Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Black Canyon

I did a sweet canyon trip this past weekend.  Black Canyon near Cottonwood was the canyon of choice.  It's more well known as the ice waterfall canyon - Todd Martin and co. completed a winter trip where the first waterfall was iced over, and Todd included a picture of that trip on his website, and later in his Arizona Technical Canyoneering book.  So others who've done the canyon have tried to hit it during the winter months to replicate the experience. We didn't see it with ice, but the canyon ended up being pretty sweet regardless.  By hitting it in March the waterfalls ended up being in perfect condition.

The classic route for this canyon involves a long trail hike up from the mouth of the canyon before dropping in to the canyon proper.  Instead of all that, we dropped shuttle cars at the mouth of the canyon, then took one car up through Jerome to the upper trailhead and dropped in from there.  This was a much better route choice, and definitely how I would approach this canyon in the future.

The famous ice waterfall was in full flow.  I went down first, and carefully kept myself out of the water due to the lack of a bottom belay.  Jay, Andrew and Dinna all followed in my tracks, then Mike came down right down the middle of the falls.  The sun was shining at the top rim of the falls, making for some great pictures.

Just below the "ice" falls, there was a small drop with water pouring through.  For this one, I was confident enough to rappel down the middle of the falls.  Nothing like the water battering your helmet and swirling around your body to get the adrenaline racing.

Shake Tree Canyon, a few weeks earlier, had been one rappel after another in quick succession.  In contrast, this canyon had nice waterfall rappels (the nicest I've seen), but there's long sections of wading and scrambling along the creek to get from one waterfall to the next.  From the small falls, we travelled downstream for about an hour to get to the next major drop.

Below this drop, we had another hour to hour and a half of slogging to get to the next major falls.  This was worth the effort though, as this falls was the best yet.  A rushing waterfall sliding through a sculpted alcove, twisting and spraying off the walls.  Mike was the first to look over the drop and said "you guys have got to see this."

At this point we made a judgement call.  We knew that the final part of the canyon went through a section called "the narrows," and Todd in his beta said "if the water is more than a trickle you may not want to enter."  So there was some concern that we might not be able to get through the next section, given the higher than average flow we were seeing.  There was also the potential of a climbing, bushwhacking exit from this point in the canyon, and no guarantee we could bail further downstream.  I was game to try, but cooler heads prevailed and we decided to run this waterfall, and then exit the canyon to the trail that ran alongside it.

The waterfall was as awesome as it looked from above.  The approach to the rappel station was a little sketch and the waterfall was honestly pretty intimidating looking from above, but once you descended a bit the fear cleared off and the fun of the moment took over.

The exit was hellacious.  Extended uphill, with bushwhacking through manzanita and catclaw that got worse and worse as we got higher.  At one point we had to descend to cross a major side drainage then regain all of that elevation on the other side.  What's worse, once we got high enough, we could see a fairly easy looking bypass trail around the narrows, way down low. 

Eventually we hit the trail however, and from there it was an easy and straightforward descent.  It went on for awhile, but once I hit a trail I can cruise on, especially downhill, I'm good and can go for miles.  We ended up getting to the cars around 7:30, about 11 hours after we started. 

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