Thursday, March 26, 2015

Big Canyon

Last fall, I scheduled a trip to Big Canyon, a tributary of the Little Colorado River on the Navajo reservation.  A bunch of people showed for this trip, and on the first day, we entered the wrong drainage to connect down into Big Canyon.  We ended up wasting too much daylight farting around in that drainage, and aborted the trip before it even got started.  It was a huge disappointment.  Naturally, I wanted to fix this blot on my record, so I put the trip on the calendar again for this spring.  There was some last minute scrambling to figure out who was coming and who wasn't, but a team of five canyoneers from Phoenix, Flagstaff and St. George Utah eventually coalesced and we headed up Friday night to camp on the rim.

After a long shuttle on dusty Navajo roads, we dropped down through a break in the Coconino sandstone. This involved rock-hopping and butt-sliding down a massive talus slope.

Once safely at the bottom, we followed obscure washes further into the canyon. The going at this point was mostly easy, with firm sand, little rock-hopping, and easy route-finding.

Eventually, the canyon starts to drop into the Redwall.  Huge walls rear up from both sides of the canyon, and the scenery starts to get spectacular.

The first technical drop in the canyon is an 80 foot rappel that leads into a stunning, spring-fed chamber. Waterfalls with heavy mineral content make for turquoise blue-green water. 

Just around the corner, the canyon makes a 100 foot drop down a shushing waterfall. You rappel right down the middle of the waterslide.

Goes without saying, but this is incredibly fun. And given the price of admission in terms of physical and technical difficulty, you're all but guaranteed to have it all to yourself.

Below the second drop, the canyon opens up. While the canyon is no longer a narrow slot, the mineral content of the water makes for huge travertine waterfalls. We followed a series of rappels right down the middle of these formations.

At the bottom, the canyon drops into the Little Colorado River. Most of the year, this river would also be flowing turquoise, but recent rains had muddied the waters. All the same, its a spectacular area. We waded and floated right down the river to our campsite.

The exit the next day follows the Salt trail back out the rim. This is the trail that the Hopis use to travel to the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers, to visit the sipapu - the place where they believe their ancestors emerged from the earth. Despite the trail being older than the park itself, it was not easy, climbing 3000 feet straight up. While easy to follow, it degenerates at times into a free climb straight up the rocks. 

Between this trip, and Shinumo Wash last fall, the bug has bitten me hard.  I've been backpacking for many years, and these kinds of trips are everything I love about backpacking.  Its seriously remote wilderness, incredible beauty in both the big vistas and intimate slots, and tons of fun and variety in the swimming, rappelling and rafting.  All in one of the keystone national parks on the entire planet.  Grand Canyoneering is the next level of outdoor adventure, and I'm already planning my next trips.  Giddy up! 

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