Today was a legit nero. With less than five miles to highway 95, our link to civilization, we hurried ourselves, arriving there by 0915. The good news was that our friend Sonya had arranged for us to get a ride from the hotel caretakers. We had booked a hotel room in Hanskville for our nero and zero and figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Hence, we had to be there at the highway by 10am. Our concern was that it would be very difficult for three smelly, dirty guys to score a hitch 18 miles away from town. Thank you Sonya!! And thank God also for my Garmim Inreach, my satellite text messenger. Oh and of course, thank you Jared and Whispering Sands Motel for going the extra mile for us. There about to get amazing reviews from me.
That put us into town at around 10:30am and hotel check-in was not until 3pm. Of course we bee-lined into the nearest restaurant to have breakfast. Luckily they were open on this Easter Sunday. After that, we loitered around this one mile long town, mostly just laying on the grass and sleeping or sitting on a bench. I will say, Hanskville gives me a good vibe, nice people here. They are definitely Hadyduke Hiker friendly and have been expecting us. Jared’s wife, Chastity, who rode with him when he picked us up, knew that I had a package waiting for me at the post office. Apparently she works there. Thank you Hanskville. My first impressions are positive ones. You get the BearLee stamp of approval.
Considering the beating we took yesterday, sleeping in until 0630 was an acceptable compensation. After the usual morning ritual of pooping, eating, packing, and pooping (one more time sometimes), we proceeded to begin our hike going upriver along the Dirty Devil River. This entailed fording the river often as we hiked. Fortunately the deepest the water got, at least for my midget ass, was balls deep, which after 7 days of not showering, was actually quite refreshing. My only concern on this stretch was getting stuck in quicksand, which is common in desert rivers like this one. Having been in quick sand thigh deep before on a previous trip, that is one scary-ass ordeal I always try to avoid. Luckily, the Dirty Devil River did not have that trick in its bag for us.
After six uneventful miles, we eventually made it to Poison Spring Canyon, which surprisingly had a 4×4 road. After seeing all the cow shit everywhere along this canyon, it became apparent why this road was here. For the first time since starting this trail, we did something we hadn’t done. We took a nap. And a long one. I’ve must have been tired because my snoring kept waking me up during my nap. The road was fairly well graded, allotting us a 3-3.5 mph pace, eventually leading us to our next water source, seven miles from the Dirty Devil. That water source was as pristine as it gets. Essentially it was a natural spring percolating from the sandstone, piped and protected by a masonry wall. We took another long break here before completing another 4 miles. It was in this stretch that we encountered much vehicle traffic, essentially campers spending the holiday weekend in this canyon. It was also in this stretch that trail magic began to materialize for us in the form of beer and chocolate from nice people driving down the canyon. The beer was compliments of some packrafters finishing there shuttle after floating the Dirty Devil. The chocolate was compliments of others Haydukers setting there caches. Hayduke Lives!! Tomorrow we make it to Hanksville.
There was something about today that really made me hurt. I am tired. We are tired. My feet and my ankle stabilizer muscles are sore. Maybe it was the 20 miles over rough cross country desert terrain. Or maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been putting in hard long miles over the past six days. What ever be, we are a day and a half away from a hotel in Hanskville, where we take a nero and a zero day to rest. I just want to sit on my ass for a day. Hmm. The shit we do for fun. Pure masochism. Or is it simply the notion that I like how raw and primordial this kind of shit makes me feel. It is human nature to wander in nature and explore, walk long distances for days on end
Anyhow, moving on to the days events. What can i say other than we awoke from our campsite in the wash paralleling the highway at around 6am, the moon shining on us like a spotlight and Jupiter chasing after it. I don’t know if what we did was legal but neither is smoking pot in most states. Whatever be, I am sure we left our nasty stench there, making the wash inhospitable for other creatures.
Crossing the bridge over the used and abused Colorado River, we climbed the cliffs to make it to the dirt road that leads to Canyonlands Maze District. But that was not our prospective for the day. After six miles on this road, carrying 9 liters of water and 3 days of food on our muley backs, we made it to a wash that eventually led us to a canyon wall we had to climb to get to the rim. How the fuck do we get our fat asses and packs up this wall? At this point today, I was feeling more jack ass hauling my god awful waterlogged pack than Alex Honold. Finally Pete, the 5.12 climber that can read rock walls like his life depended on it, spoke up. “There is our class 4 chimney we have to climb.”Son of bitch, Pete, i knew i brought you along for a reason.
So up we go up the scree field, and eventually our chimney, Cuban B, the power hiker, being the first one up of course. That’s when he says, BearLee, we need the rope. My cocky as says, no we don’t, how hard can it be? Oh never mind, let me yank out my rope that I’ve been hauling for 150 miles. We used that rope to haul the packs up the chimney, making sure not the scrape them too bad.
After that, the best part of the day was upon us. Hooray, hooray! It was never ending route finding over washes, gullies, and hills with the sun robbing us of our hard earned 9 liters of water. After about 4.5 hours of this route finding nonsense over these Red Benches, we finally made it to the rim of Fiddler Cove Canyon. And of course, how the f_ck do we get down into the canyon? Needless to say, our tired bad asses found the route down this 500 foot drop. Once at the bottom, it was still another 1.75 miles to the Dirty Devil River, which, guess what, we cannot even drink because apparently it is so dirty, alkaline, and silty. Hence, why we hauled 9 liters of water. In conclusion, what we thought would be a 17 mile day, somehow ended up being 20. At least we were done by 6;30 pm and the moon is full and beautiful. Oh and we have the pleasant sound of the Dirty Demon River (I mean Dirty Devil River) as background noise.
I was kinda sad to leave Dark Canyon and its delicious perennial waters. I definitely wouldn’t mind coming back here again. From our campsite to the base of the Sundance “trail” that climbs out of the canyon was about 3.5 miles. This would be our last water for the rest of our 18 mile day. Needless to say, we cameled up. Pete and I wet our shirts and hat to cool off for the climb, as it was starting to get warm. Gotta engage that evaporative cooling. Oh, and that so called Sundance Trail…huh.. it was barely even a trail, with cairns scattered all over the place. The route was more class 3 climbing with scree and talus everywhere. Some of the boulders seemed like they were on the brink of falling if you put all your body weight on them. It was more like, pick a line and commit, and good luck. Actually, that 1200 foot climb in 1.2 miles could have been worse. It wasn’t as bad as Lava Falls trail in Toroweap Grand Canyon that climbs 3000 feet in 1.5 miles.
Once on the rim, the cairned Sundance Trail led to a 4×4 road which we crossed and travel cross country, route finding our way to another dirt road. The rest of the 10 miles for the day was on dirt roads to Hwy 95 and Hite and to our food bucket cache. We decided to actually just camp in the wash were we cached our food and not even bother walking and camping into Hite Marina. Well, Cuban B and I actually did end up walking into Hite Marina, just so we can dump our trash, use the restroom, charge our devices, and me to try calling my wife. There was a payphone, but I had no calling card. I haven’t had cell reception since I’ve been on this trail. Granted, I’ve been communicating with her daily via satellite text, but nothing compares to a voice call. Sorry, my love. I tried.
Tomorrow we start the 37 mile section to Hanskville. From what I have studied, there is a lot more route finding involved. That and we have about a 28 mile stretch of no water availability. Hence we are each packing out about 8 liters of water. Wish us luck.
We finally reached flowing water today and it was clear, clean, and delicious. We started the day at 6am with frozen water bottle. Yes, it was that cold. 27F inside the tent to be exact. After breakfast I had 3L left that I would pack out for the next approximately 16 dry miles. Cuban B and Pete had about 2-3 L each. That would be enough. The Canyon drops significant elevation as you hike down, so much so that i began to feel hot. As we made our way down, we encountered a large dead elk with massive antlers. Hungry anyone? After about 13.5 miles, we finally had clear running water. Oh, thank god!!! All threes of us were thrilled at that sight of water. It felt good to rinse my face and scrub my hands with sand and water. Finally reaching this point of the canyon, the the trail was harder to follow, occasionally becoming lost under your feet. The creek would occasionally box up, with terraced ledges up above forcing a climb to avoid getting our feet wet.
Making our way down this part of wet Dark Canyon, it is difficult not to notice the cottonwoods budding leaves in response to warmer temps and more light. Another delight to notice, if you’re into ornithology, is the prevalence of the American Dipper, a hydrophilic bird that hops from rock to rock along the creek foraging for insects and fish.
After 19.5 GPS miles we finally found a decent camping spot at around 6pm. We were trying to push for a big mile day today so that tomorrow’s hike into Hite would be under 15 miles. Hopefully those 15 miles are accurate tomorrow.
Yes, we are finally in Dark Canyon Wilderness. The 19 mile day seemed long and tedious. It was mostly forest road walking, 14.4 miles of cold, windy, snowy-muddy road walking. We slept in today until 6:45 because it was so damn cold, 25F to be exact. Fortunately, since we were up on a mesa, the sun shined on us right away. I was a little frustrated that we didn’t leave until 9:15am, the rest of the guys taking too long to get ready. I would rather get started by 0745 and be done by 5:30pm.
Walking high up on these mesas granted us amazing views of all the canyons and the distant mountains, the La Sal’s near Moab and even the Henry Mountains, which the Hayduke Route takes us to, near Hanksville. I even saw from way up high, the landmark know as Bears Ears. Yes the contentious Bears Ears, as in Bears Ears National Monument, declared a monument by Obama using the Antiquities Act, only to be denounced by Trump. All politics aside, this place whole area deserves protection. Come see for yourself.
We eventually made it to Trail Canyon, where we finally had an actual trail again leading us directly into Dark Canyon where we are to eventually connect with the proper Hayduke Route. On the way down Trail Canyon, there were potholes with good water. I collected two liters in case we did not have water available in Dark Canyon. I waited for Pete to make sure he also gathered water. This canyon actually had plenty of water. I wished I’d gather more. Once making it down to Dark Canyon, I caught up with Cuban B, only to discover there was no water at this junction and that he had failed to gather any water in the last know source. He only had 750 mls left. Shit!! It was 6pm and Pete was perhaps half hour behind us. There was no way we were gonna keep hiking when sunset is at 7:30 pm. We had to camp here. I had about 5 liters. My only hope was that Pete hauled more. So, Cuban B and I decided to look for water while we waited for Pete, I found a side canyon not far from where we dropped pack that had granite looking creek bottom. I instantly made the educated guess that there would be some potholes in the granite. Sure enough there was water there for Cuban B. Eventually Pete caught up by 6:30 and we found a place to camp. After dinner, i still have 4 liters left. I hope tomorrow’s water is not too far away.
It’s 9pm right now, and I am mustering energy to write this entry. I am tired, sleepy. Today was the first day that i felt like the Hayduke is starting to feel like a thru hike. It was a long 18.5 mile day. We were up by 6am and left camp by 8:15. We figured that it takes all three of us combined that long to get ready. I’m usually the first one up. Cuban B is usually the last.
Exiting the last stretch of Salt Creek Canyon was the most interesting because of the many Native American ruins we encountered. It was hard not to stop to explore these granaries, cliff dwellings, and pictographs. That is why today took longer than expected, because we kept on stopping to explore these trail side attractions. I definitely enjoyed exploring them. My favorite pictograph was the all-american man colored in red, white, and blue. If definitely got me thinking, is that coincidence or did these ancient ancestral puebloans foresee the establishment of the USA? Hmm? Moving along, we decided to start hiking faster after that trail side attraction, making it to our lunch spot at mile 9.25 and our last water source for about 25 miles. We treated water and camel-ed up, bolusing ourselves with up to 2 liters of water each. We each packed about 6 liters of water. On the way out of Canyonlands, we had an encounter with a park ranger. He of course asked for our permit and made sure we had our bear canister. Funny thing was that we were all gripping about having to pack this heavy bear canister and we hadn’t even seen a Ranger. No worries, we are in compliance. After a steep climb from the canyon bottom we finally made it to the mesa top, where Cuban B surprisingly had cell phone signal and called the manufacturer of his solar panel to get a new one, for it was malfunctioning. He arranged to have it sent to him to Hanksville.
It was about five miles of forest road walking on these mesas before finally making it to camp, 18.1 miles later, at 6:30pm with an hour of light to spare before sunset. It was already cold when we dropped pack. As i write this, my watch thermometer registers 27F (-2.7C). Burr! After dinner, i still have 5L remaining. I’ve only drank 1L since leaving the last water. We have about 10-13 miles of dirt road walk before we make it our next canyons, Dark Canyon, where I hope there is water right away.
Yes, we are taking another Hayduke Route alternate. Apparently this one is more scenic and has water. It adds about 15 more miles to the standard route. Believe it or not, as much as I love paddling, it feels good to be hiking again. We were up by 6:15 am and hurried our selves to make it the to the camping office by 8am, where the owner of Needles Outpost promised us a ride back to the trailhead, knocking off three miles of tedious road walking. Thus, instead of a 17 mile day, it was a 14 mile day. Pete definitely appreciated the less miles today. We were done hiking by 4pm. We could have gone further but we had this specific campsite reserved in our Canyonlands National Park permit. Deviating from that would guarantee us a fine if a ranger were to interrogate us.
Salt Creek canyon is your quintessential Southern Utah riparian type of canyon. Water flows intermittently, yet definitely flash floods as evidenced by the ubiquitous flash flood debris. Cottonwoods, Sycamores, Willows, and invasive Tamarisk line the drainage and juniper and piñon pines are omnipresent further away from the bank, nearer the steep, pink and red hued sandstone canyon walls. To further add to the picturesque scenery, the skies are oh so blue, enhancing the color of the pink red sandstone. But perhaps my most favorite thing about these quintessential Southern Utah canyon are Ancient Ancestral Puebloan archeological ruins. While we didn’t see grand scale ruins a la Mesa Verde National Park style, we did spot one granary way up high clinging to a shallow alcove up on the canyon walls. We also encountered ancient hand imprint pictographs near the peekaboo trail junction. No petroglyphs or cliff dwellings were found, however. Oh, and you can’t forget the occasional natural arch. They seem to just all of sudden appear out nowhere way up high in the cliffs around a random canyon bend. Pow! Just like that. Sandstone arch at 9 o’clock.
Since we got done early for the day, Cuban B decided to explore the cliffs near our campsite after he had dinner. He apparently found a trail that led up to a saddle and led into a small bowl shaped valley. He found more ancient hand print pictographs but just one set. That got me very excited and prompted me to join him to explore this area more to look for more pictographs and ruins. None more were found. Oh well. It was a fun way to end the day. Eventually the sun set, and Venus was in its usual brilliant splendor above the horizon. The moon is more than half and waxing.
Tomorrow we have to push some miles, perhaps doing more than 17 miles. Either way, we should be out of this canyon and on the mesa tops, making our way to Dark Canyon and the official Hayduke Route.
We are done with paddling the River. The ordeal for today was a 9.5 mile hike via Lower Red Lakes Canyon Trail with about a 2600 foot climb. I am happy I brought my 85 Liter pack for this leg of the journey. It has a better suspension to carry more weight more comfortably. Also i was able to pack my packraft inside the pack. Once all my gear was loaded, my pack felt like it weighed 70lbs. That included the 9 lb boat, paddles, PFD, boat repair kit, a fire pan, and a dry bag filled with our poop. Yes!! Poop. Aka, human shit. The permit that we got from Canyonlands National Park in order to float the River, requires that we haul out our own shit. Apparently this section of the River sees a lot of recreational use. Hence, if everyone pooped on the beaches, there would be only shitty beaches and no where to camp. Fair enough! We don’t mind hauling our own shit around.
So the climb took longer than the three hours i expected, taking five hours. Apparently, you are only as fast as your slowest hiker. Sonya was struggling on the hike out, and Pete and I did not want to leave her and Dave behind because they had no map and did not know the route. As long as everyone makes it out safe was the point.
We eventually made it out and into the privately owned campsite, Needles Outpost, one mile outside the park, where there are showers, a snack store, and wifi. The showers were much appreciated, as our next shower is about 8 days away.
After sorting gear, Pete, Cuban B, and i finally have the gear we will have for the rest of the Hayduke Route. Dave and Sonya are taking our vehicle and other gear with them and storing it in their home in Colorado, where we plan on picking up after Hayduke. For here on out we are on our own for good until Capitol Reef, where we have other friends meeting us for a section hike. Our next leg is five days and takes us to Hite, where we have our next food cache.
Today I turned 40 years old on the Hayduke Route. As I mentioned before, the whole reason why I am doing the Hayduke Route is to celebrate my 4 decades of existence.
Well, the day started very intensely. I rained steadily for about two hours starting at 4 am. By 7:30 am sunrise, the rain had stopped and the sky cleared. At least that is what our slither of sky looked like from our view point down our canyon. Suddenly we saw an ominous cloud make its way towards us and unleash a powerful squall with torrents of water and winds up to 30mph. At that point we were preparing our packrafts for launching on the river. Looking at the river and approaching squall, I pretty much said, f_ck that; I’m not paddling in that on my 40th birthday. Luckily I still had my tarp up, so we all ran up to camp to hunker down under the tarp. After about 15 minutes, the squall finished unleashing it’s fury, waterfalls began pouring off the canyon rims, and the sky cleared up. But the winds persisted.
Yes, the winds persisted all day, and to top it off, they were 20-30 mph headwinds. What ever push the River current was giving us was essentially being cancelled by the headwinds. As a matter of fact, if we stopped paddling, the winds would push us upstream. Go figure. When we finally made it to the Confluence of the Green and Colorado River, we all thought the power of these two massive rivers would give us a positive push against the headwinds. Ha!! We were wrong. Water was no match for wind. Indeed the wind had the upper hand. Fortunately, we only had four miles to go before our takeout point. These last four miles were the toughest for Sonya, the wind was so strong, it started pushing her upstream towards the Green River. Dave had to tie a rope to her raft and tug her. We finally made it to camp at around 3:45pm and called it a day. Well, not quite. Although we were done paddling, we had some housekeeping to do. We essentially had to clean and dry our rafts and other gear in preparation for hauling all this gear nine miles up this side canyon to get back the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. 103 miles done today.