Spring has sprung in Michigan and the travel season has begun. It was the easiest winter I have experienced to date as there were maybe 2 or 3 snow storms and days of 70 degrees intermingled between the freezing temperatures. Or more accurately there were freezing days intermingled between the days of 70 degrees.
Regardless, it was time to travel. I spent the winter working on my 2016 offerings and it should be a pleasant blend with local organic favorites and rare specialties from far off destinations. The chef has really outdone himself this year and we cannot wait to show the menu. But before we get into the entrees, a simple 1st course is presented to whet the appetite.
Almost 10 years ago when I started this blog on my trip to Utah, I ventured through Escalante as a waypoint between National Parks. I was in search of slot canyons but settled for a 1 hour hike and back to the car. Having done a bit more research I returned to the southern section of this area to finally hit some slot canyons. I had a brief experience with them when hiking the Narrows of Zion NP but this is a little more concentrated effort. The area in mind is Paria Canyon on the border of UT and AZ.
Here is a link to the details of my trip
The plan was to fly into Vegas. Rent a car and drive to the end of the trail at the Colorado river. Hire a shuttle to drive me up to trailhead. Camp at trailhead. Hike 3 days and 40+ miles back to car through Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon.
I had been in contact with the shuttle driver over the previous month to ensure we were on the same page. When I landed in Vegas and headed to parking lot at end of trail (4 hour drive) I tried to get in touch with him but heard nothing. My phone lost service outside of Vegas. Thankfully they came to transport me to beginning of trail around 5pm or I would not have had many options for improvisation. The driver said he was on a tour all day and I guess does not carry his phone or it lacks service. Would have been nice to know that so I wasn’t sitting in a parking lot wondering what the hell I was gunna do if they did not show up, but things move at different speeds off the grid.
I set up camp at the trail head just as darkness was settling
We experienced some snow on the 2 hour commute and I had heard freezing temps on the weather reports over the last couple days. I really did not want to pack many clothes as I was tired of lugging unnecessary items over long distances. I figured with a couple long sleeve shirts I would be ok when I was moving and at night my down sleeping bag would do the trick. That first night was cold. I had to knock the ice off my tent in the morning and my water bottle was frozen.
There were a bunch of Asian tourists in the parking lot when I got up. They were not there to do my hike but the rather a hike for a place called “The Wave” which shares the same trailhead. It is a place that is seen in every desert photograph at every summer art show. There is a lottery to get a permit and your chances are about 1% to get in. I guess people just set up shop in the local town and try every day for weeks. I could have hiked the 2 miles in and grabbed some shots but the 3K fine was enough to dissuade me. Besides I would get enough of those shots on my trip, just have to work a little harder to come by them.
After hitting the “Bathroom” I started on the trail
About 2 miles from the Wire Pass Trailhead I came to the start of Buckskin Gulch.
I took a right where in opened up in the picture above, working my way downstream. No active river was flowing, but there are rumors of ice cold standing pools that must be waded through. I spent a fair amount of time contemplating footwear for this trip. Even if I would not see a lot of water in Buckskin Gulch I knew that Paria canyon had a flowing river and would require frequent crossing, if not wading directly downstream. If I wore a hiking shoe and wool socks I would have stability (carrying a 40lb pack) but my feet would be constantly soaked and might deteriorate, be uncomfortable, cold, and heavy with each step. If I wore a water shoe or TEVA then I would have no stability and risk rocks and sand lodging under my feet but would move quicker with dry feet. I decided to bring both and once I got the water I would make my decision.
I came across 2 guys on a day hike who were going to turn back one the water started.
The Gulch is only for experienced hikers as there is a little scrambling and the pools are frigid with no available water. Besides these 2 guys, I saw no one else and in fact I only saw 2 other people the entire trip.
Often these slot canyons are a risk for flash floods but that is only in the warmer months with more rainfall.
You are told to carry about 4 quarts of water through hear as it would be 14 miles before I would have any fresh water to drink. With the cold temperatures and my ability to move quickly I opted for 2 quarts and I really only drank about 1/2 quart the whole day.
The canyon got tight as I carried on. In some spaces I had to move sideways to get by.
I finally came to the pools. I decided to wear my water shoes with no socks.
It was very cold. You could not feel your feet after exiting each one. I also had on some high fashion swim trunks. The water would come up to my waist in some parts. Each time you came to a pool, you had to motivate yourself to take the plunge as it was a shock to the system. It got old fast as these pools lasted for a couple miles.
In the below picture you see a log across the trail. This is a common sight that lets you know how high the water gets during a flash flood. As you are walking through you find yourself looking for walls that might allow you to scurry up in the event you hear water rushing behind you like a boulder in Indiana Jones.
The pictures below was quite a surprise. I was not really paying attention and almost stepped right on this guy. I figure he fell down the few hundred feet and broke a leg or neck and perished there a few days/weeks ago. It was kinda creepy to run across in a silent canyon with no one around. It seemed like some pagan warning.
Just as I was thinking how unlucky this meeting was, I looked down to see a rabbit’s foot and knew all would be ok
It was getting late in the day and I was looking for the Paria River around every corner. It is a bit demoralizing to see nothing but walls of canyon in front of you with each turn. I did not carry a watch on this trip and I think I will make that a new trend as it frees me from being a slave to it, constantly looking to see elapsed time or miles gained. Here is my thought process when wondering when I am going to reach a destination: First I think it should be close, then I figure it will come around the next corner. After that I begin to think I passed it, followed by a feeling of not even caring anymore and just trudging forward like a mindless robot. Once you have completely given up hope is about the time that the destination arrives. Sounds like a pleasant vacation right?
Before I got to the confluence I came to some boulders blocking the path that actually force you to climb in between and under all the while hoping they don’t shift and trap/crush you
I finally reached the Paria and set up camp for the night about a mile downstream.
Above is a satellite view of the ground I covered over the first day moving left to right with it culminating at the confluence of the Paria river. As you can see, there is not much to see from a bird’s eye view as the canyon is so narrow and is barely detectable unless you are standing right on the rim.
I looked at the map and realized I had about 30 miles to cover the next 2 days. It was not too bad as there were no elevation changes.
I slept very little that 2nd night in the tent, but then I never sleep well in a tent as I like to move around and the sleeping bag is quite confining. I had not found any springs to refill my water from the beginning of the hike so I just used the river water (silty) and through in some iodine. I was hoping to get 15 mile in today. It was a cold start to the day as water levels were high and I basically was walking right down the middle. I had added wool socks to my river shoes strategy as I was getting blisters.
I finally came across a reliable spring and filled up my water. I only filled 1 quart as I did not want the extra weight and in an emergency could drink the fast moving river water.
As mentioned, one drawback to river shoes over hikers with Gaiters is that pebbles get in and cause a fair amount of discomfort with each step. You eventually get to a point where enough pebbles are in there or the pain is too much that you stop to empty them out.
The canyon was beginning to open up a bit and getting more warmth from the sun. My feet were aching from the lack of arch support, but I did not want to put my hiking shoes on because I wanted to have dry shoes when I got done with the water section.
In the below section you see a red cooler floating along. I saw this on the river bank. I normally would not throw trash into the river, but in this instance I figured it was the best way to get it out of the canyon and no one was gunna carry it 30 miles out. I followed it for a bit, wondering about the adventures that cooler would have downstream. It reminded me of a book I read as a kid, “Paddle to the Sea” where a boy sends a wooden Indian and canoe down through the Great Lakes and the author describes all the experiences.
One final night of camping along the river.
In the morning I got started at 6am with a freezing cold wade down the river.
My feet were really aching and I put my hiking shoes on before long and did my best to crawl over rocks, boulders and up river banks to avoid getting wet.
The canyon was up to 3 miles across now and I could see the peaks of the mountains in the distance that signified the Colorado River. I knew I had only 10 miles to go.
I was scrambling uphill avoiding water like the plague but at some point I realized I was expending too much energy trailblazing.
I came back down to the river and decided to take my shoes off and put water shoes on and cross. When I got to the other side I put hikers back on and glanced back across the river I just forded only to see my water bottle
I took everything back off and get my water bottle. When I laced up the hikers again I was tired of these transfers and decided I was just going to make a straight line towards the trail end and wade through water without changing shoes.
With the temperatures up it brought a welcome relief to the heat and it was nice not having to look for rocks to hop across or boulders to scamper over.
I finally go to the trailhead and signed out in the book showing that I was safe. I got back to the car and immediately walked down to the Colorado river and went for a swim in the frigid waters. Plenty of people were around as Lee’s Ferry is a starting point for many of these 14 day Grand Canyon Rafting trips. These rafts were more like luxury liners. Who would want to go down the river in one of those? I prefer the smaller 6 man rafts but that might be asking for trouble in rapids of the Grand Canyon.
I stopped off at a local café for a burger and a gallon of water
I had planned to head into Page AZ for the night and do a tour of another set of slot canyons called Antelope, followed by views of Horseshoe Bend, but I figured I would just get annoyed with the tourists who didn’t earn these spectacular views.
I headed back to Vegas and sat by the pool of the NYNY Casino soaking my tired feet. These multi-day backpacking trips are starting to take their toll on me. I determined during this one that I am going to opt for long day hikes without packs instead of overnights in the future when at all possible.
Well, as mentioned in the beginning, this is just the first offering of the season. Stay tuned for some international fare coming to your table real soon.
Until Next Time