Hayduke – Hole in the Rock Rd to Grosvenor Arch

This is the third section in a row, back to back, going from one buried food cache to the next, without a town rest (and a lot of eating) in between—that’s seventeen calendar days passing by between towns. We’ve had some sweet trail magic, but man, I have veggie pizza on the mind, and coffee, I want good coffee. We are strong, but our reserves are low.

We packed up and set off to climb up Fiftymile Mountain. The clouds were puffy, and their undersides slightly pink, reflecting the red earth below. The rain started before we reached Mudhole Spring. We filled up with six liters of water, more water than I’m comfortable carrying, especially with five and a half days of food in my pack. It started hailing. We set up camp near Monday Canyon, nestling our tent into the junipers and sage. The sun came out long enough to dry a few things before crawling into the tent.

It rained more in the night. We weren’t feeling enthusiastic. Sticky mud, heavy packs, and we knew the hard work that lay ahead. We had hiked this section last year, and the hard day of bouldering ahead of us weighed heavy on our moods. The extra water weight in my pack was causing a pain in my right shoulder that, between it and the icy cold morning, was nauseating. I had to stop. After a short rest everything was fine and my pack felt fine. A few minutes later I found a piece of pottery, one of the coolest I’ve ever found. It was decorated with black paint. My mood lifted. How cool. I’ve found so many cool things on this hike.

• Broken piece of pottery, decorated with a design in black. •
• The easy part of Monday Canyon, before the intense bouldering began. •

I came to realize, somewhere near the end of Monday Canyon, that it wasn’t so much the hard work of the bouldering, or the willows in the previous section, that was causing our bla moods and waning enjoyment, but the lack of town rests and town food we weren’t getting between route sections. Our food caches have great nutrition, a high amount of healthy fats, good protein, greens, and sufficient calories, as well as a few snacks to eat while we unpack the cache and repack our trail food. But walking all day long, day after day, is draining on a very deep level, and that’s when there’s a good trail involved. The Hayduke is rarely on a trail, and only occasionally on dirt roads—it’s a hard route, primarily all cross-country, involves a lot scrambling, and is more physically draining than any other adventure I can currently remember.

We made it through the boulders in Monday Canyon, and the first couple of miles (and more bouldering) in Rogers Canyon before setting up camp. And now when I say boulders, I don’t mean the ones you see us hopping over in the photos. No, Monday Canyon and the first half of Rogers Canyon require incredible effort, going up, over, and around, huge boulders—sometimes with climbing effort and sometimes requiring detours around the canyon walls, or climbing up the cliff side to higher ground and following cattle trails around areas that are impassible.

• break time, on a cliff above Monday Canyon. •
• Starting down Rogers Canyon. We followed flowing water most of the way. •
• Shell fossils in a rock in Rogers Canyon. •

Rogers Canyon is an odd one. It’s really more of a giant erosion gully—piles of eroding sand and rocks and boulders, churning and tumbling in a chaos of constant change—but it’s full of life. Frogs and crickets, grouse and quail. There’s something special about it that I can’t put my finger on.

• Tadpoles in Rogers Canyon. •
• Our camp in Rogers Canyon. •

We camped on the same island of earth between stream trickles that we did the previous year. We washed up in the stream. I washed my sun shirt and set it out to dry in the wind. Little flies attacked our eyes and ears. Neon wore his head-net while he ate dinner. There’s a funny magic here I find comforting. I slept hard, dreaming of my mother again. I got up to pee in the night. The stars were so bright and so thick, the milky way stretched from canyon wall to canyon wall. A chorus of frogs and crickets filled the air.

We made it to Navajo Canyon, at the edge of the Burning Hills Wilderness, by second breakfast. Navajo Canyon is my favorite Canyon in this section. It’s moody and mysterious—filled with a rainbow of rocks, mountains of grey sand, intermittent layers of coal spilling out from the canyon walls, and occasional layers of alkaline salt crusts so thick they look like snow.

It was hot and I was running low on water. I struggled on the climb out of Navajo Canyon. It took a lot of electrolytes and most of my water to make the last couple of miles to Surprise Valley. Thankfully, the high roads above Surprise Valley are easy, and the cool wind strong.

We camped near Reese Canyon. It rained hard again in the night, blustery wind shaking the tent ‘til the wee hours. I wished I’d had a cup large enough to catch rainwater off the tent. I didn’t sleep well. We got an early start and made it to Last Chance Creek, and water, by second breakfast. We spent a long time drying things out, washing up, drinking and eating, and talking about pizza, before continuing with our day.

The rain came and went, and so did our moods. Near the end of the day, the creek became muddy from all the rain. A little trickle of clear water flowed in from the side. A spring! We followed it to its source and set up camp for the night, a beautiful evening, sunset, and good water (though a bit sulphury). A perfect night.

Everything was covered in heavy dew by morning. We plodded through the end of Last Chance Creek, by another sulphury spring, then up Paradise Canyon.

• Frog sex? All my time in the wild, and I’ve never seen this! •

The miles seemed to drag by. Just before we were about to get to a road, we decided to take a “shortcut”. It didn’t save any time, but it did bring a spark of fun, and a mini slot canyon, to the end of our day. We made it out and up to the road.

We set up camp between a few junipers and sage, and watched the last rays of light fade over the horizon. I slept good, knowing the next day was an easy road walk, out to Grosvenor Arch and to our next food cache.

I had the headphones in by second breakfast. The music made the miles pass more quickly. A few tears came and went. It’s going to take a long time to process my mother’s death. We hit fast forward at the first vehicle we encountered. A lovely French couple from Las Vegas gave us a ride to Grosvenor Arch.

We dug up our food cache, and while repacking made the unanimous decision to go into town before the next section of the route. We were tired, in a deeply depleted way, and needed a few days of town resting and eating.

We walked a few more miles down the road before another vehicle passed. It was the French couple again! They gave us a ride a little further until their next stop. We got out, and in less than a minute had a ride the rest of the way into town.

We were in a hotel room eating pizza before it was even dinner time. Sometimes you just have to hit the reset button—especially after seventeen days in the backcountry, in some of the most remote places out here. Now that’s some extreme social distancing.


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