Sunday, April 1, 2012
Paria River Run
“We should go do a slot canyon” my daughter Zoe casually remarked one morning before school. Not one to miss an opportunity for a road trip with my 17 year old, “how about this weekend was my response?” A few texts later I had recruited her older brother and my wife Adrienne for a trip. Now all I needed was a destination!
For some time I have wanted to explore Buckskin Gulch. And, I recalled reading about a run Davey Crocket had done down the Paria river. As I researched the area further I developed what I thought would be a fine plan, a family hike in Buckskin and an opportunity for me to run the Paria River from the White House TH to Lees Ferry (38.2 miles). To make the adventure even more exciting, I learned that there was a recorded FKT for the Paria River of 6 hours and 51 minutes.
I’ve had a challenging February and March – nagging hamstrings plus a cold that had me on my back for two weeks had set back my running considerably. But the legs have been feeling better and the cold was behind me – I was looking forward to running the engine again.
I was dropped off at the White House TH on Saturday, March 31st at about 8:30, considerably exhausted from the effort of getting two teenagers out of their hotel beds in Kanab before noon. After spending some time organizing my pack and taking care of other business, I warmed myself in the sun waiting for an 8:45 am start.
From the TH, the trail almost immediately drops into the river. Within the first mile I realized that my goal of going under 6 hours was going to be difficult. Running in water is HARD. I wanted to stay on a 9 minute per mile pace. But, I quickly realized I could not sustain the effort required to go that pace in the water. So, I formulated a new plan. Today would be a day of intervals – I would run as hard as I could out of the water, and run at a recovery pace in the water.
I reached the confluence with Buckskin Gulch (7.2 miles) in 1:08, right on my desired pace. During this first hour I had been able to acquire a modicum of divining skill regarding the location of rocks, holes, and shoe sucking mud underneath the turbid water. I was having fun!
After the confluence the canyon deepens and becomes quite spectacular with tight meanders, large amphitheaters, and cliffs vaulting over the river. While I had planned on listening to music, to have turned on my iPod would have been an insult to the beauty of the canyon.
I had originally planned on getting water at Big Spring (12.3 miles). Yet upon reaching what is considered to be the most reliable source of water in the canyon, I opted to proceed not wanting to spend the time to fill my pack. I passed Big Spring at 1:59.
After Big Spring I sensed that the volume of the river was increasing. Holes became deeper. Water that had been shin deep was now calf deep. It became harder to keep up my pace. “Duh” I said to myself, realizing that the sun and warmth of the day was starting to melt snow in the upper reaches of the Paria. The volume of water would continue to rise through the day.
I reached The Pump (17.4 miles) at 2:46. I was still on pace to go sub 6 hours! I felt great and celebrated feeling healthy again after injury and illness.
After the pump the river becomes much more difficult to negotiate. I found myself stepping into deep pools and falling down. I found myself slipping on rocks and falling down. I found myself tripping on rocks and falling down. I was doing a lot of falling down which was slowing me down considerably – and pissing me off. I was getting frustrated. I pushed harder to keep up the pace. But, as we have all experienced in different circumstances such as snow, sand and on hills – there are times when you can put out 15% more – but only go 5% faster. I had to accept that this section of the river was going to be slow.
I reached Shower Spring (22 miles) at 3:41. I had lost considerable time over the last 5 miles. And, Shower Springs was not the best choice for refilling my water pack and handheld (although – it is one of the best campsites in the Canyon). It took some effort to reach the spring and use my handheld to catch water for filling my water pack. It was ten minutes before I was back in the river and moving towards Lees Ferry.
My progress remained slow after Shower Spring. I was hopeful that the high water trail that began at about mile 26 would be faster than navigating the cobble rock, mud and holes that had me moving at a crawl (I estimate my pace was wobbling between 12-15 minute miles after Shower Spring).
The high water trail exceeded my expectations. There were sections of hard pack sand that I would run as hard as I could, then recover on the moderately technical and/or sandy sections. The theme of intervals continued. Once I was out of the water I noticed the heat of the day. While it felt good to be warm, I was worried that I was not used to the heat (only in the high 70’s – but I’m a snow country boy who still has his winter blood) and I was concerned about the strong headwind. With no more reliable water sources until Lees Ferry, I knew I would be cutting it close on water.
It felt good to be on a trail, in the heat, and in the red rock country that I love. I was feeling strong and having a most spectacular day. I reveled in how lucky I am to be able to have the time, health and means to do runs like this!
While I was making good time and was certain to set a FKT, I knew that I would not be going under 6 hours. While the six-hour goal was self-imposed, it felt good to just run briskly and not feel that I had to hammer out the final miles. For the last hour I listened to music, daydreamed, and celebrated being in the moment.
I reached the Lees Ferry TH at 6:21:36 after 38.2 miles of fun! Tired - but, feeling strong and healthy, and thinking that perhaps I have another good year of running in me.
From the TH I ran to the boat ramp to get water (I had run out of water about 4 miles from the end) and sat in the Colorado River soaking my legs snacking on my remaining nutrition while waiting for my family to pick me up. What a wonderful end to a spectacular run!
This is a great run and I encourage others to do it. A few suggestions for those who do:
Water flow makes all the difference in how quickly you can move. You can check the flow at /waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?site_no=09382000. It was 13CFS (relatively low) on the day I ran.
Select shoes that do not hold water, have good protection (the cobble rock takes a toll on your feet and ankles) and uppers that will protect you from cactus. I ran in old pair of La Sportiva Fireblades that were perfect. I almost ran in Montrail Rouge Racers (my favorite shoes) which would have been a terrible pick. Speaking of pick – I’m still picking several cactus spines out of my feet.
I had a hard time locating a number of the springs. Fill up when you can and don’t get yourself into a situation where you must rely on a particular water source.
Most of the springs are dribbles. Bring a handheld or a container that can be used to collect water to transfer to a water pack.
The lower part of the canyon (from mile 25 on) is exposed and likely VERY hot most of the year. Plan accordingly!
Think twice about bringing the tunes. So much beauty and visual stimulation that you may not want the distraction. Plus, no guarantee you’ll be able to keep the iPod dry.