Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive
The Hayduke Trail, Revisited
Long trails don't just spring up out of nowhere...except when they do. Back in 2001, BACKPACKER reported on a brand new 725-mile hiking route connecting the dots between Utah's most spectacular national parks and monuments. The only catch? It can't be found on any traditional map. The Hayduke Trail (named for a character in Edward Abbey's
The Monkey Wrench Gang) is the whimsical invention of Mike Coronella and Joe "Mitch" Mitchell, two hikers who completed the first traverse through trial-and-error in 1998 before returning to formalize aspects of the route in 2000.
Now, more than a decade later, the Hayduke Trail remains a formidable, yet alluring, challenge to thru-hikers. Free of the crowds that swarm the AT and PCT each year, the route has maintained its reputation as a rogue's paradise, a wild swath of country where only experts dare to travel. BACKPACKER caught up with Coronella, currently at work on a book, to discuss the trail's enduring appeal.
Editor's note: This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity and punctuation.
Let's start with that initial trip in 1998. What was your goal on that hike?
The Hayduke was not the plan out of the gate, only to complete a cross-country walk across Utah. The '98 hike was done at a mellow pace, we were really intrigued by the route and experimented a lot. We walked on roads, private land...we probably trespassed more than a few times.
And then you went back a second time in 2000.
Yep, and that time, we were very conscious of finding routes that would make a viable trail. One of our original goals was to highlight public land issues that were happening at that time. So publicity was a big part of the hike, and that was what allowed us to get sponsors.
Talk about the unique appeal that the Hayduke holds for hardcore backpackers who've perhaps done other long trails.
For Triple Crowners, the desert is an intriguing target and we filled that niche by giving people a survivable route. But people underestimate the difficulty of hiking in the desert. It's a lot harder than you'd anticipate to keep, say, a 12-mile-per-day pace. Water is a major challenge. When I soloed the John Muir Trail, I never had to carry water. In the desert, you might have to carry two days worth. That can make or break a trip. Many people don't want to take that risk.
In the decade-plus since, you've stayed active in the Utah outdoor scene as a guide in Moab and a member of the local SAR team. Is it fair to say that backpacking keeps you going?
Definitely. And five years ago, in the Maze area of Canyonlands, I had a heart attack that eventually required a triple bypass. If I weren't a backpacker, it would have finished me. But I bounced back and there I was up on the summit of Mount Whitney, 2 years to the day after that happened.
What inspired you to write what you describe as a "photographic non-fiction" book? What do you hope it will convey to readers?
Telling stories, mostly. People always tell me, 'wow, what a great story,' that a Jersey boy could create a nearly 800-mile backpacking trail. How often does that happen? And there are a lot of stories out there, not just mine. It goes all the way back to Everett Ruess, [the artist and poet] who disappeared out there 100 years ago and his story has become sort of a legend. He wrote these lyrical letters home and famously said that no medium can convey the desert. He's right, of course, but I'm going to try to disprove him anyway.
Mike Coronella's book, A Tale of the Hayduke Trail: A Desert Journey, is currently being funded via Kickstarter. Click through the slideshow to see a selection of his images.