Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Underestimating Ash Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on November 22, 2009

Ash Canyon, 3CIV
6.2 miles
Coronado National Forest – Pinaleno Mountains


A November descent starting at well over 9,000 feet through potential swift water conditions in a rugged and remote wilderness is nothing to take lightly. Instead we packed lightly. With a strong team of three we decided to go light and fast, foregoing wetsuits and perhaps underestimating the difficultness of this canyon in its current conditions. Driving nearly 30 miles and gaining 6500 feet of elevation from Safford to a high ridge of the Pinaleno Mountains we began the descent on a to be expected cold morning. The drastic increase in elevation created fogginess in my head as we began the easy approach to the canyon.

Passing rusted relics of lumber equipment coupled with the isolation of this wilderness set the tone. Leaving the trail and continuing down the drainage we descended a vast expanse of polished slick rock that made it near impossible to keep our footing. After I slipped and lost control sliding down the rock, Eric followed suit and got flushed down the toilet into the flowing drainage. Recovering with only a few scratches we made our way on to the first rappel. Ice greeted us at the bottom of this long rappel.

Further along, the canyon funneled into a steep and narrow chute, completely changing the character of the water flow. We were greeted by several consecutive rappels directly in the watercourse where anchors had to be reset. The steepness of the canyon did not allow the water to pool (so there was no swims or deep wades) but wetsuits were missed as the water flow surrounded us throughout this section. All of the pulls on these rappels were difficult and a slightly tense moment ensued when after partially pulling the rope the water current forced our rope down and around a rock. I had to partially stem back up the canyon to dislodge our rope while being pummeled by the water. After the technical section was over we made a fire to warm up before the long and strenuous hike back to our car.

Note: I dusted off a film camera and shot black and white film during this descent. I think the graininess and tonal neutrality of the images suits the quality of this canyon well.


Getting back out in Minnow Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on November 18, 2009

Minnow Canyon, 3AI
2.3 miles
Tonto National Forest – Superstition Wilderness, tributary of Fish Creek
12/22/08, 11/15/09

The fall in Arizona is wedding season and just about every weekend I am either shooting a wedding, assisting another wedding photographer or photographing an engagement session and for that reason it has been over a month since I have been on rope (my last canyoneering trip was Imlay in Zion). I have started to get that antsy feeling of needing some quality time in the wilderness. Sunday was finally a day when both David and I could go canyoneering together, along with our good friend John. Having shot a wedding all day on Saturday I had some criteria for our outing- I didn’t want to drive far, I didn’t want to get wet if possible and I would like a relatively short day. Shooting weddings are a joy but I generally come home extremely wired and I did not want to wake up super early Sunday morning. David suggested Minnow Canyon in the Superstitions. It was a perfect choice. David had also done Minnow Canyon last year with Mike.

The coolest thing about Minnow are all the caves created by fallen boulders, with earth and vegetation filling in the gaps. This makes for the true canyon bottom below a second level above. Creativity and route finding is necessary to navigate through the two tiered maze. There is one 150- foot rappel towards the end of the canyon.

David and John jogged the 2+ miles back to the car as I waited with the packs happy to be out enjoying a beautiful fall afternoon in Arizona.

-Laura (click here to see my wedding website)