That is what this route I’m attempting is known as in Hayduke circles. It was hiked by the guys who came up with the trail in the late nineties, and Li Brannfors hiked it when he did the Hayduke Trail in 2006. But the guidebook authors had such a terrifying experience that they deemed the route The Three Days of Terror and then omitted it from the final Hayduke Trail because it was too difficult and too dangerous. I didn’t want to mention any of this before because I didn’t want you all to worry. By the time you are reading this, I’m safe.
The route is actually pieces of routes from George Steck’s book Hiking Grand Canyon Loops, a title I suspect is quite an understatement. In any case, none of the parts of this route are unique to the Hayduke, all have been hiked before by no doubt quite a few people (relatively speaking). Everyone I know who has hiked it did so in the opposite direction from me. This is significant because the crux of the route, the guillotine of failure, is a route through the Redwall, a band of limestone cliffs that run near the rim of the Grand Canyon everywhere and can be quite difficult to pass. Going the direction the guidebook authors and Li did it, you must climb up through the cliff band. In the direction I’m going, I will be climbing down. Climbing up is almost always easier than climbing down. The Steck guidebook also presents the route in the opposite direction and is vague about whether the cliff can be climbed down. I’m walking towards something that may not be possible. That is the large unknown, hanging bruise of uncertainty crowding out my thoughts.
I have two other alternates I can try, either electing one before even seeing the cliff or using one as a bail out route if the cliff terrifies me. So whether I actually go through the Three Days of Terror in its entirety is a relevant question. I am humble. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know if I can make it.
I hiked down from the South Rim on the Kaibab Trail, the same one I went up. It offers the fastest access to the river and I wanted to get down as fast as I could, partly because I got a late start this morning, several hours after I would normally start hiking, but also because I was starting my extended cross country route from Bright Angel Campground at the very bottom of the canyon. I made decent time down to the river but I did stop to chat with folks, enjoying being around people. Soaking them up like lady fingers in rum. Once at the campground, I made my dinner for lunch, using the water from the tap there, and loaded up with two gallons of water for the hike. My next water source was easily a full day of hiking away and I had a dry camp between the two. From the campground my route was a rough boot path up to the Tonto platform on the north side. I climbed steeply and steadily, with my backpack toting eleven days of food and two gallons of water, a bulging 55 pounds hanging off my body. Once on the Tonto platform, I made my way to a saddle between two buttes, traversing between two Shimuno Quartzite cliff bands on a sketchy, narrow, steep slope that made me cautious but I remained willing, even while watching the loose scree skitter free under my feet and pitch forty feet off the cliff below me. I told myself multiple times today that I could turn around at any point, and I’m equally calculating escape plans as I am the logistics of the actual route. That is imperative, and yet it does mean living with anxiety-provoking doubt for the next few days. I have worries.
I only hiked 5.4 miles into my route this afternoon and it took me about six hours. I arrived at camp at Trinity Creek exhausted, likely because this is very hard terrain, very hard hiking, and my backpack is astonishingly heavy. I ate, I put antibiotic on my wrist (the blisters ripped open today on my pack strap), I looked at information about my route. Tomorrow I have a very long day contouring on the Tonto platform, navigating obstacles and cacti. I’m a little worried I need to go too far and I won’t be able to do it with my heavy backpack. We shall see.