My Walk Across Southern Utah is complete.
In twenty-four hours, I went from hitching on the side of the road to picking up my rental car at the Grand Junction Airport. I then drove back to Colorado’s Front Range. I was wearing cotton, had a haircut and a trimmed beard. And I was leisurely sipping coffee on the way back. Quite the change in such a short period of time.
Today I am sitting at my friends’ home. The past week has been busy catching up with friends, preparing for my road trip, and tieing up on loose ends that don’t stop merely because I am out walking.
The creature comforts of my coffee, the local NPR station, and daily shower are being enjoyed.
Perfect for thinking about the walk I just did. And about the overall journey.
As I said previously, this walk was by far the most satisfying multiweek trip I’ve done. Almost every day brought a sight to see that would have been a highlight of a year of backpacking. And I experienced those type of scenes of enchantment for over thirty days.
With all those thoughts in mind, here are some overall impressions about this journey.
The Route Itself
The journey took me 33 days total. I believe my mileage was just short of 650 total. I genuinely don’t know the total mileage as I think in terms of hours hiked per day for this type of hike rather than miles total. Some days I would hike 30 miles if it was jeep road walking. Other days, I hiked less than 15 if there was frequent route finding especially on the micro-navigation level. I just know I was up on the trail at first light, and frequently set up my camp by headlamp. Keeping track of specific mileage is not as easily done on these type of routes that are not defined. And not something I care to keep track of either. 😉
As Jamie stated on his website, this route is a suggested one. He cobbled together his route with known canyoneering routes (sometimes cairned or known social trails), some single track found mainly in national parks, cross-country travels he explored, jeep road walks, and a minimal amount of paved walking. The overall description of the route is mainly hiking cross-country or using known social/cairned routes in canyons, walking a jeep track briefly, and then going into another canyon.
Due to lack of time bank funds before my hike (there is a reason why I am getting off the hamster wheel for a while! 😀), I borrowed heavily from the Doing Miles website and their planning as well. In particular their map and town info.
If I had more time bank funds before the hike for planning, I would have planned things a bit differently in the Henry Mountains and take a higher route. If a cold snap had not come in and I had more daylight, a high route in the La Sals would have been done as well.
The other change I would have made would have been to start Oct 1st rather than Oct 10th. By the end, the lack of daylight hours was beginning to show. But, again, sometimes circumstances dictated what I had and could do before the the hike.
Otherwise, I was delighted with this route overall. The weather was fantastic with cool nights and warm days. Fall in all its glory! I only had to set up my shelter once and otherwise, cowboy camped when out backpacking. Just the last three or four days had cold temps at night.
This route is not a beginners route. A person should be comfortable with navigation, water management, figuring out things for themselves, and not being dependent on having a significant amount of pre-made data to hike a route from A to Z.
Ideally, a person hiking this route has a mix of thru-hiking experience since they know how to manage water carries, can resupply efficiently, and are used to longer hiking days. But they also are an accomplished vacation length backpacker on a frequent basis. They can make up their routes by looking at maps and adapt on the fly. No databook, dedicated trail app, or designated lettered route needed to backpack.
Since I am an IT Geek as my day job, I was able to extract the GPX and KML points from the websites mentioned above and import them as needed. ( Nothing terribly difficult, just view the source HTML via Google Chrome. Then download the files. Import into your app and mapping software of choice.). The water sources imported into the Gaia GPS app was particularly useful.
I ended up getting a Utah Benchmark Atlas as my overview maps did not work quite as planned. The appropriate Benchmark Atlas pages had the large overview pages I find useful.
The topo maps were invaluable of course. For micro-navigation, zooming in on the topos on my Gaia GPS also proved to be helpful. Even the 1:24000 scale would not always have the detail I needed for some of the canyons.
The Doing Miles town info was helpful for planning. I’d just add the following:
- Cedar City may be accessed from New Harmony if needed. A very good sized college town with all the services. I had not showered in seven days at that point with everything going on in Colorado, and I was a bit beat. A whirlwind wrapping up things in Colorado prior to the trip. Cedar City was a good pitstop for me! I opted for this option rather than pushing to Springdale that I skipped.
- Mt. Carmel is a popular tourist area serving the nearby Zion and Bryce National Parks. Has a Best Western if you want lodging…or play a round of golf. 😉 The two restaurants are often full of tour groups for lunch that book both places. Subway was at the gas station, so I was able to grab lunch that way.
- Orderville four miles up the road now has a restaurant. A Northeast style pizza place that had calzones and great salads. Only one motel option in Orderville, but super friendly with funky theme rooms!
- Bryce City is an option easily accessible via the Bryce Canyon National Park bus system if a resupply or RnR is needed. I did not make use of this option, but it was good to know as a possibility.
- Escalante had lots of lodging options considering the size of the town.
- Hanksville has three lodging options. Again, considering how big Hanksville is, quite a few options.
- Despite what the Needles Outpost website stated before my trip, they close DECEMBER 15th and not Nov 1st. They updated their website in November. :O Everything worked out (Thanks, Chris!), but my planning would have been different if this information was known. So it goes! 🙂
The permits were surprisingly easy for me to handle. I should add, however, I did the spirit rather than the letter of the law in a couple of cases. Being on foot with variable dates, difficult to get the exact dates and places. But I always had a permit. I also have an annual Interagency Pass. Paying for the entrance fees is never an issue.
The permit situation in particular:
- In Zion Canyon, I was able to get a walk-in permit and camped in the dispersed camping areas.
- For Bryce Canyon, there is a small sliver of USFS land that I camped in on the first night and camped outside the park on the second.
- A Capitol Reef permit was easily obtained in the Escalante at the interagency office located in town. The permit was free.
- I applied and paid for my Canyonlands permit ahead of time online. I did not show up at the Hans Flat ranger station in person as requested. It was about thirty miles from my route. I did see a backcountry ranger at The Maze entrance by coincidence, so I guess that counts? 😉 Being serious, he did not seem overly concerned. I think the fact that I had paid for a permit, had actual topo maps, could talk intelligently about my route and I was prepared to packraft across the Colorado River, satisfied the same requirements as walking into the Hans Flat ranger station. If anything, he and his fellow NPS employee were more excited about my overall route when I sheepishly told him what I was doing. (I was always “Paul,” and that I was out backpacking for a few days. Only after Moab did I feel comfortable readily saying I was walking from border to border. Mags is a nickname more so than a trail name, and I never introduce myself that way. You’ll often hear me called Paul Mags among those who know me. And if you know me from many years ago in RI, it might even be Paulie Mags! 😀 )
- I registered in the National Monument or BLM lands that requested a permit at the self-serve kiosks.
The issues were as expected as detailed in my initial post. No surprises. Some of the scramblings did make me pause, and though it was not overly technical, I was grateful for the basic climbing techniques I’ve learned and used over the years. Being solo, at the end of the day, with a full pack full of water, is a bit different than a day length canyoneering route, to say the least.
The only surprise because of these issues, however, was in Swap Canyon outside of Capitol Reef National Park. The scrambling and micro-navigation did cause to me to go slower than expected. Interesting food situation… 😉
As for water, an “OH CRAP!” moment was when I was 0 for 3 with water sources around Capitol Reef. :O Luckily I was able to grab some water from some friendly day hikers on their way out of Muley Twist. Otherwise, there was a fourth water source on my map. Or I’d have to sack out at the trailhead and flag someone earlier the next day Other than this one time, I was able to grab water easily enough with planning via my maps or the GPX points loaded into Gaia GPS. Once or twice a well was shut off but other than the one time noted above, that was an inconvenience rather than a major issue The most water I carried was four liters. Helped it was fall with cooler temps and I can put in reasonably good mileage overall. I almost always dry camped and did not hike water source to water source
I know people are going to have gear questions, so here is a summary of some particularly useful equipment:
- The ULA CDT was a workhorse as always. I even used my poor man’s pack raft with five days of food plus water carries! I would not have used any other pack. Being broad shouldered and built for hauling based on photos of relatives back in Italy, (I’m a stubborn Italian Jackass on many levels apparently), hauling weight with a frameless pack worked for me. May not work for you.
- The 100 wt fleece continues to be my go-to piece of clothing. I wore it while sleeping, wore the fleece on the cool mornings, often during windy and exposed conditions, and wore it while hiking later in the day towards the end of my trip.
- A HEIMDALL Headlamp was fantastic for those twilight camps. Two ounces with a single AA battery, water resistant, and three headlamp modes for the white light. At 115 lumens the main light is bright enough to night hike, the third white light setting is dimmer and about right to set up camp, and the red light was particularly useful once settled in. The red light is just enough to see by without ruining my night vision for those stars above. At $20, quite the bargain. It looks like there are identical versions, under different brands, for less money as well.
- The Intex 200 Explorer, aka the Poor Man’s Packraft, worked very well. Apparently, this raft is well-known to dirt bagger canyoneers for flatwater crossings. If you are mainly hiking, and need to cross a brief stretch of flatwater, consider this $16 wonder. I will make use of this raft again!
- I carried a real camera: A Canon G3X mirrorless. The nearly two-pounds weight penalty of camera gear added to my overall kit was worth it. I love taking photos and documenting my hike in this way. A smartphone would not have cut it for me. The camera works well for me since it is weather and dust resistant and has a good zoom lens. A nice quiver of one for a person hiking all day who happens to enjoy taking many photos.
As much for something to do on the long nights, I did one hot meal at night and brewed up hot chocolate to go with my reading. A little luxury that I would not take during prime three-season hikes with longer daylight hours. All my other meals were cold to maximize daylight hours.
And not gear per se, but the Gaia GPS app was extremely useful. Water sources were marked, micro navigation was easier, and it helped with the twist and turns of the canyons at times. I could have done the trip with just maps. But, as I’ve said before, I’m pragmatic in the end. The Gaia GPS app was a helpful tool.
Overall this route beats on gear. Scrambling, cross-country routes, fine sand, water crossings, and not being a maintained trail, gear is going to look well used at the end of this trek.
If you still have gear questions, please see my (more or less) current gear list.
Highlights in photos
Here are some highlights of my trip via photos:
All the entries
I have multiple entries with more thoughts, more planning info, and of course more photos. Read all the entries here