Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Crystal Canyon on newsstands now!

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on June 23, 2009

Crystal Canyon on newsstands now

Crystal Canyon 3CIIIR
6.5 miles
San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation


Crystal Canyon on the San Carlos Apache Reservation took us two attempts to complete. Our first attempt in 2007 with Jen ended just above the technical section of narrows. The technical section of Crystal Canyon features two powerful waterfalls with nothing but a long, narrow and featureless pool separating the two. We stood above the first raging waterfall for a good 45 minutes before calling it quits. We couldn’t see the bolts in the pool below and did not trust that they were actually in place. With no visible natural anchors from our vantage point in or around the pool we did not want to risk getting stuck. Turning around we vowed to be back with more gear.

Almost exactly a year later we were back to Crystal Canyon with Chris and Mark. This time we had extra rope that would have allowed us to descend the entire technical section as a two- part rappel from the anchor at the top of the first waterfall. Rappelling with water pounding in our faces presented a whole new set of challenges we had not yet experienced in canyoneering. The force of the water made me feel no more significant than a rag doll. Rappelling down the first waterfall was slippery and much more difficult than I had expected. I could barely control myself and towards the end of the rappel I lost my footing and swung hard behind the waterfall slamming against the rock. Finally working my way off the rope I swam to a dry ledge in the pool and took a breath. The bolts were in fact in the pool and the second rappel went a whole lot smoother for me and the waterfall was much easier to negotiate.

David’s photograph of Chris from our second trip to Crystal Canyon is on page 5 of the July 2009 issue of Arizona Highways Magazine!



The magic of Havasupai

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on June 4, 2009
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Havasupai Canyon
Havasupai Indian Reservation, tributary of the Grand Canyon
06/23/07 – 06/25/07, 06/07/08 – 06/09/08

When I think about Havasupai the first word that comes to mind is “magic”. There is nothing I could say about Havasupai that would do the place justice. From the beautiful 10- mile hike into the canyon to the unreal aqua colored water, Havasupai is truly a wonder.

About 450 native Havasu ‘Baaja people live in this remote location where the only form of transportation in and out of the canyon is by foot, horse or helicopter. The US Government created the reservation in 1882. Today the main source of income is tourism.

My first trip into the canyon was with David, Mike and Ira (a first time for us all) in 2007. After the long and dusty hike to the bottom of the canyon the first signs of water were a welcome sight. First we saw green trees, then a stream and a running irrigation ditch, then just past the Supai village there are swimming holes off to the left of the trail. David and I stopped at one of the swimming holes for lunch and a dip while we waited for Mike and Ira to catch up. Those small swimming holes were so pleasant that we talked about how if that was all there was it would have been enough. Little did we know the magnificence that awaited us around the corner. It is hard to describe the feeling I had the first time I saw Havasu Falls. I could not believe my eyes, a powerful 100ft aqua blue waterfall in the middle of the desert!

The one negative thing I can say about Havasupai are the crowds (do NOT get me started on the port-a-potty situation!) so to avoid as many people as possible we walked as far back into the canyon campground as we could and ended up camping just above Mooney Falls. We didn’t bother bringing tents; it was nice to sleep out under the stars.

The second day of our adventure we explored more of the canyon. Climbing down Mooney Falls through blasted out caves and a slippery trail was a freaky experience, I admit I was scared. Once down the 200ft Mooney Falls we headed down stream. Havasupai is like a giant water park with multiple rope swings and amazing travertine pools. We never made it to Beaver Falls. We thought we made it but found out later we had not gone far enough! That is how cool this place is. We turned around at an incredible spot we thought must be Beaver.

Mooney Falls

Our third day in Havasupai we tried to get an early start for the hike back to our car but got distracted at Navajo Falls where someone had set up a zip line across the large pool in front of the waterfall. It was so early in the morning we had the place to ourselves. Hiking out under the brutal summer sun (with Mike refusing to drink water as usual) we were already talking about our next trip back to Havasupai. Ira as it turned out could not wait another year and ended up going back to Havasupai again later that same summer.

Havasupai is one of those places I want to share with everyone so when my friend Christine said she wanted to come visit me from DC and it was going to be in June, I really didn’t give her much of a choice. I was just so excited to share the enchantment I had experienced. I couldn’t imagine anyone not seeing the magic I saw.  So in June 2008, David, Mike, Ira, and myself, along with Christine, were on our way back to Havasupai. On this trip we spent more time exploring Navajo Falls with all its cool grottos on the backside of the waterfall. We also made it to the real Beaver Falls! We unexpectedly ran into our friend Erin as we were entering the campground and hung out with her one night (magic I know!). David, Mike and Ira hiked the entirety of the canyon to the Colorado River while Christine and I spent time relaxing below Mooney Falls catching up.

In August 2008 Havasupai experienced a major flood, if you haven’t seen it check out on the many You Tube videos of Havasu Falls violently running mud brown. The floods have supposedly changed much of the canyon a shame, but that is nature.

On a side note our good friends John and Kim (they are in many of our posts on this blog) met at in the campgrounds at Havasupai and were later married. I love that!


Near epic in Waterholes Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on May 8, 2009

Lower Waterholes Canyon, (thru-trip to Colorado River) 4BIIIR
4.1 miles
Navajo Nation, tributary of Glen Canyon


The number of phone calls, texts and emails in the planning for our full descent of Waterholes Canyon to the Colorado River, blew past a dozen on its way to losing count. A full descent of Waterholes Canyon is serious business and can be a logistical nightmare.

The reason for this is the canyon involves a 400- foot sheer vertical drop to the alcove below, known among some as the “Big Rap” and the fact that the canyon ends at the Colorado River miles upstream and on the opposite of Lees Ferry (the starting point for rafters of the Colorado River). Thus this canyon requires the use of some sort of boat to get from the bottom of Waterholes Canyon to Lees Ferry. Fortunately, Eric had a large inflatable river raft and a small kayak. Our solution was this: the day before we used the rafting company, Colorado River Discovery to shuttle Eric, his raft and kayak to the bottom of Waterholes Canyon. Eric then stowed his raft safely on shore and kayaked back to Lees Ferry. The following day the raft would be waiting for us at the end of the canyon. That is of course if we survived the “Big Rap”.

Waterholes is a beautiful Colorado Plateau slot canyon with sandstone fins creating a natural tunnel of art. While soaking in the beauty, negotiating tricky rappels, down climbs and squeezes, the thought of the Big Rap was always in the back of my mind. The first difficult technical challenge came when we tried to avoid getting wet in a pothole filled with cold green sludge. Mike took one for the team getting wet while crossing the pothole and then with my assistance set up a tension line over the pothole. With this line everyone else on our team crossed above the pothole and avoided the slime below.

Shortly after the pothole we hit the top of the alcove and the Big Rap. With a 325- foot rope and hundreds of feet of other rope we had options on how to make the descent of this sequence. During a survey we spotted bolts on a series of ledges on the side of the alcove. We had heard about this potential route. After exploring this area more closely a group decision was made to attempt this descent as opposed to the more traditional descent straight down the watercourse.

Five hours later we reached solid ground on the canyon floor. The route took us down three rappels off of ledges with exposed traverses and belayed down climbs through loose rock to bolts that were partially hidden in a buildup of sediment. We suspect this route had not been previously used in a decade or more. Later we talked about how we felt like we had gone back in time resurrecting the route. Everyone in our group got through the sequence without major incidents, but this was during five stressful hours. Fortunately the bolts appeared relatively solid and we had a bolt kit if necessary. I feel a responsibility to say that I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS ROUTE.

Just before sunset we reached the Colorado and Eric rowed us to Lees Ferry below the massive cliffs and darkening sky. The mood was celebratory with an intense feeling of having just experienced a near epic adventure.


**** To see a video produced by Mike Schennum of our descent down Waterholes, along with a hike to the Wave and a trip through the Egypt 2 and 3 slots from the same weekend go to the post “The Egypts – Not for those who weigh more than 200 pounds”.