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Buckskin Gulch & Paria Canyon, UT
mini location map2017-05-19
65 by photographer avatarSkyIslandHiker
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Buckskin Gulch & Paria Canyon, UT 
Buckskin Gulch & Paria Canyon, UT
Hiking21.00 Miles
Hiking21.00 Miles   12 Hrs   35 Mns   1.81 mph
   1 Hour    Break
 no routes
1st trip
Linked   none no linked trail guides
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A hiking friend was embarking on a two-week Utah outing and was looking for a partner to join her on a one-way hike through Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon, beginning at Wire Pass trailhead and ending at White House trailhead with a car shuttle. I missed a similar opportunity with several friends last month and wasn't about to let another chance slip away! Most do this 21 mile through hike as a backpack but I'm just a "wussy day hiker".

After driving our separate vehicles to Utah on Thursday and securing lodging rooms at Big Water we staged my Subaru at the White House trailhead after dark. This was our getaway vehicle upon conclusion of Friday's long one-way hike. The following morning we drove Chris' vehicle to the Wire Pass trailhead where we began our long journey through the BLM's Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. It was a chilly 32 degrees at the trailhead when we began hiking at 6:05am.

The Wire Pass Trail began in a wash and eventually went though a segment of narrows. After less than two miles we came to it's confluence with Buckskin Gulch where there was an ammo box containing a register. The main purpose of the ammo box was to point out the nearby petroglyphs panel.

Soon we were in the deep and long slots of Buckskin Gulch and the air temperature felt like it had dropped even lower. We were concerned about remaining warm especially at the infamous "cesspool" that we had heard so much about :scared: . There was already more water than we expected as a result of rainfall on Wednesday. Based upon earlier reports we were expecting just one deep pool crossing in Buckskin and we were hoping that it would not require a swim. The good news was that none of the standing pools we encountered were swim-deep or cesspool-like (they were mucky but not rank). The bad news was that we had about a dozen pools to wade through, some thigh deep, and the standing water was FRIGID cold!

[ youtube video ]

Quite often we were reminded of the powerful forces of Nature in this canyon during monsoon. High above us were logs and other flood debris jammed between the narrow slot canyon walls. About midway through Buckskin Gulch we came upon the one and only escape route in the canyon known as the Middle Trail. It not a trail but rather a steep rock scramble up and out. We took a break at the Middle Trail junction as it was in warm sunshine.

The canyon opened up for a while after Middle Trail but eventually re-entered a deep and dark slot with less water than in upper Buckskin. Another area of concern was the rock jam in the lower half of Buckskin Gulch. We heard it would require a rope unless the "rabbit hole" was open - meaning free of flood debris and water. Upon encountering the rock jam there was a good rope already in place but it was hard to see from above what was involved in climbing down. Fortunately the rabbit hole appeared to be open so we lowered our packs via the rope and squeezed our bodies though the rabbit hole. The top part of the rabbit hole held a few inches of water and it was hard to see down into the hole because the lighting. I went first rather blindly and ended up "performing" an uncontrollable slide bouncing off a couple rocks :o . Luckily no harm done. Chris proceeded through the rabbit hole more gracefully.

After a little over 8 hours of hiking we came to the Paria River at the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon on the Utah-Arizona border. We had just hiked about 14 miles from the Wire Pass trailhead but still had 7 miles to go up Paria to the White House trailhead.

While at the Buckskin-Paria confluence we ran into the only other hikers we saw during the entire day. There was a group of 3 from NAU who were on a two-week "for credit" outing and about to go up Buckskin Gulch. Another group of 4, from Phoenix, were doing a through day-hike in our direction. From the confluence we sloshed a couple hundred feet down the shallow, swift flowing Paria and took a well-deserved lunch break on a sunny bank along the river.

Unlike the ice cold, soupy, brown water in the standing pools of Buckskin Gulch, the Paria River water was a lighter cream in color and ran swift and shallow, and it was relatively warm. The depth and current of the Paria reminded me of Aravaipa. Here are a couple short videos of the Paria River at the Buckskin Gulch confluence:

[ youtube video ]

[ youtube video ]

As we worked our way up the Paria and past Slide Arch, the canyon walls opened up dramatically and the scenery was quite a contrast from Buckskin Gulch. On our way up river to the White House trailhead we crossed the Paria dozens of times just like you would at Aravaipa.

After 12 hours and 35 minutes of hiking through three spectacular wilderness canyons, we finally arrived at my vehicle at 6:40pm.

This 21 mile day hike was well worth the long solo drive from Tucson and I was back home exactly 48 hours after I departed. A big thanks to Chris for doing all the planning and research for this awesome outing, and for having me along! Buckskin-Paria could very well end up being my hike of the year :y:

P.S. Forgot to mention that after I drove Chris back to her vehicle at Wire Pass, as we were about halfway back on the 8.5 mile long dirt road to US 89, we saw a backpacker hiking the dirt road toward the highway as it was getting dark. Since I was right behind her, Chris stopped and offered the backpacker a ride and he accepted. It turned out that he had just completed hiking the Arizona Trail in 39 days :app: He was heading for a car at Page and Chris gave him a lift as far as Big Water.
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Isolated
In Paria Canyon.
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