Thursday, July 26, 2012

Buckskin Gulch and Coyote Buttes (The Wave)

Trailhead: Wire Pass Trailhead

My brother and I wanted to do a slot canyon, so why not the longest and most dangerous slot canyon in the world, during the summer monsoon? 

Buckskin Gulch.

Buckskin gulch is located about 40 miles east of Kanab, Utah near the Arizona border.  The Wire Pass trailhead is right next to the wide wash that eventually carves down into the Navajo sandstone and forms the narrow, deep, inescapable slot canyon.  The slot has wider sections where safety is a possibility, but only a few spots actually allow escape.  The first spot is 11 miles down the gulch!

We arrived Sunday evening and we decided to wait until the morning to enter the gulch as we didn't know if we would find a suitable and safe camping spot.  So we made our way to The Wave (permit required).  The hike to the wave is approximately 2 miles but it can be difficult to find your way.  

We made our way to the wave along the scenic route through the Coyote Buttes.  A lot of fun scrambling allowed us to get great views of the surrounding desert landscape and cool sandstone erosional shapes.  We came across several pools of standing water, a cool wash that was still saturated with rain water and several areas of quicksand.  

We reached the Wave around sundown and spent over an hour taking long exposure shots at this cool formation.  When we decided to go back it was pitch black.  The cloud cover and the sliver of a moon present that night, prevented us from being able to see the "trail."  With our flashlights we meandered around the butte back towards the trailhead.  At one point we felt completely turned around and helpless.  Luckily I brought my GPS with topo maps and we found our way back to the trailhead.  

*I rarely get turned around or lost and I spend a lot of time in the outdoors and the backcountry.  I was surprised how easily we were turned around.   
Lesson learned: Always bring a GPS and know how to use it.  

In the morning, we made our way down the wash and into the slot canyon.  Within the first mile, the wash narrows into a canyon 5 feet wide and over a 100 feet high.  This portion meanders down until the intersection with the true Buckskin Gulch canyon at 1.7 miles from Wire Pass.  There is an escape option here in case a flash flood is imminent.  

We made our way through a series of narrow and wider portions about 7 miles down.  Some scrambling over boulders and flood debris will be necessary but no rappelling.  We turned around at noon, due to afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast.  Dark clouds overhead and thunder was not a good scene for us at 1 pm in the middle of a long, narrow section, but we made it out just as it started to rain.  This was a great trip.  I would love to go back and hike from the top to the bottom (usually 2-3 days).