Hayduke – Rafting the Escalante Express with Friends

Today is the day! We’ve been out for six days now, a bit ahead of schedule, and arrive at an obscure old mining road on the north side of East Moody Canyon, just west of Red Slide in Capital Reef National Park.

This is where we planned to meet roughly two months back, Aaron picking the spot as he’s very knowledgeable of the land around the Escalante.

Were meeting both he and Kris. They worked next door to me at my last job, and we’ve become good friends over the past few years, having gotten out Backcountry skiing a lot, some resort skiing, and even rock climbing. They’re an awesome couple, and we’re excited to meet them out here, in the middle of nowhere.

Grace and I are in early, so naturally we nap. I hear something, sounds like grinding of tires on shale, and I spring out of bed. It’s them! And man, have they spoiled us!

First, they brought deep dish pizza. A lot of it. And a stove to reheat it. They have so many IPA’s. They have Grace’s favorite cider from home that they went out of their way to find. They have mountain dews and coke 0’s. They even got Grace a new pair of frogg toggs (rain jacket and pants), and a new spork (ours had broken). On top of all of that goodness, they brought camp chairs. Praise hands!!!

They also brought our alpacka packrafts we own, our paddles, and our resupply for this section.

The plan is complex as the canyon systems that surround us. Tomorrow, they’re going to drive off, and grace and I will have an easy day hiking down to main Moody Canyon and to the Escalante. We will set up camp, and wait to see them the following morning/early afternoon.

Kris and Aaron will drive for five hours, getting all of 15 or so miles as the crow flies away from us. They’re going to drop their packs and rafts at twenty five Mile canyon (another tributary to the Escalante, moddy on the north, twentyfive the south). They then drive away from their stored gear and Park their car at the trailhead of hurricane wash, about 15 miles down hole in the rock road. They then jump on their mountain bikes and peddal back to their packs. Store the bikes out of site, pick up the packs full of 6 days of food and rafting gear, and hike 12 miles down to the Escalante river. Then, they’ll float the six miles of river to meet grace and I at Moody Canyon on the eacalante. From there, we all float together!

We enjoy the evening, despite the howling wind. I can’t tell you just how good it was to have pizza and beer out here. Grace’s face lights up after a cider. We’re happy to see them, our friends, and excited to adventure with them this week!

The hike to the Escalante is tough. 6.5 days of food and all of the rafting gear makes for super heavy packs. Good thing it’s only this short day to the river. We get in and relax. Find a nice Sandy place to lay down and camp. All is right.

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e sleep in, and get to the river, ready to go at 11am. Not too long after Kris and Aaron come floating up. Theyre soaking wet. I mean, head to toe drenched. Kris is using an Intex Explorer 200. Yes, that same $13 pool toys grace and I used on the Colorado river. But the escalante is no Colorado. The Colorado was a float. Calm and slow, no bumps. The escalante is shallow, and you’re constantly hitting rocks. Bold move, a true adventurer! And Aaron is basically in an older version, a sevylar or something like that. Similar material tho much wider. He sinks in the floor, but handles it well. Just means he’s in a pool of very cold water the whole time. And when he hits rocks, which is constant, there’s no cushion.

Grace and I have our fancy pants alpackas. Made for this stuff, and costing about 60 of the Intex explorers. They have seat cushions and all, built to hold up to a lot of abuse!

We saddle up and head off. The rapids are fun and have low consequence. It’s a shallow river. At deepest I might be standing in water just past my waist. In most parts, it’s shin deep or less where it braids out.

With a smile on my face I take on the first rapids, getting a light splash of ice water. Grace follows, then aaron and Kris. This makes the most sense. I’m the rock finder. Basically playing dummy. Grace can go another direction if I pick the wrong line. And Kris and Aaron can study what we do and pick the best routes for their pool toys.

It’s really a dream come true, to float the eacalante. Something I knew I wanted to do if I ever hiked the Hayduke. My friend Drop’n Roll did it and she loved it. It’s one of the best packrafts in the world, and people come far and wide to raft this river. It’s a gem of the southwest. And here we are rafting it as part of the Hayduke trail, thanks to our friends who made it possible. Awesome!

The river is a mixed bag. Mostly it’s small ripples, some bigger waves, and then the intermittent shallow float. I’m surprised at how bumpy it is at times. It takes a bit to get used to being in the alpacka and paddling instead of rowing. No way you could row out here!

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‘m also skeptical about how the Intex explorer will hold up. Graces ripped on the easy Colorado. I assume this thing will just tear apart on the shallow river bottom, constantly grinding and skidding on the endless rubble below. Kris is skeptical too. But up for the challenge. Rather than sit on the bottom, she site on the bow of the vessel and twirls around rocks and rapids gracefully.

We’re surrounded by beautiful walls. They tighten and then give way, over and over again. Huge Alcoves striped by water hang over our heads at several points. We’re having a blast the whole way! But progress is slow going. Again, much slower than I imagined. Didn’t learn my lesson on the Colorado! At the end of the day, we rafted about 5 hours total and made 8 miles. But we’re not worried. It’s only 30 miles total.

We camp on a Sandy bech, airing all of our clothing out. It’s soaking wet. Before it gets dry the sun dips beyond the canyon walls and it gets chilly fast! We relax and plan the following day. We hope for 15 miles. A big day. We’ll wake up early and get ahead start.

We wake up and pack in the shade,getting on the river around 9 am. It’s cold, and this section of the river has more difficult little rapids. It’s pretty constant too, so I’m not taking many pictures. But we make good time. Then the rapids get even more difficult. I’m hitting rocks all over. Grace is bouncing from boulder to boulder (gaining the trail name ‘ping pong’). Kris gets pinned on an 18 inch drop off and gets pushed off the boat, diving into the water. She gets out easily and all is ok. Her pack and everything are alright and the boat is still ok, much to my surprise. Another half hour later and grace gets pinned on a large boulder and flips her boat. She loses her pack, and has a little episode of fear and panic. But she’s safe, standing in waist deep water. I’m ahead, and see he pack floating towards me and quickly grab it. She calms down after realizing she didn’t just lose the pack and all the gear.

In fact, nothing lost, or broken. Win! She’s still a bit shaken and teary as we continue on. Likely cold to. I do my best to console her that it’s all ok, but she’s still a bit shaken up by the event.

20 minutes later and I pin my boat sideways between two rocks. SHWOOMP! I’m now under water. I get my footing on some rocks and flip the boat back right side up. Again, only waist deep water. I’m laughing hard, and grace cracks up getting to watch the scene. I guess thats what it took to loosen her up after her flip. Just got to see the husband take a spill and all will be right haha! She’s all smiles after!

We’re a bit cold, but having a blast. If the worst that can happen is you fall in, that’s not so bad. There’s really no consequence to it unless you hit your head. Just a lot of fun. Kris takes one more stumble before we finish our 15 miles. Aaron stays upright, albiet with only his head and shoulders above the water as he’s in a puddle!

What a good time. An adventure. And tough too. Our arms are very sore. Mine especially. Trex body and all. A good learning experience too!

When we get to this unnamed canyon, we store the boats away from the river and dry our gear before hiking up a large boulder field to camp. Aaron planned a 2 day cross country route up here. All of trails on the north side of the Escalante, just south on the river past fools canyon. I can’t wait. Aaron knows the area so well!

We wake in the morning and explore side canyons, intricate little narrows here and there. Some fun scrambling to get to the next layers. Exploration to find weaknesses. Eventually we find one we want. It takes a cool dip in the water, some stemming, and some light scrambling, but we get on top, and it’s awesome. We traverse on the top of the wyngate layer. Aaron teaches grace and I about the rock layers and how they we’re formed. Also what it’s typically like on each. It’s fascinating, and I enjoy learningore about the area we’re in. Aaron and Kris have done so much canyoneering out here. Something I aspire to do when back in Colorado. so much to see and do out west!

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he day is slow from a mileage standpoint. It’s tricky getting around up here, and hot as all get up on the slickrock. We camp perched with a great view of a side canyon and the escalante. A nice sunset, some cowboy camping, and good conversation, already evolving mostly around food!

Not the Hayduke at all, but two days well spent. And we’re not planning on doing the out and back to Bryce, instead choosing to do this and some other alternates. And man am I glad we did. This exploration really got me jonesing for more out here!

The next day we hiked back to the rafts in a more direct route, getting to them around noon. Kris’ explorer has mutated in the sun into a very blobby existence. But it still holds air. And there are only 7 miles left to raft. Here goes nothing..

Half way through, Kris’ raft pops a big 5 inch rip on the bottom. It takes a lot of water. Aaron carefully patches it with tyvek tape. Another few minutes and they find two more holes, which he promptly patches. Then it holds. For the next 3 miles!

We pass Stevens arch (yeah baby!) And it’s glorious. It’s mid afternoon and the sun is HOT! It feels great being on the river and getting splashed by all the water.

We all make it to Coyote gulch, our exit from the escalante before it runs off into the sewage dump that is lake Powell. We make a nice camp by the river, trying to dry everything off before bed. I still can’t believe Aaron and Kris made it in those rafts. They knew they were taking on a risk that they were ok with but even still, they didn’t expect it to be as bumpy and grinding as it was against the bottom rocks. Good on them!

The next morning we pack our bags and head 14 miles to Aaron and Kris’ vehicle at hurricane wash trailhead. Aaron cuts their boats in half and stuffs them in the pack. We joke that he should try and tyvek tape them back together and see if it’ll float again. But alas, they’re throw away. $13 bucks! They got their money’s worth out of them, no doubt. King and queen of the Escalante!!

The hike through Coyote Gulch is beautiful! Again, huge walls abound. But what makes it real special is all the Green. So many budding trees and shrubs. Flowing water and many great Cascades. It’s pleasant walking and relatively empty for such a popular spot. I especially enjoy Coyote Natural Bridge, where the creek flows right through it.

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y the time we get to hurricane wash, grace and I are getting real tired with heavy packs. We go into full thruhiker mode and rush the last five miles to the car on hole in the rock road, trying our best to have the packs on our backs as little as possible. Aaron and Kris aren’t far behind, and we enjoy beers and snacks at the car, reminiscing of a week well spent! On to escalante for a good meal, more beers, and then out of town to the blm to camp. We get breakfast and say our goodbyes. We’ve had such a great time with them. It was a partod the trip we were most looking forward to, spending time with friends mixing it up. And it exceeded our expectations. A true highlight of this experience!

Special shout-out to Kris and Aaron for making it all possible!!

Up and over the Henry’s & through Capitol Reef

Grace and I head out of Hanksville around noon, and hike 10 miles, slowly gaining about 3k feet. We camp at the cutoff, where you decide if you’re going to try and climb mount Ellen or take forest service roads around it. We had decided we want to climb it, and I believe I see a few ridges with mostly dry approaches.

In the morning, we’re greeted with snow and low cloud cover. We can’t even come close to seeing the mountain some 3.5k feet above us.

‘Do you still want to go for it?’ I ask Grace.

‘Do you?’ she responds

‘I do. I think it’ll clear up or blow over. Or at least I hope it does. If not, we can just hike the road around it, nothing lost but a few miles.’

She agrees, and accepts the challenge. Before long were post holing in shin deep snow, but it’s not too bad. It’s only on the shaded north slopes where the road doesn’t see the sun. As we go up, though, it gets deeper, and I start to get pissed off at how the road isn’t really taking us anywhere.

I see a ridge, it looks mostly bare of snow, and I tell Grace we should take it to the summit, even though it is so steep.

‘Good,’ she says ‘this road is doing to much down and around.’

We we’re on the same page. And it’s true. For anyone who’s hiked the Hayduke, the route up the summit is ridiculous. The road takes you seven miles, going around every ridge. Just go up, my friends! The guys sure know how to put together a desert route, but they made it way too hard to get mount Ellen by clunking your way around the northern slopes for so long, as those are the areas that will hold snow in the spring while the ridges and South slopes will be open.

In what seems like half the time we we’re on the road, we climb three times the amount on the ridge and quickly we’re at the summit. And the views. THE VIEWS!! They do not disappoint. You’re 7k feet above the entire world around you. We could see the La Sal’s to the east, and the blue mountains just south of them. We could see Navajo peak to the south. Canyon country all to the east, and Capitol Reef to our west. I take some pictures, but without a zoom lense you just can’t get the detail that your eyes can see. We linger for some time, before realizing it’s already past three.

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he way down takes you up over several bumps before steeply taking you off the ridge. We take our time working our way on the steep, trailless ridge. It’s slow going, eventually hitting a small gully after several thousand feet. We take that for several more thousand feet, twisting around and going in and out of the gully before reaching Sweetwater canyon. As we exit it’s about dark and we quickly find a place to camp, feeling an extra sense of gratification and accomplishment. Happy to have gotten the weather window we did.

The next morning we awake to thick, dark overcast skies. We hike a dirt track on tarantula mesa for a dozen miles before a spicy scramble off the top and down to swap mesa. There are all sorts of cool rock and hoodoo features here as we go in and out of side canyons, eventually dropping into swap canyon in the evening. The wind starts to pick up, and we scramble to find a place to pitch the tarp, but we get it staked in well.

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he night is long. At 8:30 a storm rolls in, as the overcast from the day starts to release. Or so we think. Wind batters our tent, and soon rain and hail are hitting us. I get out and reinforce the tent with some large rocks, which helps us feel better about the situation. But soon the wind gets even stronger. All night, ten hours, we’re getting beat up in the bottom of the canyon. It starts to let up around 5 am, only to reappear with a final, strongest blast. Lightning strikes above us and thunder booms around the canyon walls as larger hail comes crashing down on our wind battered shelter. Sheesh! What a long storm. It finally breaks around 7:30, and the skies open and the temperature drops.

We pack up everything wet and make our way through the last 3 miles of the canyon to see Capitol Reef right in front of us. This swell goes as far as the eye can see. We climb the Burr trail switchbacks and break at the top to dry everything out. It’s cold and windy, but what’s new. That’s our norm now. At least it helps dry everything quickly!

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fter packing up dry things, we head down to Muley Twist canyon. It used to be an area where the Mormon pioneers took their cattle and mule down, and the twists we’re so numerous and narrow it was said it could twist a mule. Hence the name.

A good flowing muddy creek ran through the high walls, and we soon found that hiking through the creek was often our best option. The walls grew bigger and soon we we’re encountering several large alcoves at most of the twists. The wind died down in the canyon and we were both thankful for that. After hiking in the creek for several hours, we turned a bend and hiked by the flowing creek. Right by the initial surge, as if a damn had been let loose, there was a front yo this creek we were walking in. And dude to the Sandy bottom, it was moving at roughly 1.5 miles an hour.

We watched and grabbed some videos of the pour off over rocks and such, we had never seen anything like it. The rest of the evening we joked that we we’re going to get chased down by it as we hiked the dry river bed.

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We ended up cowboy camping in the last huge alcove we found. I’m talking huge! There was no wind and we had shelter from anything that would hit us. The night was so calm and peaceful. Barely a sound, except the flow of water passing by when the river cought back up to us.

The next day we hiked out of Muley twist, south through Capitol Reef and up and out via red slide; an area of capital reef where the uplift seemed to barf out red sand/rock. A good 2,300 foot climb gave us views back to mount ellen and the Henry’s, tarantula mess, swap canyon, and the backside of capitol Reef. It was fun to see how far we had come. On the other side, escalante and the fifty mile wall. We hiked down a bit, ready for the next adventure of the trip.

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ur friends Aaron and Kris are meeting us with resupply, packrafts, ropes and harness’ for a 6 day journey packrafting the escalante and hitting some technical side canyons and other remote areas. This has been something we’ve both been looking forward to for some time. Can’t wait to see our friends and get on the river!!

The Maze Alternate

The original Hayduke Route goes south through the needles district of Canyonlands, follows some dirt roads, goes into dark canyon to Hite, then north to the dirty devil and West through poison spring on another dirt road.

Only dark canyon excited me in that section, as I’ve been to the Needles several times. There is an alternate out there, not sure who put it together originally, but I found it via Jamal on http://www.acrossutah.com; The Maze Alternate.

This alternate goes though the southern reaches of the maze district of Canyonlands, over Lands end, and down into happy canyon for 23 miles before crossing the dirty devil and climbing high above before following an old washed out mining road high above the canyon as it traverses south, eventually linking up with the original Hayduke half way through poison spring canyon.

I’ve never been to the Maze. It’s hard to reach, requiring high clearance vehicle and hours and hours of dirt two tracks to get there. So I chose to give this alternate a go.

From Spanish bottom, Grace and I hiked a few thousand feet out of the canyon away from the Colorado River and to the Doll House; a conglomerate of mishapen rocks shooting to the sky in bizarre patterns. Immediately Grace and I are taken to a completely different world than the river we are used to.

Rather than stay south in the maze district, I take us on an alternate to the alternate and we head several miles north to Chimney Rock, which marks the south end of the Maze formation that the area is named after. It’s windy and cold, and the blue skies we had at the doll house seem far away. To the west the sky is a dark grey, and we can see the rain coming down, with a few bolts of lightning.

We stay high on a rocky outcropping for several miles, straddling two deep canyons. The views east shoot out to the island in the sky and the La Sal Mountains.

We follow Cairns for several miles before dropping into the canyons of the maze. We find some water and camel up. I’m carrying 8 liters, plus several days of food on my back. It’s good. I need to get in shape.

We escape the strong winds and the storms, somehow. Not sure how they missed us, as at one point we were completely surrounded. Win.

We find our way to the maze overlook trail which will take us from the canyon floor to the maze overlook. I found it on my map, labeled as a trail, and wanted to see the overlook. As we climb, following cairns, we hit a few obstacles. Steep climbs with holes punched in the rock as a type of ladder. Then no holes in the rock, but still steep. Big ledges and tight squeezes. We traverse over and around this big rock, many times taking off the packs and passing everything up as we couldn’t do it in the big packs.

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t was only a mile, but it was surely the most fun trail I’ve ever been on in a national park, and a real challenge for us! When we reach the top we’re greeted with aMAZEing views for the canyons and beyond. I take out the map, and realize there’s a description on the trail I didn’t happen to read prior.

‘do not attempt with large backpacks’, and ‘scrambling up to class 3 involved, with high consequence drops’

Well, I’m glad I didn’t read that, because it was so fun, and I may have said no had I read that prior!

We soaked in the maze, so happy we headed north and through it. Looking back at chimney Rock far beyond, we were stunned at how far we had come. We hiked the dirt road a bit too big water canyon, and hiked it to it’s southern point, eventually climbing a few thousand feet to Lands End.

At lands end, we followed an old mining track, well washed out down to the bottom of the South fork of Happy Canyon.

We followed the dry base of the canyon below high Navajo walls for a long ways, knowing we’re the only ones back here. It feels wild to have such a big canyon all to ourselves. We haven’t seen anyone since leaving Spanish bottom. No one in the maze. No one at lands end. No one in happy canyon.

At the outpour of Happy Canyon, the last two miles of the canyon twisted and turns into a beautiful slot canyon, Happy Canyon Slot. Two miles of changing light and weaving waves of rocks. We take our time. I take lots of pictures, as every turn shows a great new frame.

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few hours later we arrive at the end of happy canyons flow into the Dirty Devil. A shallow, knee deep crossing gets us to the other side where we quickly climb a cairned route up to a white rim above the dirty devil, some 1500 feet above the river. What a convoluted river canyon! The views are amazing as we skirt the rim around the canyon several miles to poison springs canyon, reconnecting with the original Hayduke. A 10 mile walk on the road gets us to highway 95 where we take a few hours to hitch to Hanksville via two messy truck beds. One is full of mountain dew and Dr. Pepper. My people.

Hayduke – Packrafting the Colorado River

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A glassy Colorado greets us as we inflated our rafts, just outside of Moab.

‘you think the rafts can make it?’ Grace asked, suspiciously.

‘sure they can!’ I respond much more confidently than I actually felt.

In the end, it wasn’t the rafts that we’re the impediment on our progress, but the rivers 1.8 mph flow. All those cares and worries quickly washed away after several days on the river, and we ended up just fine, safe, and with one of the more memorable experiences we’ve had together.

I had purchased $13 Intex Explorer 200’s for both Grace and I. They included a hand pump and oars. The hand pump worked great, and after a few minutes of determining how to best tie our packs to the rafts, we we’re off.

We fumbled our way the first few hours, rowing wildly and inefficiently. We must have looked like fools. Neither of us have ever rowed anything. We’ve always paddles with a kayak. The boats work where you sit with your back down the river and row towards what you cannot see ahead of you, which is a bit awkward without anyone spotting.

A few times landing ashore and spinning stupidly trying to get centered and we thought we might not make it.

‘just keep trying, it’ll get easier.’ I told her, half trying to convince myself this want an epically bad idea. You know, the ideas that sound so great as you dream them up at home, where it’s warm, you’re dry, and you have a roof over your head.

It was 4 hours into the first day, and we had gone roughly 6.5 miles. We felt out of control, a little desperate, and our arms were sore as could be already. Not a good sign. I had read prior that the river flows at 2-4 miles an hour. I planned the trip and our ride assuming 3 miles an hour, and 20-25 miles a day to get to 67 total miles in 3 days. I realized pretty quick that I had heavily overestimated the rivers speed.

We didn’t stop at all on the first day. Only a couple times to pee. We ate lunch while floating. We rowed hard the entire way. We went until nearly sundown and had to quickly find a spot to camp, and it wasnt a good one, maybe a foot above the river, and the sand was wet due to being so low. We had been on the river 11 hours.

Yet we had only gone 18 miles. And it was stressful trying to get the miles in!

We had 49 miles to go, and two days to do it. Not going to happen.

So we made a new plan. Raft as much as we could, and not worry about where we got to. Just enjoy it, and know the boat will have to take us a few miles at the end.

After this decision, the trip totally changed. We got better at rowing. More efficient. We learned to steer well. We linked up our boats for lunch and just floated while letting the river do the work, not worrying about rowing as hard as we could, but instead enjoying the views together while sharing sweedish fish.

All the stresses of the trip seemed to wash down the river. New towering walls in the island of the sky district appeared around each bend in the river. Dead horse point drifted away behind us as we got deeper and deeper into the backcountry.

Our arms grew less tired as we learned to row. And the pool toys we’re holding up quite well until grace scraped a rock and punctured a hole in the floor of her raft. It didn’t puncture the tube, so she was still afloat. But the boats floor filled with water. I tied our safety throw as a makeshift seat for her, and it helped get her through the last day, yet still pretty wet and cold.

We found awesome camp sites, higher above the river which kept us dry at night. The sunsets and sunrises were calm. Wesatand watched as the colors changed, captured by the reflections on the river.

Grace read to me, and we listened to game of thrones on audible while dozing off.

We saw plenty of muskrats, blue herons, fish, and other birds. But we saw no people. Not a one on the river for 3 days. It was beautiful.

After three days we had made it 50 miles. The next morning, the jetboat that was bringing our resupply picked us up and took us the remaining 17 miles to Spanish Bottom where they were also picking up several canoe parties. We gave them our rafts, and they laughed, saying we made it further than they thought we would in those things.

Overall, we both thought this to be a huge success, despite not making it the entire way. We learned new skills, got our feet wet, had amazing weather, and had an awesome adventure with some real risk. The type that makes you feel alive. I’m glad we did it, and I’ve gotten a lot of questions from many people asking how. Here’s how:

1. Get a Canyonlands Backcountry flatwater permit. This is mandatory. You can search it and get a permit quite easily. It was 60 dollars total for Grace and I with 3 days on the river and two Backcountry days in the maze district. So it’s cheap.

2. Get boats. We got the Intex Explorer 200’s for $13 on Amazon. They came with hand pump and oars. They worked very well. You could use anything, or even rent.

3. Work with an outfitter in Moab to arrange a shuttle. We used Tex’s Riverways and they we’re fantastic to work with. Ask them what dates they’re already running to pick up groups if you want to make it a little cheaper if you’re hiking away like we did. Of you want to go back to Moab with them, they’ll drop you off to start at potash and then pick you back up at Spanish bottom 47 miles down the river for I think 125 a person. since we weren’t getting a ride back to Moab, I asked what dates they were running and the 15th was the day we had to be there. Since they were already running, and just giving a resupply, they quoted us at $50 bucks. When they dropped us off at Spanish bottom, I gave them a $50 tip as well before we hiked away, as they had to pick us up and take us the 17 miles. Tip generously or they likely will sour to helping out hikers. Think of those that want to do this moving forward and do the right thing!

4. Make sure you have all the required equipment as noted in your backountry permit for Canyonlands. You need an extra life jacked (we had 3 between grace and I), you need a toilet system (we took wag bags), you need a fire ring (we took a cake pan), a throw floatie, an extra paddle, and a bailing device (plastic cup will suffice for packrafts). Follow the rules and take all the is listed. Rangers patrol the water in higher season and will request to see it all. If you don’t have everything, they’ll escourt you off the river!

I think that’s everything. Go do it. It’s amazing! We’re so glad we did!

Pictures!!

Hayduke – Klondike Bluffs to Moab

The Hayduke can start from a few different trailheads north of Arches National Park. Logistically, the easiest is the airport start, just off the highway. Andy drove us from Provo to the start, getting in an hour or so after dark. We laid our stuff right where he parked and quickly fell asleep.

Wake up Andy, it’s time to walk!

Grace and I took our time packing up, allowing the sun to warm us up before headed out. Our packs are heavy with water for 13 miles, and plenty of gear. I’m not used to this much weight. It’s heavy enough that I even need a hipbelt. How embarrassing!

We walk a dirt road up and over some rock formations and soon can see Klondike Bluffs, an area I’ve seen so many times from far away on the highway, yet never visited. Large fins, several arches, and white bulbous towers greet us at this unique landscape. We explore a bit, climbing some rocks and taking in the views from behind Tower Arch.

Its our window to the Hayduke.

Behind Tower arch

Tower Arch and Klondike Bluffs

The Marching Men at Klondike Bluffs

We walk a Sandy dirt two track for a few miles, ducking under barbed wire fences, following a fence line, and eventually making it into Arches NP.

We take a break near some slickrock with beautiful stratification lines like waves, with several shallow pools of water. We pull a few liters, as we know it’ll be a dry camp.

Andy asks Grace how she’s feeling going into such a long, difficult hike.

‘I’m anxious. A bit nervous when I think about the trip on the whole.’ she responds.

She deals with it really well. Attitude is everything out here and she’s got that part down. Andy convinces her that she needs to buy lotion in Moab an I should be rubbing her feet every night. He also convinces her that I should be carrying a jet boil to make her coffee every morning. Bad influence.

When the Hayduke enters courthouse wash, we decide to do the Arches Slickrock alternate that Nic Barth put together. That’s what is so awesome about this hike, you can choose what you want to do. There’s a route, not a trail. And several people have put together fun alternates to the main route. This one stays up high on the slickrock, and has some airy scrambling. But we take it.

After a few miles going up and down slickrock formations, avoiding the fragile soils in the crevasses and the cacti that grow from them, we make it to a lookout above courthouse wash. We can see window arch, the La Sal mountains, and Park Avenue. It’s quite the site. We sit on the edge of the cliff and eat ramen and nuts as the sun sets.

There’s a strong breeze in the night, and grace struggles to sleep through it. It takes some getting used to, sleeping on the trail.

In the morning we’re greeted with a beautiful sunrise over the mountains to the west. Andy and I climbed mount Peal, the high point of the La Sal Mountains a few years back and we laugh about the mishaps of that day. It was a craptastic climb. But the views we’re sweet up there.

The scramble down is tougher than I imagined. A few big drops where I super Mario jump down, and a few ledges where we give grace a hand. She’s tough about it, and I’m proud of her for giving it a go!

We walk the wash to Park Avenue and see the tourists off the road taking pictures below of what we’re hiking through. It’s the first people we’ve seen this whole trip.

Some cross country leads us away from the road and to the cliffs above Moab and the Colorado river. The scramble down is a bunch of loose chose. Pretty gross. A dangerous escape of arches np. The bike path takes us over the river and into Moab for burgers and shakes.

We get Andy an Uber back to the airport and say goodbye. A lot of fun hiking with him, and he gave some great advice for Grace.

Now, it’s on to raft the Colorado river for 70 miles on rafts we bout for $15. The Intex explorer 200. Glorified pool toys. Wish us luck!

About to start, with a quick look back

Yesterday was the last day of work for Grace and I. We drove to Moab last night, and this morning we’ll begin burying caches and dropping food and water for our resupplies. Hoping to have our car parked close to where we end, in Hurricane, Utah Friday morning and get to the start of the trail that night via greyhound bus and catching rides. We’re both pretty anxious to get this hike started!

If you’ve been wondering what ive been up to between these long hikes, here’s a quick glance at a 4 day peakbagging weekend in the Weminuche Wilderness with Andy and my friend Judson. It’s my favorite area in all of Colorado!

Weminuche Peakbagging Article

Climbing Vestal was likely my favorite climb of the 100 highest peaks in Colorado. Just spectacular fun on solid Rock. Enough exposure to make you sharp, but never uncomfortable. What a climb! Check it out!

Also, while on the subject of the 100 highest peaks in Colorado, here’s a few more shots from finishing up that list this past summer. I didn’t blog about it, but I wish I would have. Just busy maximizing my time each weekend to get out there, and then working hard during the week while planning the next weekend. It was full speed this past summer to try and finish, and I’m glad I did!

How I saved for a year+ of Travel

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how I am able to take all of this time off. Whether it was the PCT and AT in 2014, the CDT in 2015, or this coming extended travel I have planned. The short answer is, a lot of hard work saving, along with a good amount of discipline and acceptance of ‘delayed satisfaction’, something I see my generation often lacking.

I wrote a price about this for my good friends at Katabatic. You can check it out below, and hopefully start planning for your next big adventure!

https://katabaticgear.com/how-to-plan-time-away-from-work-for-outdoor-adventure/

Twinkle

I Quit My Job

I Quit My Job

Last Tuesday, I put in my two weeks’ notice at work, letting them know my last day would be March 6th. My wife, Grace, did the same. We don’t have any new jobs lined up.

No. We’re not retiring. (Dang!)

However, we’ll be willfully unemployed for the next year or so. You know, to like, walk… and stuff.

It’s been over two and a half years since I started my job after the CDT. I’ve climbed the ladder, done well, gotten the promotions, gotten the raises, and gotten the bug to take off again.

It’s time for something new, something different, and now is as good a time as any.

For the past two years, Grace and I have been saving up, putting away a lot of money each month, and living well below where our income suggests we could. We sacrificed some, but it didn’t feel like much. We still got out nearly every weekend in the mountains, we just didn’t waste any money.

On Tuesday, we’ll drive right from work to Moab. We’ll start caching food and water from Moab to Zion. After we finish, we’ll drop our car off in St. George, and somehow find a way back to Moab to start our hike of the Hayduke Trail.

This will be the typical Hayduke, meaning, it won’t really be that close to what the original suggested route is. Instead, we plan to packraft the Colorado river from Moab to Spanish Bottom (70 miles). We’ll do the Maze instead of the Dark Canyon (this was a tough choice). We’ll raft the Escalante. We wont take the trail up to Bryce Canyon (been there enough), instead doing the Buckskin & Paria canyons (never been). We’ll stay down in the Grand Canyon rather than returning to the North rim. Well, at least those are things we plan to do. But who knows when we get there.

All I know is I’m excited as can be to do this with Grace. It’ll be her first thru-hike/long distance adventure. It’ll also be a much different adventure than my previous. We need to average about 16 miles a day to finish on time, before we head to Scotland (more on that later). I won’t be nearly as UL as I was on my own hikes. Why? Because this hike isn’t just mine. It’s as much Graces as it is mine. And I want her to be comfortable, and find her hiking style, rather than throwing her into the lightest setup. Maybe she’ll grow into that. But the Hayduke is a different beast than the triple crown. It requires longer food and water hauls. We’ll be toting packrafting gear some of the time. And I’m going to take more camera/video equipment.

We’re even bringing a small Kindle so we can read together. It’ll be so romantic, less the smell. Well, ok, maybe it won’t be so romantic. The first book will be the Monkey Wrench Gang. Again, not at all romantic. But give it a read. The route we’re doing is named after the main character in the book, so it’s an obvious choice.

We’ve got a lot more planned than just the Hayduke. But there’s no better way to start (fact). We’ll get our butt’s kicked, get physically strong, and even more importantly, get mentally tough. That’ll set up for a wonderful year of hiking and mountain climbing abroad.

A bit of what I’ve been up too…

It’s been a long time! I’ve got a lot of exciting things on the horizon, and I plan on blogging about it here. In the next month I’ll delve into the details. Until then, here’s a snap shot of what my past two years have looked like:

http://blog.gossamergear.com/peakbagging-weminuche-kumo

I’ve mostly been working on mountain climbing and building my skillset in that realm. In September I finished the list of Colorado Centennials (the 100 highest mountains in the state). That took several years to complete, and took me to so many beautiful places. Check out the article above that I wrote about one of my more memorable trips climbing in 2017.

I’ll be back soon.

Twinkle

Beartooth High Route

Beartooth High Route

While hiking on the Continental Divide Trail in 2015, Andy and I caught wind of the Beartooth Range in Southern Montana.  Admittedly, I had heard very little of the range, and knew next to nothing about it.  However, after a bit of research, we found ourselves hitching out to Cooke City from Lamar Valley.

Below are the highlights of the route:

  • Main Beartooth High Route Loop – roughly 66 Miles
  • Approximately 48 Miles Off Trail
  • 8 named Peaks (two optional side trips from loop)
  • Highest Summit in Montana (Granite Peak, Optional 1.5 mile side trip)
  • 33 Named Lakes

The Beartooth Mountains sit above the North East section of the popular Yellowstone National Park. The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and spans 944,000 acres of Montana and Wyoming. Being in a designated wilderness area, the Beartooth Mountains are protected from development, leaving them untamed, remote, and scenic.  Since the area is designated wilderness, there are also very few developed trails, when compared to national parks.

The range is pretty well confined between Cooke City and Red Lodge.  There are several trailheads that allow a hiker access in and out of the range.  There’s also a popular North/South trail called ‘the beaten path’.  It’s a wonderful 24 mile hike from East Rosebud Lake (West of Red Lodge) south to Cooke City.  This trail cuts the Beartooth High Route in half, and also provides alternative options depending on the amount of time a hiker has to spend in the range.  If so inclined, a hiker could hike one half of the Beartooth High Route loop, and return to their car via The Beaten Path, skipping the second half of the High Route.  I believe this is a huge positive, and gives people options to do half on trail, half off trail if time or weather get in the way of completing a full loop.

Route Planning and Development

Neither Andy nor I are from Montana.  We hadn’t spent extensive time in the Beartooth Mountains, and we by no means claim to be experts on the mountain range.  There may be other wild, and scenic areas that this route misses.  That said, having hiked this route, I can tell you it is absolutely stunning.  The high country in the Beartooth Wilderness is unlike any I’ve seen.  It is a series of high plateaus and glaciated valleys.  There are jagged peaks and amazingly large headwalls. Yet there is also an easily accessible off trail high country that is begging to be explored and enjoyed.

I have seen many routes become logistically challenging.  The Beartooth High Route is not, nor should it ever become logistically challenging.  It is a loop hike, and can easily be shortened by using the beaten path if need be.  This allows maximum freedom based on time and weather.  While planning the route, Andy and I wanted a challenge, often times taking more technical drainages, ascending Granite Peak, and summiting sub summits to mix things up.  The high route has plenty to offer in this regard if you desire.  It also has easier paths, as described below, which can keep the route to below a class 3 rating.

 

 

Maps:

You must have a detailed map of the area for an excursion such as this.  Do not rely solely on GPS or GAIA.  Have a paper map, even if just for backup. Andy and I used paper maps exclusively in our trips to the Beartooth Mountains, marking our routes in pen. The best map I have found of the range, and the one we used, can be found here: http://www.beartoothpublishing.com/product/beartooth-mountains/

The Outline of the Beartooth High Route can be found with the following link: http://caltopo.com/m/0LLB

Legend:

  • Red – Beartooth High Route Loop
  • Blue – Connector Trails from TH
  • Green – Side excursions to Summits (optional)
  • Orange – The Beaten Path

Here is the Map Set in PDF Format to download and print: beartooth-high-route-map-set

I am still in the process of developing a narrative to go with the map set.  That will come in the next month as I have time.

Trailheads:

There are two trailheads that are directly on the loop.  The first is the East Rosebud Trailhead, on the northern part of the loop. This is a good option that will put you right on the trail. It is also the trailhead for the beaten path.  These two features make this the most logical trailhead to use if you intend to do the full loop without adding miles.

The second trailhead is the camp Senia trailhead near Silver Run Plateau.  This trailhead is on the East side of the loop, not far from East Rosebud, and just a short distance from Red Lodge.

There are also two trailheads in the south that can be used, however both require long approaches to the main loop.  Despite adding miles, my suggestion is to use one of these approaches to the loop.  In my opinion, the most scenic part of the Beartooth range is the southern section of the loop.  By starting at Island Lake Trailhead in the Southeast, you’ll be able to explore much more of that southern section, adding many lakes and peaks to your time in the Beartooths.  If you have the time, consider adding on this very scenic stretch!

 

Final Thoughts:

I hope you go and enjoy the Beartooth Mountains.  It’s an empty range outside of the beaten path.  You can find days of high alpine solitude on this route. I encourage you to make it your own. Get off the trails, get into the high country, and experience the solitude and scenery that only the tallest mountains in Montana can offer!

Photos to get you totally pumped for the Beartooth Mountains:

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Views like this cannot be found on the trails. Get off the ‘beaten path’, and enjoy the mountain range from its lofty peaks!

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Getting below the trees before a storm hits.

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“Yeah, it’s totally stable…”

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Typical views of giant granite cliffs. Rather than see them below on the trails, get up top and enjoy the 360 views from the high peaks. This view looks back to Granite Peak.

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Views of Fossil Lake. And Andy.

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Many drainages such as this are easily navigated. Though the miles are slower without a groomed trail, it’s much more rewarding!

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A typical off trail view.

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High on the BeHR.

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Rain Shorts… Rorts.

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Wind sweeps across another beautiful lake.

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Handy Andy getting in some climbing on the route. This is avoidable.

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Handy Andy and Twinky at the finish of the Route. Can’t say enough good things about the Beartooth Mountains.

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On the ascent to Dewey Peak. Granite Peak is the highpoint in the distance, which we had summitted the day prior.

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Views Southwest to Yellowstone. The terrain below holds all of the precious lakes and drainage’s.

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Camp at Lower Arrow Lake. The Spires in the distance. Andy eating hard Ramen below. If you’re like me, these pictures will get you excited to get out into this empty range!

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More BeHR views.

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Reflections. Water is plentiful on the BeHR. The entire range is littered with spectacular lakes.

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Lots of Goats in the Beartooth Mountains. This guy wouldn’t leave us alone all night. he even laid down just 10 feet from my tarp for a long time after dark. He also posed for this picture with the sunset. Thank you, GOAT.

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Views looking south from Granite peak. All of this terrain is covered in the BeHR

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There are endless opportunities to drop the trekking poles and climb some rocks on this route. It is always avoidable, however if it is withing your skill and comfort level, I suggest the more interesting routes! This little climb of about 20 feet helped us avoid climbing around this wall.

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Handy Andy on the summit of Granite Peak. You can see the high plateau of Mount Rosebud, Dewey Peak, and Summit Peak to the right of Andy.

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Still a lot of ice and snow in mid August.

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Andy up high on Summit Peak. The views on this route are unreal. Don’t be afraid to get up high!

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One of the many beautiful, open lakes on the BeHR. It’s easy walking up on the high plateaus and open drainage’s.