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Wire Pass - Buckskin Gulch - Paria Canyon, UT
mini location map2016-03-18
70 by photographer avatarchumley
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Wire Pass - Buckskin Gulch - Paria Canyon, UT 
Wire Pass - Buckskin Gulch - Paria Canyon, UT
Backpack avatar Mar 18 2016
Backpack50.39 Miles 750 AEG
Backpack50.39 Miles4 Days         
750 ft AEG   16 Hrs   56 Mns Break
1st trip
This was an excellent short-notice trip that came about by way of a couple of cancellations to a trip a friend had been planning. I was happy to take up the slack and it was great that 9L was also able to come along.

We drove to Lees Ferry and spent the night at the campground before catching a shuttle to Wire Pass at dawn the next morning. Our shuttle ride was likely the most life-threatening part of our trip, and thankfully the only time the van actually drove off the road, it was under 25mph and didn't involve a cliff or other certain-death result. Oblivious to the vehicle, I selfishly decided not to mention the flat tire on the trailer-- which I noticed immediately and would certainly delay our start-- opting instead to get to the trailhead. Of course, after dragging it for 3 miles on a dirt road, the tire was shredded and I volunteered to put the spare on while some of the group got a head start on the hike. A BLM officer was at the TH checking permits and making sure everybody was prepared.

Day 1: Once we got started we headed down into Wire Pass. Just over a mile in you enter the first slot canyon and it involves climbing down a rock jam that apparently has gotten bigger in recent years. We had to take our packs off and hand them down to each other as we each climbed down the obstacle. Shortly thereafter, the canyon opened up again before reaching the confluence with Buckskin Canyon and the petroglyph panel on the right.

We were pleasantly surprised at how dry the canyon was and didn't reach our first water until about 5 miles in. There were a few short, ankle deep pools before it dried up again and we were hoping that would be the worst of it! Of course it wasn't and the deepest of the pools are scattered over the last mile or two before reaching the Middle Exit trail. From there however, the canyon provided for dry feet, which was a welcome change given the hypothermic temperature of the pools and the numb feet we all had regardless of footwear. Neoprene and thick wool were simply no match for the water temperature and there was a good 30-60 minutes of numb feet for all of us.

4.5 miles after the Middle Trail, we reached the infamous rock fall, but the rabbit hole was open and getting through it didn't even involve removing our packs. Another mile later and the canyon introduced a stream of clear spring water which ran all the way to the obvious camping area about half a mile later. Two groups had already set up camp so we didn't get the best site, but after a long, cold, wet day we were all happy to get camp set up and relax and eat. The cliff walls in this canyon make for impressive acoustics and there's no whisper or secret to be told that all the other camping groups in the vicinity wouldn't hear. Luckily I had downloaded the newest Justin Bieber album and was able to share it with everybody even on very low volume :y:

The first day totals were just under 14 miles in just under 8 hours.

Day 2: Saturday morning we took our time getting started and headed out of camp around 9:30 and it was a whopping 5 minutes before we arrived at the confluence of the Paria River. These two slot canyons coming together with 800 foot cliff walls above make one of the most magical places I've ever been.

From the confluence, we headed up the frigid Paria a bit more than half a mile to check out the pseudo-arch called Slide Rock Arch. It's really just a huge slab of rock that has fallen in the river, but water flows under it so it makes for a unique geologic formation. After a few minutes here we headed back to the confluence and then onward toward Lees Ferry. (The side trip to the arch and back too just under an hour).

This upper portion of the Paria is truly stunning, winding its way through narrow slots of red sandstone walls towering above you. I was generally awestruck for a few hours! 3 miles below the confluence we stopped for a snack break on a shelf with a great campsite and large cottonwood. 1.5 miles later, Ryan and I left our packs by the river and explored a defunct meander in the river. It was a bit under a mile to do the horseshoe loop and fascinating to think back to a time when this was the river's course.

Here the group split up a bit and it was another 7 miles before we reached our camp for the night, a bit under a mile beyond Judd Hollow. A group of three had arrived before me, with 3 more behind. There was a great sandy bench with cottonwood trees that provided a perfect campsite, and a fantastic artesian spring surrounded by quicksand just a hundred yards away. The 13.5 miles had taken nearly 8 hours to complete, and another night by the party lights was anticipated and highly enjoyed.

Day 3: After the previous day had taken longer than planned, we attempted a slightly earlier start on Sunday morning, and managed to head out of camp 8 minutes earlier than the day before. :roll: It was just 2 miles to Wrather Canyon where Ryan, 9L, LL and I had pre-decided we wanted to take a side trip up to see Wrather Arch while the others continued on downstream. Wrather is absolutely phenomenal! :DANCE: It's the largest arch in Arizona, the most remote arch in the US, and the largest arch not in Utah. At over 200 feet it's a true behemoth to stand under! And it sits at the end of a stunning and beautiful side canyon loaded with shade trees and a beautiful creek.

Highlight of the day completed, we headed back out the the Paria and an additional 8.5 miles downstream toward our planned camp at the start of the high water route, about 10 miles from Lees Ferry. Along the way we filtered water at the last known spring about 2.5 miles from our campsite, though we would learn there was also water at Bush Head Canyon which could have saved just under a mile of carrying the weight of extra water. This ended up being a 12 mile day and took about 8 hours (including Wrather side trip).

Day 4: Monday we actually managed to get up early for real, and hit the trail around 7. Ryan had hiked out the night before in order to get back to town for a commitment and 9L, Rachel and I took the speedy trip out while LL, Sreekar, and Sadhana opted for a less strenuous pace. The high route provides a bit over 2 miles of river-free hiking, though there's a sketchy side-slope traverse just under a mile into it. Once reaching the river again, there are a dozen or so required crossings. After 5 miles we reached the old ranch site where we took a snack break under the cottonwood trees and checked out the old corral. There's a spring here that was flowing, but none of us needed water so we didn't check it's quality. I don't see why it wouldn't be perfectly good to filter. One assumes that's why the ranch was built there to begin with.

The last 5 miles drag on quite a bit, but there are now well-established routes along the banks and river crossings become fewer until you make the final one 2 miles from the end. As we reached the Lonely Dell Ranch we saw two day hikers near the cemetery, and cruised the trail and road back to the car. Route Scout recorded exactly 10.00 miles on the day -- to the hundreth. We managed the exit in just a couple minutes over 4 hours, which left plenty of time for a leisurely drive home, with stops for ice cream, pizza and wings along the way!

All in all, a fantastic trip in one of nature's most majestic cathedrals. :)

I've taken some time to post a detailed GPS track that includes a bunch of points of interest. There are many more springs along the Paria than those I marked, and other places that are ok for camping, especially for a smaller group than ours. In Buckskin Gulch, there are no sources of water that aren't marked, and the only other camping spot would be on a rock shelf near the Middle Trail exit. Photos are geocoded based on time and speed traveled. In the narrowest parts of Buckskin they might be off by a few hundred yards, but the rest are quite accurate. (Through a glitch in the way I put it together photos and GPS track don't show up together automatically. This link works though: ... 1878)
Bighorn Sheep
Campsite HAZ Food

dry Coyote Wash Dry Dry

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water less than maxwater less than max Paria Canyon Light flow Light flow
15cfs. Cloudy with mineral content, but not muddy.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water less than maxwater less than max Paria Canyon Light flow Light flow
15cfs. Not muddy but cloudy with mineral content.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water 4 out of 5 Reliable Gallon + per minute Gallon + per minute
Clear streamflow
33s over 45s
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