Last Tuesday night, I was like a kid on Christmas Eve; I was unable to sleep, my heart racing with excitement about the canyon I was about to hike through. I had read plenty of literature regarding Paria Canyon, but I knew that I had to experience it for myself to get a true understanding.
Wednesday morning, bright and early, 8 friends and 2 dogs are piled into 2 vehicles heading north. We make good time up the 17 and 89. We stopped at Navajo Bridge to kill some time and look for the condors. No condors today. We see Betty, our shuttle driver roll onto the road to Lees Ferry. It's time to go! At Lees Ferry we make last minute checks of gear, put on our boots and throw packs into Betty's SUV. The shuttle to White House trailhead takes about an hour, but the scenery makes the drive a blur. At the trailhead the realization sets in; this is it. We hiked 3 miles this first day. It took me probably close to 3 hours to get to camp; it seemed like I stopped every 10 ft to take a picture. Our camp was on a sandy bench above the river. The night passed uneventfully.
Thursday dawned bright and sunny despite forecasts of the opposite. We set off to conquer the narrows today. As we entered the bowels of the canyon, leaving the openness behind, ominous clouds rolled into view overhead. All day long the clouds spit and dropped rain and ice balls on us, making photography difficult. The drizzle didn't seem flash flood worthy, so we wandered up Buckskin Gulch to the boulder jam. Further down Paria Canyon, almost to camp, the rain came down harder. A few of us hid in a shallow overhang till the rain let up. Then I high-tailed it to camp, a few hundred yards down river. While setting up the tent, a low rumble of thunder sounded. But this rumble continued longer than usual and I looked up just in time to see part of the cliff across the river give way and come crashing down into the river. Red dust spewed into the air, while I stood there awe-struck. Then the rain returned and kept us confined to our tents for most of the night.
Friday morning we lounged in camp a bit longer to let our tents and gear dry out. We still had a few miles of narrows to hike and to be honest, I was sick of the narrows. As we hiked along, I questioned to myself what was so great about this canyon anyway. Every turn in the narrows started to look the same, I was tired of having wet feet and still pissed about yesterday's rain. I was mentally done and it was only the second full day. When we got to Judd Hollow Pump, I noticed that the canyon had indeed opened up slightly and my attitude started to change. Photography suddenly seemed like a possibility again, and the desire to see what was around the next bend returned. Further down, we reached a canyon called Wrather Canyon, one of our planned side trips. Wrather Canyon snakes for about a mile on a trail that takes you about 200 ft above the canyon floor. The terminus of this trail is at Wrather Arch, the world's 5th largest arch. We had a spectacular camp at Shower Spring, and I was able to leave my tent fly off and look at the stars.
Saturday was my favorite day. After filling up at the last reliable spring, I continued on to a campsite where I waited for the rest of my group. A young spiny lizard made an appearance and, after chowing down a caterpillar, let me get close to take some shots of him. After this we hit the High Water Route,which takes you up above the river on the southwest side. The canyon is very wide here and the views are incredible! At one point as we were walking along, a portion of the cliff on the other side of the river let loose and crashed to the ground below! Two rockfalls in one trip! Amazing! We stopped at the petroglyphs to take some photos. I had missed a set of petroglyphs earlier in the day, so I set off up a hill looking for some glyphs that were not very obvious. My scrambling was rewarded with at least 5 different sets of glyphs! Another 1/2 mile of hiking brought us to a sweet camp on a beach beside the river. Another perfect night with no rain fly. I tried to take some long-exposure shots of the stars, and I was very unsuccessful.
Sunday was bittersweet. Only 6 miles to go and then it would all be over. This canyon flew by so fast. I was having some issues with my achilles tendons so I was hiking a little faster than normal. Every now and then I would stop to photograph a view of the Echo Peaks. We briefly checked out Wilson Ranch, but I was more interested in the chuckards (some sort of grouse-type bird) than piles of rusty metal and rotting wood. A few more miles, and Lonely Dell was behind me...I had my sights set on the Colorado...and food. Four of us headed down the Paria River past the parking lot to make it to the river. We were like young salmon. The mouth of the Paria is a wonderful spot, with shallow water and deep water with raging rapids. Fly-fisherman catching trout and suckerfish swimming at your feet. Does this have to end?
Yes. And it ended with a violent attack on my stomach at the Lees Ferry lodge. Doritos and a Coke never tasted so good! We stopped at Navajo Bridge one last time. Finally! Condors! Five of them and 3 of them flew right over me. Of course I managed to botch the pics with a low shutter speed, but oh well, I'll be back for sure.