposable bottle, but they had something else. And that is how I, having constantly ridiculed heavy waterbottles over the years, ended up rocking a radioactive green Nalgene bottle. Lesson learned, thank you God, and thank you rafters!

Hi, my name is LarryBoy and I'll be your Tour Guide today: I've never been asked so many questions in my life. Part of it is due to the fact that I went through two popular National Parks, but even still. The tourists (California plates, sorry Uncle Steve and Aunt Karin) who stopped me on the road in the Vermillion Cliffs - to ask me where the cliffs were and how they could get there. Look up folks! They're here - they're all over the place! Or the tourists who stopped me several miles down a very rough 4wd right to ask me if they were on the right road to a popular overlook at the Grand Canyon. Nope, sorry, you're thirty miles away and headed in the wrong direction. Or the endless parade of people in the Grand Canyon who asked me the same question about the same water sources. I've memorized my answer. Slate and Turquoise Canyons have nice potholes, I think there's water in Sapphire, and some other people said there's water in Ruby but I didn't see it for myself. Next question, please.

What are the chances: I met a very nice couple in the Grand Canyon out for a 25-mile dayhike. That in itself piqued my interest. We started talking, and I admitted that I was hiking the Hayduke in sections. They referenced an AT section hike, which began in 2013, the same year I hiked the AT. I pressed them for their start date - February 28, the same exact day I started. Turns out they were the Four Montanans (two humans, two dogs) whose shelter log entries I had read the whole way up the trail. They were a little faster than me, and so despite starting on the same date, we'd never met - until a random day in the Grand Canyon, five years later.

What now: I've been hanging out in Zion National Park this week, doing all the Zion tourist classics. Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, the famous Narrows of the Virgin River. It's been fun enough, but I'm sick of the tourists and the smalltalk and the lack of happy brain juices that come with hiking 20 miles a day. And this town is outrageously expensive. I've only paid to camp one night, but I've needed to get very creative/obsequious to achieve that end.

What next: Twenty two stinking hours on a Greyhound bus from St George, UT to Lordsburg NM. After that, Lord willing, I'll start the Continental Divide Trail on April 10 at the Mexican border.

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