Saturday, April 8th, 2023, 0650-1915
HomeWater Spring S3 mm 25.5 to under The Thumb, Youngs Canyon mm 45
20 HARD miles, elevation 5360′
What a day! It was one of my hardest ever but also helped to build confidence. And it was amazing to travel through the rugged canyons. We did a full day’s worth of miles too, which was incredible considering the last 10 were at 1 to 2 mph pace. There was a lot of scrambling, some rock climbing, downclimbing, route finding, backtracking, bushwhacking, stream hopping, stream wading, climbing up snow (sometimes on my knees so I didn’t sink), walking over snow, and postholing into rocks, shrubs, logs, and cactus. Maybe a few times there was some cursing. But also lots of marveling, both about the beauty and the craziness of what we were doing.
We woke to a pretty warm (38*) morning and overcast skies. It looked rather gloomy, like it could rain, but I figured the clouds would burn off. In the meantime, I enjoyed some relief from the intense sun. It’s so brutal. The day before, I realized that I was already starting to get sun blisters on the tips of my fingers. I’ve been wearing some sort of glove or mitt constantly but my open finger sun gloves still allow too much exposure. So I switched to wearing my garden gloves exclusively. They are cheap and not too hot, but I hate having to take them off every time I need to mess with my phone. I need sun gloves with a touch pad.
The first 5 miles were pretty easy down the wash. It opened to the large Beef basin, appropriately named for all the cows. We didn’t see any but heard their moos. We did see about 7 mule deer, our first wild megafauna on the hike. We followed the well established cows trails to cut the corners on the wash. Cows always travel the most efficient line towards water and along washes. Supposedly they and many other animals can smell water from far away…wish I had that ability.
We came to the Fable Valley trailhead and signed the register. We counted 19 Hayduke hikers ahead of us this season! There were no other users besides us. It was odd to find a registry here, the first we’d even seen. It’s apparently at the end of a remote and rough road. We saw no tire tracks leading up, probably because the road was still impassable due to snow and mud. We penned our names in, becoming part of the most official count of Haydukers, bringing up the rear it seems. The first entry of the season dated to March 16th. Crazy, considering the cold and snow.
The next 5 miles were also rather easy, following an actual trail. It was an ancient pack trail, probably bison and Native American trail before that. It wound along the edges of a bluff, well above the deep chasm of Gypsum Canyon, which was awesome to gaze down on. We finally came to Fable valley and canyon. It was wide and easy at first, with the pack trail weaving along the stream. Recent flooding had scoured the streambed, actually making it easier to make our way since all the vegetation was flattened.
All too soon, we had to break off into a side finger to connect to Youngs canyon and there went our nice pack trail. We were almost immediately bushwhacking through the creek bed vegetation, which all seemed to have thorns and very unforgiving branches. But I felt invincible in my tights and long sleeves. Except that I already ripped a hole in the mesh side pocket of my pack (the worst design to bring on an adventure like this, I know, but it’s what I got off ebay). It happened while going through the Joint the day before…right as I was bragging about easily sliding through.
Then a series of climbs around pour-offs began, coupled with snowy and icy slopes. I just had to laugh about some of the antics we put ourselves through, especially the crawling on my knees in the snow to get up a hill. Right as we were at one of the steepest and sketchiest parts, we finally heard our first canyon wren song. The tumbling down notes seemed to be a mockery of our situation. But still I was glad to hear it. Stellar proposed a lunch break but I just wanted to make it out of the canyon.
Finally we escaped and paced our way over a high plateau. There were still patches of snow at around 7000 feet, plus mud, but not too bad. We found the entrance of Youngs canyon and started down an old road. We had to posthole through quite a bit of snow on the road. It’s novel enough to me that it’s still fun but I know Stellar hates it. I’m so much lighter that I can stay on top about half the time, so it became a game trying to see how many steps I could take before sinking. Soon enough we were down out of the snow and moving through a wide valley. It didn’t last long though, since we had to do some down stepping into the canyon and climb right back out to avoid giant pour-offs. The ascent was on the east side, which meant we were going up through snow again. At least it was so slushy that it was easy to dig into…more knees came into play…good thing for my tights!
Back on the plateau again, we wound cross country for a bit to find the one and only spot where we could go down a second time. Cairns marked much of the trail, so it was pretty easy to follow. There was lots of careful picking along the loose rock and the descent felt tedious but not treacherous. Back in the canyon, we knew we had one more significant bypass, but not as big as the upper bypass. We weren’t sure if we should stop early or risk getting the second bypass done before dark. We went for it and it wasn’t too bad. We just had to do more climbing around steep slopes. I was tired from all the ups and downs and monkeying around.
We decided to stop at the bottom of the lower bypass. The creek was running so nicely and we found shelter under a big juniper. I’d wanted to make it as far as Dark Canyon since I’d heard such nice things about the emerald pools there, but Youngs (usually day) had perfectly nice water too. It seemed like a great location Under the Thumb…The Thumb being a pinnacle that marks the lower bypass. So we made a temporary home for the night in this place of great beauty. I cleared away some flood debris from my site, reflecting on how quickly these magnificent canyons could turn hostile. The evening was splendid, with bats flicking around and a canyon wren singing its love song. We went our first Hayduke day without seeing another person, which wasn’t surprising given the ruggedness of these canyons.