Fred Swanson describes an all-too-familiar experience for thirsty desert hikers in this time of drought:

The juniper at the top of the cut bank offered only a little shade, but I sat down next to it anyway, letting its stiff branches shower me with loose bark and scaly leaves. Up here, away from the cottonwoods in the gulch, the late-September sun held court like it was July. I wiped the sweat from my face and contemplated my half-full water bottle. I’d finished the other two on the hike in, assuming that the spring would be flowing. I hadn’t reckoned with this autumn’s lingering drought and record-breaking heat, which had left not so much as a patch of damp sand down in the watercourse. All that remained was a tangle of dry grass and dead limbs which made the going next to impossible.

In more than fifty years of backpacking I have never had to ask myself whether I could make it out alive. Now the question formed a dark shape in my mind. I had not thought to fill the five-liter bladder I always carried on these desert trips, since my previous ventures into this canyon persuaded me it held perennial water. I would have to make it to the river, several miles farther down this trailless and increasingly difficult canyon. Alone and about out of energy, I faced a tough walk…

from “Edge Walk,” in the 2021 issue of Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry, deepwildjournal.com

To see more writing from Fred Swanson, checkout fredswansonbooks.com.

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