Hayduke Trail | September 12, 2018
Basecamp Adventure Lodge to Lockhart Basin | ~22 miles
In the morning, Tom walks with me down the road a ways. He's owned this ranch for 12 years and is knowledgeable about the desert. He tells me about the lines of "sand art" drawn from wind-swept blades of grass cutting into the desert floor. He tells me how to identify the gray foxes he fed last night (their tails are black). He tells me the shortcut along Hatch Point is "a nightmare" and that I should stick to the road.
I heed his advice—I didn't know about any shortcut anyway—and am glad I did. A couple of miles up the road I suddenly see someone approaching on foot; they are covered from head-to-toe in lightweight clothing, trekking poles in hand, donning a full backpack. It appears to be a thru-hiker... but in the wrong direction. It is early in the season, and certainly no sane person would be finishing an eastbound Hayduke hike in mid-September.
So of course we stop and chat. His name was Immersion, and he was calling it quits. He'd made it to the Colorado River, 15 miles ahead, but he was having trouble carrying enough water. He'd carried five liters when he made the decision to turn back and had already finished it.
2018 was the driest year on record in Utah, and I'd been nervous about the scarcity of water on the trail. I was fully prepared to carry two gallons of water on me nearly always, and for the first several weeks that's what I did. I also adopted a strategy of "shade hopping" where I'd hike a few miles then find a nice patch of shade to rest in for 15 minutes. I don't like to be constantly stopping, but in 100 degree heat it's necessary to keep myself from overheating and guzzling water. The dual strategy of just dealing with a heavy load plus being very conservative in my consumption meant that I never ran out of water (after the first day, of course).
So although I was surprised to meet another Hayduker, I wasn't dismayed by his decision. I was just four days in, still confident and excited for what lay ahead. I trudged onwards, following a 4x4 road as it meandered below Hatch Point, and along the rim of Lockhart Canyon as it slowly began opening deeper into the earth.
An easy scramble finally took me the canyon floor. Not long after I found the sandy "road" that runs through it. One way would keep me progressing along the Hayduke. Two miles the other way would take me to water. I needed water.
Most of the time, a short half-mile walk off-trail to fetch water is too much for me. I love hiking 30+ mile days but I sure can be lazy. It was getting dark, but I committed myself to reaching the river without using my headlamp. Weary of any curious cougars watching me from the rim of the canyon, I made plenty of noise as I went (which probably wouldn't do much to deter them anyway), singing songs and banging my trekking poles together. Two miles and forty minutes later, I reached a fence signifying I was now in Canyonlands National Park. A short bushwack beyond that, and I found water. And then I found humans.
Humans with beer! And chips! And potable silt-free water! All of the things I could have possibly wanted or needed. We stayed up late talking about Tucson and design and constellations, and it was nearly midnight before we all dug little divets in the sand just big enough for our shoulders and our hips, and tucked ourselves in for the night.