Thursday, August 13, 2015

James Canyon

I had the opportunity this weekend to do a quick solo run through a canyon that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.  James Canyon was one of the first technical canyons I ever heard of.  At a time when many canyons were kept secret, James was known and published.  So this one’s been on my list for about a decade and a half.

James Canyon gets neglected by many modern canyoneers who started post-2009 (when Todd Martin published his book, and when most AZ canyoneers really got their start).  It’s a fairly long canyon, with an even longer exit, and its not technically very challenging.  In a world where dozens of high-quality technical canyons are published and beta is widely available, James doesn’t get much attention.  But for a solo trip, technically easy is desireable.  And while many canyoneers I’ve met have climber syndrome and grouse endlessly about any kind of lengthy approach or exit, sometimes a lengthy canyon can be a good thing as well, as it lets you immerse yourself in the  canyon environment for an extended period.  So all of that to say, James Canyon was just what I was looking for for this trip.

Thanks to recent monsoon rains, the canyon was at full flow.  The water was flowing  brown and murky, which meant I had to proceed slowly and carefully as I couldn’t see where I was putting my foot underwater.  On the bright side, this meant that every drop in the canyon was a waterfall.

The canyon features several sections of very nice narrows.  They’re not quite on par with say Bear Canyon or Illusions, but they are extremely nice.  The first set of narrows was the most interesting, as it involved a short 15 foot rappel, and then a series of drops through interlinked pools.  Each of these drops required a short (2-3 foot) slide into the next pool, which was a little nerve wracking without being able to see below the surface of the water.  Needless to say, everything went fine.

James effort- to-reward skew showed itself as the day continued.  While the canyon features several sets of nice narrows, there’s a lot of slogging between narrow sections.  There was a significant amount of swimming required as well.  With a 4:3 wetsuit, the swimming was pleasant and refreshing.

After a few hours, I reached the second rappel, this one a 40 footer rigged from trees on creek left.  Thanks to the high flow, a gorgeous waterfall was flowing right next to the rappel wall.  Had I been with a group, this waterfall would have been perfect to rig and rappel down the middle, but I had to content myself with rappelling the mossy wall next to it.

Below the second rappel, the canyon passes through a long narrow hallway.  This featured the coldest swim of the trip.

Not far below the hallway swim, the canyon starts to open up as it nears the confluence with Pumphouse Wash.  I stopped to remove my wetsuit and technical gear.   I was hopeful that somewhere near the confluence, I could find a way to sneak route out to the rim, rather than doing the full hike up Pumphouse and Kelly Canyon.  Sure enough, I found a sketchy trail leading up to the rim before I even full exited James Canyon.  Once on the rim, I followed jeep roads back to I-17 and my car.

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