Adventure Travel


Canyoneering on the Colorado Plateau: PART 1

by John Hart 
Nov. 20, 2004

(Click on any image for a larger version and a description)

Go to Part 2


Fortunately I was able to take a few long weekends to do some more exploration of the exotic slot canyons on the Colorado Plateau.  While trying to obtain photo material for a canyon meteorology class, the weather was cooperative (i.e. there was a lot of rain, with the monsoon seemingly hanging around well into October).  But at the same time the heavy downpours were a little frustrating as some canyon descents had to be postponed or cancelled.  Nonetheless a lot got done.  Below, and in Part 2, is a pictorial summary.


A few times each year, the American Canyoneering Association organizes get-togethers where practitioners of the sport of canyoning congregate to explore canyons, learn techniques, and do service projects.  In spite of record temperatures (110F, in Phoenix and Globe, for example), we camped high up in the mountains south of Globe, and although the long drives on dirt roads were annoying, the environment was quite cool enough.  And, as most canyons in this area had flow (being tributaries of the Salt River), or at least including some deep and very cold pools, the descents were great.  Thanks to Rich Carlson for organizing this event, and to Todd Martin for leading a couple trips to some of his favorites.

CRYSTAL CANYON:  Going by several names, this one, on the Apache reservation (and thus requiring a permit), is a short slot with a couple of cool waterfalls (literally and figuratively).  We fixed a rope to get down the headwall to the main section, then ascended back out after looping through the narrows a couple of times.


WEST CLEAR CREEK:   Up on the Mogollon Rim there are a number of short but very colorful slots.  These have some of the coldest water-filled potholes (that are still in the liquid state) to be encountered.



CIBEQUE:  A nice, but short, sandstone narrows with flowing water.  Two big waterfalls.  The first is avoided by rapping alongside (or jumping, by the brave or maybe foolish  -  check the bottom first!).  The second (further upstream) has hardware installed for a guided rappel.  Permit and Apache guide required.


The Narrows of Cibeque

The Guided Rap



A friendly get-together, organized by Tom Jones, provided opportunities to descend some of the classics in Zion, as well as to explore some slick-rock domes in the rain.  Water was pouring out of Heaps and all the potholes were full.  Rob made a deep-fried turkey dinner (with side dishes for vegetarians), which kept spirits high in spite of 3 straight days of downpours.  Got to check out Tom's newest gear, too.  

OAK CREEK  (EYE OF THE NEEDLE):   Going by so many different names that several of our group thought it would be a new canyon for them (but alas it was not).  Nonetheless, as it is one of just a couple canyons in Zion with spring fed and predictable water flow, it has a special charm.


TELEPHONE:  A nice short 3 hour canyon with several raps and a couple pools to try and avoid.  Along with a spicy wedge downclimb or two, it's a good canyon to do to when you want to get in shape.  You schlep your gear to the top of the West Rim (a couple thousand vertical feet up), do the short and steep descent, and then carry it all out again.  Combine this with Behunin to make a longer in-canyon day (but not, I thought, late in the afternoon with rain starting up).


IMLAY:  Nicer color than I expected to find in the "deep and dark" narrow sections.  Lots of potholes (which were full of water, no hooking required this time through), and a spectacular last rap down into the virgin river narrows. 



SUBWAY:  A Zion classic done via the technical Russell Gulch entry.




Steve Brezovec's annual event allowed us to explore some side canyons of Lake Powell.  It was especially interesting to descend these canyons which, because of the low lake levels (down ~ 140 feet from "full pool"), have parts that haven't been seen in around 40 years.  At the bottoms, in the newly exposed sections, many of these tributaries really slot-up nicely, being areas that were cut most recently, in geologic time.  Some images from our descents are shown below.  The canyon names have been changed to protect the innocent. 

The lake is likely to continue receding for a little while, but predictions are for heavier than average snowfall in the Colorado Rockies (the headwaters of the Colorado River) this winter (2004-2005), meaning potentially higher runoff this coming (2005) summer.    Time will tell.  My personal wish is for the lake to disappear.......  There is so much more beautiful stuff still buried underneath in what was The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon.


NAKED MONKEY:    Big potholes to get through and a huge rap at the end (made much longer by the recession of the lake).




DAY CARE:  Varied, with convoluted narrows and open glens (related to the original name of this place: Glen Canyon).




LEPRECHAUN:  A classic North Wash dry-canyon (usually). 



A great set of canyons with enthusiastic lovers of the sport and of the outdoors.  Special thanks to Rich, Todd and Steph, Tom, and Steve for their enthusiasm and energy spent in organizing some wonderful canyoneering events.

Go to Part 2