Spring in a slot canyon in Utah-Arizona! How could life be better? When I got an email invite from my good friend Barb in the cold of winter saying that she got a permit to backpack in Paria Canyon in the spring in sunny Utah, I replied "yes" within two seconds. I didn't even check my calendar. Whatever was there would have to be cleared off. And I knew that Barb usually hiked with her extended family so I felt honored to be included in that esteemed group.
My best friend Mary had a few more reservations, especially when she learned that we had to carry out our "solid waste". My favorite quote from her was from a conversation I had with her while she was in New York and I was shopping for the best waste disposal bags on-line. "I can't believe that I was in Times Square buying theater tickets this morning and now I'm talking to you about which poop bags to buy."
Barb and her husband John had done the trip several times before (but not together) so we knew we were in good hands. In an attempt to add value to the effort, I tried to get current information from the various ranger stations at Kanab and Vermillion Cliffs. I might as well have not even made the phone calls for all of the wrong information I got. One ranger informed me that I needed to have a rope. Wrong. Another told me that the water was so deep that we should bring rafts or inner tubes to float our packs. Wrong. (Although we did have fun at Target buying Disney Princess rafts in case we needed to backpack them in.)
We arrived at the White House trailhead on the afternoon of March 30 and ran a shuttle down to Lee's Ferry at the Colorado River to leave a car at the terminus of our five-day backpack trip Our group was comprised of nine people. Mary and her boyfriend Howard, Barb and John, Barb's sisters Ann from California and Margaret from Salt Lake, her son Aaron from Durango and his friend Damian, me and Aaron's trusty sidekick dog aptly named Canyon.
Ann had difficulties purchasing freeze-dried meals in California as many of the stores were sold out because of the recent earthquake in Japan. A disaster of that nature makes people aware of the need to get their "ready kits" assembled.
Our first night at White House was a relaxed car camp evening hosted by Barb. We even celebrated John and Ann's upcoming birthdays.
The next morning we quickly began hiking in the Paria River which was a magical experennce. We all wore neoprene socks. Mary wore Keen river sandals and I wore Saloman Amphibian river shoes but most of the group wore hiking boots. Mary and I were both pleased with the way our shoes performed. The river was very silty and our poles were helpful, both for the current and for finding the water depth which was generally ankle deep.
In places the water was wall-to-wall and the walls were a thousand feet high. The first day we were hiking through primarily the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone formation-the same ingredient of Zion and Glen Canyon National Parks.
These cliffs walls are ideal habitat for peregrine falcons. We saw three pairs within two hours. They were probably around their nests due to the time of year. During the course of the trip we saw a total of 11 peregrines and no doubt missed some because we didn't look up enough.
We camped the first night at the confluence of Buckskin Gulch.
And hiked a ways up the Gulch to a chockstone in Buckskin.
After a relaxed morning start, we headed out again. Howard opted to turn back at this point, taking his time on the return to savor some time in the canyon.
One of our most time consuming chores was filtering water. Although there were some fresh water springs, they usually weren't located near campsites (with the exception of the lovely Shower Springs). We generally used the silty river water which we gathered in buckets. Then the water was allowed to settle. After settling, it was filtered and frequently boiled if it was used for tea or dinners. We found that ceramic filters were the only ones that worked. The filters needed to be cleaned after about every liter if the water had settled only an hour. After an overnight settle, the filter could go several liters before cleaning. The paper filters were worthless in those conditions.
Ann mentioned that she thougth she heard her kitty scampering down the canyon during the night. When we were leaving we found these mountain lion tracks. BIG kitty running down Buckskin Gulch!
Due to the deep canyon walls, we were walking through shadow and sun all day which added to the drama.
An example of one of the seeping springs along the way..
We found a nice sandy bench for lunch.
The bright spring greens of the box elders and cottonwoods were a wonderful contrast to the reds of the canyon walls and the grey of the river.
Our second night was at a lovely "amphitheather" camp.
As we hiked further into the canyon, it began to open up. We started hiking more river crossing and not spending so much time hiking down the river itself.
A feature called "the Hole" in a side canyon to the west of the river.
Another hazard of the Paria is quicksand (or as John referred to it "power mud") which I thought was only in the old cowboy movies. But it was easy to take a step in the soft mud which would grab a hold of your foot and slowly suck it down. It felt scary but you could generally free yourself if you carefully stepped out. You could sink in pretty deep and make a mess of your shoes and clothes in the process.
We took a side canyon hike to the free standing Wrather Arch. As an added bonus we saw a California Condor flying overhead there. These rare birds are being released by the Peregrine Fund at the nearby Vermillion Cliffs. At one time there were only 22 of these birds in existence. Now there are 66 flying wild over Arizona.
That night we had the special treat of camping at Shower Springs where we had a fresh water springs just across the river from our campsite. No more silty river water to treat!
The next day our hiking began to change dramatically when we took the high water route. We climbed up and down the river bends onto the river banks.
From there we still had river crossings but the hike became more like the typical Utah-Arizona canyon hike.
We began to see signs of previous efforts at civilizations such as the Wilson Ranch.
After about 40 miles, five nights and five days of glorious hiking, good company and amazing scenery, we reluctantly said good-by to the Paria River and Canyon at Lee's Ferry in the Grand Canyon.