Hayduke trail day 18: Muley Twist Canyon/Damn You Laxative Springs

April 4
Mileage: 12
256 miles hiked

I fall asleep on the red dirt under the clear cold stars, warm and toasty. Dan is not as toasty- I lent him my zpacks 10 degree bag for this hike- the bag has five thousand miles on it and even though I’ve washed it, it’s kind of… flat these days, as all down sleeping bags eventually become. Plus, the bag is too short for Dan, he can’t put his head inside it like I can. So I’m in my glorious toasty new bag while my poor dudefriend tosses and turns. It’s cold on this route in spring, even colder than we thought it would be.

Before I fall asleep I’m thinking about how, before I started this route, I hadn’t hiked in Utah at all and afterward I will have hiked so much of it. Not just popular tourist hikes, but 800 miles mostly cross-country. The cross country on this route is hard to conceptualize coming from the PCT, which is all tread, or the CDT, where the cross country is straight forward in wide-open spaces. The cross country on the Hayduke is super hard- it runs the gamut from loose rocky scrambles to bouldering to navigating over convoluted slickrock to bushwhacking through thick tamarisk that slaps you in the face to slogging in deep sand or mud or water- often all in the same day. On top of that, the map mileages are off, so you’re actually hiking farther than the map gives you credit for. It’s only a couple of miles off each day, according to people who’ve GPSed the route, but one wants those miles for morale. Occasionally there’s a dirt road for a few miles to remind you how fast you could be going- if you weren’t on the Hayduke.

What I’m trying to say is that a 20 mile day out here is hard as fuck. And I’m saying that, I guess, to make my ego feel better. We’ve been maxing out at 20 miles a day, and then we keep having to take these shorter days and full days off just to rest. But that’s just the way it is out here. There’s a reason the guidebook authors recommend seven mile days. It’s just, like, the Hayduke, man.

The other reason the guidebook recommends seven mile days is that there’s so much to see, it doesn’t actually make any sense to go fast. On a trail like the PCT or CDT, there are long stretches of sameness, and it really makes sense to open one’s stride and cruise. You might walk on ridges for a week, or through the forest for a few days. On the Hayduke, the terrain changes every half mile, sometimes, growing more fantastical or awe-inspiring or wild. 20 mile days makes me feel like I’m in some accelerated course, trying to cram it all in. Man, it makes a body tired.

In the morning immediately after I wake to the just-lightening sky I have to jump out of my sleeping bag and dig… five catholes. Damn you, laxative water! And that, my friends, is the crux of the Hayduke, for me. This “alkaline” water. (Not sure why it’s called “alkaline” but according to the internet these springs have magnesium sulfate, aka epsom salts, in them as well as sodium bicarbonate and other things.) This water makes me so sick to my stomach, and that intestinal distress leaves me feeling weak, and makes it very hard to hike. So far we’ve been able to mostly avoid it, but it looks like in the section after Escalante there might be 60-ish miles with only alkaline water. Heck. Maybe some of the sources are less alkaline, and we’ll be fine? I don’t know.

Our plan this morning at the lower muley twist trailhead where we cowboy camped next to our cache buckets is to have a lazy morning until the cars start to pass through, and then try and find someone who will take our cache buckets from us, now full of trash, and throw them away. This is a huge favor to ask, and a really annoying one, but I hope it works out. If so,it’ll save us the long drive back to retrieve them from this spot after the trail. As luck would have it, the very first car that pulls in, Jeff from Austin, Texas, offers to do this really annoying chore for us and take our buckets. An angel! Not only that, but he has WATER, which he generously shares with us. Now I have enough to get to our next source, in 13 miles, without having to drink the alkaline stuff I packed in. Thank you Jeff!!

13 miles is exactly how far we get today. I just feel really weak, from how sick I was in the morning. The entire day is spent walking in the sand up Muley Twist canyon, which is all these giant red ampitheaters and deep sandstone caves, sheer walls and mysterious side canyons. There’s even a cave that’s an old cowboy camp, with lots of names painted on the walls from the 20’s. The weather has been warming and it’s hot in the sun, but the shade of the canyon walls, when we get it, is soothing and cool.

We camp right next to the Muley Tanks, which are permanent slickrock potholes of clear, cold, non-alkaline water. What glory! It feels good to have taken it easy all day, with lots of breaks, to get into camp so early, to make dinner and tea and watch the sun set. And we have plenty of food, so there’s no rush in this section.

Photos on instagram