I’ve been getting up earlier, either because I’m sneaking somewhere, or I have a long hiking day ahead, or to get in as many miles as possible before the heat gets too strong. Yesterday stayed fairly cool while in the canyon but once I was up on the plateau, trudging through sand to Cobra Arch, the sun beat down intensely. It’s supposed to start warming up in the next few days. Since its been cool to cold for a lot of this hike so far, I would be excited but I’m not sure this place has middle ground when it comes to temperatures. It might go from cool to blazing hot without hesitation.
I woke up early today because I had quite a long hiking day ahead of me. Permits are required for all of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River canyon, so I had to descend back into Buckskin Gulch, follow it maybe 6 to its confluence with the Paria, follow the Paria down canyon 17 miles, and then climb out of the canyon 1800 feet in under a mile to the top of the Paria Plateau (or the Sand Hills as it’s known locally/historically). How slow the rest of Buckskin Gulch would be, whether there would more deep water holes to navigate, and how choked up the Paria canyon would be with boulders or brush were all known unknowns. And unknown unknowns: those can mess up the best conceived plan.
I returned to the gulch the way I left it, scrambling down Middle Exit. Though it was barely 6am and I was working by headlamp, the way down felt simpler, or more natural, than going up did yesterday. I had to remove my pack several times while balanced on ledges a couple inches wide, slide the pack down to the next ledge several feet below, and then steady it there with a hand or foot while I climbed down after it. Just before getting all the way down to the floor of the gulch there was a petroglyph panel, two goats carved into a rock face, almost like a road sign. This way, they seemed to say. Step Lightly.
The rest of Buckskin Gulch was dry. There was one brief obstacle, a rockfall that, like rockfalls often do, at first appeared very difficult to pass but I quickly found an easy way through crawling under and between some boulders. As I neared the confluence with the Paria River, Buckskin opened up a bit and benches of dirt began appearing on the sides covered with grasses and trees, small Edens in depth of this canyon. People began appearing too, camped up on the benches, still eating breakfast and taking down tents. It’s a pleasure to see other backpackers, all wrapped in fancy bright colored plastics and smiling at their unbelievable good fortune to be in such a beautiful place.
At the confluence, the Paria River came in gently, smaller than the last time I hiked in it, still silty but now almost a blue the way glacier fed streams are blue on the mountains. It traveled between massive canyon walls that rose thousands of feet on either side of gravel benches bordering the river. Hanging gardens, bird song, the river noise slightly amplified on rock walls, it was all stunning. I considered it as I hiked at a steady clip downstream, stopping only a few times all day either to get water from one of many springs issued from cracks in the base of the canyon walls (each decorated with tender green-leaved plants that looked like maiden hair ferns) or for a quick lunch. Like the last time I was hiking in the Paria River, this time I was often hiking in the Paria River, walking from bank to bank uncountably many times. But it wasn’t slow travel. Contemplative, yes. But not tedious.
In the middle of the day my GPS seemed to experience an inner glitch and I turned it off and turned it back on. It froze while turning back on so I turned it off again and then back on, expecting full recovery. Instead I found a nearly blank memory. All the tracks and waypoints were gone. I wasn’t too distressed about not having tracks for where I was going because I had maps and I have a GPS app on my phone with tracks too. But I’ve been track logging the entire Hayduke Trail so far, and waypointing a lot of key information, and that loss made me very very sad. It felt like nearly forty days of work just gone because my GPS has a technical aneurism.
I balanced between disappointment in the data loss and the stunning scenery around me for the rest of the day until I came to Bush Head. It was 5:30, early enough to push on with the climb. Looking up though, the route seemed it must be magicked onto the face of a crazy big, crazy cliff covered, crazy steep mountain. I started up and within ten minutes encountered a continuous cliff band, ten feet tall or maybe twelve, that would have to be climbed. No way around it. There was a small fault, almost a crack, but I couldn’t climb it with my pack on, my pack which had five heavy liters of water and pulled my backwards. I could put pack up the top of the cliff band either, which was too tall to reach. I took some small 5mm Spectra cord (I usually use it for hanging my food in bear country) and tied it to the top of my pack straps. My bag all trussed up, I tied the other end to my waist and climbed up, easily under the freedom of just my own body weight. I then dragged my pack up using the tiny line, getting a bad rope burn on one hand and struggling against the weight. What a heavy fucking backpack I have! Geez. I’m amazed I carry that thing up 1800 climbs. I finally got it up, but the stunt took long enough that Erin and Gavin showed up. Or Erin did, Gavin ten minutes behind down at the river still. I took Erin’s pack so could make the climb up, and she waited for Gavin while I made my way. My way was up. I spent the next hour and half going up, often so steeply I used my hands, knees, elbows, shins. There were a few other exposed scrambles but nothing else I had to remove my pack for. I topped out as the beginnings of sunset colored the sky, and the Paria stretched out far below me. The canyon almost seemed to yawn, sleepy. I trudged another mile and a half through deep sand to an old stock tank on the plateau, one of two water sources for the next thirty miles. I got there as it was beginning to get dark, a longer hiking day than usual since I ultimately walked from dark to dark. The sun rose on my walking and it set there too. The stock tank had fetid yellow water thick with algae and scum, but it was good enough to cook dinner, my first of this leg so far.