Hayduke trail day 61: Deep sand to Virgin River narrows

May 17
Mileage: 15
819 miles hiked

This section going into Zion reminds me so much of earlier sections of the Hayduke. Absurdly deep, fine sand that packs into our shoes, and orange slickrock. It’s like it’s all come full circle. The review after the final. I’ve missed this stuff! We slog in the deep sand under a stormy sky in the morning (we were cowboy camping and the rain woke us up at 5:45), listening to podcasts and sinking back a half-step for each step we take. We’re on a jeep road, but no matter. The Hayduke, except for rare occasions, does not allow a person to walk faster than 2 mph.

The jeep road leads to some slickrock, which we scramble down into the east fork of the Virgin River. The river is lined in lush grasses and scrub oaks cottonwoods and winds through the slickrock, clear and burbling and quick but not in a threatening way. We follow the river, walking sometimes in the water, which is cool and pleasant, and sometimes on the bits of sandy bank. The canyon walls grow taller and more sheer, become narrows. A thunderstorm claps overhead and big raindrops come pelting down. We’re in a narrows… I don’t understand flash floods, not really. I know they mostly happen in the summer monsoon season, during heavy, driving rains that swell the drainages to bursting. Gentler, more pedestrian rains are not as likely to cause flash floods. But I also understand that the entire concept is new to me, I don’t really know what I’m talking about, yet, and right now I’m in a narrows with no exit point, in a heavy rain. What to do?

Dan, who is most definitely uncomfortable, makes the decision for us. We walk a few more bends down the river, until we see some slanted slickrock that leads to a shelf above. We scramble up this until we’re out of the canyon, sit on our sleeping pads with the tent draped over us, and wait for the rain to stop. I catch up on the blog posts of some PCT hikers I’m following, which I’ve saved to my phone. (This is a really good one.) It’s warm under this cuben fiber, under the patter of rain. By and by the storm wears itself out, and we scramble back down to the river again.

We follow the blue-green river for a few more hours, through waist-deep pools and over one slippery boulder obstacle to the parunuweap exit, which is a straightforward scramble out on slickrock with an obvious use path. This exit, the more commonly-used exit from the narrows, is on the right a few bends after misery canyon, where the traditional Hayduke exits via a ridiculous climb through poison ivy. We learned about the alternate exit from Jamal Green’s amazing website, which has loads of excellent information. Thanks Jamal!

We reach the top of the slickrock saddle, where there is an excellent sandy campsite, and drop our packs. If we camp here we’ll be just outside the boundary of Zion park, in which we do not have a permit to stay overnight. I’m soaked to the waist from wading in the river and although it’s only afternoon and I could keep hiking, I’m also worn out enough to feel ok about stopping. Besides, it’s our last night on the Hayduke. Why not make it a relaxing one?

As I cook my dinner in the sand, I think about all of the things I have to do after the trail. Pick up my van, pick up my passport, make appointments, drive across the country… the logistics of the rest of the summer are murky, there are still too many unknowns. It makes me uncomfortable, this not-knowing. But there are a good deal of obstacles between here and there, a number of boulder chokes and log jams. Bends in the river. Not-knowing is something I’m just going to have to sit with. I focus on the knowables, on what I can count on in the next few weeks. Sleeping in my van. Reading a book. Mooching vegetables from a friend’s garden. Being around queers again. Writing projects. Conifers. Getting my hair cut. A variety of outfits. Cuddling my boyfriend.

I drift off before it’s even dark. Dan is already asleep, his legs twitching beneath his quilt. Below us is the sound of the river and somewhere above, behind the clouds, is the moon.


Back on slickrock candy mountain


The east fork of the Virgin River


(Did u guys know you can subscribe to get a notification via email every time I put up a new post? Click the “subscribe” button in the menu up top to do so.)