Buckskin Gulch

The weekend of 31 Oct 08 Tracy and I took a great trip to Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch. Buckskin is supposed to be one of the longest slot canyons in the world: a solid 15 miles of high-walled, narrow canyon. We had a permit for two nights but we wanted to try to save our vacation day, so we decided to try to do the full 21 miles from Wire Pass to White House in two days. So we hired a shuttle service to pick us up at 6:30 am on Saturday at the White House Trailhead and take us to the Wire Pass Trailhead. We hit the trail a little after 7, along with a few other people who had camped at the trailhead. I was a little worried the trail would be crowded, but we only saw one person for 15 miles, and only saw a few others pass by after we set up camp…and we didn’t see a single person on Sunday.

We started at Wire Pass and just hiked, We hit Buckskin after a mile or so and started down the canyon. Buckskin was pretty cool. The walls were well over 200 feet in most places and the canyon was really narrow in most places. The canyon was never any wider than a few dozen yards, and that only happened a few times. Most of the time the canyon was probably narrower than 30-50 feet. In Buckskin we only had to wade in knee deep water once, and we only had to sink up to our knees in mud one time…so it wasn’t too bad. We had debated taking our wet suits but we didn’t take them and we didn’t need them. Tracy was really stressed out about the 20 foot drop towards the end of the canyon, but there was rope and we didn’t have any trouble at all. We also had our own rope, which we used to lower our packs, but it wasn’t really necessary. Tracy was in a much better mood after we passed the drop. I think she got stressed because the one guy we saw in Buckskin had referred to it as a “rappel.” Tracy thought we needed rappelling gear and everything, and she was stressed out about it since we had to hike forward in order to get back to the car.

But we hiked and hiked and hiked on Saturday, and we seemed to make it to Paria in no time at all. This 14 miles to the camp site was the longest we had ever hiked in a single day. Of course, the trail was almost completely flat but we hiked faster than we normally do. Unfortunately, that kinda meant that we didn’t stop and enjoy the scenery very much. After we were done it felt like we had just flown through the hike. While that was a little disappointing, it was also important to realize that we had hiked 14 miles through a canyon that pretty much looked exactly the same for much of the 14 miles. So it’s not entirely like we were on a whirlwind hike, because there wasn’t a lot of different scenery to see.

One interesting thing we experienced was seeing a bunch of dead animals that had fallen off the desert floor into the canyon and died. We saw a coyote, rabbits, and a tarantula. It’s just bizarre to think that since the walls are so high and the canyon is so narrow that the animals simply can’t see that there’s a deep canyon until they’re already falling into it.

But we made it through the down-climb with no trouble and made it to the confluence in record time for us. We set up camp in the wide area just before the confluence. This was really the only place to camp in Buckskin, so the other guy we had seen was camped there and another group of four campers showed up later to camp there. The high walls echoed everything a lot, but they weren’t loud so everything was fine. The best part about this campsite: the mice. I knew mice might be a problem so we hung all of our food and left our pack pockets unzipped. We could hear mice in the brush around camp, and right after we got in the tents Tracy heard something around her pack, turned on her flashlight, and saw a mouse inside a pocket just staring at her! So we had to get up, run that mouse off, and then hang everything. The mice didn’t bother us the rest of the night, but you could hear them scurrying around most of the night.

Then, just for fun, we got up at 4 am to hike out! I just wanted to hike some at night, and since Tracy doesn’t like hiking in the woods at night, I thought she wouldn’t mind the canyon as much. Hiking in the dark really made the canyon feel like a cave. The sky was cloudy most of the time so you couldn’t see any stars, and you really just couldn’t see any sky or the top of the canyon walls…it was really cool. Paria Canyon was much wetter, with a river flowing through it. We had to wade in water much more often but it was never deeper than knee-deep. We also had to trudge through more mud, but it was never more than knee-deep. The first few miles of Paria up river from the confluence are in a slot canyon and after that it opens up. The slot was more difficult to hike in and the water was completely coffee colored, so you couldn’t see into the water or see how deep it was. I don’t think I would want to spend much more time than we did hiking in the water of Paria.

We made it back to the car at White House around 9 am. We did 21 miles in just over 26 hours…that was pretty whirlwind for us. As a result, the hike really seemed like a blur, but, as I said, I’m not sure that we were really missing much scenery. But the hike, while flat, still taught us that we can bite off longer hikes and still enjoy them. Tracy was pretty worn out from the hike and was dragging pretty badly toward the end. Oddly enough, I didn’t really hurt and my feet didn’t have any problems at all. This was a great hike, and I highly recommend the experience, but it really felt like one of those hikes that we’ll only do once.

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