Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Part 2: Wire Pass Buckskin Gulch. Or A Tale of Coordination and Disaster.
I arrived bright and early at Wire Pass Trailhead the morning of October 1st, the day of the government shutdown. As I was looking at the trail map a ranger pulled up and informed a group of German tourists, another single hiker, and myself that due to the government shutdown this area would be closed today at noon, with cars left later than today being ticketed in the morning. He gave us his blessing however and told us to be gone by dark. And so I left to go to Wire Pass, a popular narrows, followed by Buckskin Gulch.
Wire Pass was a fun little section of slot canyon that required two drops of about 6 feet each, one of which I was able to slide, snowboarding style, down a smoothed log. And I did not fall off or break any bones. Victory!
After 1.7 miles Wire Pass opens up into the towering canyon of Buckskin Gulch. As the walls rose higher around me, the sunlight disappeared and the canyon quickly became cold. After a short time I encountered by first flooded section and, after removing my boots and tying them to my pack, I waded in. And waded in. And started sinking down into the soft mud hole. As the muddy, icy waters rose all the way up my legs I started panicking. I stopped myself by bracing against the canyon wall and took a deep breath. My stomach was flip-flopping, every inch of my body was screaming to turn around, and my heart had started hammering against my chest. I backed up and scrambled somewhat awkwardly out of the mud. I told myself that this was silly, that so many people hike through here. I reminded myself that I’m a great swimmer and that even if the wading turns to swimming I would hardly drown. I told myself that I had crossed streams and trampled into many a lake before. Resolved, and with my heartbeat having returned to normal, I entered the water again. The panic returned immediately. Lesson for the day, I am apparently terrified of potentially having to swim in cold water in an enclosed area. Also, as much as I enjoy exploring canyons, I apparently would not get past Canyoneering 101. Maybe another time, Buckskin Gulch.
Luckily, the canyon extends the other way from its joint with Wire Pass and so after drying my feet and lacing my boots, I retraced my steps. I quickly reentered sunlit areas and as I warmed up, my spirits lifted. Hiking in sunny dry canyons makes me happy.
I hiked on until the canyon opened up into wash, the turned around and made my way back into Wire Pass. I was strolling along and then I came upon the first drop. The one without the log. I had heard echoes of a group ahead of me joking as they pushed and pulled each other up over the boulder but I hadn’t remembered it being difficult to navigate – more of a slide and a jump. Well, that was going down. My 5’6” self hadn’t seriously considered how I was going to get up a boulder wedged 5 feet above the canyon floor. I hadn’t remembered the smooth vertical canyon walls in that section or the lack of toe holds. Oops. This is yet another instance in my life where I wished I was ever-so-slightly more coordinated. I also had squandered my agility quota for the day sliding down that log earlier. With the least grace you might imagine, I managed to get over this drop. Luckily the log up ahead did not pose quite the same challenge for me. Maybe I should take Canyoneering 101.