Click here for a trip report about backpacking the Paria River and visiting Buckskin Gulch:
Passion for Paria, 2004
Prelog:Paria Canyon Primitive Area (BLM) is located across the Utah-Arizona border, in the south-central part of Utah. To get there, one travels east on Hwy 89 from Kanab, Utah. This Trip Report describes entering the Paria via the super-slot canyon, Buckskin Gulch, and exiting the top portion of the Paria Canyon. It is possible to through-hike the Paria, and this is a 4-5 day trip. You would need a shuttle from/to Lee's Ferry, on the Colorado River in Arizona to do the through-hike.
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Day 1: Wired Moonlight: Some of us had rendezvoused in Smog Lake at 5 p., while others had made an early start for the Paria Canyon BLM Primitive Area. Apparently in this case, the BLM doesn't stand for the "Bureau of Leasing and Mining". A long drive ensued to Wire Pass Trailhead, access to Buckskin Gulch. Beautiful evening, accompanied by a 3/4 moon. During a dinner stop in Fillmore, we joked about taking some of the drinking straws with us - just in case they were needed for snorkels while swimming the murky waters of the gulch. On through picturesque Panguitch, dodging an occasional mule deer browsing alongside the highway. Thanks for the light of the moon, which helped us spot these nocturnal ungulates. Slipping past shadowy silhouettes of cliffs, Ponderosa, etc., we traveled through Kanab and past the entrance to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. We arrived at the trailhead after 1 a., around 350 miles from SLC. Where was the rest of the group? We crashed amidst the big sage surrounding the parking area, drifting off to sleep as the moon set near the Vermilion Cliffs.
Hiking the 11-mileslot of Buckskin Gulch.|
(Photo by Rob, processing by Bob Fagley)
Quickly, the wash narrowed into a tight gorge, and the camera shutters were soon clattering away. A tight fit for porcine packs, before long we were lowering packs over a few low ledges. Overall, fairly easy going in the upper 1/3 of the canyon. Good thing too, as most of our attention was devoted to admiring the convoluted writhing of the narrow canyon as we descended into the Navajo Formation. Large polished lengths of tree trunk were lodged high in the canyon - some fifty feet from the floor. A humbling sight. How do they become so polished, and stuck way up there? There was incredible playing of light on the canyon walls. The aura of the gulch defies verbal description, and even well-composed photographs fail to capture more than a microslice of canyon experience. Be sure to bring high speed film - it's downright gloomy in some of the tighter segments.
The first few pools were innocuous, and we gingerly stepped through these brief ponds. However, this tactic wouldn't work long, as the pools became longer and deeper. Certain that the reddish gray color was a permanent part of our socks, we mounted headlong slogs through most of the pools. There was a measured degree of caution to these slogs, however, because some pools contained hat-high deep spots or the occasional rock surprise. Infrequent doses of the outerworld warmth were welcome, for even though it was early Summer in the desert, the water was cool and only the rays from the highest path of the sun ever entered portions of Buckskin. Wow, a fantastic premier slot canyon system! Longer and deeper wading, with no escape routes due to the closeness and sheerness of the sandstone walls. This is not a place to discover you're claustrophobic. It's not a gorge to be in during thunderstorm weather either, which is predominantly July, August, and September.
It's a very eerie place at times. Strange echoes and the amplified sloshing of water and mud-muffled footsteps accompanied us as we squished along, gumbo clays building up on the shoes, slip and slide. Most of the pools were located in stretches of the gulch where the walls were arms length apart. In addition, we entered many of the longer pools without the ability to see the end. Because the water was a viscous reddish brown, it was not possible to see anything in the pools. After passing the "middle trail", the only escape route from the Buckskin arroyo, it began to rain - a condition that would accompany us for much of the day. This "middle trail" is more of a climber's route, and probably would not be useful if you really needed it.
The wading seemed to be getting cooler and deeper, near waist-deep for we shorter hikers. Then we noted an olfactory assault. "Just like fermenting duck guts", commented Rob. An aromatic experience of the highest order. But what caused this odor? The cesspool. There are all sorts of disgusting decaying matter in this stagnant pool. And as usual, there was nothing to do but ford on through. This was the deepest pool so far, chest-deep on some of us, up to the chin for others. Our chins plowed through the bits of driftwood and who-knows-what while our feet groped for stable foot-holds. The popular approach was to carry the pack balanced on the head or shoulders. Approaching the far end of the cesspool, the layers of odoriferous material bunched up, requiring delicate high-stepping in the slimy goo. Not an experience for an obsessive-compulsive individual with contamination rituals. We were thankful for the next deep wade, which washed off some of our acquired slime.
On and on, with glittering shafts of rain adding a luster to the cobbles in the gulch. We were getting wet from the top and bottom. Good thing we had prepared an assortment of waterproofing methods, which ranged from the simple garbage bag wrap, to the use of a river bag inside the pack, to the more sophisticated boat method in which the pack is floated in an enveloping pack cover. Fortunately, none of these methods was given a severe test, and nearly all our gear got as wet from the light rain as from the Buckskin bilge water. It's not always so straightforward, however, as we found ourselves admiring the water level marks several feet above the present water level.
Fortunately, we never needed the snorkel straws we joked about in Fillmore. The overcast sky and the low angle of the sun further immersed us in the gloom. When would we arrive at camp? First, a twenty foot drop to negotiate at a rockfall. This required lowering of packs, and a bit of care, but not all that tough. After nearly nine hours of slipping, slogging, and hiking we popped out into one of the infrequent wide spots in the canyon to find sandy benches high enough for a safe camp. We selected a bench against a concave wall which shielded us from the rain and yet afforded tremendous views of our inner canyon world. Serenaded by frogs, crickets, and the intermittent hooting of a Great Horned Owl, we cooked dinner and told tales of deep dark canyons and high peaks. This camaraderie offered another dimension to our tour of the center of the earth.
Day 3: Paria Promenade: Fantastic morning! An azure sky provided a kodachrome contrast to the redrock walls of Buckskin Gulch. Warmer today. Despite the rain, the evening had been delightfully pleasant. After a leisurely breakfast, we packed up and headed toward the confluence of Buckskin and Paria Canyons. It turned out that only minor stream wading was required for the remainder of our trip, and much of this was welcome, as the temperature soared in the upper canyon. There were more and more incredible vistas of gyrating canyon walls. Is it possible to satiate on this spectacular scenery? Wandering a short distance from camp, we bumped into the junction of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River. With the contortions of the canyon systems, it would have been possible to unknowingly trek past the intersection and hike further into Arizona down the Paria - especially if one was admiring the West walls. As it was, the small flow of water from the Paria helped draw our attention to the confluence. This was about as narrow as the Paria would get in our journey upstream, perhaps twenty feet between canyon walls. Exquisite though it was, the Paria had a more open atmosphere than the restricted confines of Buckskin. Great photo opportunities!
The brightness of the early morning allowed examination and introspection of our inner world. As the canyon walls lowered from their typical 100-200 feet, the narrow canyon became a wider wash after we passed through the Paria narrows. The upper three miles of our six or seven mile walk out was much like a traditional early Summer slog in the desert. Getting hotter, getting dryer, we reached White House Ruin Trailhead in the early afternoon. Then the drivers ran the return shuttle while the rest of the group watched the thunderheads build into the stratosphere. Not a good day to be entering Buckskin Gulch - the results could be similar to flushing a toilet. A few raindrops, and just enough gusts of wind to blast the biting midges into Kodachrome Basin. Deluxe. We would complete our intense introduction to the Paria Canyon Primitive Area with an early dinner in Kanab before the long drive home.
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