Monday, April 6, 2009

Buckskin Gulch - Paria River Canyoneering Backpacking

I just spent the last weekend swishing and splashing my way through Buckskin Gulch. Buckskin Gulch is the longest slot canyon in the United States outside Page, Arizona. Buckskin Gulch is part of the Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area which is gives new meeting to middle of no where. I have two thoughts before I describe our trip; Buckskin Gulch is absolutely amazing and a must see, and at the same time is a true test of true endurance.

Our trip is to take Wire Pass trail to Buckskin Gulch, and then exit through the Paria River the following day. The total trip is 21 miles.

Our trip started Friday in a wind storm. The wind had gusts up to 50 miles an hour from Phoenix all the way to where we were heading outside Page. It is something driving for 6 hrs on your way for a weekend trip with horizontal rain and snow blowing and pushing your truck off the road. The wind was blowing so hard it broke our windshield wiper, which was fun to fix in the pleasant weather. We made the guy wearing his shell jacket in the truck go outside. He was the only guy wearing a jacket.

We did make it just in time for the all you could eat the Paria Outpost, which was a good thing since I didn't see a single thing open in Page when we drove by. Paria Outpost is quarter of a mile from the White House campground where we camped and we used them as a shuttle.

Saturday morning we take our shuttle to the Wire Pass trail head which is shorter route to
getting into Buckskin then starting at the Buckskin trail head. I always go into canyons in nice weather as getting wet when you are cold is no fun, so this was some start at 40 degrees and wind blowing as we leave for the trail.

Wire Pass is a short hike to reach the entrace to Buckskin Gulch. Wire Pass in itself has some cool narrow slots of its own which make for a good start to the day. Where Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch meet gives me visions of entering a Indiana Jones movie. A couple hundred foot sheer walls welcome you into their depths.

Bucksin Gulch consists of mile after mile of narrow slots and lots of getting your feet wet in muddy and cold pools. The best piece of gear you can own is a pair of neoprene socks. They help out a ton. Most canyons have short sections of narrows. Buckskin has miles of them.

You do get a break every once and awhile and get pieces of sun with huge openings with walls towering over your head. You will spend most of your day and what can best be described as a dungeon deep in the canyon and with limited light. It may be noon though Buckskin doesn't care how much light you think should be there.

There is no way to describe the experience of being deep in a canyon with mile after mile of narrow slots that get just a couple feet wide. It is something you have to experience for yourself.

What I will say is that fitness does help. It tooks 9.5 hrs to get from the start to our campsite. You may think you can do it fast though a backpacking group did it 1 hour faster and they didn't stop to take the video you did. So if you are a consistent backpacker than plan on 8.5 hrs if you don't stop much. Either way you have to be prepared to spend a long time hiking, scrambling, wading, and more. One thing to keep in mind also it is easier to make good time on a groomed trail then it is in sand, mud, more mud, water, rocks, and boulders. They take a little longer and little more toll on your body. Just ask one of the people in our group who lets say gained new understanding on his personal abilit
y to keep going. One more note on time because this is an overnight your pack is full of extra gear like tent, sleeping bag, food, and so on.

You camp in sand benches that nature has provided. It is 14 miles the first day. There is no way to miss them and they come shortly after a rock jam that you have to climb down and a huge boudler stuck in the slot over your head. Our backdrop for our campsite was a small stream heading for the Paria River and 200ft or more canyon walls that made your neck hurt just to look that straight up.

The next day starts with a short hike to the Paria River which leads to the Colorado River at Lee's Fairy. We headed north instead of South to the Colorado for our exit. The Paria River is very slity and doesn't make good water to filter. Though the Paria River's canyon walls are farther apart the river takes up a lot of it as your wind your way. Be prepared for more in and out of water and just to make you feel better the Paria River water is colder than the water in Buckskin. The Paria River gives a whole new experience of sheer canyon walls hundreds of feet above your head as your follow a river as it has carved its way millions of years ago.

The best part of the Paria River exit is the sun came out and we spent extra time relaxing in the sand watching the river and burning my nose. You forget after a day in the dark that you need suncreen on the way out.

We exited the Paria River at White House campground where we left our truck with totaly exhausted and elated minds and bodies.

Buckskin Gulch is one of the coolest canyoneering experiences that gave dramtic sceanry, experiences, and complete effort to complete.
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