We started hiking as fast as we could to get to the confluence of Buckskin and see if we could camp in the one spot that is a few hundred yards up Buckskin Gulch. About 1/4 mile from the confluence, Betsy, our professor lost her balance after one of her trekking poles sunk into the mud. She took a full on swim and was wet from head to toe. Once we got to the confluence, the water and wind coming down the canyon was so incredibly cold. One of the people in our group had a thermometer and dipped it in the water. It was 34 degrees! Luckily the one camp spot was available and we dropped our packs and stripped down to get into some dry clothes, get warm and cook dinner. What was one of the most amazing days of hiking, was also one of the most miserable and cold experiences of my life.
We started hiking up Buckskin and within minutes we couldn’t even feel our feet. It was apparent we weren’t going to make it very far up the canyon. We came to a spot where it got super narrow and we used a trekking pole to see how deep the hole was. We were unable to find the bottom of the hole with the pole. So instead of going swimming again, we opted to turn around and start heading back down the Paria and see if we could find some sun to soak up.
This section of the Paria is probably the most beautiful given the features that are in this layer of rock. The walls are incredibly narrow, and the hiking is amazing. Because there was so much water in this section, we had to hike in the water for several miles, with an occasional rocky/muddy shore to get out of the cold water. We planned to hike five miles this day and camp at the next reliable spring.
One of the students, Smitty, in this section was hiking close to the side of the wall and ended up getting stuck in some quick sand, which also meant he went swimming up to his chest. A great way to start the day.
After covering the miles needed, it was time for us to find a place to camp. We had been hiking kind of in a slingshot method with a group of guys that were down there. They found a place to camp before us, and it would have been ideal for a large group. But we pushed on a little further to an area that was in the sun. Dropped our packs and started cooking dinner.
The canyon starts to open up at this point. There are still really tall walls, but we had left the narrow sections and the layers of sandstone start to change by this point. On this day we dropped our packs when we got to what’s called, The Abandoned Meander, which is a small canyon that the river at one point ran through, but doesn’t any more. This little canyon was absolutely beautiful and is worth the trek up into it. There’s really beautiful, lush vegetation and at the right time of day, it glows from the sun.
The hiking at this point in the trip was just tiring. My shins and the muscles right below my shins were beyond sore. We had crossed the river probably 100 times by now and each day started off with a river crossing. What a way to start the day, get your feet wet and cold. On either side of the river was several inches of thick, sticky mud, which I attribute the sore shins to.
The below photo is one of my favorite from the trip. Here is the group all together, I knew very little about each person in this group before we left, and after 6 days on the trail with them, there was a respect for each person that wouldn’t have been there if we hadn’t been on this trip. I remember walking through the river at this bend in the canyon, and I looked behind me and the light in the canyon was glowing, the rock was glowing, the river was glowing, and it was kind of a magical moment. I had to take a few seconds to just stop and appreciate the absolute beauty. It was then that I requested we all get together and get what would end up being the only group shot of the trip.
The photo doesn’t do the light justice, but you can appreciate the beauty.
What’s amazing about the lower sections of the canyon is how fast the landscape changes. I think you hike through three different layers of sandstone through the lower 15 miles of the canyon. It’s truly an amazing place though. We camped at obvious camp sites each night, which were convenient to good springs. Because of a knee injury, our pace the last couple days was much slower than anticipated, and the last night of camping was at Wilson Ranch, which if you end up having to camp there, we did find water from a spring at the ranch.
An incredible trip that was highly anticipated for many weeks leading up to it. Even though it was my first experience using WAG bags and having to carry all that extra weight, I wouldn’t trade the experience gained in that canyon for anything else. Friendships were made and an appreciation for the wildness of the area will stay with me forever.