Tips for Backpacking Buckskin Gulch
Getting ready to leave for our trip into Buckskin Gulch. We had about 90 seconds notice before the heavens opened up. We were nestled in the brush near the Wire Pass trailhead, ready to enter canyon the following morning. The half-hour downpour and ferocious winds were testing us before we even began our hike.
Alejandro and I had driven from San Diego that day, picked up Jules in St. George, gotten our permits and wag bags, and positioned one of our vehicles at the White House trailhead. We had driven down to the Wire Pass trailhead, and cooked dinner under a clear sky.
After our nighttime weather adventure, the next morning dawned clear, and we headed down to Utah's Buckskin Gulch. This was my third trip, already having been here in March with a group led by GG Ambassador Dave 'Lucky' Brunstein. Buckskin Gulch (reportedly the longest slot canyon in North America) and Paria Canyon are so beautiful, it's a treat to expose first-timers to them.
Jules at the White House trailhead
Jules and Alejandro quickly got their first tasted of Buckskin, as we came upon a pool of thigh-deep silty water with mud at the bottom. Apart from a couple of puddles, this was actually one of my drier trips through Buckskin. The Paria, as it turns out, would be a different matter.
There is so much to amaze in Buckskin; the lighting, the obstacles, the flood-borne logs stuck high in the walls, the fantastic mud shapes, the towering walls – sometimes straight, sometimes sculpted into fantastic curves, the petroglyphs.
We made steady progress throughout the day, which was good since we had limited daylight hours due to it being late in the year.
At the confluence with the Paria, we headed downstream a ways to the second nice camping spot, where we found a spring in the canyon wall for water. We set up camp, and enjoyed our fantastic dinners courtesy of Trail Logistics. We had been experimenting with waterproof socks, but unfortunately one or two of the water dips in Buckskin were above our knees, so the socks got water on the inside. We set everything out to dry overnight. Just as we were settling in for the night, the sky lit up with lightening! We scurried to retrieve our drying items, then hunkered down in our shelters. We got a good blasting of hail, but it didn't last too long.
Paria Canyon Campsite
The next morning, our wet shoes were frozen solid. I was trying neoprene booties for the hike out. My previous trips had experienced mostly ankle-deep water in the Paria, but we had heard that there was a 'swimmer' hole due to the last flood that went through. We jammed our feet into shoes and headed upstream. The water sure felt cold, and sure enough, we soon noticed ice on the edges of the stream.
At the confluence, the stream flowed between narrowed walls, so there was no sand to walk on. We gingerly entered the water, feeling with our trekking poles, and were able to get through in water up to our waist. That was a wake-up!
Jules demonstrating proper form for wading in 35-degree water
We plowed on with frozen feet and hands, trying in vain to move fast enough in the shaded canyon to warm up. As we went further upstream, and mostly just had to cross ankle-deep water, we started thinking that maybe the spot above the confluence was the 'swimmer', and we were in the clear. Then we came to an area with rocks on both sides, and which probes showed dropped off quickly. We moved electronics into dry bags in our packs, and gingerly entered the freezing water. Alejandro was first, and I saw him suddenly lose his footing and start swimming through the rushing water to get to sand on the other side. I was able to keep my footing, but the water was up to my armpits. Jules stripped his shirt off, so he had the advantage of a dry shirt when we got through.
Alejandro and I rung our shirts out, put our down jackets back on, and trudged on. Soon we started to hit sunshine as the canyon got shallow and wider, and we started to warm up. By noon we were at the White House trailhead, and did the shuttle and the long drive home.
This trip I tried some new things:
Neoprene booties – might have worked for ankle deep, but my feet still got pretty cold, and they were really tight in my shoes.Sealskinz socks – these seemed to work okay too, but were not great once water got inside. Outdoor Research gloves – I brought slightly heavier gloves then usual, and was glad I had. Nunatak down jacket with hood – I upgraded by down jacket by bringing the heavier Nunatak jacket, and I relished the extra warmth, even when hiking. Trail Logistics dinners – these were provided for testing, with some of them made up vegan, some with meat. They were LARGE portions, we didn't think we could finish them. But they were so good we actually polished them off. I will bring salt to add next time.
Next time, I will:
Cut thumb holes in my fleece sleeping socks, and bring a light overmitt to keep hands warmer on the hike out. Try the SealSkinz socks again, probably just for Paria, I think they will be perfect for ankle deep water. Take my shirt off before entering 35-degree chest high water. Add a shoulder strap pocket to keep the camera in for up to waist-high crossings, to get it out of my pants pocket.