Back to Buckskin Gulch

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Just shortly after we were married, our then landlord invited us on a trip hike in Southern Utah. I literally remember Googling the term “slot canyon” and being wildly impressed that such a thing even existed. We went on the trip, totally unprepared for the outdoor adventure that awaited us and had the most memorable of days in which I nearly met my end due to hypothermia in the frozen caverns deep in Spry Canyon.

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I was so overwhelmed by the events of that trip and the treachery we faced that I will always remember tearily climbing in the truck and sobbing as I pulled the cactus needles out of my legs in the shower, swearing that it had been the worst weekend of my entire life. Nature had pressed me miles beyond my suburban comfort zone and as I was wary of ever encountering it so passionately again.

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Me at the end of Wire Pass in 2009.

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A better photo from 2014

That trip marked the first of many terrible “firsts” in which I learned how small and insignificant I was and am in the scheme of the natural world. I learned how much training it takes to be able to hike 20 miles in one day and how far having the right equipment goes in making sure we are safe and comfortable on whatever journey awaits us. I learned that scaling back a plan in the name of safety is a really good idea.

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Thinking back to that trip seems almost as though it happened to someone else; feeling at odds with nature seems so foreign to me now that it is hard to recall. In the five years since that disastrous trip, everything has changed. We’ve spent nearly six collective months in a tent, pedaled thousands of miles across every kind of terrain and weather, and spent countless weekends trekking through our National Parks. We’ve hiked numerous slot canyons until I was confident enough to take a canyoneering course and completed a bit of of repelling on our own.
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I’ve come to acknowledge nature as a coming home of sorts. As as we drove the dirt road to the Wire Pass trailhead, the red rocks towering all around us, I felt reverence for these wild places and for the way they heal my soul from the whirring pace of home. I was eager to put on my shoes and trudge through the dirt, to shiver with the early spring chill, and to hear the nothing of real silence.
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We actually got sort of lost- hiking using five year old recollection as a map really represents poor planning- but eventually we figured it out and soon we were deep between the stone walls of nature’s cathedrals, our words echoing down the twenty mile slot and the wind whistling hello as it passed above us.
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It was strange to return to a place that had once terrorized me with such serenity. The last time we’d been in Buckskin Gulch, we’d been hiking at a frantic pace with frozen feet through muddy puddles with people we barely knew. Today, it was just the two of us, trekking at our normal studious pace with regular stops for pictures. Instead of foreign and stressful this walk was studded with familiar quiet, gratitude, and understanding.
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A few miles in and the canyon became impassible without wading and so we happily turned back, glad to keep our feet dry and the pace slow. We stopped for a brief lunch, joined by two clucking crows, their songs ringing through the canyon as we ate and marveled.

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