Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon - Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area, UT

Dates: 6/25/2012 - 6/26/2012

Miles: 21.6

Elevation Change: 760'

Trail Type: Point-to-point (shuttle required)

Trailhead: Google Maps

Trip Report:

Elevation Chart from Vegashikers
Elevation Chart from Vegashikers

Buckskin Gulch was like nothing we have ever done before.. it was all of our first time in a slot canyon hike, and we underestimated how difficult the heat and sand would make the hike! Nonetheless, it was amazing to be in one of the longest slot canyons in the world.

There are no campfires allowed, and each person got a paper-like poop bag that contained chemicals to decompose the human waste. It was slightly weird carrying a bag of your own poop on the outside of your pack, but I'm also glad there isn't human waste all over the trail since it would take forever to decompose. Permits are easy to book online, you can see exactly how many spots are left for each day. We picked up our permits and poop bags at the BLM office. Only 20 people are allowed per day, and the fee was only $5/person/day. We were lucky to have 2 cars to set up a shuttle at the White House TH, our exit. Both roads were easily traveled by our Honda sedans.

We started at the Wire Pass TH (4860'):

The gang at the trailhead. It is HOT.
The gang at the trailhead. It is HOT.
The exposed, sandy trail on the way to the canyon
The exposed, sandy trail on the way to the canyon
We passed rock formations that looked similar to the wave
We passed rock formations that looked similar to the wave

After about a mile of the flat sand, we reached beginning of the canyon. At some points my sleeping pad was scraping both sides of the narrow canyon. This was our first taste of what the next 2 days would be like!

Me at the beginning of Wire Pass
Me at the beginning of Wire Pass

Wire pass is quite short, and the slot canyon soon opened up again.

A giant arch-to-be!
A giant arch-to-be!
The walls were like sandstone, lots of people had carved their names into the wall
The walls were like sandstone, lots of people had carved their names into the wall

It was significantly cooler once the canyon walls rose above us to shade us from the hot sun. Temperatures constantly fluctuated dramatically from very hot in the sun to refreshingly cool when walking by certain cracks in the rocks.

We stopped for lunch in the coolest spot we could find
We stopped for lunch in the coolest spot we could find
Taking a break and admiring the texture of the canyon walls
Taking a break and admiring the texture of the canyon walls

About 6.5 miles from the TH, we found what we believed to be the Middle Trail Escape. We were never planning on using it, and we were glad we didn't have to since the climb looked a little treacherous. Supposedly people would climb up and out at this point if they got too tired or a flash flood became possible since the walls are only about 100 feet tall here.

Carolyn pretending to be an angel
Carolyn pretending to be an angel

One of the most dangerous things about slot canyons is the flash flood potential. We had watched the weather very carefully, and thankfully there wasn't a sign of even a chance of rain during our trip. I can imagine a flash flood being very terrifying in these narrow canyons.

A crow perched on a log wedged between the canyon walls (perhaps left there by a previous flash flood) watches us pass beneath him
A crow perched on a log wedged between the canyon walls (perhaps left there by a previous flash flood) watches us pass beneath him

It was somewhat difficult to determine how far we had walked since Clark's GPS didn't work too well in the deepest slot canyon in the southwestern US. We were looking for a giant rockfall, which signaled a mile till the confluence. We thought many of piles of rocks were this landmark, but I believe this was just because we were so tired we wanted to be there already. We finally reached it, and there was no doubt, because it took us a while to find a way around it. We ended up crawling beneath the rocks to pass it.

The light bouncing off the red canyon walls
The light bouncing off the red canyon walls

We didn't make it to the 13.5 miles to the Confluence, but we were too tired so we decided to set up camp. This was one of the hardest days we've ever hiked. The soft sand and heat really got to us, and my feet were killing me. We all could barely take another step when we set up camp and went to look for water.

Our camp spot for the night near the confluence
Our camp spot for the night near the confluence

At the time of our hike, there was barely any water to be found. Thankfully the dreaded cesspools that the other trip reports talked about were absent, but we were actually beginning to worry since it seemed SO DRY. We even had to ration our water till we found a reliable water source. Thankfully, after putting our packs down, we found a 6 foot pool to pump from. Although slightly stagnant and not ideal for pumping, the water we pumped was delicious and we all gorged ourselves on all the water we could drink after celebrating. It was a joyous moment for all.

A dead baby peregrine falcon?
A dead baby peregrine falcon?

The next day we woke up early, packed up, and started on the hike out to White House. We passed the Confluence along the way, and we realized we were pretty close to making it the day before. It was actually good we set up camp where we did because the ground near the Confluence was more moist.

Clark, Kyle and Carolyn at the Confluence
Clark, Kyle and Carolyn at the Confluence
Trying to race the sun on the hike out
Trying to race the sun on the hike out

From the confluence it was another 7.3 miles, but we were all so eager to beat the sun so we maintained a quick pace. Also the trail was more rocky, so it gave us a more sturdy ground to walk on and gave our sore calves a break.

Some interesting rock formations on the hike to White House
Some interesting rock formations on the hike to White House

After loading up our packs driving back to civilization, we found the nearest ice cream place and indulged in the most delicious milkshake I've ever had.

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