Crossing the Valley of Hell

Fuller Ridge. 20 miles. 6000 ft descent with no water.

We started the morning breaking camp at 9,006 ft. Each cameling up by drinking a liter of water at the creek and filling all our containers to max (about 4 liters each, 8.8 lbs of water).

And we begin the descent.

For most of the day, we’re up high hiking among ponderosa pines. It’s beautiful. Just a few patches of snow to stomp through. The downhill isn’t felt too much.


By afternoon. It’s hot. We’ve descended back into the land of the prickly pear.

After a long day, we’re still 8 miles from water. We find a flatish spot and dry camp.

Our night begins with cowboy camping, and then, just as it gets fully dark, bugs appear.  They are unknown bugs, crawling up backtrack’s shirt.  After several spastic freak out moves from backtrack feeling another creepy crawly, we muster and put up the tent.

A liter each to finish the 8 miles the next morning.

Down and down we go.

Finally. We get to the water faucet. It is literally a drinking faucet. Provided by the Desert Land Management. We gratefully drink, fill up our water bottles, and crawl under a boulder (the only piece of shade in miles).

After rehydrating, we stare dismally at the valley of shadeless sand that is ahead of us. We got to the faucet by 11 am. Now it is the hottest part of the day. Our piece of shade under the rock is slowly disappearing. There seems to be nothing for it but to hike those next five miles to Ziggy and The Bear’s. Trail  Angels located somewhere in that vast dry distance.

So we begin.

So I despair.

Heat exhaustion hits. My umbrella is not making me feel cooler. Walking through sand is hell. There is no shade to pause under. The freeway we are supposed to cross under is not getting any closer. I’m sucking down water from my platypus straw but it’s not quenching my thirst. I want to die.

On and on I trudge.

Finally, I hear Blaze call to me. I turn around. She has found a small piece of shade under a bush (which I later learn is called Desert Willow). I gratefully trudge back towards her. Curl up in the fetal position under the bush with my umbrella over me. And try to die.

Backtrack joins us and we stay under that bush for about an hour. My head hurts. I don’t want any Vitamin I because it’s sugar coated and I’m pretty certain I’ll throw up if I taste that. I also really have to pee, and spend some time contemplating just peeing my pants so I don’t have to move.

Eventually. After they have sussed out the map. It is determined that we are less than a mile from the freeway, which will have better shade underneath it.

I muster. Get myself back into my pack, and doggedly stagger after backtrack. Head down. Umbrella up. Watching his feet so I know where to step.

And we finally make it to real shade.

And there are coolers under the freeway.

Coolers full of soda, one beer, water, and ice.

Under I-10

It is one of the happiest moments of my life.

I am very glad I didn’t die under that bush.

We stay under the freeway for an hour or more. I cool myself with the ice, drink two lemon sodas (which at that moment were the most amazing thing in the world). And take a nap.

I want to live again. The Valley of Hell will forever be behind me. In another mile we make it to Ziggy and The Bear’s. Where they sit us down, give us a hot tub of water for our feet to soak, a giant piece of watermelon, and anything else a hiker could wish for (salad at 7, icecream at 7:30).

Ziggy and I-Pod at Ziggy and the Bear's where we're enjoying shade and watermelon.

Later, we hear many hiker stories about crawling under the rock by the faucet, and the trials of surviving crossing that valley. Which is now a distant memory having happened yesterday, or a week ago, or… that one time we crossed the Valley of Hell.

They tried to give me the name “Crawls Under a Bush” but it didn’t stick.

About Natalie

Natalie Fisher is a dancer, teacher, silk aerialist, and choreographer. She is inspired by the wilderness. Her work involves finding the seam where her worlds of dance, aerials and the wilderness meet.

2 thoughts on “Crossing the Valley of Hell

  1. I am glad you didn’t die, but that you expressed how very “spent” you were. Keep writing as it is. That is good writing. I am glued. (Finally.)

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