Monday, April 10th, 2023, 0600-1915
Hite Marina\UT 95 to halfway through the Dirty Devil River
24 miles, including 6 mile hwy walk to drop off van, elevation 3800′
We planned an early start since we had little packing to do and were driving to start with, not walking. We needed to deliver the van to the take out, which was across the river. As the raven flies, it was only a few miles from where we were but almost 10 miles via the highway. Along the way, we were smart enough to drop off our packs, heavily loaded with water, on the dirt road we picked up as part of the route to the Red Benches. We needed to backtrack about 6 highway miles from where we were leaving the van, so we gained back half the road miles we skipped the day before…but at least we could do those miles sans packs. We also hoped to hitch back to our connection point, though it seemed unlikely given how early it was and the lack of traffic.
We parked the van and also left our cache bucket a quarter full with extra food and extra water in the back. We figured the guys might have a use for all the stuff and if not, maybe they could donate it. It was better than throwing it in the dumpster or having to carry it. We hit the highway walk by 7:15 am but had no luck getting a ride. Only about 3 vehicles passed us going our way. That’s ok because the area’s incredibly scenic and the paved road allowed us to take in the views. We got to look over the Dirty Devil river once again…it seemed pretty placid compared to Dark Canyon. We hoped to reach the upper part by day’s end, as part of our official route.
By 9 am or so, we’d connected back to the red line and picked up our packs. I spent some time arranging the 5 liters of water that I needed to carry for this particularly dry stretch. We didn’t anticipate finding more water until mid-morning the next day, so I hoped it would last me until then. Already it was starting to get hot. We left the dirt road for some more wash walking and then came to a tricky climb out of the canyon involving a class 3 or 4 chimney. We broke for an early lunch just beforehand so we could put it off longer. Once we finally tackled it, we found it wasn’t the worst but still harder then I expected. Stellar pushed his pack up in front of him and we hauled mine up with a rope. I didn’t like the first couple moves to get into the chimney, since it felt like I could easily fall. But once mid way, I felt so pinned by the awkward, twisting walls that I could barely go anywhere but up.
This was supposedly the toughest part all day, but on the Hayduke, every section has its unique challenges. We entered the Red Benches, an area dominated by a labyrinth of red shale ridges and canyons. And not one tree or even shrub. It was past noon by now and my thermometer read 83. The weather forecast had been right! Highs in the 80’s by Monday…the day before had been even hotter in the canyon. The area we were in now was even more exposed. Finally I had the brilliant idea of putting up my umbrella. This immediately solved all my problems. I was able to take off my sunshirt and face mask and was suddenly so much more comfortable. Stellar did the same, so we were 2 silver rovers rolling over the red shale, like we were on Mars.
Good thing for the brellas, because the Red Benches were so convoluted! We followed the Skurka route at first, which basically went down a wash then back up a second. But the rest of the section went up and down so many humps it was exhausting. It would have been so much worse with the sun beating down directly on my head.
It took us nearly 4 hours to go 7 miles, that’s how slow the benches were. Finally we got to the rim of Fiddler Cove Canyon and needed to find the one cairn that marks the way down. It was a steep descent as usual, something I’d gotten pretty accustomed to. At the bottom, we walked about a mile in the wash before finding some small but clear pools. These were obviously not regular or reliable sources, but rather a supply of Bonus water! We collected and filtered some, which I chugged immediately. I’d been rationing my water across the benches and thus had consumed only 1 liter in that time. I hadn’t sweated much, thanks to the brella, and didn’t feel dehydrated but it was worth taking in some electrolytes.
We continued to the river, which still looked rather placid, albeit very dirty brown. The guide book had this to say about the Dirty Devil: “This was some of the nastiest water we sampled. It’s highly alkaline, probably full of heavy metals, definitely bearing the accumulated agriculture waste of the Fremont River and who knows what else.” It’s also notorious for the quicksand along its banks and bed. But I grew up avoiding mud along the Arkansas river, so figured I could do the same here. And we did by paying attention to where there were rocks and gravel along the banks, indicating firmer ground. We also looked for riffles, a sign of shallower water, rocks, and faster current that scours away the mud. These strategies worked well, as we never got into any quicksand and all the crossings were less than knee deep.
We made 8 crossings and got to about halfway upriver, calling it a day. It had been a long and tiring one. We made a simple camp in a side wash. I love sandy washes… it takes minimal effort to clear a site and they are flat and soft. I passed out as soon as I finished dinner, I was so tired. I was very much looking forward to a few days off in town.