Kevin and I have done hundreds of canyons together. In February of 2002, we decided to take a break from backcountry skiing and the Olympic traffic and head to Southern Utah for a little canyoneering. Although we have done hundreds of canyons we had never hiked Buckskin Gulch, but it had always been on our to-do list.
I talked to some guys that did Buckskin in the winter a few years ago and they told me how great it was. I called the BLM on Thursday morning and asked them about the conditions. They said that there were a few pools of water in the "cesspool" area but you could walk around them and that the Paria River was about ankle deep but could be knee deep in some spots. Someone had hiked it less than two weeks ago and had no problems. I gave them my credit card number for the permit and they said they would leave the permit on the back of their info board.
Kevin and I
packed up later that afternoon and headed south. We arrived at the White House Campground
around 11:30 that night, threw our bags out on the ground and crashed. Friday morning we
woke up about 7 a.m. It was cold! My thermometer registered about 8 degrees. We ate
breakfast then ran over to the Paria River to check its depth. It was less than an inch
deep (thought we would be in good shape). We found a good tree to lock our Mountain bikes
to (shuttle), and started driving to the Wire Pass trailhead. As usual we drove like we
were in the Baja 500, next thing we saw was our 5 gallon water cooler airborne out the
back of the truck. This really sucked because the first drinking water in Buckskin is
about 11+ miles down canyon at the seeps. We didn't want to take the time to drive all the
way back to Kanab for water so we decided to go without water until we hit the seeps.
We made it
to the campsite 1/2 mile above the confluence of the Paria River in about 5 hours from the
time we left the trailhead. We had originally planned on camping there but because we had
made such good time and had plenty of daylight we decided to finish the hike. About 100
yards from the confluence of the two canyons we hit water. By now we were extremely
thirsty and wanted water but this wasn't what we had in mind. The water was knee deep with
about an inch of ice on it. It looked as though the pool of water only went to the
confluence then ended at some muddy snow. We decided to head for the muddy snow. It was
slow going because the ice was just thick enough to tease you into thinking it would hold
you, and then crack! You would be up to your knee in ice water. We found it easier to
break the ice with our feet and then walk through it. We continued to break the ice in
front of us and pushed on. Once we got to the muddy snow we realized it was muddy slush on
top of more ice.
1/2 mile the Paria Canyon narrowed down to 5 or 6 feet wide. As we headed for it we broke
through another layer of ice and went up to our chests in water. Oh Baby, that will take
your breath away! Turned out that a few nights before we were there it was extremely cold
and chunks of ice froze together somewhere down canyon. This stopped the flow and created
a reservoir. At night when the temps went down into single digits the top layer would
freeze about 1 inch thick. During the day more water would fill behind the dam and then it
would freeze. This must have happened 3 or 4 times. By the time we got there we had 3 or 4
layers of one-inch thick ice with about 12-18 inches of water between them. On top of
these ice layers sat this muddy snow that was about 6 inches thick.
Once back in
Buckskin Gulch we immediately started a fire and stripped down to nothing but birthday
suits to dry off. We had dry tops and bottoms in our packs that we brought to sleep in. We
put them on with our expedition down jackets (we carry these with us even in summer for
emergencies). We dried out our Schoeller pants beside the fire.
There was no
moon out so it was like being in a cave. All we could see was what our headlamps
illuminated. It took us about 6 hours to hike out. We got in the truck, turned the heater
on, and drove to the White House Trailhead to pick up our bikes. We both jumped out and
almost fell on our faces. That was the first time in this whole ordeal that the pain was
unbelievable. The feeling had started to come back in parts of our legs and they really
hurt. Getting out into the cold air again caused our bodies to scream, "Get back in
the heated truck you stupid SOB!" We struggled over to pick up our bikes and headed
to the Shilo Inn in Kanab where we spent the whole night taking turns soaking in the
bathtub. We had to keep the temperature of the water somewhere between cold as hell and
lukewarm. Any warmer than that burned like nothing I have ever felt before.
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