Friday, May 29, 2015

Buckskin Gulch

Note:  Rachel and I made it to Cuba, NM on the CDT yesterday!

The day we finished the AZT our ride from the northern terminus, Whistlin' Jim, offered his truck to our cause.  He drove us to Kanab, then right back where we started to the stateline campground so we could get an early start on Buckskin Gulch.  The BLM only allows 20 people per night to camp in the entire canyon system (about 60 miles of slot canyon) and permits were booked for over a month.  Instead, we figured out we could hike in the Wire Pass trail head and connect to Buckskin, then to the confluence of the gulch and the Pariah River where we would hike upstream for 7 miles to a campground that didn't require permits for a total of 21 miles. All the photos are here!

Jim dropped us off and we quickly met some campground neighbors, a retired couple from Vermont who were really curious about long distance backpacking and a woman traveling to Maine from California to work on her sisters goat ranch.  The stateline campground at the end of he AZT is free and first come first serve with only 10 or so sites.  I think that makes it cozy and people more friendly, it's also set right next to a beautiful mesa.  By the time we got back it was full up, so we stayed in the day use area and quickly met another neighbor doing a road trip to Maine from the bay area.

Our newest campground neighbor wanted to leave early the next morning and offered to give us a ride over the 1.2 miles to the Wire Pass trail head at 7 am, which we gladly accepted.  Once at the trail head, it wasn't totally obvious where to go since nothing is marked so we just followed the herd of footsteps left by countless day hikers before us into a slowly narrowing canyon.

Eventually we entered the start of 17 miles of trail-less slot canyon.  The walls quickly grew to hundreds of feet high yet narrow enough to touch both sides with outstretched arms.

Occasionally the canyon would open up, or the patterns on the wall would drastically change.  Flash floods shape the canyon against the hardness and structure of the sandstone, so slight differences in the bedrock create different patterns.  The most common was a sort of scallop scooped out of the wall from the turbulence in the flood water, which is often more soil and debris than water.

Further in, the canyon narrowed and large pools of water blocked the path.  It would be impractical to take our shoes off at each crossing so we simply waded through.  I borrowed a trekking pole from Rachel to test the depth and braced one hand against the canyon wall for balance.  The pools were generally knee deep but sometimes came close to our waists and felt icy cold.  Occasionally part of a tree was jammed sideways far above our heads from the same flood waters that left the pools.

At one point we had to negotiate some chock-stones, large boulders fallen in from the canyon walls.  At first it seemed the only way down them was through a 12 foot vertical drop with some tiny hand holds cut into the base.  I led the way but quickly found an easier route around them once at the bottom, so Rachel didn't have to risk the fall.

Eventually we hit the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and the Pariah River Canyon, which runs all the way to Lee Pass - the start of most Grand Canyon white water trips.

Once we began following the Pariah, we had to cross it numerous times over slippery clay banks.  Eventually the canyon opened up and we made our way to another campground near the main road shortly after dark, or about 8:30 pm.

Once at the campground, we collapsed into a cowboy camp interrupted by a brief but intense lightning storm.

The next day we hitched back to Kanab to stock up on food for our traverse of Zion National Park!

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