Backpacking the Hayduke Trail - Section 1

Howells Outdoors

Adventure is my middle name...actually it's Keith.
Sep 26, 2012
Sorry fellow backcountryposters, I've been in hiatus of posting my outdoor adventures on here...or having them! But we'll kick it back in gear with this one from my blog: Hayduke Trail - Section 1.
The first section of the Hayduke Trail is a 40-mile adventure through a great section of backcountry in Arches National Park, through Moab and onto a busy dirt road up Kane Springs.

Here’s the Hayduke Crew for Section 1:

Austin Dennis

Kevin Koontz

Chelsea Howells

Christopher Jones

Keith Howells
In the Hayduke Guidebook it says to do this section in 5 days. We don’t have that sort of time, so we crunched out the 40 miles in 3 days. This was a pretty good timeline for this section, but I wish we would’ve done it in 4 days instead. That would’ve given us a better chance to enjoy the scenery. At the pace we had we would see something and have to say, “That’s pretty neat. We have a ton of ground to cover today so we can’t check it out.”

DAY 0: Drive, Shuttle, Late-Night Arrival
Chelsea, Chris and I drove from Salt Lake City. Austin and Koontz left from Cedar City. We met in Moab…really late. I think all of us had work or class until about 5 pm Thursday night. We didn’t leave SLC until 8:30, putting us in Moab at 1:30 am.

When we finally got to Moab we met our friend Brittney who was going to help us with the shuttle. By the time we got our cars dropped off and we were at the trailhead we learned a valuable lesson: we wished we would’ve had Brittney pick us up at the end of the hike and not driven into Moab that night.

We got out of her car at 3:30 am and passed out on the ground outside Arches.

Brittney left and finally after a year of dreaming about it the Hayduke Trail was happening.

DAY 1: A Long Day Through Backcountry Arches
Salt Valley is a relatively flat area where the sunrise comes early. The bright light hit us at about 6:30 am and lit up our little patch of ground forcing us to wake up. But that meant it was time to go so we ate our oatmeal, packed up the backpacks, and entered into Arches National Park.

As we wandered into the backcountry of Arches the snowcapped La Sal mountains stood over the red rock desert like some sort of beautiful, water-rich king, slowly trickling his wealth down to the arid lands.

We followed some 4×4 trails through the Park, past some of the less visited arches and bluffs, for about half of the milage we were going to do that day. A few of the crew-members (the fast hiking ones) passed our mark where we venture off the road and have to start route finding. Like I always say, "When you hike fast you have to hike further."

I don't really say that...

This is where the hiking got looooong; weaving through the brush and around the cryptobiotic soil took more effort than walking on the road, but this is where the beauty of the backcountry can be found. We dropped off these sandstone fins into a wash and found a twisting, narrow slot canyon with deep potholes of water. All the while the La Sals stood there as sentinels over the red rock desert.

The bottom of the wash was flowing with fresh water and each step we moved deeper into the wilderness.

But 15 miles can take its toll and no amount of beauty changes that. Finally we reached our camp destination at Sevenmile Canyon and it was time to stop moving, cook some dinner, and get some much needed rest.

DAY 2: WHAT! This is in Arches National Park
Well 9 am rolled around and we were all finally up and eating breakfast. What a lazy start! I guess that will happen when you only get 3 hours of sleep the night before and walk 15 miles.

The late start made it to where we had to book it through this section. Which I regret horribly (also why I wish we would’ve done 4 days for Section 1) because Courthouse Wash was amazing.

After crossing the main Arches Road at Courthouse Wash the canyon takes a major shift and becomes one of the best locations in Arches (in my opinion).

The sandstone walls are narrow, not tall compared to other areas in Utah. Courthouse Creek, at this time of year, was flowing strong and the deep pools in the canyon were amazing. As we continued through the canyon the water had cut deeper into the sandstone and cascading waterfalls were everywhere.

I was blown away at the beauty of Courthouse Wash. I’d never heard of it, nor seen pictures. It’s amazing how you can visit a place so many times and still find adventure and exploration.

Courthouse drops back into civilization right where HWY 191 crossed the mighty Colorado. From this point on we were on a road. I don’t care much for backpacking through a town. It just feels unnecessary.

My big selling point to get Chelsea on this grueling trek was that she could stop in Moab if she wanted on Day 2. Chelsea and I have been on a few backpacking trips, but nothing like this one. She was nervous, but I don’t know why, she did amazing!

But she chose to stop, still accomplishing her goals for the trip.

The rest of us continued on through Moab and up Kane Springs Rd to our campsite.

DAY 3: My Achilles Tendons Hate Me
There were some striking contrasts to last night compared to the the other two nights:

Since Chelsea had stopped in Moab and stayed in a hotel, I was in my own sleeping bag. I guess I could’ve zipped my sleeping bag together with one of the other guys and cuddled with them, but it’s just not the same.

The largest contrast was a result of being at Moonflower Campground on the Kane Springs Road, it was SO LOUD. Sometime that night a group came in and I guess they didn’t realize, even though they walked right past two camps, that they weren’t alone there. They were yelling back and forth from their camp to their truck which was running with its loud, rumbling, idling diesel engine. Ugh, people.

Where was the sounds of nature from the past two nights? I missed that and had a hard time sleeping.

Oh well.

We got up much earlier on Day 3. We only had 9 miles to go today, all of it on a road. Electing to leave everything behind but water, food, first-aid, and keys to the cars, we were able to crush the 9 miles in 3 hours.

Kane Springs Rd. has some great sites and side canyons that I need to get back and explore. We saw tons of petroglyphs. There are quite a few great mountain biking trails in the area and 4×4 trails. Lots of fun to be found in this area of Moab.

The last two miles my ankles had basically told me to give up, but I had to just keep going. When we reached the cars I could tell I pushed my legs a bit to hard and they would need some healing after this trip; but the slopes were calling my name.

Wrapping up Section 1
In the end here’s a few things we learned about doing Section 1 of the Hayduke Trail:

  • Take at least 4 days to do it.
  • Have the shuttle after you’re done, not before.
  • There’s plenty of water along the way.
  • You can pick up food and supplies in Moab so you don’t have to carry everything the whole time.
A few thoughts that I have from the adventure:

  • If you have a way out in your mind you will take it, but if it’s inline with your goal oh well.
  • There’s always new places to see or new experiences to have everywhere. So many things can change to make it a new adventure, the people can change, the location can change, the weather can change.
  • The desert is my favorite place to roam around. Mountains provide a good thing to view, but the desert is a good place to experience.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and discover something great about yourself.
We’ll be continuing with the Hayduke Trail soon. Section 2 looks to be full of backcountry adventures as we get into Canyonlands National Park.

Be sure to follow along the journey by subscribing to this blog, following Howells Outdoors on Instagram,Facebook and Twitter.

Howells Outdoors

Adventure is my middle name...actually it's Keith.
Sep 26, 2012
Really looking forward to following the rest of this adventure. Thanks for posting.
No problem! I'm excited to go on the rest of this adventure!
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