With steps one and two of their vision accomplished, they began the task of turning the finished route into the nation’s next designated National Scenic Trail (working title: the Colorado Plateau Trail). Mike laid the groundwork for a nonprofit trail alliance, talked to land managers, and in short order found that it takes more than a couple of ordinary hikers with a dream and a killer route to get a National Scenic Trail on the map. The intrepid wilderness enthusiast found himself facing a mountain of red tape he couldn’t climb.
“It was a lot more complicated than we’d thought,” says Mike, admitting that initially they were naove about the process. “An official trail would have required new management plans in the parks, environmental impact assessments, and tons
of fund-raising. I’m not wealthy. I’m a bartender in Salt Lake City.”
“Creating a National Scenic Trail is no small task,” confirms Jere Krakow, superintendent of long-distance trails in the National Park Service’s Salt Lake City office. “It takes connections, especially political, and a lot of money. You need to get legislation passed by Congress just to study feasibility, then another bill is required to amend the National Trails Act. There are only eight such trails currently recognized in the country. The process takes far more than two guys with a strong commitment.”
After completing two epic treks and enduring every hardship the Colorado Plateau could throw at them, Mike and Mitch were not inclined to jump through bureaucratic hoops. “We never wanted to physically build a trail anyway,” explains Mitch. “It would have harmed the very land we hope to protect. A real trail might attract too many people to sensitive areas where there shouldn’t be crowds.”
So they abandoned the pursuit of federal designation. Instead, they returned to a dusty idea they’d bandied about during the first leg of their two-part hike: create the Hayduke Trail, named after George Washington Hayduke, the renegade character in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Mike calls the Hayduke a “rogue route,” a below-radar path that won’t appear on traditional maps. The route will employ established trails and backroads where available, and you’ll need good navigational skills where trails and roads don’t exist. In other words, serious backpackers will be able to piece the Hayduke together, and have access to some of the wildest backcountry on the Colorado Plateau.
“We want to publicize the route because it’s in a one-of-a-kind environment that needs protection. But we want people to have the same sense of adventure we had,” Mitch adds.
The two are currently at work fine-tuning the 725-mile route—from Arches to Grand Canyon to Zion—for a guidebook they plan to publish in late 2002 (for information about ordering their book, see Guides in the Expedition Planner at the end of this article). If all goes well, they will have pioneered a new, nontechnical route entirely on public land, complete with water sources and resupply points, and across some of the most forbidding but beautiful terrain in the Lower 48. But don’t worry about that sketchy section of Vishnu schist that almost did the pair in. “We’re avoiding that for sure,” Mike says. “We don’t want anyone to die. We just want to tell people about a cool route.”
For more information about what you can do to help protect the Colorado Plateau or to donate funds, contact the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 486-3161; www.suwa.org.