This is a hike that will always remember for good and bad reasons. I will discuss mostly the bad reasons: I thought I was going to die.
I became aware of Buckskin Gulch while googling for challenging day hikes. I came upon an article in the Backpacker website listing Buckskin Gulch as the longest slot canyon in America and the “most dangerous hike in America”. To someone like me, that perked my eyes (remind me to blog about my first and almost last hike of my life). The Backpacker article mentioned that although no one has ever died in there, if you got caught in a rushing waters situation, you will die. You have seen plenty of news of horrible deaths in slot canyons in Utah when the waters rush after a thunderstorm. That is why you should NEVER hike a slot canyon if there is a REMOTE chance of rain. Well, Buckskin Gulch is unique in the sense that the canyon walls are high, sometimes 200 feet high, its long and there is only one area where you can escape the slot canyon ….. the canyon is about 20 miles long. If you are not close to the escape area and the waters rise, you are dead. Check out some of the pictures on my website and notice how high the logs get stuck in the canyon walls. The canyon is narrow in many places.
Ok, back to my story. I wasn’t going to hike the whole thing (you need a shuttle to take you from one trailhead to the other), so my plan was to enter at the Wirepass trail, and get all the way to the Middle trail (the escape area) and turn back. On the way to the Middle Trail is the Cespool, a low elevation area that gets flooded all the time. I didn’t not look forward to that, but ‘luck’ had it that during my visit there was a gigantic heat wave in the West that elevated temperatures to 120 degree Fahrenheit (uh oh).
Please let me deviate from my story of potential woe and tell a story of actual woe. The trailhead for Buckskin Gulch is shared with the trail to the famous Wave. That hike is via permit and even though is a short hike, people has gotten lost and died of heat exhaustion. On the day of my hike (120 degrees) I ran into an old couple at the trailhead parking lot; they were not going to the canyon, they were hiking to the Wave …………… the next day at the airport I read the news of an old couple that got lost on the Wave hike and both died of heat exhaustion. I believe it was the couple I saw.
Ok, Buckskin Gulch is all I wanted, you start at the wirepass canyon, which intercepts Buckskin Gulch after a couple of miles (that way you save 5 miles for the boring actual start of the Buckskin Gulch canyon official entrance). You take a right at the Buckskin intersection and there you go (clue ……. this is an important fact of the story). The colors don’t match colors of other slot canyons, but the fact that you can touch both walls with your hands and see 100 yards up the walls makes you so happy. On top of that, the cesspool was totally dry (120 degrees) and I made it easily getting to the Middle Trail, where I stopped and ate lunch.
The only thing that tired me was the sand, it was like walking on desert sand. The rushing waters after a flood keeps bringing sand and rocks to the bottom of the canyon, so it is not a proper trail that you walk firm on, the sand tires you.
Remember the fact that you enter Buckskin Gulch via wirepass ? Well, after 6 hours of hiking I forgot that essential fact and I passed the intersection on my way back. Without a GPS (this would be the last hike I ever did without a GPS ………. because I get easily distracted), I started to realize that I should have hit the intersection already, but the canyon looked familiar. Sure, miles and miles of canyon tends to look familiar after hours of hiking it. I kept hiking and getting tired (120 degrees) until I saw an area similar to the intersection (after I passed it one mile ago and decided that I missed it) ……………. There was a large mound of sand that I scaled (even though I didn’t remember doing that on the way in), ran into a dead end and had to scale back (120 degrees …. getting tired and stupider). I decided to keep backtracking until ………………. I finally found the intersection, after shooting past it by 3 miles (yes, I added 6 miles to an already long hike in 120 degree weather). The canyon walls at this point are not protecting me from the heat, just the sun, and the sand is adding insult to injury.
I was dead tired when I got to the intersection (I ran into a mom and her daughter exploring the area at that point). I had decided for this hike to add Gatorade to my water. When Gatorade gets warm ……….. it takes horrible, so I refused to keep drinking it. In Wirepass the sand was deep and each step was a mess. And that is when it hit me ………. I started getting a tingling sensation on the tips of the fingers of BOTH of my hands, a ‘sure’ sign of a heart attack in my already tired and stupid brain. It would last one minute, go away and then come back (so that would freak the shit out of me). I was really afraid that I was going to get a heart attack and die. Wirepass’ last mile is on a wash, no canyon and full 120 degree sun. That was the longest mile of my life; stopping to rest at whatever shade I could find and then slog on that heavy sand.
So, I made it to the car and didn’t die, but I learned lots of lessons (that I had to re-learn on a another horrible June hike few miles down the road in South Coyote buttes 3 years later):