Questionable Weather for Canyoneering Pine Creek and Keyhole Canyon in Zion
Questionable Weather for Canyoneering Pine Creek and Keyhole Canyon in Zion
Questionable Weather for Pine Creek and Keyhole Canyon in Zion had us rearranging our day a couple Thursdays ago when we headed up to Zion to pick up our permits. The weather forecast was predicting a 15% chance of rain until 12pm, and after that a 25% chance. We consulted as a group (there were 6 of us on this trip) and decided if we only had time to do one, it was going to be Pine Creek. So we dropped off Sarah’s car at the bottom, and all 6 piled into Jack’s car up to the top shuttle point after the tunnel.
We managed to grab a parking spot in the tiny parking lot and spent the next 30 minutes gearing up into our wetsuits and getting our packs and harnesses ready. It was a short enough canyon that we didn’t even bring lunches with us. The entrance to the canyon is less than a quarter mile from the parking area so we wouldn’t have to suffer in our wetsuits very long. The skies looked very blue, dotted with puffy white clouds.
I was super excited to see Pine Creek; it’s known as one of the most beautiful and picturesque slot canyons around. I brought my digital SLR packed in a Dicapac; an underwater camera bag I have used a number of times in the past but never in a slot canyon. Right off the bat it was into the drink before we even got on the 1st DRY rappel. We continued on to the 2nd which was a wet one but only thigh deep.
We came an area that most of us slid down but Cody decided to cannonball it! All the while I’m taking photos documenting everything and just blown away by how beautiful it was! One more super short rap, and we were at the famous Cathedral of Pine Creek. We let a small group of 3 pass us on our rope because we figured our group of seven would delay them a long time. In watching them, they truly didn’t seem overly prepared; the 2 guys were wearing spring suits and no gloves and one of them got on rappel backwards so just rappelled with his weak hand instead. Sarah had gone just before them so she could take photos of all of us descending.
I went 1st after the group and I had to remind myself to take it slow; I have a tendency to jam down a rappel as fast as I can. Although dark, the Cathedral still had light coming in from a few different angles. I can’t say how enough again how thrilled I was to finally be seeing this impressive canyon with my own eyes; pictures capture it but don’t do it justice.
As we made our way through the canyon, rain drops started to fall from above. Although the walls of the slot were high, a good amount was falling upon us so the entire group started moving with haste. I kept an eye on the water level which didn’t seem to be changing at all and it stopped raining as quickly as it started. Although we did slow down a little bit, we definitely felt a sense of urgency to get through the rest of the canyon.
On the final two raps of Pine Creek, Cody rigged them to allow two people to rap at the same time. This of course allowed our group of 6 to finish the canyon quickly and efficiently although we still made time for photos; Sarah from the top and me from the bottom. On the final rap, I was just below MJ on the ropes.
When ropes were bagged, and we were off the final rap, we got this group photo of everyone doing dancer’s pose. Then we made the downclimb through the wash to the shuttle point. There were a lot of partner assist opportunities through here. We continued as quickly as we could because although we were out of the slot, it was close to noon and the clouds were showing more than the original 25% chance they were expecting (turns out the NOAA upped it to 50% while we were in canyon!).
We found ourselves climbing out of the wash onto the main road right around the time that the skies opened. We joked around about it being a perfect time to do Keyhole when in actuality, we were thankful that we chose to do Pine Creek first and Keyhole second if the weather allowed. If we had done it the other way around, we would be somewhere in the middle of Pine Creek in the downpour that ensued. I don’t know if it ended up flashing that day or not, but I do know that we made it out safe and sound.
Somehow the shuttle car key had gotten left at the top in Jack’s car so Jack ended up hitching a ride from a generous tourist. We sat there waiting in the pouring rain, and I waved and smiled at every single car that drove by; almost every single one waved back! Thank you to Cody, Sarah, MJ, Marcus and Jack for the awesome day in a beautiful canyon at Zion!
The Neon Canyon Golden Cathedral Keeper Pothole Trip Report
The Neon Canyon Golden Cathedral Keeper Pothole Trip Report
The Neon Canyon Golden Cathedral Keeper Pothole Trip Report- yeah, say that 5 times fast!! I decided that I have given up on trying to get my adventure blogs done in order. So here’s one from a week and a half ago.. I got asked to lead Neon Canyon on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. I have co-lead canyons before but this was my first time ever leading one. I usually take a back seat in it because of my desire to shoot photos and not have to pay full attention to safety and rigging in spite of knowing how to. But the trip was looming close and without someone to lead it, Saoly and Mj were thinking of cancelling it. So I stepped up and agreed to lead.
The group size changed over the week and a half prior to the trip. In the end, MJ and Saoly headed out to Escalante on Friday to start their adventure, and I joined them on Sunday morning at the Egypt trailhead where I crashed out in the car with Blaine and Jake for a couple hours after arriving about 530 am. The plan was for all of us, plus Tiffany and Johnny to meet at the trailhead at 8am. We didn’t get on trail till almost 9. Tiff and John were nowhere to be seen.
I did a ton of research on Neon Canyon prior to heading out to Escalante. I printed out the beta and placed it in my gear in a ziplock bag and also made sure to add coordinates for key places along the way. We were originally thinking of backpacking in and doing Ringtail Canyon the following day, but we decided against doing the super technical canyon, and carrying camping gear AND canyoneering gear on such a hot day. So, it was a day trip of about 11 miles. The two beta’s I read from can be found here: http://brennen.caltech.edu/swhikes/neoncn.htm and http://www.canyoneeringusa.com/images/stories/PDFs/Escalante/HoleInRock/Egypt.pdf
We decided to do the beeline route to the canyon which is the shorter way to get in. It was very sandy and there was pretty much no shade on the way in. After dropping in from the top (it reminded me of dropping into the Grand Canyon but not as high and the entire hike had many levels to it) it was steep elevation drop, and then once at the bottom it was a slight downhill incline most of the way till we got over the oasis near the edge of the river/Neon Canyon and dropped in. Then it was a severe decrease in elevation through very deep sand. In my head I planned that this was not the way we would exit; the heat and the sand would destroy us on the way out. And, somewhere along the way Sao Ly realized she had forgotten her water bladder. Knowing that there was plenty of water we could filter from, we pushed ahead instead of her running back to the car to get it.
MJ was already boasting a blister as we trekked through the sand rifts. The view of the canyon was as of an oasis; a drastic change from desert to greenery as we reached the river we had to cross. We stopped to try and repair it with a wrapper and some ankle wrap. I usually carry moleskin and super glue with me but had forgotten it for some reason. I was starting to feel a few possibly hot spots on my feet so I tried to shift my shoes around and change my gait in an effort to lessen them.
We delayed in the wash after we crossed the river; not even sure why. But as we delayed, Tiffany and Johnny caught up to us at the confluence. I couldn’t even believe that they found us, let alone caught up to us. Unfortunately they had brought all of their gear with them to spend the night. They found a place to stash everything before continuing on.
You really have to pay attention to directions and watch for social trails at this point. Otherwise, instead of hiking to the top of the canyon where the rappels start, instead you would end up at the end in the Golden Cathedral. We had to head up to the bench above the bottom of the canyon and traverse along a few levels there. Blaine made a HUGE cairn in the hopes it would help other hikers spot this turn off. Once on top, there are many cairns to guide you to the drop in point for the first dry rappel.
For whatever reason, Blaine chose to downclimb around the rappel. The rest of us got our harnesses on and did the short rap down to the canyon floor. We found a shady spot close to the 1st wet rappel into Neon and took off our harnesses, donned our wetsuits, and then put the harnesses back on. We also took lunch at this point. We were going very slow that day, but were having an awesome time hanging out with each other so we didn’t care.
We dropped into the first wet 25ft rappel straight into water. It was a swimmer for a very short amount of time; not even worth noting, really. We continued on to the next section where there was a 12 ft drop or so. It looked like it could have even been downclimbed or handlined and there was log a few feet up canyon that also had a webbing anchor on it, so there were a lot of options. We set up a quick rap and were down it in no time.
The canyon was very picturesque and the time of day we were there was causing the sun to dance reflections on the walls of the slot. We took plenty of time to take photos as we journeyed through.
We turned through a slot that curved downward to a few small windows in the rock followed by a large pool of water. I knew just by looking at it that this was the infamous keeper pothole of neon canyon. Sao Ly and Blaine peeked up through the windows for a photo and then slide into the pool below.
I hung back with the rest of the group to see what we were dealing with when it came to the pothole, but the two swam across and then just casually walked out as if there were never a keeper pothole in this place. I made my way down and in and realized that the entire thing was filled with sand making the “keeper” a non-issue. I turned back in time to catch photos of Jake doing a cannonball into the pool.
The canyon had opened up very tall and wide and we let a group of two guys pass us. Thankfully we did because even though we knew the Golden Cathedral was coming up, what we pictured in our heads and what was actually the entrance into it were two separate things. The guys yelled back that it was indeed the Golden Cathedral. The reason it was important to know was because I was going to go first to take photos of everyone coming through the roof and I had to make sure that Jake knew exactly what to do as LAMAR. Confident that he knew what to do, I got on rappel and slipped down into the Cathedral; Go Pro and selfie stick close at hand.
Seeing all the photos doesn’t really do it justice, rapping down into it is a completely different experience. You back through the sinewy turns of the slot and then lower yourself down into this massive, sunlit cavern. After I had stepped away from the wall and was in a full free hang, I tied off on my Critr to free up my hands so I could take a few photos. I hadn’t expected an audience but there were at least 20 people hanging out in the vicinity watching. I then tucked away my selfie stick and then dropped to the pool below; fully expecting it to be over my head but instead about neck deep and very quickly waist deep. I threw off my pack and pulled out my camera to shoot the rest of the crew as they made their descent.
It was kind of like watching a little kid at Christmas as each of the 6 lowered into the Golden Cathedral. I ran around back and forth around the pool taking photos as did Sao Ly and MJ once they were safely on the ground. There was a cool effect of the sun playing a spot light directly where the rope touched the water; the same light reflected and played across the walls around the cavern. We took a few group pictures, removed our harnesses and then made our way into the wash to begin our hike out.
It wasn’t long to get to the confluence where Tiffany and Johnny had left their gear. We exited out through the confluence, hiking along the shores of the river headed in the direction of Fence Canyon. We needed to filter water and at this point it was a high priority.
A lot of bush whacking was involved here as we made our way into Fence but we finally came across a good number of tents where people were camping. We found a pool of somewhat running water that wasn’t directly on the river (the river was brown with all the silt it was stirring up) and we stopped for a snack break, removed our wetsuits, and filtered water. Wasn’t the best tasting but it was what helped us get out of the canyon that day. Even those of us who had full bladders and extra bottles went through most of our water by this point.
The hike out was really long, hot and steep. I won’t bore you with the details but taking the Fence canyon way out was definitely better than going the direct route. The hike was a lot more gradual with less sand, and more shade. It was about 7pm by the time we made it to the cars.
The plan that night was to hike into Sunset arch to shoot the Milky Way. Jake and Blaine were in but Sao Ly and MJ were not so we parted ways and headed the the Coyote Gulch trailhead where we parked the car. It was already dark so I was relying on GPS to take us the 2 miles across the desert to my favorite place to relax and camp, under Sunset Arch. We were tired and it seemed to take forever to get there; we quickly set up camp, made some food and then tried to take some Milky Way shots. It was Blaine’s first time and we both had crappy tripods. I was planning on doing a timelapse but I had brought my backup camera because my primary was in pieces at home, and the intervalometer I had was for my primary. So I shot a couple more shots and then called it a night. No matter, I was exhausted from the activities of the day.
I woke in the morning from no so much the light as the heat. So I changed my address; I casually packed up my stuff and then grabbed it and my tent and moved into the shade of the arch. It wasn’t long before Blaine and Jake were there joining me and we spent the next few hours taking photos, exploring, and making friends with lizards. Eventually we made the trek back to the car, which during the day was an absolute breeze and we made it there in no time. One more stop at Devil’s Garden completed the trip and then we were on our way home. Dinner was Chuck-a-rama on the way home. Jake still hates me for that one. Not because it was bad, because he’s a fat kid at heart and overate and couldn’t control himself. The end.
NOTE THERE ARE TWO PAGES OF PHOTOS SO DON’T FORGET TO SCROLL TO THE SECOND ONE!!
How to get to Havasu Falls Part 1
How to get to Havasu Falls Part 1
How to get to Havasu Falls Part 1: The Milky Way Chronicles
Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation is indeed inside the Grand Canyon and feeds into the Colorado River, but is not a part of Grand Canyon National Park. This desert oasis is a hidden gem that is not so hidden these days because of social media, and is a must-see for all of you adventurers out there!
Everyone always asks, “how did you get reservations?”. Well both Sarah (my adventure bestie) and I started calling on my birthday, February 1st, and called continuously until we got through. Feb 1st is the day they open up for reservations for the year. We both got reservations for April and August for large groups. This particular blog is about our 1st trip to Havasu this year to shoot photos of the Milky Way over the falls. Keep in mind when you’re calling, you’re calling in to their offices in Supai where there are about 2 people (maybe more) manning 4 different phone numbers and taking reservations for the entire season. They don’t have call waiting on those numbers either. I personally probably called at LEAST 500 times to finally get through.
You’re also competing with the tour companies that charge for all inclusive trips to Havasu Falls. The Natives love these clients because they guarantee a large amount of income from the mules that are used as well as money spent in the village going through on the way in and out.
Getting through is definitely the luck of the draw. The phone numbers are as follows: 9284482121 9284482141 9284482174 9284482180
Their website says if you just show up, they will charge you double the amount but will allow you to stay. I think this is something they USED to do. I wouldn’t do it if I were you because I watched people get turned away while I was there. Do NOT go without a reservation unless you are prepared to get turned away after hiking 8 miles in. Other option is to keep calling and be prepared to take off at a moment’s notice of a last minute cancellation.
First thing I did was create a private group on Facebook. In doing so I noticed TONS of public events on Facebook with people with extra spots on their reservations. Joining these groups is definitely a good way to score a spot if you are unable to get through on the phone numbers. Another option is to google Havasu tours. If you have the money, an all inclusive makes this very tough back pack trip a breeze.
On my Facebook Group, I invited individuals that I knew would be able to handle the type of trip we were going on.. What is it you ask?? A 20 mile hike RT to the campground with 50+ lbs of gear, plus multiple miles of hiking to Beaver Falls, town, up and down the campground, and back to Navajo Falls.. On this first trip this year I did a total of about 35 miles. I also made sure to post lots of information about things like my packing list, weather, cell phone service, available facilities, and more. I may have overdone it with the info, but everyone seemed appreciative. I made everyone pay for their permits and campground fees in advance to guarantee their spots on the trip. I did this because I didn’t over invite people on the trip and I wanted to make sure we used all 20 spots. We didn’t unfortunately because 4 people bailed out pretty much day of. The extra money was split between all of the drivers for gas.
We were originally planning on car camping at the top, but everyone seemed ok with leaving Vegas at 1am, driving in and getting on trail by 5 or 6 am.. Why do that?? We definitely didn’t want to hike with all our gear in the heat of the day.. Now that it’s June and temps are in the triple digits, it’s IMPERATIVE that you plan for hiking in early.
Now, in spite of having done this trip before, I definitely overpacked. I thought because I was the leader of the group, I should probably bring extra things to help people out. The extra weight definitely contributed to my blisters I got on the way in. My friend Kevin came out all the way from New York and he also got major blisters on the way in that affected him the entire trip. My advice?? Keep MoleSkin or Second skin on hand and the MINUTE you feel a hot spot in your shoes, stop and put some on. You will thank me for that advice. I use superglue to hold it on if I’m going to be hiking in water.
Our group made it to the town of Supai some time around 10 am. We stopped at the 1st “restaurant” we came to on the left to grab breakfast burritos before heading to the Tourism Office to check in. You NEED to have your ID for the reservation, as well as your reservation number. I made sure I had cash although they do accept credit cards there too. You also need to have all vehicles info, make model and license plate. They are now very diligent in policing everyone who comes through Havasu- they check campsites for tags every single day and they check you off a list when they run into you on trails as well.. Each person has a colored bracelet for that week with the name of the person who the reservation was under. Everyone in our group had my name on them for weeks because many of them didn’t want to take off their bracelets..
The final 2 miles in to Havasu Falls and the Campground were rough. Like I said I had overpacked, and I was just sorely out of shape. And, I was more in shape than many of the people I saw along the trail suffering on the way in. The hike is truly no joke, and you should not take it lightly. I will admit that when you turn the corner and first see the falls, all of that seems to disappear. Until you have to continue into the campground and find a place for your group to camp. I suggest doing that and then coming back to the falls to relax after; you want to make sure to get a good camp site.
Now the campground isn’t set up like most you go to. There are just picnic tables all over the place and areas you can take over. Sarah and part of our crew had managed to go ahead and scout the campground before the 2nd half of our group I was leading had arrived. Ironically, they picked the EXACT same place I camped last year when I was there. It was an awesome area with plenty of trees to hang hammocks on. I think I will do the hammock thing next year when I am there and save myself 5lbs from my tent! We all set up tents and hammocks and quickly changed to head over to Havasu Falls to relax the rest of the day. It was after 1pm by this time and we had missed the sun on the falls. Oh well, we still enjoyed our time there that afternoon..
Everyone headed back to camp except me, Kevin, Shane and Claudia. We took a trip 2 miles back to town to arrange mules to carry our stuff out the last day. We were concerned that if we didn’t, we were going to have some serious issues because of the weight of our packs and the blisters we were already dealing with. For approximately $90, a mule will take up to 4 packs weighing a total of 130lbs to the top of the canyon. We had to get to the tourism office before they closed at 5pm to schedule it. We stopped at the restaurant to have a cheeseburger on our way back to the campground and then made another stop at Upper Navajo Falls.
We got to Upper Navajo just as the sun was setting which made for some very beautiful photos. We didn’t really pay attention to the time and hadn’t brought headlamps with us so walked much of the way back to camp in the dark. Everyone was there having dinner so we joined in the social hour. We had plans to be up by 2am to shoot the milky way so it wasn’t long till everyone crashed out.
My alarm went off loudly and I quickly wandered around camp waking up the others who were interested in joining us. Not everyone made it up, but we still had a good size group of 8 to head down to the most famous of the falls, Havasu. My original plan was to shoot the falls with the Milky Way until day break, and then get a second image of the falls with a little bit of the dawn light for the foreground of my image. I didn’t have to do that because Daniel Britton had brought a ton of Lux Pro Flashlights with him; enough to light up the falls. Before we left we made sure to get an awesome group photo with the falls and the milky way above us. We chose to head back to camp to get a couple more hours sleep instead of staying up for sunrise.
The reason we planned to be up so early is because the climb down to Mooney Falls is a major traffic jam always. It’s only wide enough for one person, so if people are climbing up, you have to wait for all of them to go before climbing down. Add to that the treachery of the climb down stairs, ladders, and chains completely drenched by the mist of the waterfall. In spite of all efforts to get there early, our group didn’t make it there until about 10am. Part of the group headed down the falls and got stuck in the traffic jam there. I took a small group of us to take photos and check out the top of the falls instead of waiting. As the traffic jam cleared up, we made the climb down to the bottom of the falls.
There are two ways to hike down to Beaver Falls; one by mostly land, the other by mostly water. Each person in our group kind of made their own decision on which way to go that day. About half chose land through miles and miles of grapevine fields overlooking the waters of Havasu Creek. The other half chose the more refreshing route through the water. Kevin and I were slow going by land, thinking for sure that we were way behind everyone. But before long we had caught up with Shane, David and Claudia; we walked directly behind them for at least 2-3 minutes before they even realized that we were there. We continued on and took the top route into Beaver Falls.
The hike and experience at Beaver Falls is definitely the highlight of the trip; I tell everyone who goes to Havasu to make sure not to miss it. We arrived to about half of our group already there enjoying the water, surprised that not everyone was there. We joined them and it wasn’t long till the rest of the group showed up. We spent a couple hours there climbing, picnicking, jumping off the falls, and exploring before turning around to make the journey back. Ian joined me in a bit of dancer’s pose action; something I do almost every place I travel to. A bit downstream, we investigated the 65 ft cliff seen in the Devin Supertramp video; I recognized it as the place in the video featuring people jumping far into the waters below. No one from our group attempted this jump although some seemed interested in it for sure.
We meandered our way back with no sense of urgency at this point. Again, Kevin and I stuck to the land trail as did most of the group this time. Bryan and Ian were closely hiking with us; Dan and Ray were in search of a pair of missing boots they had lost along the way. The native Supai Ranger caught up to us not far from Mooney Falls and we spent some time asking questions as to the history around the area. It was quite intriguing.
It was our final evening in Havasu and the original plan was to again shoot the Milky Way. But the clouds had rolled in and the group of us having our packs carried out by mules had to have them up to the top of the campground at 7am sharp. So we all hung out around the three picnic tables at our campsite; cooking, eating, joking and telling stories until one by one each retreated to their beds.
I was the only one who got up early to shoot the sunrise, although there wasn’t much of a sunrise that morning. It was cloudy and overcast but I still made the hike up to Havasu to shoot it. Then I rushed back to camp to pack and get my gear to the mule pick up point. The native I spoke to their suggested that there would be a rainstorm by 10am. Our small group decided it was time to depart, with another small part of the group set to depart an hr later. Courtney had already headed out with all of her gear, Dan, Ray and Byron were staying a few more days and the other 5 were planning on heading out in the evening. Although it wasn’t flash flood season, I wasn’t interested in getting caught in a deluge trying to hike out.
We stopped in the village to get some food and rain parkas along the way and it started falling just as we were leaving Supai. The group who started behind us caught up to the blister crew right before the foothills. Most of the rest of the trail was without rain although as we hit the foothills and the switchbacks, we saw the storm rolling in. We had about 300 feet to go and we started running; no sooner had we reached the Hualapai Hill Top did the sky open and start HAILING of all things. We ran to get our bags from the where they had been dropped by the mules and escaped to the car. In spite of the long hike and hurting feet, we were laughing because of our race against the storm.
It took me forever to get this blog written- it’s now been 2 months since we were there. Thank you to all of my friends who made this a memorable trip; sorry if I forgot certain details of it!! lol If you are reading this and have any questions about our journey, feel free to join our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/havasufallspics
NOTE: Not all of the photos here are taken by me- the ones without watermarks are either from mine or Kevin’s cellphone