Hayduke trail day 9: slow miles, hard miles

March 26
Mileage: 18
125 miles hiked

Dan wakes me at 4 a.m.

“Carrot! Snow!” He’s punching snow off the sides of the tent, lifting the fabric off our faces, righting a pole that’s fallen down. There hadn’t been much in the way of clouds when we camped, and we put up the tent mostly for warmth- the nights have been cold AF. Boy am I glad we did. Now, the snow is actually making it warmer in here, insulating us. Eventually we fall back asleep, tent righted, as the snow continues to drift down.

I wake again at 7, which is much too late, to a world gone strange under an inch of white. It’s still snowing, and Dan and I pack up and hike in all our layers- long sleeve, puffy, rain jacket, hat, gloves. It continues to snow off and on all day, and never really warms up. The snow is beautiful, tho, and adds another dimension to this amazing, multi-dimensional hike. I had hot tea and we’re climbing first thing, up onto a sagebrush plateau one level higher than the one we camped on, and climbing makes endorphins and so my spirits are soaring. Which is good because, although we don’t know it, today’s miles are going to be so fucking hard.

Today’s miles should be measured vertically, not horizontally. I lose track of the number of cliff bands we ascend and descend, the number of ridges we attain just to drop back down into a wash. And all of it is cross country. One of the climbs is the sketchiest climb of the hike so far- a tall stack of limestone cliff bands reaching up into the sky, each band seperated by soft loose dirt so steep we ascend it hand over hand, grabbing onto twisted manzanitas and stones that come loose in our grip and tumble down the mountain. Each time we reach a cliff band on this climb we must contour it until we find a “crack” through which to haul ourselves up, finding handholds and footholds and passing packs up. Then another scramble on steep loose soil, fighting for purchase with the thorny plants, to another cliff band, as though we’re climbing the world’s tallest wedding cake. I’m using my whole body, and by the top my legs are shaking like jello. And once we’ve reahed the top (or bottom) of something, the flat stuff isn’t any easier- we’re down low in a tangle of willows and thorny plants in a wash, fighting our way through, plants slapping us in the face or pulling off our hats or stabbing us in the shins, their thorns poking tiny holes in our nice new rain jackets, or we’re up high, in the cold pinyon forest, winding our way around downed trees and rocky gullies and the epitimous hayduke cactus patch. We’ve been averaging just over one mph all day. Hayduke miles. Slow miles.

We catch a break in the last few miles of the evening when we drop down into Trail Canyon on actual maintained trail and follow it to its confluence with Dark Canyon, which we’ll be in all day tomorrow. Usually there isn’t any water in this stretch but we score big in trail canyon on account of the recent precipitation- the potholes are full of good clear water. We pitch our tent amongst the trees a mile into Dark Canyon and set an alarm for a little earlier than I’d like to be awake. The Hayduke kicked my ass today. It’s an ibuprofen night for sure.

Photos on instagram