Hayduke trail day 10: Dark Canyon

March 27
Mileage: 20
145 miles hiked

I hardly sleep, since there’s an alarm set. I drift in and out of wakefulness all night, aware of every sound and movement. How do people relax when they know they’ve set an alarm? You’re going to be startled out of a deep sleep, when you least expect it, by an ALARM. How the fuck am I supposed to drift off?

I’m pumped to hike in the morning, though, when the alarm does go off. We’re on the Hayduke! I love the Hayduke!!

We camped right at the beginning of Dark Canyon, and enough people come down this way that there’s some faint tread that skirts the boulder-filled wash, and we actually get to cruise for the first few hours. It was cold AF last night- much of our water froze, as did the tent and my shoes- and it’s still cold, as the sun has yet to crest the canyon walls. I’m hiking in all of my layers.

This actual tread leads to false confidence and when the tread peters out after six miles, as tread on the Hayduke is wont to do, we’re suddenly faced with the reality of what walking down this canyon for the next 14 miles is actually going to be like.

Fucking hard. So fucking hard.

Ankle-twisting boulders, deep sand, thick stands of willows, floodpiles of treelimbs, steep slickrock pouroffs and sheer canyon walls that one must find a way around, sometimes via scrambling or bits of rock climbing with its inherent exposure and, after a time, crystal-clear pools of water- this part of Dark Canyon is usually dry, but it’s been a wet winter in the SW and there is water, beautiful water, everywhere. In fact, a few miles after the trail disappears, Dark canyon becomes one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The sparkling clear water burbling through the sheer canyon walld, puddling in deep aquamarine potholes, the newly leafed-out cottonwood trees on the banks, the light playing over everything.

Oh Hayduke, it’s good that you’re pretty. Otherwise you would be so fucking frustrating.

Our shoes are wet and filled with sand, and with each step I take, over boulder or downed tree or out of deep sand or water or to climb up onto a cliff band, I must lift my leg higher than on an actual trail. This seems like a little thing, but it adds up quickly and makes the miles exponentially more physically demanding. Soon my muscles feel like jello, and I’ve got shooting pain all over my body. We’re pushing ourselves as fast as we can, hoping to get somewhere close to 2mph, which might as well be the sound barrier. We’ve got to do 20 miles today, in order to make it to our cache tomorrow before we run out of food.

In spite of all of this, I’m having so much fun. It’s just so fucking pretty in this canyon, and all the different kinds of rock do such wild things alongside and with the sparkling water, and we get to climb all over all of it. Every day I am less scared of exposure, every day I trust the rock, and my body, a little more.

We make it to where the Hayduke splits off and leaves Dark Canyon, and 20 miles, at 6:30 p.m. We camp there, in the deep sand that I’ve abhorred all day, under a cottonwood next to the burbling water. We wash the sand out of our shoes and cook dinner, spread out our pads for cowboy camping. We’ve dropped a few thousand feet in elevation and it’s actually warm down here, which feels wild. I take an ibuprofen. I’m so sore I can barely move. Happy tho.

Photos on instagram