Hayduke trail day 14: the Dirty Devil River

March 31
Mileage: 20
188 miles hiked

There’s a high route that avoids the Dirty Devil river- it’s 4 miles longer and “safer if the river is high”. It’s noon, we’ve just had lunch at a secret pothole up a side canyon in Fiddler’s cove canyon that Dan found- Dan is very good at finding secret water- and now we’re standing on the sandy banks of the Dirty Devil river, asking ourselves- is the water high? Or is it always like this. It’s been storming for a week, in this exceptionally wet desert spring, and the river seems high to me- high and deep and fast and completely opaque, like chocolate milk, which means you can’t see the bottom. And there’s quicksand in there. The Dirty Devil is not only alkaline, full of heavy metals and agricultural runoff, it also has quicksand. What a charmer. Sure, quicksand might only suck me in to my knees. But what if it sucks me in to my knees when I’m standing in fast-moving, crotch-high water? I take a few steps into the river- it feels too fast and strong. We’re supposed to walk up its banks for six miles, and we’ll be forced to cross it about ten times, as the sandy banks are punctuated by sheer cliff faces. I feel terrified, and I’ve already been terrified once today. On the climb down into Fiddler’s Cove canyon, a massive, yawning crack in the earth with “just one way down, don’t miss it”, we descended 750 feet in .1 miles, according the the guidebook, although I’m not sure how that’s mathematically possible. The last part of the descent we got cliffed out and ended up scooting on our butts down a sort of “slide” of rock that crumbled beneath our grasp, and had the slide crumbled completely, we would’ve fallen to our deaths. I actually broke my Hayduke rule- “if it seems like you could actually die, there’s probably another way to do it”- which has been true of the route so far. But our maps, GPS, and the guidebook were no help. Of course, once on the canyon floor, we did see the other way down that last bit, complete with footprints of the people who came before.

I don’t want to do the high route around the Dirty Devil, though, even though it’s higher than normal. I guess this is a day I’m just going to have to be scared.

We keep to the banks of the river as much as we can, pushing through deep sand and sharp, thorny brush. I give Dan one of my poles and when we’re in the water we both prod ahead of us, looking for quicksand or deep spots. We find the shallowest, calmest places to cross. Every time I step into that brown river I am terrified, sure I’m going to step off a dropoff and be swept away or be sucked in by quicksand. But I’m not. And after three hours we’ve made it through.

The rest of the route towards the highway follows a dirt road through Poison Spring canyon, which I’m guessing got its name because the many springs that cross the wash are very obviously alkaline. Storm clouds roil overhead, and the sun does that wierd thing where it gets very hot and oppressive right before it goes behind a stormcloud. I’m fucking exhausted, even though we still have seven miles on this dirt road until camp. All that fighting my way through the brush, the sand, the current of the Dirty Devil, all the adrenaline of the day. I’m so relieved when we reach the one drinkable spring in the canyon, which someone has stuck a pipe into and built a masonry enclosure for, and camp. We’re in the tent in our sleeping bags when the storm finally breaks, stuccato rain on cuben fiber, the rushing sound of wind. I can’t believe I’m camping in something with a bathtub floor. And that it’s finally time to go to sleep. Oh, the luxury!

P.s.- I forgot to post the link to Drop n Roll’s blog, which is v quality and funny- it’s here- http://www.drop-n-roll.com

Photos on instagram