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.



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