On the third morning of our Utah trip we woke up before sunrise, broke down our camp at White House, and repacked our backpacks for an adventure of a lifetime: a 2 day, 21 mile backpack through Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the Southwest and rated one of the top ten most dangerous by Backpacker Magazine! We used Paria Outfitters for our shuttle to the starting trailhead (Wire Pass) since we would be ending back at White House. Within a half a mile from the trailhead we entered Wire Pass, which is a short 1 mile slot canyon that can be easily be done as a day hike, but also leads to Buckskin Gulch.
Wire Pass is a slot canyon that is only 3 feet wide in some area
When Wire Pass met with Buckskin Gulch we scoured the walls looking for know petroglyphs of big horn sheep.
I was expecting something more life size and was surprised to see how small it was
The entrance to longest (13 miles) and deepest (500 feet) slot canyon in the country quickly miniaturizes you with a massive arch and walls hundreds of feet high that are impossible to climb.
Soon after entering the canyon we are reminded why this can also be a deadly canyon with flash floods carrying mud, rocks and trees.
This log jam is probably 20′ feet above the canyon floor marking a past water level
Because of the severe danger of flash floods we had been monitoring previous trip reports and weather reports for the surrounding area. This year was unusually dry, normally the canyon can have several large cesspools from previous rainfall. The cesspools are cold (since the canyon floor is so dark) and can be chest high since they take a very long time to evaporate. Apparently they get their name because animals can get trapped in the pools and die… Luckily for us the cesspools were all dried up. We hardly had to hop over a puddle in Buckskin!
Dried mud along the trail looked like chocolate shavings…we could have just been hungry too
The canyon did not disappoint with it’s promised contoured walls, narrow path, and dramatic lighting.
The winding slot canyon limited our view to a hundred feet sometimes and revealed incredible views around every turn. The colors and shapes were mesmerizing and almost enough to forget about the 30 pound backpacks we had been carrying for 8 miles with another 5 to go before our campsite.
Because of the limited safe campsites and other environmental conditions the canyon is limited to 20 people per night. Since the canyon is so winding and long we only saw a few people on the narrow trail, most of the time it felt very secluded. We were also surprised to see some lizards considering the limited amount of light. We almost stepped on this one.
This guy was about 6″ in length.
The narrow winding sections would open up to large spaces every mile or so. Sometimes the long hallway like sections look pretty intimidating and it was nice to walk into an area wider than your arm span.
The open areas gave a false sense of safety since the 300-500′ shear walls would still be impossible to climb.
If you click on this photo try to spot Katharine wearing a light blue shirt at the base of the wall. The wall continued past the picture frame for another 50 feet or so.
When entering the slot canyon again it felt like Indiana Jones entering a mysterious cave.
You really need to see the photos in full screen mode to appreciate all the detail. Check out the massive boulder wedge between the canyon walls at the top of the picture and Katharine standing underneath it!
Several miles from the campsite you reach the “rabbit hole” which is a tunnel through a large boulder jam. It is pretty easy to pass through when it is dry.
After 13 miles, 9 hours, and 383 photos we finally reached our campsite. There were several others there and the echos of laughter and story telling could be heard bouncing off the canyon walls. We also chatted with our neighbor who was just 10 feet away on the high sandbar ledge. He was a young twenty year old on a 10 week soul searching mission funded by his tax return.
Our campsite was up on the ledge behind the trees
The next day we filtered water out of the shallow Paria River and headed back to White House Campground. The hike out was only 7.5 miles but the canyon walls disappeared after the first mile so we found ourselves walking in a river bed through the hot Utah desert.
The 21 mile, 2 day adventure was visually incredible and by far our longest backpack yet. We definitely want to go back again sometime.
Check out the rest of the photos!