Wire Pass Trailhead to Paria Mile 10 Spring
(18 miles, +0/-800 feet).
Today was a truly extraordinary day. Buckskin Gulch is the longest slot canyon in the world and the deepest in the US, and I suspect it also may be the most beautiful.
The hike through Buckskin was surprisingly challenging. There is no significant elevation gain and no chance of getting lost (there is only forward and back). But this has been a high water year for the American West, and Buckskin is full of icy cold pools. I estimate we were walking in murky water for about 2/3 of the day, occasionally in chest-deep sections that extended up to 200 feet long. We were always relieved to hit the muddy sandbank on the other side where our feet tingled and we not-so-jokingly discussed early symptoms of hypothermia. If I were to do this hike again, I would probably bring neoprene socks.
We arrived last night and camped at the trailhead. It was colder than I expected, so I slept in all my clothes and I was very happy to see this guy:
The forecast says it might rain on Saturday, so we made sure to park the car in a location where we could make it through the mud if necessary. We were ready to go about 8am and at the trailhead we met an older man who was out for a day hike. He kindly agreed to take our picture:
The Wire Pass trail starts down an orangey wash, but soon turns into a slot canyon that is beautiful in its own right.
After a bit we encountered a down climb that would be our second-most challenging of the day. We didn’t need a rope, but we were grateful that others had positioned some logs to help.
At the intersection with Buckskin Gulch we met a woman who was camping up on a shelf with her kids. She told us the water got higher yesterday in the afternoon, and we wondered if that meant it was being fed by snowmelt. We parted ways and entered the Gulch.
The slot canyon would occasionally open up into huge blocky chambers.
In addition to dealing with sections where the water was getting deeper and deeper, we also occasionally got sucked into knee-deep quicksand.
But we also got a reprieve every now and then where the canyon widened.
Soon we were back in the slot canyon and back in the water.
It was interesting (terrifying?) to see signs of recent flash floods that were sometimes 30 feet higher than the canyon floor.
We occasionally saw pretty moths in the water that apparently got stuck while trying to take a drink.
By 2pm we made it to a wide sunny spot where we could take a break, dry off, and warm up by the Middle Route exit, conveniently marked by some petroglyphs.
It was so nice and warm, we thought the rest of the route might be warm too. But almost as soon as we started we felt a cold breeze coming up canyon, fueled by the dark and water-filled chambers through which we would have to pass. I didn’t get pictures of those parts because I was afraid of dropping my phone in the water.
Near the end of the gulch we hit the famous boulder jam where we needed to do a class 4 fifteen foot downclimb. Two trail runners who passed up a while back were there when we arrived, filling the Indiana Jones-style cavern with echoing voices.
I had brought some rope for lowering packs, but it turns out it was unnecessary because past hikers had left two fixed ropes in place.
We made it down safely and were happy to find that the deep icy pools lay behind us.
By 5pm we made it to the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River. We were exhausted, but happy that we only had two miles left to the spring at Mile 10 on the Paria.
We climbed up to a bench at mile 10, made camp, and discovered that we had enough water to wait until tomorrow to refill at the spring. We ate dinner, climbed into toasty sleeping bags, and promptly fell asleep.