Zen On Dirt

Grand Canyon, Buckskin Gulch: A Ten-Year Anniversary

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Megan and I have been adventuring together for over ten years now.

Ten years. That’s a decade of life.

We’ve skied together, ridden together, run together, and from Day 1, there was no other woman who I’d rather play with in the backcountry. Before she came along, I pretty much only skied and rode with guys. Going out with only Megan (Oh did we have some good adventures! Like getting frost-nipped trying to ski 14,000+ ft Mt Bross on a windy day, or trying to link 100 miles of Nederland trails together during the YWRH 100) was the first time I realized that I could be just as strong and safe in the backcountry with another woman as I could be with men. Potentially more so. Women adventure partners were special, and Megan was the best of the best.


10 years ago – 14,000+ feet. 40 mph+ winds. We froze ourselves. I don’t know if we’ve actually gotten any smarter since then…

Of course, my little mid-20’s brain didn’t fully absorb this lesson until years later, but I like to think that those first years of playing together laid the foundation for my current obsession with spending time in the outdoors with strong women.

When Megan mentioned that she had to be in Tucson for a week in late April, I immediately convinced her to spend a few extra days in the area for adventuring. Somehow, I also convinced her to come up to do a run in Paria Canyon, which happens to start in Utah…which is a long ways from Tucson, and when on the way to Paria Canyon, a Grand Canyon run on the way up seemed like a prudent idea.

We settled on a lollipop route down Grandview Trail and around to Dripping Spring. A trip report I read claimed 17 miles. Perfect. Scott mentioned something about the rationality of doing four nearly 20 mile runs in a week.

But who am I to think about such details?


Down we went to Horseshoe Mesa.


A little bit of extra credit mileage when we passed our turn because we were too busy gabbing.


Down to the Tonto where the flowers were still spectacular.


Around to Dripping Spring where we paused to give thanks for all that was good in our lives. And to drink some water coming straight out of the rock, too.


And back up. When we finished the loop part, it seemed that no time had passed. I checked the GPS – only 9.5 miles, even with the extra credit. The look of sadness on Megan’s face when contemplating the fact that her Canyon run would be over in three miles was devastating.

Could we do another loop? Is that a good idea? Is that a real question?


We dropped down to Cottonwood spring off of the other side of the Horseshoe Mesa, filling up on water on the briskly moving stream. The trail wrapped around the northern end of Horseshoe Mesa, and we ascended the same trail that we’d descended a few hours earlier.


Now it was time to finish off the stem of our loop. Megan led, I struggled to follow. We paused in the shade to regroup. At the top Megan dumped a liter of water over my head to try to get me feeling better. It wasn’t until after I puked pretty much all of the water I’d drank during the run out over a wall (think drunk girl at a college frat party) that I started to feel better.


Given that it wasn’t hot out, I’m blaming it on something I ate. Puking. Gross. Ew.

I spent the three hour drive up to Jacob Lake working on rehydration. We also stopped to see the nesting Condor that you could see from Navajo Bridge. The momma was sleeping in the cliff wall, volunteers from the Peregrine Fund had a spotting scope trained on her. This is the first time that Condors have built a nest and laid an egg in the wild in a location where humans could observe them without disturbing them. There was much excitement.

We met Scott up at Jacob Lake where he’d towed the Scamp while we were busy skipping around the Canyon. Scott’s the best.

An early morning and shuttle set up had all three of us moving just shy of 10 at the Wire Pass trailhead. We made it down the chockstone drop with some level of grace. (#alternativefacts) and we immersed ourselves in the depths of the earth for the day.


The canyon varies between tight, tall, walls…DSC06871_resize

And wide openings where the sun warmed our chilly arms and legs.


Megan said that it was a cross between walking through a sculpture and a cathedral. I think the description is pretty spot on.

We knew that there’d be water in the slot. Reports from a week earlier indicated that the deepest were only waist deep.


Scott contemplating the Freedom Step. The step where you finally give up and get your shoes wet. 


The pools started out ankle deep, then knee deep, and then finally we hit the waist deep ones. Jackets went on, feet went numb. Running the dry sections felt like running on wooden stubs.


It was almost unbearably beautiful.


Eventually, we emerged to Middle Earth, an open area after the “cesspools” where the sun shone strong. We welcomed the warmth to eat lunch by.


We arrived at the “Boulder Jam” where “technical climbing skills may be required” shortly after leaving Middle Earth. Caroline, my beta provider, had said that it wasn’t too bad, and that there were fixed ropes attached. I think she may have also said that she would have climbed down the Moki steps even if the rope wasn’t there. Caroline is a badass.

We had two options for ropes. One with a smaller drop but a landing on a slanted rock and no steps carved in, and the main Moki step route. We futzed around at the top comparing the two options for longer than I want to admit. Finally, after watching Scott look all sorts of sketchy exploring differing body positions for going down the lower drop (we’re not climbers, clearly) I decided that the safest option would be the steps.

It was the scariest thing that I’ve done in a long time, and I was still shaking with adrenaline long after I guided Megan and Scott down. It was like teaching a yoga class. “Now left leg down, just a little farther, swivel to the right, now right leg down, reach around to the left…and now you have to jump.”


Photo from Megan

It was exciting. It made me excited for more scrambling.

Relieved to have made it through the crux, we trotted our way out to the confluence of the Paria River and Buckskin Gulch and turned upstream.


It was a long seven miles back. Lucky for us, it was real purdy as well.


When things turned sloggy, we stopped in the shade to eat snacks. I try to minimize the suffering.


We emerged at the White House trail head late afternoon, exhausted, exuberant, shoes and socks packed with sand. What an amazing place to spend the day. It was quite possibly the most beautiful day I’ve ever spent in nature, so it’s only fitting that I got to spend it with Scott and Megan.

I would have been real sad to see Megan drive down the road, pointed towards Tucson where she was headed to a conference to help save the world, or at least public lands, but I knew that I’d see her in Moab in under two weeks, and that made me feel better.

Ten years of adventuring. And each big one only gets better.


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