Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Inky pools in Horsetank Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on August 31, 2009

Inky pools in Horsetank Canyon

Horsetank Wash/ Sandrock Canyon Loop, 3BIVR
6 miles
Coconino National Forest


Our trip down Horsetank canyon was wonderfully uneventful on a quiet Monday. Even though the canyon was exciting and quite technical there were no close calls and we didn’t even get lost once!

We were prepared for a canyon filled with cold water and though we weren’t disappointed the water levels appeared to be lower than normal. The water throughout the canyon was so black, it appeared you could dip your hands  into the inky blackness and finger paint on the sandstone walls. The complete opaqueness of every pool in the canyon made it so you never knew if you would be swimming or simply wading through the water. One of the most interesting sections of the canyon consisted of a 35- foot free hanging rappel off of a huge logjam that filled the canyon from wall to wall. From below the logjam looked like an intricate web of roots.

After some tight narrows, numerous wades and swims, several rappels and a lot of down climbing the canyon opened up and we reached the confluence with Sandrock Canyon. As we started to hike up Sandrock, David let out a yelp as he came dangerously close to stepping on a rattlesnake curled up under the vegetation in the canyon bottom. Even though we did not see the rattles since the tail was curled up under itself the snake appeared to have the unmistakable head of a viper. The strange thing was the snake did not move an inch, appear to be at all disturbed, or rattle despite how close David had gotten. We carefully moved past the motionless snake and walked a little ways up canyon for lunch. As we sat for lunch a storm moved in overhead, the skies opened up and we were hit with a steady rain. With little shelter to keep dry we quickly ate our lunch and continued the hike up Sandrock Canyon.

As noted in Todd’s book this canyon should not be attempted unless you have good rock climbing skills or someone in your party is comfortable climbing an exposed face up to 60 feet without protection. Lucky for us Mike and Courtney are excellent climbers, in fact David is not so bad himself…..OK, honestly everyone in the group was a competent rock climber except for me. With a belay I cursed my way up the couple of walls that we had to climb to get out of the canyon.