October 22, 2018
Capturing the Canyons of Buckskin Gulch
Words and photos by Coalatree Ambassador Peter Coskun. See more of Peter's work on his website, and check him out on Instagram.
In October 2017 my girlfriend obtained an overnight permit to hike in Paria Canyon in southern Utah. The permit noted we would be starting at the Wire Pass trailhead, but we changed our plans and began at the White House trailhead which cut significant time and mileage off our trip. Our chosen route was about 7-8 miles to the confluence of Buckskin Gulch, a modest day of hiking with numerous stops to take photos. The water was flowing pretty good, but nothing we couldn't manage. I created some unique images and kept thinking to myself what was further beyond the confluence where we had stopped and camped.
Fast forward a few months and I was sent out an invite by a friend of mine who had permits to hike the entire length of the canyon starting at the Wire Pass trailhead. This also meant seeing the entirety of Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon on earth so to speak. I was excited, but my nerves started catching up to me. Was I capable of hiking 50 some miles in four days? With a couple extra spots available on the permit, I sent out an invite to Eric Bennett to see if he was interested. He too had explored the canyon briefly months before and like myself, he was curious to see the rest of the canyon.
On a warm May day Pam, Eric, his girlfriend Giselle, and myself all met up near the Wire Pass trailhead and camped overnight getting ready for an early start the following morning. With the packs ready and the sun about to rise, we began our journey towards Lee's Ferry. Getting to see some of the areas along Wire Pass and through Buckskin Gulch were quite amazing. You could wrap around one of the narrow bends in the canyons and find yourself in a chamber of glowing light reflecting off the sandstone walls. Petroglyphs scattered here and there. I found it rather difficult to really photograph this canyon based on time constraints and the fact that you are walking through mud making it tough to put the pack down and set up without making a mess. A few dry spots allowed me to take the camera out, but I decided quickly that this likely wouldn't be a photo trip and be more of a scouting trip.
After a successful first day through Buckskin Gulch, surviving one chest deep pool and making it safely down the rabbit hole, it was time to relax and get ready for another long day of hiking. The following morning we made our way into Paria Canyon with over 30 miles left to get to Lee's Ferry. The water was as low as I could imagine making some areas extremely muddy to hike through. The next few miles were quite incredible as the canyon opened a little wider and the walls seemingly higher. The patterns on the canyon walls seemed to be quite interesting with many small cave like openings. I stopped a couple times to snap photos, but after that the camera didn't really come out until the final evening at camp. On the third day we had made a side trip up to Wrather Arch, which is a pretty spectacular sandstone arch and one of the largest in the country. We had dropped our packs and made our way up this side canyon and enjoyed the view from the arch. I regret not taking my camera, but going up without the added weight was welcoming.
We filtered water and ate an early dinner on the last evening taking advantage of the last reliable spring in the canyon. We relaxed for a few hours here just soaking in the sights and thinking about it all. When we finally reached the last campsite the canyon was open and we knew the next day would be a hot one under the sun. We sat around and chatted before calling it a night. When we woke up the following morning just as we were about to begin hiking out the sound of boulders falling echoed through the canyon. We never saw them fall, but we definitely heard them. As we made our way out we took a look at a few interesting petroglyph panels on massive boulders before finding a place to take a break. We took our final break about a mile from the Colorado River and the thought of being down so quick rushed through my mind.
As we approached the pavement I couldn't help but feel a bit emotional. I just completed a trip that I had wanted to do and I was physically capable of finishing it. When I finally saw my car (which we had left at the end point and shuttled back) I thought of one thing. If my celebratory beer was still cold enough to drink. I opened the back, went into the cooler and grabbed the beer and began celebrating. It wasn't ice cold like I had hoped, but it wasn't boiling hot either so I'll take it as a win.
It was truly a trip of epic proportions and I am so glad I got to do it and share the experience with friends. I can't wait to get back into the canyon and really take advantage of the photo opportunities within. Over the course of four days we saw one rattlesnake, one dead bighorn sheep, and a handful of toads. Also, I finally got to experience using a wag bag....Twice....