Hayduke Day 24

Memories from October 27, 2018.

Mom and Dad walked with me as far as the turn off to the slot canyon which starts Section 8. It was just as well because things went from tame to insane pretty quickly.

To start. I saw two sets of footprints around the start of the slot canyon. There was a thin layer of clay mud in the slot canyon and only on footprint inside which makes me think I’m the first person to navigate it since the rain. The trail register listed Day hikers yesterday and a Hayduker named Sampson Superhip whose tracks I’ve been following since Hite.

Others have written about this slot canyon so I’ll keep to my particular travails. However, the entrance which gets attention in the guidebook, Skurka’s notes, and both of the blogs I used as my primary sources for researching this trip, wasn’t that tricky: drop the pack down and slide down after it. I reap the dividends of not learning how to properly climb slots properly in a few moments.

Since I’d just gotten new shoes and socks in my resupply, I’d been hoping to keep them dry for as long as possible. Unfortunately the slot canyon has many pools of water. I couldn’t put my back on one wall and my feet on the other because of my backpack and so at my most acrobatic, wound up almost horizontal with my right shoulder on a sloped part of one wall while my feet walked along the other. Unfortunately this meant this lead to my water bottle and maps fell into the pool. The water bottle stuck cap down in the clay. The ziplock for the maps trapped water inside it. After that I gave up and gave in to the inevitable and sunk my fresh shoes into the mud.

The second notable almost-misadventures was at the second place I had to take my pack off to get down something. While not particularly far down this descent was clearly going to involve a slide or fall into a murky pool of indeterminate depth. A haul line would have just let my pack into the water. I considered hurling it (as I had my poles) but that seemed a little too brutal, even for someone who regularly drops their pack instead of using a haul line. So I started the climb down to the position where I would slide into the water, but I faced backwards so that I could wedge the pack far enough down the crack that I could probably reach up and grab one of the hip belt straps I let dangle after my descent. As I was positioning the pack with one hand, the grip I had on a rock under the ledge started slipping. I only had one foot wedged in the crack and it was on the same side of my center of gravity and so a fall would be head-first backwards into water, maybe after bouncing off a rock wall. The ledge was sloped and I could find no other hold or angle to brace or wedge anything for more support so I yanked my backpack into the crack and kicked my feet out to make the best controlled slide that I could. The water was less than knee deep which was a great relief. There was a foothold under the ledge from which I could grab one strap on my backpack. Since it was already wedged, the pulling compressed the bag a great deal. Some of the mesh on the pockets abraded away and if the holes get much larger, I won’t be able to carry water bottles in the side pockets.

This is looking back at the ledge. I’m not sure what’s wrong because it looks like you can just climb down. I’m convinced it looked different from the top.

Once past the interesting obstacles, I picked up footprints again near a widening in the slot near a branch which I could imagine provides an alternate entry. However one of the three sets of footprints was heading back; the other two were outbound. What great peril lay ahead that only one had returned?

None, as it turned out. Hackberry Canyon was the definition of pleasant. Level floored and sun lit, there was something about it which made me think of Dinotopia. After an hour of hiking I found a turn in the canyon which created some shade and set up my gear to dry while I ate lunch. I also discovered that my hat had disappeared out of the rear mesh pocket. I thought I’d seen it after exiting the slot canyon but with the sun lower hadn’t bothered to put it on. Time for the bandana and sunglasses.

After lunch, I’d planned on getting water from a spring mentioned in the guidebook and Skurka’s notes. Shortly after the spring’s expected location, the wash bottom began to get soggy and small pools appeared. Worried these might go away further down, I put some effort into gathering enough for the next 15 miles from the shallow puddles which became turbid if disturbed. After filling my bottles I kept walking and discovered that the pools became a stream.

The stream continued down Hackberry Canyon for the rest of the day. It was usually 1-3 inches deep but I once hit quicksand and was up to my knees on both feet in an instant. I ploughed forward, trying to walk as though on my knees for several steps before getting out.

Hackberry Canyon widened for a while and it was fun bushwhacking overland to shortcut long turns of the creek. I was surprised how often I found footprints after committing to a particular line through the brush or crossing point of the creek. There’s a strange sense of camaraderie in thinking that complete strangers in different circumstances independently made the same chooses you did, sometimes down to the specific footing chosen.

About 40 minutes before sunset the Canyon narrowed. It’s about two miles to get out and it would have put a nice finish on the day. At my normal pace for flat ground this would have been an easy choice. However, narrow canyons tend to get choked with boulders, requiring careful footing and sometimes a little pathfinding. Not something I want to get caught doing after dark so I quit while campsites were still easy to find. Probably for the best but feels a little disappointing nonetheless.

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