Friday, Oct 6th, 2023, 0700-1830
Short Creek to East Fork Virgin River & Poverty Wash
20 miles, elevation 4600′
It was a good night, warm with just a little wind, enough to keep my tent dry. It was hard to believe the 2 nights before had been so cold. We heard a motorcycle buzzing around for awhile, but fortunately it didn’t get too close. In close proximity to a town or road, getting run over in the night is my biggest worry. To begin the day’s hike, we quickly left Short Creek to climb alongside Squirrel Creek. We collected water at the bottom but need not have bothered. The second creek was flowing quite a ways up and we found tons of potholes and even a flowing creek at the top of the climb. It appeared as though the area got hit pretty good by thunderstorms a few days prior. It was wet enough to even produce some quicksand in the washes. It’s such weird and entertaining stuff, I’d grown to almost like it. We got to play in a lot of it this day.
Nearing (and inside of) Zion NP, the hills were giant domes of slickrock sandstone, an intriguing mixture of red, pink and white. They made me think of pizza. It was one of the more striking areas I’d seen, then again, almost everyday on the Hayduke was like something I’d never seen before. I reflected on my journey a lot this day. When I decided to postpone my hike at the south rim in the spring, I’d been rather dismissive of the remaining 150 miles. I knew Saddle Canyon and the rest of the Grand Canyon would probably be fantastic, but I wasn’t keen on walking across the Arizona strip and the remaining route to Zion sounded just so so.
I was very glad I came back to finish, because the entire experience had been well worth it. Even the Arizona strip held some intrigue and magic, plus there was significance to the slow build up towards these amazing hills. Experiencing every step of the journey from the Colorado River to here felt like a pilgrimage. There was a little bit of disconnect in not having done the entire route from Arches NP in one go, but perhaps this was a good thing. It had given me time to process the rest of the journey and gain back the confidence to complete it. The many circumstances in the spring had left me feeling that I was lacking in the skills and abilities to hike the Hayduke. But I was not. The conditions had been extreme and I had simply been wise enough to listen to my instincts. I was also feeling uncomfortable with the group dynamics, in that I suddenly had a lesser say when it came to the decision making process and no longer felt in control of my hike. Hitting the reset button was the easiest and best call at the time.
The past week had been the confirmation that I made the right decision. The route had still been very challenging, but exactly in the way that I had read about and was prepared for. The conditions had been much more manageable and I felt comfortable about the risks we did and didn’t take to get to this point. I was also happy about how easy I’d fallen in sync with my new hiking partner. It was perhaps a risk to join with someone I’d never hiked with before, at the onset of such a challenging route, but the fact that Worm had survived the rest of the Hayduke by himself certainly proved he was self-sufficient and capable. We were both very glad to have a buddy for Saddle Canyon and Tapeats Creek because being able to hand packs to each other and take turns scouting the downclimbs and water crossings had proven invaluable. But I also just really appreciated his company and the mutual experience of feeling downtrodden, exhausted, bewildered, and awed by all the fun stuff that comes with the Hayduke. I was very happy about how all the logistics and timing had worked out, the way it was supposed to I guess. Nothing forced, patience and perseverance in balance. I felt ownership of my Hayduke journey here at the end. The promised land was in my sights and also of my own making.
We walked sandy 4wd roads all morning and afternoon. It reminded me a lot of the first day in Arches. The air was still crisp but the sun intense. I stopped to fish a black widow spider from a sand pit in the road. It clung to my trekking pole tip and I got to admire a big, fat venomous spider up close. I suppose most would have crushed it where it was in the road. Instead, I rescued it from the pit and placed it gently to the side in the bushes. I like spiders. All around were intriguing views. At one point, we could see across the canyon to Checkerboard mesa and perhaps to even some of the far pink cliffs in Bryce NP.
We came upon a group of about 8 jeeps, everyone enjoying the beautiful day on top a rock. The opportunity for trail magic was strong and I waved at the people as I passed. A few waved back, but no one said anything. I was slightly ahead of Worm, so I strategically stopped to wait for him. Sure enough, he was called over by a guy offering water. Sometimes I think guys may be hesitant to address me by myself, simply because they don’t want to appear as if they’re harassing me. That’s fair and understandable these days. Once Worm broke the ice, another guy graciously asked me if I wanted a beer or water. I grabbed a pineapple Whiteclaw from his cooler, which looked so refreshing. It was cold and delicious but I later regretted it, because it gave me a bad migraine late in the day. My alcohol tolerance had gone down to about zero. I guess this was appropriate in Mormon country.
The sun felt very intense, so we were relieved to reach the end of the road and scramble down into the East Fork of the Virgin River. This would be our final canyon of the official Hayduke route. It was a semi popular route, situated just outside Zion National Park. We were to follow the river downstream for about 5 or 6 miles through high narrow walls, an area called The Barracks. First we went upstream around just one bend to see a panel of petroglyphs. We also collected water from Rock creek, since the main river was pretty silty. There were plenty of side streams later on, but we figured it was better to be safe collecting clear water when we found it.
We resumed the route downstream for the remainder of the day. The canyon was very nice. The walls weren’t too high in the beginning, but there was a wide variety of vegetation, giving the canyon a different feel from others. It was most similar to the Bryce area perhaps, but with more of a riparian twist. We had gained a fair amount of elevation, so there were junipers, piñon and and ponderosa pines. But there were also cottonwoods and maples, which were in various states of transitioning to fall colors. A few maples were a brilliant bright red, which was dazzling. It was a very colorful canyon of reds, greens and yellows. This was another reason it was nice to come back for the last bit in the fall, to experience the various seasons. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of the fall than any other season.
We crossed the river countless times, walking right in the streambed much of the time. It was thankfully not very deep or swift, though signs of flooding were present everywhere. The surrounding vegetation had clearly been scoured throughout the season and there was debris clinging 20 feet up in the trees in places. This had been a common sight in many of the canyons. In a few sections, the walls were narrow enough to create a slot canyon, which is always appreciated and enjoyable during favorable conditions.
We found a perfect campsite next to the river, right near the confluence with Poverty Wash. We were hoping for this, because it allowed us to drop our packs and explore the side canyon about 1 mile up, right up until dusk. We followed it to the end of a very narrow slot and grotto, which by that time of day was almost pitch dark. We even needed our headlamps for the last 10 minutes on the return. I wished I’d had time to set up camp beforehand, so that I had a warm tent and sleeping bag waiting for me, but luckily it didn’t get very cold this night. I busied myself with my camp chores in the dark while Worm made a tiny fire near the river. I usually don’t care for campfires and this was the first I’d had one on the Hayduke, but it was actually a fantastic way to end our last official night on trail. I enjoyed drying my feet more than anything. The site was so perfect and peaceful, not too hot or cold, no wind, and with the beautiful gurgle of the river nearby. Even this would have normally been a bit unsettling, given the risk of flash flooding, but was not a concern on my mind this night. It was as if all the claws and teeth of the Hayduke had been removed and we could just relax and enjoy the rewards. Thanks Hayduke, I learned a lot the hard way, struggled at times but found peace, acceptance and understanding in the end.