Is there good climbing at the Vermillion Clliffs of Arizona?

The book I am reading at the moment talks about an extreme sport enthusiast who climbs at the Vermillion Cliffs, so, as the name was new to me, I thought I’d better check this new site out, but as far as I can see, although the area is spectacularly beautiful, it looks more like a hiking zone than a climbing one. You can climb the cliffs, and there is some bouldering involved, but you won’t be doing a pitch climb.

The Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona

It looks pretty serious doesn’t it, but what appears to be a solid cliff face is actually penetrated by deep, narrow canyons whose walls seemed to plunge straight down. Believe it or not, you can get to the top of these cliffs with dogs, so again this is more hiking than climbing.

In 1984 Congress designated 112,500 acres of land in the Vermillion Cliffs and Paria Canyon area a wilderness zone.

This magnificent area  is home to well-known beauty spots such as Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, North and South Coyote Buttes, Cobra Arch, Steamboat Rock and the remarkable ‘Wave’  as well as many other attractions. Permits are required to enter the area and overnight permits are restricted to 20.

The Wave found at the Vermillion Cliffs Arizzona

There are many trails in the area and a few peaks that can be climbed and at Toothrock there is a 20 pitch climb where rockclimbing.com recommends you “prepare for a bivy”.

But the area is now renowned mainly for its canyoneering and Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon on the Utah/Arizona border are probably the most well known. Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest United States and may be the longest in the world.  The walls are over 100 feet high and as narrow as 2 feet in some places. It’s one of the main tributaries of the Paria River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River and it’s the Colorado River that carved the Grand Canyon.

The route is roughly 21 miles total. As a 2-day hike you could break it down to 13.5 miles on day one and 7.5 miles on day two. Alternatively you could do it all in one day, but I suggest that a one-day hike would be a terrible waste of time as you wouldn’t be able to stop in awe at all the amazing sights!  Every person or group’s times will be different, but Climb-Utah has given a very approximate breakdown on how long the hike should take:

0:45 – Wire Pass Trailhead to Buckskin Gulch.
4:15 – Buckskin Gulch to Middle Trail.
2:00 – Middle Trail to Rock Fall.
1:15 – Rock Fall to Paria Canyon.
3:15 – Paria Canyon to White House Trailhead.

A 40-ft rope will be indispensable.

In normal conditions there are several miles of ankle deep wading and a few waist deep pools so wear appropriate footwear and clothing. An occasional swim is not unheard of. The pools can be very cold and are usually stagnant. As you can imagine, these canyons are susceptible to flash flooding and you can see from the video to what level those floods can rise – way above head height, so choosing your time of year should be quite an important part of planning your walk! Storms more than 50 miles away can send a 100-foot-high wall of water speeding down the canyon and kill any unsuspecting hikers.

It is worth bearing in mind that the canyon changes after every flash flood so don’t think you know it!

Summers can be brutally hot so Spring and Fall are generally the preferred hiking seasons.

The area is very prone to rattlesnakes so beware.

This is one place I am certainly going to visit on my next trip to the States…

I am indebted to climb-utah.com for some of the above information.

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