Day 35, at the mouth of bull valley gorge, 22 miles
The rain finally stopped and the temperatures dropped. This means I have a frozen tent to deal with in the morning which in my opinion is better than a wet tent since most of the frost is easy to remove. My waterproof mittens come in handy again!
I figured out yesterday that Zach is set up less than 1/2 mile away from me so swing by his spot. I see his footprints cross the muddy road however so he already left. The road is horrible to walk on so I follow his example and head for cottonwood creek. I walk along and later in the creek bed. The water has gone down a lot and the creek bed is pretty solid and easy to walk on. There is also the occasional cow path and what do you know? I catch up to Zach again at a fence. They’re always easier to open with two people so that was good timing. I pass him when he stops to put his Crocs on and we meet again at the Paria River. The water isn’t high but it’s definitely full of sediment and opaque. It looks intimidating to cross but once I figure out that it’s only ankle deep it’s no big deal.
It is however freezing cold and that becomes pretty painful for the longer fords. The sun is out but not yet strong enough to warm us up. Zach’s strategy is to layer up and make sure his core is super warm, mine is to keep moving so I lose him. At some point my feet are numb and I turn towards the sun to thaw them out.
I can’t believe it when I see a group of ten other hikers out here in the freezing water. I didn’t think this was a popular route. It turns out they had something else planned but they couldn’t get their car down the muddy dirt road so this is plan B. The trip leader has hiked the Hayduke up til Bryce in the past and recognizes me from a Facebook post I made the other day. How fun!
I pass them but they pass me again when I stop to dry out my tent. It’s perfect tent kite weather and it dries within a few minutes.
It finally warms up enough and the water is never more than knee deep so the rest of the day runs smoothly. The mud is all firm which is a pleasant surprise and miles come quickly. I have lunch at a big rock where I drape my damp sleeping bag to dry. Zach catches up and we have lunch together. I pack up before he does and we hike the afternoon separately until he catches up after my my late snack break. We hike the last bit together chatting and enjoying the scenery. I stop at the mouth of the Bull Valley Gorge since I want to hike those narrows tomorrow and he continues on just a bit. Will this really be the last of Zach? We’ve said bye a few times but managed to leapfrog for this section. I am going to do the Bryce extension while he is not so most likely I really won’t see him again this time.