Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

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.



4 Responses

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  1. Eric Luth said, on January 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Damn that canyon was sweet. Great pics !!!

  2. Tommy K said, on January 9, 2010 at 12:23 am


    Ran into you at the trailhead when we were heading out to do Sierra Canyon. The adventure race I mentioned is on Saturday, Jan 30th. Check out for info.

    Good job on the canyon!

  3. Michael Zysman said, on January 9, 2010 at 4:47 am

    Looks awesome! Can you tell me where it is?

  4. The Desert Nomad said, on April 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Great pictures. It is quite a lovely place. Be warned that those who seek adventure in the Punch Bowl do so at their own risk, lol. It is actually trespassing to walk away from this canyon. The long approach is perfectly acceptable (there is also a shortcut that makes this a short day canyon), as is the canyon itself, but upon touchdown after the final rap you are on SRP property. We were lucky enough to have gotten SRP permission to take a few groups down this gem, but we have also run into a rather unpleasant sheriff that doesn’t care WHAT SRP has to say about the situation.


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