A Walk Across Southern Utah
From October 10th until ~mid-November, I will be attempting a Walk Across Southern Utah.
As with any good home cook, I’ll be taking their basic recipes and modifying it for my needs. (Yes. As my friend Cam pointed out, I do indeed use many cooking analogies! What can I say, I am true to my cultural roots. ) There are some variations I intend to do, I may modify it based on my whims at the time, or whatever Ma Nature decides and adjust accordingly.
All told, I expect this route to take me about five weeks. The lapsed Catholic in me would find the idea of 40 days in the desert in intriguing, but I don’t think I’ll take quite that long. 🙂
Why this time of the year?
Spring is the other obvious time to hike this route.
So why now?
Timing more than anything: Simply, the lease on my apartment is up.
October and into early November or so also happens to be an excellent time to hike in Utah.
The route starts on the Nevada / Utah line not far from a place called, appropriately enough, Uvada!
From there I will be walking across southern Utah and take in such areas as Escalante, Canyonlands, Bryce Cayon, the Paria area, the Waterpocket Fold, and even into the Henry and the La Sal Mountains for some mountain goodness.
For logistic reasons, ones adroitly noted by Amy and James, I’ve decided to go with the idea of ending in Gateway, CO at the opening of Unaweep Canyon. Should be a straightforward hitch to Grand Junction, CO. From there I’ll take a bus or even get a one-way car rental back to The Front Range where my vehicle awaits. I’ve decided to hike TO Colorado as I’ll be more or less walking home.
The route is a mix of cross-country, jeep track, and defined trails. Or what I enjoy doing on vacations. But for five weeks instead of a few days. 🙂
All told the route is roughly 650 – 700 miles depending which variations I decide to do in the field. Again, weather, my whims, resupply options or just because will decide on the ultimate route.
Why this route and not The Hayduke Trail?
The Hayduke Trail is an increasingly popular route in the long-distance hiker community. Not a trail in any real sense, it is somewhat similar to what I am doing for a few reasons:
- A route and not a defined trail.
- About the same length (I believe The Hayduke is about 100 miles longer versus the route I am hiking)
- This walk encompasses parts of southern Utah in red rock country. I’ll even be going through some of the same places.
However, I do not want to backpack the length of The Hayduke Trail. Why?
- I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Utah over the years. However, I’ve only been to parts (mainly) within a day’s drive of The Front Range area. This walk will take me into new places.
- The Hayduke Trail is a bit of a convoluted route and winds in and out of areas. The route I am doing goes through Utah in more of a point to point fashion. This point-to-point walk across a state appeals to me more.
- This route has more variety of terrain types in my opinion.
- Finally, I just want to backpack and do my own thing. Something with Facebook groups for both hikers and trail angels, a route that is getting more set, and now an app (!) does not appeal to me. I’m more of a home cook who enjoys basic open-ended recipes easily modified (a pinch of this, a dash of that, and I’ll think I’ll add this instead) rather than pre-defined recipes hewed to more closely. Especially for Western routes that are more wide open versus the heavily wooded East. (And something like the lightly used BMT is more my style there.) I loved hearing my friends stories about their Hayduke Trail experiences. Just not for me at this point.
Maps and Guidebooks
There are no route specific guidebooks. 🙂 The bulk of my information is from the Across Utah and the Doing Miles websites. Having hiked quite a bit in southeast Utah over the years, some of the information is from my personal experience, too.
I extracted the data points available on both websites, imported the data into CalTopo and printed out ~160 maps on 11″x15″ pages.
I’ll have two sets of maps:
- 7.5-minute (1:24000) topos for daily navigation
- 1:100000 overview maps for the larger view and in case I’ll need to bail or make major adjustments in the field.
I went with 11″x15″ as the larger view is easier to read in the field vs 8″x10″ I found on the CDT way back in 2006. And, alas, I am 11 years older and my eyes are letting me know it. 😉
Additionally, I loaded up waypoints for water, the route and variations in the Gaia GPS app. I’ve taken the Chris Townsend approach to GPS tools: Another tool in the kit that is useful. Why not make use of it? I’m pragmatic more than anything in the end. 🙂
For this trip, I’ve decided to go with an alcohol stove. It is going to be pushing into later Fall and a hot meal at night would be welcome. If it was Spring, I’d be going stoveless of course.
For food, I’ll be doing a hybrid of maildrops and buying as I go. The largest food carry I’ll have is between Hanksville and Moab for ~150 miles. Unfortunately, it looks like I am going to just miss the November 1st closing date for the Needles Outpost. That stop would have been a convenient place to resupply and break up the stretch between Hanksville and Moab. Call it seven days of food as the terrain is more difficult through that stretch. The area is isolated and there are no other resupply options without a major amount of hitching. Not an ideal situation, but not insurmountable either.
EDIT: Wow..pre-trail magic already! Chris H. lives in the area and generously offered to help with the stretch between Hanksville and Moab. That’s huge and makes that stretch easier esp with the raft for Spanish Bottom (see below in Issues and Concerns). THANK YOU!
Additionally, I am going to have a pair of shoes mailed to me in Escalante, UT at about the halfway point. Map packs will be mailed to me at points along the way, too.
Issues and Concerns
There are a few key issues for this trip versus a more defined route.
Among these issues and concerns:
- Fewer daylight hours means I have less time to hike of course. I’ll need to be disciplined to make the most of the daylight.
- Navigation: I need to make sure my navigation skills are on point. Nothing I have not done before. But one thing to navigate through Utah doing some well-known areas with my car waiting for me. Another thing to make a mistake and cost me a half-day in an area where few people go. Good maps, experience, and a nudge from the Gaia GPS app when needed should address this issue on the macro level.
- Scramblings: I’ll be going into and out of canyons, scrambling, and will need to make micro navigation decisions. Again, nothing I have not done before. However, one thing to research the heck out of a place from my home days before I get there. Another thing to look at topo map and my brief notes when I arrive. Being solo and in remote areas, I’ll be more conservative and take an honest stock of my abilities and comfort level. Alternate routes may be done if I decide if something looks too hairy.
- Water: Utah, or rather this route, is mainly red rock desert Naturally, making sure water is available is imperative. The largest carry seems to be about 35 miles. Based on the time of the year and my water consumption, that’s about six liters of water I’ll need to carry. Not terrible by any means. Water sources are marked on my topos, of course. I also have water waypoints loaded up in Gaia GPS. I do not plan on caching water.
- Permits: For routes of this type, permits can be hard to get as I am on foot. But I am going to do my best to legally procure a permit when needed. I may camp at front country sites that I walk into, be just outside of the NPS borders at night and walk through during the day, make use of the interagency offices in such places as Escalante, or simply call and politely explain when I am in the town before I enter any NPS units. I’ve found that the words “Please”, “Thank you”, and politely asking for things rather than demanding something goes a long way in resolving issues. My colorful five-foot-tall mother made sure her boys understood this fact of life very well. 😉
- Crossing Spanish Bottom: There is a crossing of the Colorado River at Spanish Bottom. It is a flatwater crossing that friends familiar with this stretch said is very mellow. I could wait and hope for some friendly rafters to give me a hitch. With the time of the year, and services slowing down, a bit of a gamble. Instead, I’ll be taking what some people have referred to as the “poor man’s pack raft” for flat water use only.
Unfortunately, I’ll be schlepping this raft between Hanksville and Moab due to the Needles Outpost (probably) being closed by the time I get there. Ha!Update: I have not even stepped on the trail yet and someone offered to help with this stretch. Thank you!!! Like all experiments, this experiment will either work well, or I’ll be eating crow. I’ll have a good story either way. And for this person who loves to spin a good yarn, that may be the most important part. 😉
Speaking of which…
I am going on an amazing trip through some of the most gorgeous and remote terrain in the American West. However, if past presentations are any indication, many people will be the most curious about what fabric my shelter is made of, what type of spoon I use, the brand of sock I will be wearing, and whether I take a zero drop shoe or not for some reason. Anticipating that question, I will more or less be taking this gear kit posted earlier.
That 150-mile carry will be at the upper end of the CDT capacity, but I should manage . I can always just eat more food at once if the pack is too heavy. 😉
I plan on posting updates about once a week. Some updates will be more frequent, some less so. I’ll have one or two photos per update. The bulk of my photos will be uploaded when I am finished.
I’ll have a larger post-hike overview entry similar to this pre-hike entry. This post-hike entry will include more detailed notes about the resupplies, trail vs x-country vs jeep road miles, permits and other pertinent info.
Finally, though this route will only be about five weeks, I expect this journey to be a memorable one. Utah is one of the most striking places in North America. And to walk across the state at the peak of red rock country Autumn? Well, it is a gift I will savor.
Naturally, this type of trip could not be done without help from others on some level.
- First, thanks to Jamal Green for the overall route concept and info. He has spent years researching where I am about to walk.
- The info from Amy and James on their website has proven to be invaluable. When I was working full-time, I do not think I would have the time bank funds to research to the level of detail they have done. Their meticulous research and notes proved to be an excellent base to start my planning since I quit work about a month ago.
- The friends, former colleagues, family and the greater outdoor community who have supported the not only this trip but my overall plan for the next several months. I have received many offers of places to stay, assistance, and so on. I continue to be amazed.
- Thanks to the Carr family for letting me park my vehicle at their place for the next few weeks. It will be waiting for me when I return and start the next phase of this sabbatical. Markhamm and I have enjoyed some memorable jaunts on the Colorado Plateau together.
- And many thanks to the Zapin family for being my quartermasters for this trip! The Zapin boys are becoming quite the experienced outdoors enthusiasts and I am happy they are an important part of my trip.