Our last full day on the Hayduke, but we didn’t know that when we woke this morning.
We started our day with a walk down The Barracks, a classic canyoneering route in Zion’s backcountry. Towering walls of sculpted Navajo sandstone, hanging gardens of monkey flower and fern, canyon wrens trilling, side canyons wafting breezes with quiet secrets, the play of light reflecting on canyon walls and water.
We’ve enjoyed two months of these canyon explorations and I feel we could keep roaming up more or soaking in those we’ve been to without tiring. Canyon travel is addicting. We’d stay and explore more if it weren’t for the pending season of flash floods, bugs, hot weather, and a desire to get home to our cat, Gracie.
The walk down The Barracks was a delight and we lingered in every bend and poked into side canyons. Going up Fat Man’s Misery, was interesting. (If only I’d looked at my trip spreadsheet in Coloardo City, I would have downloaded the route beta from acrossutah.com to avoid the loose rock route. So it goes. Maybe we’ll be back to the explore the marvelous side canyons sometime and exit The Barracks the easier, more aesthetic way.)
Climbing up and into Zion National Park, we stopped for a late breakfast on a ridge with views of the Checkerboard Mesa. Gorgeous! We were excited that our route would take us through this slickrock wonderland.
We also had spotty cell service. So I pinged Daybreaker to see where he was with his friend Laura. From texts and messages over the last few weeks we knew this was the day he was scheduled to finish his hike on the west end of the park.
Curious about the slickrock gardens, we got back to walking. The white domes, coral mounds, and yellow stripes that the walls of Checkerboard Mesa are a gorgeous welcome to Zion. Use paths and cairns present a chose-your-own-adventure route across the slickrock. Beautiful and no people. Why hadn’t we gone to this part of the park on our first visit to Zion?
Sitting at the pass on the west side of Checkerboard Mesa, we enjoyed our last quiet hours of the trip. Sigh. We’re here on the Thursday at the start of Memorial Day weekend. And here is is Zion National Park (busy, with so many visitors that lately the park has filled to capacity). No matter the holiday, we knew going to into the park would bombard our senses with its people-filled trails the next few days. And that was if we were lucky enough to get a permit for what Haydukers call the “Zion extension” and is the popular West Rim Trail. (We were on safari in the Serengeti the day backcountry permits became available online so I missed the window to make advanced reservations. Oh those frolicking wildebeest and antelope were worth it!)
After quieter days with few people, imaging the park in park form (crowds, permits, designated camping spots), the hot forecast (100 degrees F), the logistics of finishing our hike on the west end of Zion. All these factors were circling in our minds and the extension was starting to lose appeal. Getting to Checkerboard Mesa felt like the end of the Hayduke to us. Maybe we could sync with Daybreaker to finish our hike after all…?
We turned the InReach on at the pass and had new messages. Daybreaker and Laura had finished the extension and were back in Springdale to get their car and head to Las Vegas. Hooray for DB! But do we really want to hustle the last 10 miles to get to them late tonight? No. As easy as that would make logistics, we didn’t want to rush the last miles of the Hayduke. We wished them fun in Vegas. We turned off our electronics.
Hiking on, we crossed under Highway 9. Saw a family of bighorn sheep foraging on a rock above a dry wash. They were curious about us and not concerned. Park sheep? Or after 10 days without showers is it that we just don’t smell funny to sheep? Either way it was a treat to see bighorns, the animal depicted in so many petroglyphs.
After walking a couple miles of washes, we joined with an official park trail. Hikers. Dayhikers looking at us funny as were sitting along the side of the trail with large backpacks just a mile from the trailhead, but ten hours since the start of our walking day. Backpackers with so much stuff that they carried grocery sacks dangling from their arms and Wonder Bread swinging from the back of their packs. And people looked at us funny? Hikers using cell phones.
Cell phones? Maybe we should check and make sure Daybreaker got our messages?Turning on the InReach and our phones. Pings came in. DB and Laura were okay with waiting for us until tomorrow and could meet us at the Weeping Wall in the morning (the guidebook finish to the Hayduke)!
We were so incredibly happy! Yes! We arranged to meet them at 8:30 am at the Weeping Wall. Texts exchanged. We kept hiking.
And just like that, we knew this was our last night on the Hayduke.
We hiked on, now mindful of every last: the last water stop, the last camp, the last flowers of this or that species of the Hayduke. Fully alert. A little nostalgic. But totally at peace with not having to hike amid the herds and packs of backpackers. Okay with not hiking near the McMansion inholdings that are in and next to Zion NP. (Oh Utah, in Washington this would NOT happen.) Excited to see Daybreaker while we are all still in long walk mode.
To stay in the spirit of the park rules, we hiked to the Stave Spring TH, planing to camp on the edge of the park. There were private residences just a couple hundred feet for the Zion Wilderness Boundary sign. Sigh. We camped in sight of the trailhead sign, setting up our tent amid a stand of ponderosa pine. Not quite the feeling of the Hayduke or the seclusion of the slickrock camping we admired above The Barracks. But we were set up well to finish in the morning.
We listened to the last evening songs of birds, watched the neighbors tiki lights flicker as if in a fairy garden, and breathed of the ponderosa pine and bigsage brush woodland.
Day 58: 16.0 miles; 880.6 miles total. East Fork of the Virgin River by Rock Canyon to Stave Springs Trailhead in Zion National Park.
GPS: not needed; people sighted: many, once we got into Zion NP; roads: some of the trails in Zion are old access roads still used for emergencies.