Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Lemonade in Lemon Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on September 22, 2009

Lemonade in Lemons Canyon

Lemonade in Lemon Canyon, 2BIII, (not to be confused w/ Lemmon Canyon in Southern Arizona)
6 miles
Coconino National Forest, tributary West Clear Creek


It is early in the morning and I am driving up to the rim to meet my good buddy. Earlier in the season he had been scouting out a canyon and was stopped at a 100-foot fall. He was pretty certain this was not the only drop. There were no signs of bolts, webbing or any kind of anchor set up; a possible un-descended canyon. With 400 feet of rope and lots of hardware we were going to see what we would find. About 30 minutes from our rendezvous point I took a glance at my cell phone and saw I had an unread text message. I opened and it read, “Dude I am sick as shit, something I ate. Not going to make it, dammit.” It was sent hours earlier. Already over an hour from home my mind began racing to come up with an alternative. There was no way I was going to do a potential first descent solo, particularly when I had not done the original recon.

This same good buddy had also told me about another nearby canyon that he had descended sans rope with some exposed down climbs. I decided to go for it. The canyon was not particularly spectacular: a few shallow pools, some pseudo-narrows and two not very difficult but rather exposed down climbs. You know the saying, “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade,” so for the purposes of this blog let’s call this unnamed canyon “Lemon Canyon” not to be confused with Lemmon Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson. That lemonade was actually pretty tasty as I was treated to observing two owls (I believe spotted owls) in the canyon. I spent about 15 minutes with the owls as we studied each other. The lemonade continued its sweet refreshment on an exciting and somewhat sketchy climb out of the canyon. Near the top of the hike out I was treated to a large mushroom shaped rock that loomed over the canyon.


Elk-Hunting and Monsoon Season in Flintstone Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on September 14, 2009

Elk-Hunting and Monsoon Seasons in Flintstone Canyon

Flintstone Canyon, 3BIV
10.5 miles
Coconino National Forest, tributary of West Fork of Oak Creek

The monsoons were late to the party, but they have showed up. Flash flooding, lightning, and towering clouds that were almost non-existent in July and August have made an appearance in September. Last weekend Laura and I cancelled our canyoneering plans because of the inclement weather. A week later the forecast though slightly better still left plenty to consider. We decided to continue with our plans to descend Flintstone Canyon into the West Fork of Oak Creek despite the 30 percent chance of thunderstorms in the late afternoon and early evening for the area. The nearby town of Sedona had violently flash flooded just a few days earlier sweeping away vehicles like matchbox cars. I insisted on as early a start as possible to finish before the potential deluge.

As John locked up his truck at the head of the canyon, Laura, Ron and myself walked into the forest shortly after sunrise. We heard John shout, “Hold up a second guys.” As we turned around we saw a camouflaged clad man approach John from his nearby camp along the forest service road. “It is elk hunting season,” said the hunter. “There are hunters in there, you might get shot with an arrow or scare away the elk and they might not come back.” They briefly exchanged words and then John caught up to us and the hunter returned to his camp. As we continued into the forest John said the man was neither pleasant nor appeared pleased with the direction of our travels. I guess they didn’t realize that elk-hunting season does not mean that hunters have exclusive rights to a national forest. I commented that if we scared away all the elk they could take consolation by shooting up the tires of John’s truck. To myself I wished John’s truck the best of luck as we quickly and quietly descended into the safety of the canyon to avoid any errant arrows.

Once in the drainage we made our way down the canyon choked with both living and dead vegetation as the walls slowly got higher and narrower. Logs became bridges and ladders for down climbs. At times the entire floor was covered in a carpet of dry twisted wood. John commented it was like the scene from Star Wars when Luke, Princess Leia and Han Solo were in the trash compactor of the Death Star. Those dead trees in the bottom of the canyon are the ancestors of an abundance of living trees growing right out of the rim high above us. After a first section of narrows the canyon briefly opened up and then dramatically dropped into a dark abyss. A tree served as our anchor for this spectacular rappel. No doubt this tree will one day die, violently fall and come to rest in the bottom of these narrows. The next generation will rise in its place.

We passed by ferns growing straight out of sandstone walls its roots clinging to soil hidden in the tiniest of cracks, wild grapes that were prettier than they tasted and moss covered walls that put a green hue into the narrow channel of open air. The canyon was relaxing and exciting, pleasant and challenging.

The monsoons barely showed up on this day. Nothing but some late afternoon grey pluming clouds, thunder in the distance and a light sprinkle in the final miles of the West Fork before reaching pavement.