I ran into Dolly, a former colleague of mine from Grand Canyon, at Jacob Lake this morning after a rather indulgent meal (I admit, I had the ice cream cookie sundae after breakfast. One thing about thruhiking, I know I’ll burn it off in short order.). After a discussion with another couple about my trek over breakfast, Dolly lightens my load for a bit and shortly I’m heading south again.
The aspens take center stage today; a glorious display of color across the Kaibab. I’ll let their beauty speak for itself in this part.
Broke camp early in Buckskin this morning and headed out. I make better time than I expect, and encounter the Dragoos from Oklahoma about 1.5 mi from Wire Pass. I’m surprised that I’m that close to the Pass, since I hadn’t expected to make it for several miles. We have breakfast together and hike out, and find another large petroglyph panel at the junction between Wire Pass and Buckskin. After a tight squeeze through the Wire Pass narrows – I had to take my pack off and pass it through separately – and a water fill up and interesting conversation with Pete from Brockton, Massachusetts, they give me a lift over to the AZT.
I’m running low on battery in these canyons with extremely limited solar power to recharge. The day starts with a flight of bats flying down the canyon. After that exciting start, I will decide to hike up to Slide Rock and then turn around and hit Buckskin Gulch. Just past the confluence of Paría Canyon and Buckskin, I run into a friendly guide named Jeff who gives me one of his battery packs. (When I later tried to return it, I’m told by several others who encountered him that he said I could keep it, that he was heading out but was happy to give it to someone who needed it!). Trail magic is awesome.
Leaving my pack at the confluence of Paría Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, I scout the east end of Buckskin. The only potential issue I encounter is the major boulder jam or “Rabbit Hole.” I use a rope to get up and over it and continue on, meeting more people hiking through Buckskin (most people do Buckskin and the Northern section of Paría as a two day hike, entering at Wire Pass and exiting at White House). I wind up ending at the middle exit, where I gain satellite service with my Garmin inReach and I’m informed of an expression of interest and potential interview with Organ Pipe at 4:30. I try to call but there’s no cell signal, so no luck. I doubletime it back to the rabbit hole in an effort to get to White House and get service. The rope is gone. Talking with Jim and Tim, two others who I crossed paths with on the way out and met up again on the return, I identify an alternate path across. I get back and pick up my pack for about 1/2 mile and then abandon it when it’s clear it will prevent me from making it.
When it becomes clear I won’t make it at all, I reach out to inform them that I tried but can’t make it. As it turns out, they are having phone issues so we reschedule to next week. I give some local advice to Tom and Reagan and head back to camp near the confluence for the night. Tomorrow I’ll head through Buckskin toward Wire Pass, and from there to the actual AZT start at Stateline Campground.
After several hours spent trying to fill water bags and talking with a friendly BLM ranger, as well as a farewell encounter with Philip and Raj, I head up Buckskin. After dragging my pack over the boulder jam – a much more difficult undertaking than yesterday- I start up canyon (see photos). It’s an incredible journey that photos will tell better than words, heading westbound through the canyon and gazing up at the narrow strips of sky, icing light and rare deeper light penetrations. No quicksand, which can form here at this time of year but has not this year with how dry it has been. There are places where you can reach out and touch both sides of the canyon at once. Yet the logs and debris lodged high up in the canyon continue to tell the story of the harsher side of the water that can flow through here, as opposed to the delicate beauty currently evidenced.
It eventually becomes clear that I won’t make it out to Wire Pass today as hoped, so I let my friend Steve know to cache the water and supplies he’s leaving for me at the start of the AZT on his way back from Page and settle in for the night. Looking for an early start to get onto the AZT itself and start heading toward Jacob Lake tomorrow.
Dawn finds me encamped at Big Springs. I get another slow start than I’d like, this time due to weather. Expecting potential rain and knowing about remnants of Tropical Storm Lorena in area, and in relatively safe spot with gear prepped for rain, I opt to wait. Flash floods are the top weather-related killer in the country, and people die every year in the Southwest due to them, where the terrain is particularly friendly to such events. The ground can’t absorb the intense rainfall that comes with monsoons and tropical storm remnants here, so the vast majority runs off. In narrow canyons, inches of water become feet, which quickly become less like a wall of water and more like a churning mudslide carrying boulders and trees. Flash floods in the Southwest can’t be outrun; the best way to deal with them is to avoid them to begin with and to always be aware of an exit route. They can strike even when the weather is good at your location if drainages upstream are experiencing precipitation.
In this case, though, none comes. So with a sunny blue sky I pack up and head out to cut off some miles to Wire Pass or White House (where a contact has been pressuring me to go). So far, seems like a sound choice. The Parìa follows a narrow winding course westward through narrow canyons. Around 1 PM, clouds start moving in and humidity builds, but still no sign of rain. I make it about 5 miles up canyon and camp near the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and Paria at a high water site just in case anything comes down. Across the river I meet Raj and Philip and we talk under the stars for several hours. Raj loans me a power bank, as my batteries are starting to run low in the shady canyons with highly limited solar charging. No rain or water comes tonight either, and we head to bed.
The light today wasn’t great for photos in the afternoon, so I kind of had to make the best of it.
I got an early start this morning but it took me a while to find the side trail that leads up to Wrather Arch. As I noted in the prior post, Wrather is not a true arch as we may think of, but is rather a cave-type arch. Located within the Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs wilderness, it is the least accessible natural bridge or arch in the southwestern United States, requiring an 18 mile round trip hike. So of course, having hiked so far to get to this point, I had to make sure that I made it to the Arch.
I did eventually find my way up to it, but it’s status as an arch is not obvious immediately. Shifting perspectives on the trail eventually makes this more obvious.
After making my way back down from Wrather to the main body of Paría Canyon, the journey continues upstream. This entire area of the canyon traverses the Kayenta Formation, with its distinctive red rock. Part of the Glen Canyon Group, the red color is formed by oxidized iron in the rock. The black spots, known to some as “rock varnish,” or “desert varnish,” caused by oxidized manganese staining on surface of the rock.
The canyon briefly widens slightly in the vicinity of the junction of Wrather Canyon and Paria Canyon as the river bends – clearly a spot where flooding has both widened the canyon and both eroded and deposited sediment on both banks.It allows the sun to paint the walls and bring out that ethereal glow.
The canyon, which had widened in the area around Wrather Canyon, soon narrows again, with towering Kayenta spires above.
Heading upstream, more of the geologic history of the area becomes obvious. Eroded fault cracks, some of the largest that I’ve ever seen, emerge in the Kayenta Formation. I make it to Big Spring for the night and set up camp in a sheltered location with my rain gear set up, knowing that there is the potential for rain overnight or in the morning.
Slow start this morning. The spring that I reached yesterday, the first on the trail, is little more than a trickle, and I have a lot of water to fill. It marks the border between the Chinle Formation and the Wingate Sandstone. As I begin to wind my way further up Paria Canyon, deeper and deeper into the wilderness, the gorgeous weather and cool breeze continues. I pass a great gallery of petroglyphs, one of the largest I’ve ever seen. Every time I thought that I’d documented all of them I spotted more and had to go back up again. Just incredible. Canyon perils exist, too – I narrowly avoided injuring myself trying to (successfully) avoid stepping on a canyon tree frog. But after doing my program on those this summer at Grand Canyon, I couldn’t harm one here.
As the canyon rises, the Wingate Formation gives way to the Kayenta Formation and the canyon enters a wider and more heavily vegetated stretch, where sediment has clearly been both deposited and eroded by severe flash flooding – the vegetation growing is evidence of the amount of water provided by the river and the thick rich silt it has deposited, but the current river channel is also in places feet below the level of the vegetation, with a bank that just drops off, evidence of the power of the floods that can sweep through here.
But not today, thankfully.
I ultimately make it to just above Weaver Arch – a cave-type arch in Weaver Canyon. Beautiful regardless of the technical terminology involved. Hopefully I have time to hit it quickly in the morning before continuing upcanyon. The red rock is simply magnificent as it glows in the evening light.