Backpacking the Paria Canyon

About two weeks ago Matt and I had the pleasure of heading out with our friends Tom and Dora on a backpacking trip through the Paria Canyon. With my recent injury, my normal run training has been replaced with a lot of walking and hiking and thus this seemed like the perfect adventure to explore some amazing places right in our backyard.

One week before we were to set out, we had some heavy rains that left the Canyon with very high water levels. We were unsure if we were going to be able safely make it through the canyon. Our original plan was to start at Buckskin Gulch, but the water was so high in this area that we would not have made it through. The good thing is, we had another option and instead planned to start at the White House Trailhead.

The morning of the trip we drove to Lee's Ferry (where we would come out of the canyon) and hitched a ride to the start. We stopped by the Ranger station to get our permits and were warned about the high water levels and mud that was described to be like "quicksand". We were forewarned and cautioned to proceed at our own risk. To say I was just a little worried about heading in would be an understatement. I looked at both Tom and Matt waiting for one of them to pull the plug, but they both just shrugged their shoulders and decided to give it a go saying if conditions looked too dangerous we'd turn around.

Looking back, I think we are all pretty happy we decided to push forward with our plans as it was an incredible trip with some of the most epic mud I've ever been in and since most people were scared off by the water we had the canyon to ourselves for four solid days. Not a soul did we see.

DAY 1:

It was a fairly hot day, but we made it into the narrows where the canyon walls could provide us with some shade. We were pretty much hiking through the river (or constantly crossing it) from the get go. We also quickly learned what the woman at the Ranger station meant when she told us about the "quick-sand" mud, although it wouldn't be until day two when we learned just how bad it could really be.

Between the four of us, I think we had a total of eight cameras and thus thousands of pictures. Since there were so many to choose from, I will let mostly let the photos do the talking to tell about our incredible adventure.

"Quicksand", "Muck", "10 ft drop off",... Hmmm?

The road in.

And the river crossings started almost immediately

The Narrows


Me studying the contents of my Bogg's trail butter. Can I just say this stuff is absolutely AMAZING? Definitely a new favorite!

So much amazing texture to the walls

And lots of cool holes and caverns in the rocks where creatures like to hide

Tom and Dora. Yes, they really are this cute in real life too :)

Tom and Matt REALLY wanted to "test" the mud the first day. They were just so tempted to see how deep they could fall into it. Little did they know that by day 2 it would become very clear just how bad and scary the mud could be. Below is a picture of Tom at the confluence (this is where Buckskin Gulch joined with the route we had taken in from White House). We thought we might be able to explore a little bit up Buckskin Gulch but as you can see in the photo below we made it only a few steps before being swallowed by the mud. So we continued to push forward.

Tom realizing just how far he could slip into the mud in Buckskin

And now Matt's turn... "I wonder how far in I can fall??" as he stomped on the mud.

Having fun at Buckskin Gulch

While our GPS' were all telling us we'd covered about 12 miles on day one, the map told us otherwise. We had only covered 8 miles in about 7 hours. With the constant river crossings and mud hopping we didn't cover much ground. By early evening we'd come upon one of the first places we could camp and were happy to call it a day.

So happy to set up camp on night 1 and get our wet socks and shoes off.

A view from above

Day 2:

Night one brought high winds and by day two the temps were about 10 degrees cooler. We bundled up and headed out. 

But first, the obligatory group photo

The sun never really came out that day and with wet socks and shoes from the constant river crossings we pretty much stayed wrapped up all day.

Out exploring and in our happy place

Besides us, there were VERY few signs of life in the canyon, but we did come across this little guy. He seemed to be dealing with the elements just fine.

Day two brought a little more adventure. We were on the constant lookout for the few fresh springs in the canyon as these would be our only water sources for four days. As can be seen from the photos, the river water was just a little too mucky for filtering.

We also had several scares with the mud. We all had episodes that day of getting stuck in the mud. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before and much like the woman at the contact station had explained to us, "quick-sand". It would happen so fast you were stuck before you knew it, but when someone tried to rescue you they too usually sank into the mud. We learned quickly that we would often have to send off one person at a time to test the ground before the rest of us would follow. This certainly did not help our efforts in covering more ground day two. The worst episode was when Dora got stuck. We were in the middle of the river and she went down DEEP. She was stuck almost to her hips and it took quite some time before she could work herself free. Fortunately we didn't have to leave Dora as a stick in the mud :)

Shortly after rescuing Dora, it was my turn to fall in. If you look closely, you can see the ground breaking away under Matt as he tries to pull me out.

While I was a little too panicked to shoot photos of Dora stuck in the mud here's a shot of my legs after having fallen in.

Cleaning off the mud with some muddy water :) (Tom is always looking for a great photo op)

The finished, "clean" result!

Matt getting stuck in the mud during a river crossing.

And while we questioned whether we should have passed up the first very small spring in hopes of a bigger one up ahead, we finally knew we'd made the right decision when we came upon the first reliable spring. It was amazing how clean the water was seeping through the rock and it was great to drink freely after salvaging water the first day and morning once we realized how slow we'd be hiking.

Finding our 1st big spring to filter water. We had to constantly be on the lookout for moss growing on the rocks to find fresh water.

An up-close look of Matt filtering water

After a long and exhausting day (one that at points made me think I might rip my legs off trying to pull them out of the mud) we were very happy to set up camp.

Happy to set up camp, call an end to a muddy, cold day and make a hot meal

DAY 3:

We made camp next to a spring on the second night and topped off in the morning of the third day before heading out.

Tom getting water from the second spring we came upon. No you cannot see water rushing through the rocks because these springs were small and if it weren't for Tom's GPS and his great navigating skills I'm not sure I could have found that water on my own. 

Day three brought warm sunshine, something we all welcomed after a cold day two.

Dora trying to get warm in the morning sun

On day three we came upon Wrather Arch which was a side hike we wanted to add on as we knew the views would be worth it. We threw off our packs and headed in for a little side adventure.

Playing peek-a-boo as we head in to Wrather Arch.

The reward at the top of the climb... Wrather Arch!

After a little playtime in Wrather we marched on.

Some crossings were waist deep

Our last source of fresh water before heading out of the canyon. As you can see it wasn't exactly a heavy flow of water, but it worked.

By the end of the third day, we were out of the narrows and the canyon walls were opening up. We were looking forward to some "normal" hiking. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The river was now moving at much quicker speeds with larger falls and was much deeper at several crossings and the shores were muddy as ever. This left us with no option but to basically scale the walls of the canyon.

Soldiering on as the sun dropped in hopes that we could soon make camp

Happy to finally be making camp

DAY 4:

The environment felt completely different on day four. With the canyon so much more open and most of our hiking done up away from the river, there was a much more arid, dry-desert feel to the day.

Heading out our final morning

More deep river crossings

And while it seemed incredibly dry and desolate on that last day, it was amazing to come upon flowers such as this that looked as though they belonged in a tropical location.

We also came upon several large rocks with petroglyphs on our last day which was pretty cool to see.

Petroglyphs and some time thinking about our primal ancestors

The final march

Realizing it was almost over. A final look back.

And one last pic of just how dirty we were for good measure

Tom looks pretty happy knowing he is only steps away from those clean clothes he left in the car.

Mission Accomplished!!

We had the brilliant idea of going down to the beach at Lee's Ferry to wash off before heading home, but as you'll notice in the pics below we were on the wrong side of the river. The far side where the water is green is the Colorado River. The side nearest us is from the Paria River draining into the Colorado and as you can see it was just as brown as the water we'd been "bathing" in the past 4 days. Needless to say, we didn't get much cleaner.

Somewhat "clean" and fresh clothes got us just a little too excited.

Our car ride home was spent dreaming about all of the restaurants in Flag that would surely fulfill our cravings. Martanne's was a unanimous vote and we eagerly awaited filling our bellies with nachos and tacos. It was hard trying to hold off on pigging out at the nearest gas station as we still had a 2 hour drive back to Flag. To pass the time, Dora and I talked about Mexico and I reminisced about the time I spent there as an exchange student way back when I was just a young lad. I whipped out my CDs (for those of you under the age of 15, that's how we listened to music before ipods) and we sang away in Spanish to some of my favorite tunes..... Mana, Nek, Gianluca Grignani.

Tom and Dora will be moving to Mexico at the end of this month so it was such a great trip to spend with them before they head off on their next adventure. We hope to make plans to meet up with them for a possible adventure in the Copper Canyon in Mexico. Until then Matt and I have been planning our next few adventures doing our best to keep life exciting and live it to the fullest.

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks" --John Muir

Until next time,

Pocket Rocket