Thursday, May 23, 2019

Paria Canyon Hike


Nancy has been wanting to hike Paria Canyon for a very long time. This is a canyon that begins in southern Utah and ends in northern Arizona. It has sections that are quite narrow and the Paria river runs through the canyon. Hiking the entire canyon is a pretty big commitment - which starts with acquiring a permit. Permits are required for overnight stays and only 20 people are allowed per day. The hike we were interested in doing was from Whitehouse trailhead to Lee's Ferry. That would be 37ish miles over 3 days 

Nancy did the online thing back in early 2018 and secured a permit for 4 in early October. October in AZ is still pretty warm and it never rains during that month (in theory) - so should be perfect. We invited our friend Martin and my son Josh to come out from Pennsylvania and do this adventure with us. The fall/winter of 2018 turned out to be one of the wettest/coldest in our 10 years here. The days of our trip turned out raining and very cold. Thing is, Paria Canyon is a narrow canyon - prone to flash floods. Even without that, you spend a lot of time in the Paria River, which runs through the canyon. Combine that with temps in the 30s and you have a recipe for hypothermia. We ended up changing our plans and did a rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon instead. That was a different, but still amazing adventure. 

Fast forward to some months later. We were talking to our friends Ray and Britt about Paria. They were interested in doing it. Nancy did her thing again and this time was able to score 6 permits in May - another month that "always" has good weather and no rain. With room for 2 more people I sent a note to my buddy Martin to see if he wanted to come out and try again. He said thanks, but no. However, his daughter (Jessica) found out about this and decided to buy him a ticket to AZ for his birthday. I invited her to come along as well - and we had our crew of 6. I didn't realize it at the time, but it turned out that this would be Jessica's first backpacking trip. May as well start with a big one. 

The week before

A little over a week before the trip I heard from Ray. He had literally broken his back. Something about stress fractures in vertebra. I blame riding a rigid singlespeed. He and Britt were out. Down to 4. A few days before Martin and Jess were due to arrive, the weather forecast started taking a turn for the cold and wet. Apparently there was some rare storm moving in through California that was going to impact the whole southwest. Nancy and I started spitballing possible options - Bryce Canyon, Moab, local AZ hikes. Once the forecast started firming up (it appeared the first day would be nice then the rain and cold would move in) we settled on doing an in and out of Paria. We'd hike down in at least to Buckskin Gulch the first day, then hurry out the second day to try to beat the bad weather. While we were there, and since Jessica had never been west of Tennessee, we decided she needed to see the Grand Canyon as well. So Nancy got a night in a cabin a the north rim for the day after Paria. Should be nice there, right?

Road Trip

With the pre-trip drama over Jess an Martin made it here and we started up to Page the next day. A stop in Sedona and Horseshoe Bend were necessary sightseeing destinations on the way north.

 Climbing up Cathedral Rock

The obligatory dangerous looking shot

 Why is it called Horseshoe Bend?

Pictures just don't do this place justice

no railing here

turns out that dog poop bags make a pretty good kite


Up early and out to the trailhead to start our hike. Weather was pretty crummy the night before in Page, but the day of our hike started out pretty good. Sun was shining and it was just a little cool. 

 Ready to roll

Starts off pretty ordinary

might be getting our feet wet

Crossing #1 of 574

starting to look like a canyon

The canyon starts out pretty wide, with lots of interesting rock features and textures. At about 4 miles in it starts to get narrow.

cone mountain

definitely in the canyon now

getting narrow

not a bad spot for a break

From here it gets really hard to choose pictures to show. Everywhere you look has you saying "wow". 

At about 7 miles in we reached the confluence, where Buckskin Gulch joins the Paria River. Buckskin is about 11 miles long with even narrower sections, but has sections where the water is chest deep. That will have to be a journey for another time. 

Anyhow, we knew there was a possible camping area about 1/8 mile up the gulch, so we decided to check it out.

The thing about hiking in these canyons is that there are only a few spots that are really practical for camping. You want to be high enough so that if the water rises, you don't end up wet. Water levels in Paria can go up dramatically in a short time - depending on the weather up stream. Snow melt in Bryce Canyon also has a big impact. In fact, we found the water level to be a good bit higher on our way out the second day. Much of the sand we walked on the way down was under water on the way back. 

The camping area in Buckskin turned out to be really excellent. We decided to call that home, drop our stuff and then do some more hiking without packs. 

The beginning of Buckskin Gulch is not so narrow

And here is a time lapse of me falling on my butt in front of a cool rock feature. I was standing on the edge of some sand that broke away. Jessica caught the action.

The mound of dirt on the right looks promising

This spot turned out to be all kinds of amazing

our little home on the hill

chow time

After setting up camp we headed down the canyon a ways. While it was still really great, we were a bit tired and decided to head back to camp. 

anyone home?

down there is another camp spot further down Paria

Back at camp we decided to investigate a little ways up Buckskin Gulch. It has quite a bit less water since a river doesn't run through it. And it tends to be even more narrow than Paria. In fact, you can't camp in the entire 11 mile length of Buckskin - so it is a big commitment.

yeah, that counts as narrow

Martin decided to squeeze between this sliver of rock and the cliff. I was claustrophobic just watching

back at camp

 high stakes card game

We were relieved to wake up to relatively warm temps and no rain. Though it was cloudy. We figured it was just a matter of time before that changed, so we quickly broke camp and headed out. 

goodbye Buckskin Gulch

It became apparent as soon as we got to Paria that the water level had risen. The water had also gotten a lighter shade of beige. It was more red/brown the day before. I was a bit concerned about what that meant for the trip back out. Turns out that while the water was deeper, there was rarely anything over our knees. Definitely took fewer pictures on the way out. We were hoofing it to try to beat the rain - with mixed success. We got sprinkled on a few times, but nothing major. While the air did get cooler, it was not really bad yet. However, the water temperature was definitely colder. Feet and legs got numb pretty quick. 

Martin just can't resist the narrow spaces

As we got out of the narrows and with about 2 miles left in the hike we came upon a group of about 8 hikers headed into the canyon. With rain, snow, and temperatures in the 30s forecast we wondered why they were doing that. Did not seem wise. I sure hope they made it OK. 

Jess found the perfect color for her hair in the sage bushes

made it out before the weather got too bad

Our time coming out of the canyon was significantly faster than going in. We managed to pack up and get on the road to Kanab for lunch before it started raining in earnest. We did hit that rain once we got on the road. 

While this hike was not what we intended, it was still an excellent experience and one I recommend to someone who does not want to commit to the entire 3 day journey. We talked to a group that did Wire pass -> Buckskin Gulch -> Whitehouse. That seems like another good option - but you have to be prepared to go through deep water for that one. 

As great as this was, it wasn't the end of our adventures. We had a cabin at the north rim of the Grand Canyon reserved for that night - and some surprises ahead of us...

That part of the journey is here.