19 miles (map), 23 miles (GPS)
Periodically through the night I woke to the sound of small chewing happening to my pack just above my head, where I had placed it as a windbreak in the rock shelf where I slept. Rodents live in rock shelves and holes, and I was sharing this hole with them. I shooed them away and went back to sleep, warmly enough after the wind died down and the night became quiet. At one point I had my headlamp on and I saw across the wash a pale shape the size of a dog watching us, glittering eyes in the lamp light. It looked away and back, away and back. A night visitor, like my mouse friends.
Rising, walking, morning. All soft and such. After two miles we came to the first puzzle of the day: a class four chimney climb to get out of the head of the wash. (Class four means it’s scrambling with a few technical climbing moves and high exposure.) The chimney has something of a reputation on the Hayduke Trail in the sense that everyone knows where you mean when you say ‘the class four chimney’. It required Erin and I to pass the packs up one at a time because it was too narrow a fit for a body and pack. The climbing moves were straight forward, though I did have a moment of looking back down noticing just how high and exposed my position was. Erin passed my pack first, which was so heavy with seven liters of water (next water source was 25 miles) that it almost knocked her backwards off the ledge she was on. I climbed back down the crack and grabbed my pack off her head and boosted it to the ledge above me using one hand and a foot, the other hand occupied by holding myself to the rock. I tore the sleeve of my down jacket in the chimney, and as I climbed and passed packs in a snowy swirl of feathers, I pulled clusters of them from the rock and weeds and tried to shove them back in the hole, ultimately tying my pee rag around the tear like a wound on my arm to the keep the feathers in while we finished the pack haul.
After the chimney, we entered the Red Benches, the second puzzle of the day. It would be an eight miles cross country route through a maze of drainages separated by ridges, all of it twisting in every direction. A very old passage, The Chinese Trail passed through the Red Benches and the massive, ancient cairns marking the way can still be seen on top of some of the ridges, but they don’t mark the way for the Hayduke. They are sirens, beautiful and mysterious and they pull hikers off route. The Red Benches end with a descent in Fiddlers Cove Canyon, an impressive drop of 750 feet in less than a quarter mile that can only be achieved in exactly one spot, all other spots leading to sheer drop offs. Fiddlers Cove Canyon had towering walls in layers of rich red and white, and the wash at the bottom had a very random assortment of stones, including light, rough-faced chunks of fools gold.
From Fiddlers Cove Canyon, the route went up the Dirty Devil River for five miles, our third puzzle of the day. The Dirty Devil River has a bad reputation: quicksand, sinkholes, mud, nasty water, and overgrown banks. We had to pick a line of travel, whether on a bank or across the river itself, and do the best we could with it. We forded ten times, only ten, and there was one quicksand incident where Erin stepped into a patch and was immediately sucked in up to her knees, lost a shoes in the mud pulling her foot out (which I retrieved), and had to carefully extract herself, at the end of which we were both covered in mud.
Now we are camped a few miles up Poison Spring Canyon, which will takes us all the way to Highway 95 tomorrow and then Hanksville. As far as I know, there are no puzzles in Poison Spring Canyon (yet?).