Mixed Gender team: Maria Steinhauser and Luke Garten
Wire Pass to White House trailhead
Time: 4 hours, 13 minutes, and 32 seconds
April 20, 2019
Buckskin Gulch is the highest and longest slot canyon in North America. The FKT route starts at the WirePass Trailhead, goes down Buckskin Gulch, then up Paria Canyon totaling 22 miles. The previous record-holders were a strong team with a time of just under 5 hours back in 2002.
During the drive to the trailhead, which would be our third FKT attempt in a week and a running road trip with high miles and lots of vert, Luke and I discussed the gear that we would use and our strategy for getting through the frigid pools in the deep canyon, speculating about the conditions and every possible scenario. We watched a few videos of people wading through the 200-yard long neck-deep section called the cesspools, where detritus and dead animals collected when the water got stagnant and hadn’t been flushed out by a recent flash flood.
That morning we woke up at 4 am, made oatmeal and coffee, and gathered our packs. We had hired a shuttle service to go from Whitehouse trailhead where the car was parked to Wire Pass trailhead where the route started. Yermo, our shuttle driver, had insisted that we leave early and had refused to take us unless we had trekking poles, headlamps, and jackets along.
I jumped in the front seat of the Toyota Tundra and looked out the cracked windshield as we drove. Yermo warned about the conditions in the canyon. “The last guy I dropped off a couple days ago took 14 hours and was extremely cold wading through 40-some neck-deep pools.” He went on to tell us stories about rescuing people in the canyon as a volunteer for Search and Rescue or taking people as a guide who struggled to make it out. He told us about a bail-out spot about 10 miles down the canyon. He warned of a place called the Rabbit Hole where there were several different routes that we could take down through the boulders. He said there would hopefully be a dead tree to climb down.
He drove fast on the dirt road, scrolling through photos on his phone as he drove. He showed me a picture of a woman dressed in an outfit probably purchased from Eddie Bauer, covered with clay, looking like a dejected, wet dog. She had a brown glob on her eyebrow, a smear on her cheek, her boots were fully coated, and clothing smattered with mud too. Yermo flipped off the lights while it was still a little too dim and maneuvered over the gravel road, jarring me around as he drove over a dry wash. It felt like we were on a covert mission. He looked at me, sizing me up, apparently not seeing anything more extraordinary in me than the other foolishly brave souls who ventured down Buckskin Gulch, wholly unprepared and caught off guard by the difficulty. “YOU’re not beating that record today,” he told me bluntly.
“You don’t think so?”
“No. Not today. It takes most people 10-12 hours under these conditions.”
“I guess we’ll see.” But when we arrived at the trailhead he lingered, perhaps considering the possibility that we might be cut out for the challenge. I could tell he loved the excitement of sending people down the canyon.
“Give me a call when you’re done to let me know you made it out, and you can give me an update on the conditions.”
We started running and the sand was firm enough to move quickly. We were making good time. Even after the miles we had put in that week we both agreed that we felt strong. We got to the pools and waded through the icy water, feeling around with our trekking poles and avoiding the deep spots. The canyon was deep and narrow in most places, the sandstone contours exaggerating the contrasting values of shadows and light shining through the narrow crevasse above. In some places the canyon widened, allowing enough light for small shrubs to thrive, their bright green spring leaves popping against the pink rock. We hooted and hollered about how amazing it was, our voices echoing through the canyon. A raven flew overhead and cawed. I cawed back. The raven and I shared an exchange, responding to one another for several minutes while it flew directly overhead as I ran. Luke laughed at me, “You’re awesome.”
We made it to the T and turned left to head up Paria Canyon. We trudged up-river on slimy clay shaped into water-rippled striations, crossing the meandering shallow river hundreds of times. Porous sandstone rock walls that looked like huge mushrooms kept us confined in the canyon as we worked our way towards White House trailhead.
I sank in the soft sand with each step, and each time the toe boxes of my shoes filled up with silt, crowding out my toes. I learned that if I simultaneously ran and wiggled my toes while crossing the knee-high water they would fill up less. River crossing after river crossing was grueling. My feet were heavy from the extra weight in each shoe. We persevered, splashing across the chocolate milk river, enjoying the rock formations and the effort.
We broke the record in 4 hours and 13 minutes and finished off the week with 110 miles and three successful FKTs. My legs buzzed for days. We each drank a beer in celebration and dumped the sand out of our shoes.
“I was talking to that raven, you know. We were having an actual conversation,” I told Luke, feeling tipsy from the beer and elated after a week of hard efforts and three successful FKT attempts.
“Oh yeah? What did it tell you?”
“It told me, ‘Keep moving forward. STAY HAPPY!’” I smiled broadly at Luke.
Check out the Fastest Known Time website here with the Buckskin Gulch & Paria River FKT leaderboard.
Check out a video of our adventure that Luke made here.