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Paria Hackberry Traverse 2008

Lovely and Waterless

Saturday, May 3   I had been looking forward to this day for a long time. Ever since I had seen photos in Kelsey's books, I thought it would be neat to hike through upper Hackberry canyon. Of course, waterless canyons, the floor of which might be comprised of soft sand, are not necessarily my cup of tea, but I just kept thinking it might be neat to hike above the spring. The problem has always been one of water. I had "solved" the water issue by taking the "brute force" approach: simply haul in all on your back. One reason why we had done our open ended loop hike in the counter-clockwise direction was to save the joy of water hauling to the point when our packs would be their lightest. I recall when we started the lower Paria Canyon trip (the stretch south of highway 89), on a May afternoon in 1987, we had to haul all the water we would need for that day, night, and until the next afternoon, because the river water was more like thin mud. To take a 70 pound pack (yeah, that is what I used to carry 20 years ago) and throw on 10 liters of water seemingly constituted "cruel and unusual punishment." My pack was so heavy that I needed help putting it on.

We had a pretty leisurely morning today, enforced by the need to pump enough water to satisfy our needs for the next 24 hours. We had stored about 8 gallons of water in the Highlander, not being able to gauge the weather with any degree of accuracy. We knew that people could get pretty thirsty without adequate water for a day or so in this desert environment. In these situations, overkill is a good idea. Anyway, for today, Susie had her 4 liter Platypus and her one liter Platypus full, and I had my 1.5 liter hydration Platypus full, a 1 liter water bottle full, and about 3+ liters of water in the water bag. So that was over 2.5 gallons for the two of us, which is about as much as I would want to carry.

Breakfast was Grape Nuts Trail Mix Crunch with freeze-dried strawberries. Sounds better than what it was, mainly because, once it is saturated with milk, the Crunch just tastes like Grape Nuts. Granola is a vastly better option. At any rate, we pulled out of camp at 9:50 am, and headed up canyon. As reported by our friends, the spring as marked on the map is not much of a spring. Just sorta a seep along the canyon wall. Similar to the covered spring in Stone Donkey. Even where we had camped, perhaps a half mile downstream of the Hackberry spring, the water was more of a sheen on the sand, rather than a stream. As soon as one gets above the spring, the canyon changes character dramatically. No benches with vegetation, just hard rock walls coming right down to the canyon floor. I looked ahead and could basically see a sandy bottom. HOWEVER, if one paid attention, it was possible to pick out small differences in appearance, which meant a significant difference in texture. Harder sand is vastly easier on which to walk, especially with our now-heavier packs. It was worth it to keep looking for the hard sand. Just for fun, in a few places I would shift between hard and soft sand, and the energy difference required to hike in the latter is simply astounding. At least a factor of two. Of course, walking on concrete - or slickrock - or even just hard packed dirt is even easier. But it just illustrates the amount of energy we had to expend the day before yesterday. Impressive.

The hike moved along pretty quickly. We took a lot of photos, this being a "clean" canyon - something different. The sandstone through which Hackberry is cut is pretty hard, so it has lots of deep cuts in it. With more water in one's pack, one could spend a couple of days between the spring and the mouth of Round Valley Draw just poking around looking inside all the cracks and side canyons. Even the little crack that I made a pit stop in was very interesting.

It seemed like the nine of us had broken up into at least three groups: Andy, Sue, and Ron in the front, Susie and I in the middle, and then Terri, Carol, Barbara, and Will in the rear. However, positions would change throughout the day, as one group would leapfrog the other. One of the great things about hiking in canyons is that groups can get strung out over a mile or two, just proceeding at a pace that fits, since everyone is headed to the same spot. Speaking of pace, we were commenting that most of the older ones on this trip did not feel, even though 36+ hours had passed, like we had completely recovered from the Paria-Hackberry traverse. Our muscles still felt Thursday. One of the prices, I guess, of getting older. We are all sufficiently strong to expend a helluva lot of energy, but it takes much longer than it took 15 - 20 years ago to completely recover. Like they say, it is HELL getting older.

As we got higher up in the drainage, the canyon began to take on a slightly different face. While there were plenty of steep walls down to the canyon floor, there were also more junipers along sandy hills leading to the canyon floor. Susie and I stopped and hiked up into the mouth of Death Valley Draw to see the crack and pour-off. Certainly worth the 250 meter walk. As we exited, Will startled us. He was sitting in the shade and we did not see him, so when he said "Hi," we jumped. He reported that the rest of the crew was not far back.

Above the mouth of Death Valley Draw, the main "channel" of Hackberry cuts from heading north to a more northeasterly direction. Also, tall Ponderosa pines begin to appear. The canyon floor narrows considerably, and has a few more twists and turns. Susie and I had discussed, while hiking today, the lack of benches and flat spots above the floor of the canyon. There seemed to be none, and we were asking the obvious question: Even without threat of rain, does one dare set their tent up in the sand on the canyon floor. Maybe such is just inviting disaster. Well, we got in sight of the mouth of Round Valley Draw, and were pleased that we would not have to make a choice: there is a nice campsite right across from the mouth of the Draw, at 12S, 417802 E, 4143444 N. This was only about 200 feet away from my original mark of a potential campsite, based on study of digital orthophoto quads and satellite photos. It is always nice to hit one pretty closely. And it was not a bad campside. Not perfect, with some slope to it, and certainly well used, but as a place to hang our hats for the night, it would do. Andy reported that they had arrived just a bit before 3 pm, while Susie and I pulled in at 3:41 pm, after hiking about 7.5 miles from our last camp. The rest of the crew would show up about 4:30. As I said previously, easy to get strung out.

We got our tent set up, and immediately noticed a problem with the door zipper. It simply would not hold. The trip had been hard on gear, for sure. Or maybe we were hard on gear, who knows. Well, Sue, Andy, and Ron took off to go up Round Valley Draw a bit. They reported that the Draw narrows down quickly, and that there was still snow in the bottom. In addition, they indicated that the crack that we were originally planning on exiting through would have been a real scramble. Not impossible, but time consuming.

Susie and I looked at our water supply. Because it had been cool today (high of 63, which meant warm in the sun but cool in the shade or when clouds covered the sun), we had burned thru less water than expected: Susie a bit less that 1.5 liters, and me, a bit less than 2 liters (Of course, I would drink a lot tonight). So we decided, with an abundance of fuel and some extra water, that maybe a sponge bath would feel good. So we heated up 1.5 liters of water, split it, and used half for wash water and half for rinse. Susie had an extra "feminine wipe" with her, so I used that for crotch cleaning. Hey, it was not the same as pouring fresh water all over one's body while standing in the middle of a river, but it felt pretty darn good. The absence of water and it being the last night of the trip meant a real absence of camp chores. But before long, it was 6 pm and time to think about dinner. Susie and I had planned a minimal-water-requiring dinner: a supposedly 4-person Mountain House Freeze dried lasagna dinner. Tasty, but even Susie commented that it would be hard feeding more than about 2.5 people with the amount of food in the package. The remainder of the evening was spent taking the traditional last-night-of-the-trip portraits, and rolling in laughter as Will attempted to take video with the cell phone he had been carrying with him.

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To view supplemental photos of this trip, go to our TwoHikers SmugMug gallery.

To view additional and different photos of the trip, go to Will's SmugMug photo gallery.

Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. McDonald 2008, 2016