BUCKSKIN GULCH, UT, USA
18 September 2018
HIKING DISTANCE: 21 Miles
VERTICAL: +180' / -760'
TIME: 13 Hours 32 Minutes
Buckskin Gulch has long been on my life list. I think I saw an article about it somewhere like five years ago, and it has stuck with me since then. I'd even looked into it a few times over the years, but the logistics are a little challenging and I just didn't have the skillset or experience to feel confident tackling the trip. After re-focusing on desert adventures this summer, I was feeling plenty prepared to tackle this (mostly) non-technical slot. My girlfriend, Mallory, drove out from Denver and we coordinated the car shuttle. We left my car at the White House trailhead where we picked it up at the end of our hike. I was surprised that my little Camry was able to get all the way out to Wire Pass to pick up Mallory's Jeep, but I figured if it didn't make it, we could just walk the road back up to Wire Pass. After our long day, we were both grateful that the extra miles weren't necessary.
I must've had some food that didn't agree with me last night, because- well, just because. Some details are better-left undescribed. These are those.
Mallory and I had a pretty leisurely morning by my standards. Normally I'd get up and get shreddin', but we had coffee and generally moseyed as we prepped our gear for the day. We started walking a few minutes before 0700. It was a nice change of pace, and I was happy to follow her lead. Really been enjoying sharing this journey with her.
We didn't realize at the start of our trip that Wire Pass is a shared trailhead with another popular (and highly regulated) feature in the North Coyote Buttes. Mallory and I were following footprints near Wire Pass, assuming they would take us to Buckskin. Instead we caught up to some other hikers and were told that we were in the wrong place, that we could get a huge fine, that we didn't have the proper permit, and on and on like this. I just smiled and thought to myself: "The wave isn't the only cool thing out here; it's just the only thing you saw on your Instagram feed." Instead I just told her that we were heading toward Buckskin Gulch. She quickly replied, "They said the water is up to 15 feet. Hope you're ready to swim." I just smiled and said "Hm. Well, we'll just go have a look." Of course, there were no fifteen foot deep crossings anywhere along the route. I learned a long time ago that these kinds of reports are unreliable and to just go and have a look for myself.
Although to be fair, this woman wasn't totally off point. Mallory and I had followed the prevailing footprints, which were leading us toward The Wave. Rather than backtrack, we just headed cross-country and picked our way down along the steep walls of Wire Canyon. It was an adventure to kick off our adventure.
Buckskin is epic. It's mostly a walk through high-walled narrows. I felt anxious much of the day because the 100+ unavoidable water crossings ranged in depth from ankle to upper chest. And of course we never knew what lie ahead. I've ruined a couple cameras in water, so I'm pretty much always anxious when it's in play, and there was a lot of water in the early part of the hike with crossings every few hundred feet. They were relentless - some very deep and muddy. In fact, our trail runners were filled with mud and muck all dang day. Totally worth it, though. I'd considered leaving my camera at the car and only bringing my GoPro, but I would've been kicking myself the whole way if I had. The light improved throughout the day, and I got some incredible captures. There was only one crossing - at the very end of the day - where swimming was even a plausible choice, and it still wasn't necessary. (Mallory did most of the scouting at the endless muddy water crossings, and she did a fantastic job, once even finding a high spine that made one of the tougher crossings much more straightforward.) Glad I took the risk and always cognisent that luck played a role in the conditions of the day. I always come back to the idea that there's no point in having a nice camera if I'm not going to use it.
There were only two difficult obstacles throughout the 21 mile journey. The first was a well-documented boulder jam. Trail notes suggest a 50-foot rope to aid in downclimbing the Moki steps. Mallory and I were able to find a safer downclimb among the many jumbled boulders. The other tough obstacle was the near-swim after Buckskin merges with Paria Canyon. Otherwise it was really just a walk with some deep, muddy wading. There were maybe four or five crossings that were chest deep and a few dozen that were thigh-to-waist deep. One of the chest deep crossings also happened to be a disgusting stagnant cesspool of floating debris and who knows how many dead animals and diseases. That putrid crossing extended out of sight and around a corner, totaling nearly 50 yards. We briefly considered just turning around, but we'd already come so far.
The slot was surprisingly quiet. We expected to see others, or at least hear them, as we made our way along. But we didn't see anyone else until a pair of day hikers who had come in from White House Campground. Pretty incredible that we had the slot to ourselves for most of the day. Still can't believe this place. It was absolutely incredible. Couldn't be more stoked on our trip.