Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Quicksand and warm springs in Kaiser Spring Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on January 25, 2010

Kaiser Spring Canyon
8 miles
BLM land, northwest of Wickenburg


As a massive storm violently ripped through Arizona last week, pounding the state with rain and filling its reservoirs, David and I pondered what kind of outdoor activity we would be able to do over the weekend and still bring our dog. After talking with Mike he suggested Kaiser Canyon, a non-technical hike with tight canyon narrows and a warm spring.

The weather on Sunday was wonderful in Wickenburg with the highs in the upper 50s and clear blue skies. While driving northwest on US 60, other than wide sandy washes flowing with water that would otherwise be bone dry you would not have guessed such a powerful storm had passed through just days earlier. Parking under highway 93 we headed up canyon and were quickly surrounded by towering rock walls. The lower narrow section of the canyon that is normally dry had some flowing water and ice-cold pools that we can only assume collected from the storms earlier in the week. Along with trying to avoid the chilly pools of water on the canyon floor we encountered an abundance of quicksand that was hard to avoid and difficult to recognize. David seemed to have the most issues with the quicksand immediately sinking up to his shins after one faulty step.

Having Briscoe along for the day was fun. Geared up with his super doggie harness he rock hopped and splashed through the canyon. On the few climbing sections it was easy to pick Briscoe up like a brief case and carry him forward. (Click here and here and here for other adventures with Briscoe)

After the first section of narrows the canyon opened up to a sandy flat wash. We continued up canyon to a second section of narrows and riparian area. Fighting through thick thorny brush for a few minutes we gave up and turned around heading back down canyon the way we came. Retracing our steps with Briscoe in the lead we walked past where we parked the car and continued down canyon to the warm springs. I didn’t have the highest hopes for the pool but it turned out to be just warm enough to enjoy in the brisk late afternoon air. The temperature of the water was around 95 degrees. Briscoe made an island out of David and we all relaxed in a Zen-like state of calm.


The first adventure of the decade in Punch Bowl Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on January 8, 2010

Punch Bowl Canyon, 3BVR
15 miles (approximate)
Tonto National Forest – Superstition Wilderness Area
01/02/10 – 01/03/10


After seeing some photos of a canyon known as Punchbowl Canyon on a website of a canyoneer who goes by the name the Desert Nomad, John and I started studying maps and comparing them to the photos to determine where the location of the canyon might be. After getting an idea I went out on a brutally long solo-scouting trip and felt extremely confident that I had a location.

Over a month later Eric and I decided to start out a new decade by attempting a descent. Unfortunately we were without John, who decided to hang back because he and his wife, Kim, are expecting their first child within the month. The first day was spent on a strenuous approach, climbing up and over mesas and canyons until we camped on a wind swept mesa above Punch Bowl. As the sun began to set the winds picked up and howled with ferocity, continuing throughout the entire night. I buried myself deep in my down mummy bag and tried my best to fall asleep.

At first light we quickly packed up as the wind took several of my items across the mesa only to be stopped by the claw like fingers of a large cholla cactus. Escaping the viscous winds by descending into Punch Bowl proper we stopped to make hot oatmeal when we reached the first pothole that had clean looking water. Shortly after breakfast we hit our first rappel. Seeing webbing slung around a choke stone only increased our confidence that we were in fact descending Punch Bowl. Immediately the rappels began one after another, interrupted by pools of cold water covered in a layer of velvety fluorescent green algae. One of the pools was covered in strands of algae crisscrossing and bending to create a magnificently intricate design. The potholes were filled to the brim with water but it appeared in dry conditions keepers could exist. Facing a 12-foot drop into a deep pool with no natural anchor opportunities, Eric volunteered to become a meat anchor that I rappelled off of. A meat anchor is when a human being uses his body weight to become an anchor for rappelling. Obviously that person has to find other means to descend the obstacle. For Eric, the means were sliding and jumping the fall into the frigid water.

Despite its difficult access and remoteness, Eric and I were surprised and delighted that a canyon with such a relentless technical quality could be so close as the crow flies to our homes in one of the nations largest metropolitan areas. 9 rappels, plus three additional meat anchor rappels, and probably a half dozen swims brought us to the final dramatic 150-foot plus rappel to a clearly punch bowl shaped pool (I am sure its namesake) at its confluence with another larger canyon.

A four-hour exit hike much of it through the dark brought us back to our car and end of the first adventure of the decade.