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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

Canyon Country Part 2

Blog

Canyon Country Part 2

Derek Bartz

The canyons continued, and oh there are so many canyons!  We were excited to move onto other portions of the plateau and slowly made our way north/east, even stopping along a couple of our favorite places to get a little backpacking in.  The Canyons of the Escalante, North Wash, Robbers Roost; places one could easily bypass in favor of the surrounding "Mighty 5" when in reality ALL of Southern Utah is a national park.  I had little experience with most of these areas.  As always it was great connecting the dots, slowly filling in the blank spaces on the map only to realize that the list of places to explore just gets bigger and bigger every time.

Escalante

The Canyons of the Escalante, every desert lover eventually ends up here.  The area is a vast network of tricky terrain, concentrating a majority of the visitors to certain areas.  The first time backpacker will likely walk through Coyote Gulch; the photographer will end up in Spooky or Zebra Slot; and the canyoneer Neon Canyon.  Hole in the Rock road was in its regular, heavily wash boarded shape.  Any speed over 10 mph in the van felt like the whole thing was going to rattle apart, and the 17 miles to the Egypt intersection took 2.5 hours.  Unlike Zion for their relatively ease of accessibility and reliable (practically maintained) anchors; the canyons here can be a bit more unpredictable, although the popular canyons still get descended daily during peak season.  For instance, for Neon Canyon we decided to drop into the upper canyon, rather than taking the early entrance like a majority of parties do, and found the first rappel to be trickier to locate than anticipated.  We walked slickrock along the edge of the canyon for a couple miles before stumbling upon a tree with an anchor that didn't quite match either route description we had with us.  

Egypt 2 & 3

Rating: 2/3BIII
Time: E3: 6.5 hours  E2: 3 hours
Rappels: E3: 1 Optional  E2: 2 up to 295'
Wetsuit?: No

First Egypt 3, then 2 the next day.  The canyons start right off the road, if unfamiliar with the area it is worth tracking the mileage from the intersection or using GPS to find the head of the canyon; accidentally dropping into Egypt 4 would be a mistake to say the least.  Egypt 3 is long, skinny, and sustained.  The canyon is broke up into three sections, with escape routes breaking up the slot.  In between these, the walls are consistently tight for large portions at a time, and a few spots pinch down to 1-2'.   Plenty of side ways, pack off shuffling and a number of pools keep you guessing what will come next.  The canyon ends in an optional 40' handline/rappel into a tricky pothole followed by a shoulder width swim that had us scratching at the walls to keep our head above water.  Fantastic!

Egypt 2 was more canyon perfection with the added bonus of a 295' rap down into the head of the canyon.  We ventured down about a third of the way before climbing out one of the earlier exits.

Egypt 3

It's a skinny one!

The BIG drop down into Egypt 2

Neon

Rating: 3BII
Time: 2 Days
Rappels: 3 up to 85' for the lower canyon
Wetsuit?: Yes

You have probably seen the picture, the silhouette of a lone canyoneer on a thin line dropping through a sun lit portal of streaky, desert varnished sandstone into a pool of water surrounded by lush, green hanging gardens.  The Golden Cathedral of the desert in lower Neon Canyon, so good we did it twice.  First time through though we entered via the sneak route in Upper Neon, or so we think.  An hours walk along the rim of the canyon and still no easy way down into the narrows/slot, we found a tree with an anchor around it and rapped the 100'+ down into a section of canyon reminiscent of The Subway in Zion.  Down canyon we found water, and lots of it!  Incredibly long sections of slot filled with pools ranging from ankle deep to 50 yard swims.  The brown, murky water was glass, and the reflecting colors of light playing off the red canyon walls made it easy to see where the name Neon came from.  

Walking the rim searching for a way down

"The Subway" section, our entrance into the canyon bottom.  Not many venture up this far.

One of many moods of Neon

Wet!  Neon contained the most water out of any slot I have been in.

The Cathedral during the Golden hour; tricky lighting the first time around.

Neon!

And the second time through, Michele showing how it is done.

Capitol Reef

To avoid becoming claustrophobic, we headed out into the Capitol Reef backcountry for a couple nights and finished up a route which is apparently called the Beehive Traverse.  I have done much of the route on two separate occasions but still had yet to complete the last bit from Grand Wash to Pleasant Creek.   The area is starting to feel as though it is home territory; not needing to rely on GPS to navigate through the tricky terrain.  Too good not to include again here.

We were able to get one technical descent in around the Cap Reef area going through Cassidy Arch.  Although not a major canyon, the drainage starts with a big rappel through Cassidy Arch and continues on with a number of nice rappels and scenery to match.

A top the Waterpocket Fold near Ferns Nipple

The land before time

Just another paved canyon bottom

Cowboy camp on top of The Fold

One of my favorite canyons en route

Slickrock for days

Cassidy Arch Canyon...this is not Cassidy Arch, but a bonus one on the third rappel!

North Wash

North Wash proper is the drainage running the path along Hwy 95, but the area encompasses a large patch of canyon heaven sandwiched between the Henry Mountains and the Dirty Devil River. This is no mans land for sure, but the canyons are quite accessible and well worth the trip. The slots sound intimidating: short, skinny (people get stuck here), and dark; so dark you may actually want that headlamp the guidebook sometimes talks about bringing.  But I found them to be super fun with some wild scenery.  This area is often bone dry, but we arrived the day after a big rain event and plenty of pools were encountered.  

Blarney

Rating: 3AII
Time: 2 hours
Rappels: 3 up to 50'
Wetsuit?: No

Awesome!  Even though I hardly saw any of it.  We arrived to the area around 6pm and after waiting for the last members of our group didn't park at the TH until well after dark making the descent via headlamp.  Highly recommended.

Middle Fork of Leprechaun Canyon

Rating: 3BII Skinny
Time: 3 hours
Rappels: See Below
Wetsuit?: No

Extremely long sections of super skinny slot characterize the Middle Fork of Leprechaun.  With some solid beta, we entered the canyon with only 30' of webbing stuffed into a fanny pack; choosing to hand line down the two short drops in the slot.  This proved to be the way to go; hauling a pack would have been a painfully annoying experience.  Lots of toes & elbows stemming ensued as we shuffled our way down.  The dark, cathedral section below the confluence of the three forks is outstanding and can be hiked to from the bottom up.  

One of the wider sections in the Middle Fork of Leprachaun Canyon

Some of the more open scenes in Middle Leprechaun

Leprechaun light

Walk through, lower sections of Leprechaun

Hogwarts Canyon

Rating: 3A/BII
Time: 2 hours
Rappels: 4 up to 90'
Wetsuit?: No

A short, but worthy canyon easily accessible from the Hog Spring Rest Area.  A good one to do late in the day with a couple of hours to kill.  A visit to the Moqui Queen on the return to the car should not be missed.

Bridge room in Hogwarts Canyon

Making our way back to Hwy 95

CONSTRYCHNINE CANYON

Rating: 3BIII
Time: 5 hours
Rappels: 4 up to 165'
Wetsuit?: No

A good one, a real good one.  Constrychnine, feels bigger than it is; the views from the first few raps are phenom and give a glimpse of the dark crack you are about to enter.  A rappel straight out fantasy land sends you into the the abyss where a long hallway section ensues.  The canyon ends at a scenic spot with the confluence of Slideanide Canyon, which we will have to come back for.

Constrychnine Canyon

One of the nicer rappels around

Fun canyon

Deeper

Lower Slideanide

A canyon is up there?!  Slideanide exit.

Robbers Roost

The Roost!  Located southeast of the Maze district of Canyonlands National Park, accessible via 30-40 rough miles of dirt road, this is rough country with no services and litte sign of civilization; saved from tourism by the lack of paved roads and unforgiving nature. Most of the canyons here begin up on the mesa top, which you drop down through into unspoiled canyon systems.  Finding the exit back up to the car may often be the most stressful part of the day.  We arrived here towards the end of our time in the desert and our desires to descend canyons were fading, which was unfortunate because the area turned out to be one of my favorites.  The combination of technical canyons tacked on with backpacking destinations make the opportunities for adventure out here endless.

Larry Canyon

Rating: 3BIII
Time: 6 hours
Rappels: 4 up to 99'
Wetsuit?: No

Highly recommended by one of our group members, Larry is one of the classic canyons of the area.  We encountered a number of waist/chest deep pools that had us wishing for wetsuits from the beginning.  Luckily the lower part of the canyon doesn't hold as much water.  The dark, slanted hallway was a highlight but the numerous walk thru sections were as scenic as I have seen.  The upper, technical part was only half of what Larry has to offer; below is a wide, colorful canyon with sheer cliffs and unique bays.  A trip down it's entirety to the Dirty Devil River would make an excellent overnight.

Walk through narrows in Larry Canyon

The exit of the infamous slanted section.  Dark in there!

Larry