Sunday, May 11, 2014

Paria Canyon River Running

After a strange winter, it's now adventure skiing season.  Unfortunately, my planned work break and the weather didn't line up to attempt some projects outside the Wasatch.  So instead, I've been running as much as my feeble legs allow and this week Jason hatched the idea of going on an adventure run in the desert.

Jared suggested Paria Canyon amongst others and after a little googling we decided it looked worthy. Jason drove down with his sweetheart early on Thursday while Tom and I left SLC at 10 PM in order to stay with ours until we couldn't any longer.  By 2:30 AM we were regretting our late start while looking for a roach motel in Kanab.

Six short hours later we were donning our gear and packing gels and stuffing our bellies with doughnuts and other junk to ready for a long day.  We picked up Jason and drove the 40 miles out of town to the trailhead where the scenery looked quite disappointing.  Across the highway, there were desert towers, plateaus, and canyons but on our side there was a trickle of water and some sage brush.

Unceremoniously, we started trotting down the river drainage, doing our best to keep our feet dry.  Within minutes the mood all changed as we grew more and more excited by the deepening canyon and narrowing walls.  Pretty soon, we were charging straight through the river and yelling about how pretty it was.  We were a modern mix of Paiutes, Silvestre Escalante, steeplechasers, and Butch Cassidy.  We toyed with the idea of gunning for Jay Aldous' FKT, since we could tell with the low water flow, the conditions were fast, but ultimately decided to just play around, explore, and take pictures.  As it turns out, running over an hour slower than Jay was still hard.

The first 25 miles were a joy as we played and splashed like kids.  We explored the Buckskin Gulch confluence, drank from trickling springs, and took turns laughing at each other every time someone would fall in what appeared to be supportable mud.

The last 13 miles got a little tougher as the trail left the river bed and became quite sandy to the point where running felt almost useless.  It was hot and Tom's white legs were starting to get burned.  Our tender feet began to hurt as they've been protected by ski boots for months.  We must have been getting tired cause we stopped taking pictures and the desert began to attack.  Jason found a cactus.  A large stick gouged my leg.  And, Tom quit being Tom.  He normally runs off the front and pushes the pace but he seemed content to fall in line and let me or Jason dictate the shuffling.

Pretty soon though we started seeing signs of man with the ranch ruins, old fence lines, and then finally we were at the trailhead.  Standing on the pavement above the Colorado River we all felt a little woozy and nauseated.  We needed some salt and real food and Amanda and Aimee were there to deliver.  They had driven to within five miles of Lee's Ferry where they encountered a detour on Hwy 89.  Incredibly, they backtracked and detoured 90 miles to come get us, panicked that we'd have to wait or think they weren't coming.  We were pretty grateful for the treats and the deluxe chauffeur service.

Utah is incredible and while this region is designated and protected wilderness land it doesn't get nearly the recognition of the more famous parks of the desert southwest.  The whole day we saw only  a handful of parties hiking mostly within the first ten miles.

I am still psyched to ski if conditions line up, but I for sure have a lot of desert time on the mind.

Here are a few pics to try and prove the beauty but as always they fall a little short...

Early on we were trying to keep our feet dry...until we realized that was a futile waste of energy

Splashes of light and shadow amplified the beauty of the canyon 
There were miles of river running

We poked around up Buckskin Gulch but with nearly 40 miles to run for the day, we were too scared to tack on much more than a few minutes. 

If only he had fallen all the way in!

More river running

Near the end, the canyon walls grew higher (reportedly up to 2700 feet) and the landscape opened up to give a sense of eternity as the desert tends to do. 

Driving home the sunset was fabulous and Amanda really got overwhelmed by the beauty of it all

I wonder how many other unheard-of gems are out there....

Some Details:

Total mileage: 38-40
Time: 7:30 ish
Food: a few gels that Tom gave me (I would have been screwed without em), some crackers, and sport beans
Drink: Powerade (without the bromanated vegetable oil!) and dirt water from a couple springs

SCARPA Tru shoes (due out this summer)
Outdoor Research Echo shirt
Outdoor Research Visor
Suunto Ambit
Salomon pack
Adidas shorts


  1. The Paria is one of my all-time favorite runs. The beauty. The difficulty. The aloneness. It should be on every ultraunners bucket list. Fun to read about your adventure + enjoy the beautiful pictures. While the images are stunning - as you note they do not do justice the beauty of the canyon and the desert. J

  2. Hi. I found your blog by searching for La Sportiva RST skis. I was just wondering how tall you were. You use 167 for that ski? I'm 5'11" and 175 lb. I was wondering what a good size is. 167 or 177. I'm a so so skier (coming from climbing) and more of a carver. I was thinking 167. I rented normal downhill skis that size when I first started out and it was ok. I'm thinking of using them mostly to go up to Camp Muir or up Mt. Adams. Thanks for any advice. Informative blog. I liked the Mt. Rainier post.