Hayduke trail day 55: slow and beautiful wins the race

May 11
Mileage: 12
727 miles hiked

It’s so warm in our tent on the grassy bench next to the creek that I sleep completely without a sleeping bag- our warmest night on the trail yet. While we were downclimbing pouroffs and traversing insanely steep scree slopes in Saddle Canyon yesterday we also somehow descended three thousand feet. We’re getting closer to the bottom of the Grand Canyon again, to the Colorado River where it’s hot hot. I’m practically sweating in the tent. And I’m so exhausted from Saddle Canyon that I have action dreams- a murderer is after me and my friends, and only we can stop him! We’ve got to set some sort of trap, in an abandoned house full of secret rooms and passageways- but how?

I feel amazing when I wake up. Just really, really stoked to hike. Sore from all the climbing, especially in my back and shoulders. But stoked.

The Tapeats is a “creek” in name, but actually it’s super raging and swift. It roars down the narrow canyon like an animal unleashed. Of course it’s high right now- everything is high this year. The guidebook warns us that when the water is high, it can be too powerful to walk in- and there’s at least one stretch where we’ll have to walk in the creek downstream, as it goes through a narrows and there is no bank. It turns out that mostly, tho, other hikers have beaten a path through the brush on the edges of the creek and we’re able to follow this, crossing when we get cliffedΒ  out. To cross the creek we each wedge an arm behind the other person’s backpack, and in this way become a sturdy, four-legged river-crossing beast. We cross seven times. The water is really strong. My single remaining trekking pole vibrates like a guitar string as we push through the water. I’m glad I’m not doing these crossings alone.

When we get to the stretch where one walks in the creek itself, we find that it we stick to the edges the water is slower and shallower, and before we know it we’re through. It’s beautiful along the Tapeats- lush cottonwoods and some thorn tree that’s flowering, stinking up the air, and the narrow canyon is cool and shaded. The roaring water is clear, its source a spring in a side canyon not far off. I’m enjoying myself this morning. I like this day!

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Tapeats creek

We cross one last time, where the Thunder River joins the Tapeats. This one is a little dicey but hey! We make it across. Then a well-worn path switchbacks 1,200 feet up along the thunder river, out of the narrow canyon and suddenly we’re in full sun in dry desert, the layers and folds of the canyon stretching away, and the source of the Thunder River exploding from a sheer rock wall across from us, shrouded in green.

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The thunder river literally comes out of the cliff face like that

We reach a sort of hot bright plateau, Surprise Valley, and cross it in a few long strides, then suddenly the trail cramps up again and we’re descending on fussy switchbacks to the long green swath of deer creek, which burbles pleasantly beneath its own set of cottonwoods. Here we take our lunch break, eating salami and watching lizards do pushups. We’ve been averaging 1mph all morning, which I’m stoked about. I knew today would be more slow terrain with obstacles- 1mph is good. We pack up and make our way along Deer Creek. I blink and the creek has dropped down into a narrows and we’re walking far above the narrows, on a tapeats shelf.

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Dayhikers on raft trips are everywhere, and then we’re dumped via a broken and finicky trail onto the banks of the aquamarine Colorado river. We’ve made it to the bottom of the canyon again! Several colorful rafts sit bobbing in the current and Deer Creek has become a waterfall, cascading high above. It’s 100 degrees.

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The raft guides are young and sun-weathered. They wear flip-flops and toss about lengths of rope. We approach them, but I’m not sure how to broach the subject.

“We’re long distance hikers,” says Dan. “Will you take our trash?” The guides laugh, and so do I. Now the ice is broken.

“What will you give me in exchange?” Says the guide.

“I have a lara bar,” I say.

The raft guides are very nice to take our trash. My trashbag is especially heavy, for reasons I won’t go into here, but it has something to do with wearing menstrual pads in plunge pools.

Thus unburdened, we begin the seven-mile boulder-hop/bushwhack along the banks of the Colorado in the direction of Kanab Creek. Words I’ve heard to describe this boulder hop: tedious. Frustrating. Awful. Parts of it are awful- truck-sized boulders with their steep faces and empty pockets of nothingness, fifty shades of clawing/scratching/cutting thornbush along the riverbank. (I wore shorts today, which was a very bad idea.) But in between the awful is the Not So Bad, the bits of animal trail or sandy beach or smaller boulders, and that’s when I look out at the aquamarine Colorado (which is cleaner, now, than last time we saw it) and the light on the massive canyon walls, and feel peaceful and quiet inside myself. Plus, we’re still averaging 1mph. After Saddle Canyon, I will never take the ability to cruise at the lightning speed of 1mph for granted again. 1mph is all I need, really. Give me some beautiful 1mph terrain and plenty of snacks and I’ll be happy forever.

It’s so fucking hot though. It really is 100 degrees- that’s what the thermometer in my pack pocket says. And going over these boulders is hard, slow, full-body work. We spy a tiny beach and make our way to it, pull off our salt-soaked clothes, and slowly ease ourselves into the frigid water. All the heat washes away. There, everything is better. Then a raft party comes bobbing by and we have to jump up and put on our clothes again.

Camp is on another tiny beach a few miles before the end of the boulder hop, right next to the wide flat water with its cool breeze and frog noise. Bats swoop up mosquitoes as we pick thorns from our legs and wait for our dinners to cook, too exhausted to speak. Who knew eleven miles could be so brutal? We did. We learned it on the Hayduke. Tomorrow is our last super hard day, then a few regular ones before the end. Suddenly I am overcome with nostalgia. No! I don’t want the Hayduke to be over!

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