Hayduke trail day 30: wherein I transcend the need for water/wind/round valley narrows/hackberry canyon

April 16
Mileage: 27
412 miles hiked

Yesterday was rain day, today the wind has its cameo. Walking on a dirt road over the open land in the cold cold wind while stormclouds threaten and blow away. The sun never warms us. I have 1/3 a liter of water for the 10 miles to our water source so I am grateful for this cold. In cold wind I need nothing- not food or water or rest. I’m closed up inside myself, where it’s warm and safe. Down the stairs with a lantern, into the quiet dungeon to hide. My wind-beaten exterior is just a husk, sailing slowly across the sagebrush plateau.

Our water source, it turns out, listed only as a “tank”, is a huge nasty mud puddle near Grosvenor arch. Made for cows, mucky at the edges and completely opaque yellow. On par with the worst water I ever saw on the CDT. Dan and I each fill a liter anyway, and I stare at all the creatures swimming around inside. Primordial soup. Life began in a cow pond.

There’s a metal cattle tank a mile off-route that hikers in other years have found dry, but maybe today it will have water? Nope. When we get there we find only cracked mud, the memory of water. I sit in the lee of the tank, out of the wind, and stare at my bottle of yellow cow patty water. Am I really going to drink this? It’s too opaque for my steripen, so I drop in one of the chemical tablets I save for emergencies. Now I have to wait 10 minutes.

“Let’s get to our cache,” says Dan. “It’s on the road, maybe we can yogi some water.”

I was so excited about our cache this morning- I put applesauce in there! But now I don’t feel like celebrating.

Except, cache buckets are exciting! Sitting in the dirt eating gf hot buffalo pretzels, making myself drink half a liter of the (now chemical tasting) cow water. Everything is gonna be alright! I’m on the Hayduke! We’re out of the wind a bit next to a juniper tree, and the sun shines off and on. A jeep rolls by, and I stand in the road and hold one of my water bottles upside down.

Their names are Nathan and Paul, a father and son team out exploring slot canyons. They have a couple of 5-gallon jugs of water in the jeep, and of course they’ll share it with us!

“This is just like that movie with Reese Witherspoon,” says Nathan, as he tips the water jug over my platypus bladder and opens the spout.

“Yeah,” I say, stealing a glance at Dan and smiling. “That’s exactly what it’s like!”

Thank you Nathan and Paul!

Now we each have 4 liters or wonderful delicious town water and our lunchtime cache picnic is amazing. Life is good!

A few miles later is one of the Hayduke’s trickiest spots- a 12 ft drop into the slot canyon of Round Valley Draw. We’re walking the road, the road turns into a sandy wash… and then there it is, this narrow crack in the earth. The drop in is straight down rippled sandstone walls, no real hand or foot holds. What the f? How am I supposed to do this? I blink, and Dan is at the bottom. How? I hem and haw, pace back and forth.

“Just put your butt on the ledge and get a feel for it,” says Dan.

“That looks like falling!” I say.

“Just hang your legs over,” says Dan.

“There’s nothing to hold onto!” I say. “I wish I could watch you do it again.”

A moment later, Dan has wriggled his way back up the smooth sandstone and out of the crack. He goes down slow this time, explaining all the moves to me. This is a kind of climbing I haven’t done before- instead of hand and foot holds, one pushes one’s back against one wall and one’s feet against the other, using outward pressure to keep one’s body in place, like a cork in a wine bottle. In this way, one wriggles down the drop. The only problem is, the walls aren’t opposite each other- they’re sort of open, in a V shape. Still, it has to work- Dan just did it twice!

And it does work. It’s amazing how secure I feel, with my back against the wall, hot held up by anything but the pressure of my own body. Although I am simultaneously terrified, as the “you’re gonna fall” part of my brain is screaming at me. Once at the bottom of the wash, I look back up at the drop. I realize a 6 year-old would’ve figured out how to get down it in about three minutes.

The Round Valley Draw narrows are sublime. And then the draw empties into Hackberry Canyon, which is a fantastical dream world- high smooth sandstone walls, rippled and marked from floods, smooth packed sand to walk on, little cottonwood islands. Quiet and peace. The wind can’t reach us down here.

We walk to where a little clear water begins to flow mysteriously from the smooth walls/sand and pitch our shelter on a sandy bench among the cottonwoods. I heat my dinner in the deep canyon gloaming. So peace.

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