Adventure #2: “Gambling in the Slots” of Buckskin Gulch

*This is adventure #2 of my Top 10 Adventures Countdown*

One of my Top 10 Adventures has made another Top 10 list: Buckskin Gulch has been named by Backpacker Magazine as one of “America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes.”

In truth, that’s a more ominous title than it deserves. First of all, Backpacker Magazine only considered well-established, non-technical hikes for this article. The vast majority of canyons we complete have a higher danger potential, but they are not widely known hikes. In fact, canyoneering is not really in the same category as hiking at all. Buckskin Gulch is a slot canyon, but it is not a technical canyon, so it’s really more like hiking/backpacking than canyoneering. Another reason Buckskin’s reputation as a dangerous hike is overhyped is the simple fact that it is only really dangerous in specific circumstances. If the weather is agreeable, Buckskin is only dangerous in that it is somewhat remote. If one were to get injured or become ill in the canyon, rescue could take a while. In less agreeable weather conditions, however, Buckskin Gulch would be one of the last places on Earth I would want to be. If, say, it were rainy or stormy outside (even within 100 miles), I would NOT want to be in the slot. Buckskin has enormous flash flood potential, and there’s very little hope of escape in this 14-mile-long canyon with 400-foot walls. It’s this potential danger that led Backpacker Magazine’s writer, Kelly Bastone, to subtitle her article “Gambling in the Slots.”

For our March 2013 trip, luckily, the weather was fine. Mike and I went on a 3-day trip to Southern Utah with 9 other adventurers. Just getting to Buckskin took us about 6 hours, so we arrived late on Friday and camped out. On Saturday, we set up our car shuttle, made breakfast, and started our hike mid-morning.

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We worked our way through Buckskin Gulch itself on Saturday. We hiked 14 miles to a campsite high on a hill near the confluence with Paria Canyon. The majority of the hike was flat and simple; nonetheless 14 miles of hiking is tiring. There were a few tricky spots with down climbs or very cold, thigh-deep mud pits, but mostly we cruised along, taking tons of photos and enjoying the spectacular scenery. We did end up hiking for an hour or so in the dark (and it was very dark — almost cavelike — with such high canyon walls), but everyone had headlights.

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On Sunday we quickly turned into the wider, wetter Paria Canyon. The walls still rose above us, but they were no longer so close that we could stretch our arms and touch both sides. Instead, we waded through water up to thigh deep for another 7 miles to our campsite from Friday night. Everyone had finished the hike by early afternoon. We went for some delicious Mexican food and headed home.

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It’s really hard to do Buckskin Gulch justice with words — the canyon is really something you have to see and experience to fully appreciate. Mike’s pictures might help some, though. If that’s not enough, see it for yourself. I would definitely consider going back to Buckskin in the future if you’d like company!

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