Hayduke trail day 21: Coyote Gulch

April 7
Mileage: 13
304 miles hiked

I am so happy on my tiny neo-air with my lumpy mosquito headnet of extra clothes as a pillow and then I wake and the stars are still out! But I know that dawn is coming soon and I roll over and hug my dudefriend and his brand-new neo-air has deflated on account of a tumbleweed thorn but there was just enough air for him to sleep, and oh we have so much repairing to do in town- the sidepockets of my backpack are shredded from squeezing past boulders- town today! We’re going to town today! Granted we get a hitch from the trailhead at Hole in the Rock Road, where one can wait a whole day for a ride. I sit up and light the stove to make tea in my pot, which is still crusted from last night’s dinner. I brush my teeth in my sleeping bag and now it’s light enough to see.

We’re supposed to walk the cold fast silty green Escalante river for 1.5 miles to Coyote Gulch but the river seems high here and cold so we take another route up the cliff on a faint cairned trail as the sun rises over the top of the rock. I’m out of breath and dizzy from the exposure, telling myself don’t look down, this is just a regular trail, don’t look down, there’s nothing to see and then we’re at the top at a sort of “nose” watching the sun come up and I say “This is one of the most beautiful mornings of my life,” and then we must make our way down this “nose”, so slowly, so carefully, to Coyote Gulch. These first 2 miles of the day take us 2 hours but what is space/time? Miles mean little out here, nothing is horizontal enough to measure. A better yardstick would be how hungry I am- hungrier than I can ever remember being on the CDT- and how fast I’m losing weight, in spite of my intense constant calorie consumption- faster than on CDT. And we are only doing like 15 to 20 mile days out here. What is a mile.

Someone on Instagram asked me “Is the Hayduke as hard as I’ve heard?” And I said, “Harder”. But only because of the slow, meticulous way one must make one’s way across canyonated country in the abscence of a road or trail. But the reward, out here, is greater than anything I could’ve possibly imagined- it’s humbling me and filling me with wonder and peace and awe and also a new sort of strength. If I can hike the Hayduke trail, I’ve decided, then I can hike anything.

We drop down into Coyote Gulch and if I wasn’t high already off the sunrise scrambling then now I definitely am, as we’ve dropped into a cool clear stream lined in green cottonwoods winding its way up the twisty turny narrow red canyon, and patches of golden sunlight filtering their way down, and the cottonwood leaves aflutter, and I forget all about space/time and walk happily up the banks of the stream, my shoes and socks full of water and sand and pebbles and holes, Dan’s too, and we’ve only got 7 miles of this slow walking but I could stay here for a long time, pitch my tent on the banks and sleep for days, read so many books.

There’s a waterfall one must get over that people have called the “sketchiest part of the Hayduke”, although so much has been sketchy so far, I’m not sure what to expect. It’s a little “problem”, really- one must scrabble up slickrock that’s a bit too steep to adhere to properly in order to reach a high shelf that will take one around the waterfall. We’ve heard that there’s “a way up the waterfall,” but the water in the gulch is high (all water everywhere is high for us this magic springtime) and the waterfall in its high state seems a little to, ah, intense for that. I had my fun yesterday with “slickrock a bit too steep to adhere to properly” so I choose door #3- a rock climb without any good handholds. Dan is already up there, of course, Dan is a gecko- so he becomes “coach” and lays on his stomach and I use his hand as a handhold, after passing up my pack and poles and taking off my shoes so I can grip the rock a little better with my feet, and it’s all fucking terrifying because if Dan moves his arm towards me while I’m leveraging myself up on him I’ll fall, down down onto the slickrock below. I make it up though and “sit down for just a few minutes”, feeling exhausted from the adrenaline, and cry a little bit, because that’s how I let my fear out so I can move on to the next thing. It has to come out of me, like a mist.

After several hours we leave perfect Coyote Gulch via a cow fence and suddenly everything sucks- we’re in Hurricaine Wash in the suddenly oppressive heat struggling to walk 2mph in the deepest sand imagineable and nothing is pretty or leafy anymore and we haven’t taken a good break all day even tho we’ve been workin’ hard on 1.5mph trail and I’m dizzy and I need to sit and for a few minutes I do, under a juniper amongst the cow patties, and then more slog slog in the heat to the miserably hot parking lot.

Dan, the wholesome one in this relationship, cornfed midwestern boy grew up on a dairy farm, no tattoos, gets us a ride into Escalante almost immediately. What wonder! A very nice family from Washington, a 6th grade teacher and a therapist and their two sons, squeeze us into their outback, even though we smell like farts and rotten salami and are too tired to make good smalltalk and there’s basically nothing appealing about us. Angels! In Escalante we acquire a perfectly decent motel room for less than what we paid in Hanksville, eat food do laundry etc and basically set ourselves up for the zero day we are going to take so hard tomorrow.

Photos on instagram