Overview: An advanced technical canyon leading into the West Fork of Oak Creek
Warning: Canyoneering involves travelling through slot canyons. Flash floods are a serious possibility. Always check the weather before departing and do not go if there is any chance of rain.
This is an extremely technical trip, to be prepared you will need to bring plenty of wetsuit (4/3 full minimum would be my recommendation), regular canyoneering gear including helmets, enough rope to complete a 120 ft rappel (I'd recommend 1x100ft + 1x200 ft), POTHOLE ESCAPE GEAR, safety leash, 80 ft webbing and 13 rap rings, lots of experience, a GPS, an efficient well-practiced team, and probably a bolt kit (for emergency backup purposes only, though it is hopefully unlikely you will need it).
Important Considerations: This canyon contains rare plants (such as Arizona Bugbane) and delicate mosses. You must respect the environment and avoid trampling the vegetation. Attempt to only step in the places disturbed naturally by the flow of water and avoid creating new use trails. Please respect this area.
Danger: This canyon contains keeper potholes which you cannot escape by yourself. It also contains moderate downclimbs and troublesome anchors. Navigating the wrong way will put you in a place with a 320+ ft overhung precipice that you likely won't have enough rope to get down. This place is definitely not for beginners or amateurs. It is not a place for intermediate canyoneers either. Do not go alone, do not go with an inexperienced team. Do not go with a group that doesn't work well with each other. If your team has never come in close to the low times given by beta sources for any canyons, you are probably not ready for this. Some of the keepers will be very serious obstacles when the water is low. Do not underestimate the canyon, do not overestimate your skills. Be cautious, be safe.
EXTREME DANGER: This canyon contains a high number of difficult keeper potholes, of which the second to last rappel is the hardest. Going alone is a death wish for all but a few. You will be out of the sun and in cold water for hours while in the technical section. Hypothermia is a definite possibility, even during the Arizona summer. If water is low, advanced skills will be required to defeat the keepers. Some drops are bolted, but other drops may have NO anchors, at least one has no rock stacking/slinging possibilities with which to build an anchor should the existing anchor disappear. You will need to plan ahead and use your smarts to figure out how to deal with this and other situations. Natural items you "borrow" will likely not be available when needed - you may have to farm them from a long way up-canyon. Yeah, up-canyon...you know...above that last rappel of the rope you just pulled! Don't let yourself get trapped! Do not go into this canyon unprepared. You will need to work as a team. Have a plan, be over-prepared, execute your plan, and your backup plan if necessary.
History: First descent claimed by Todd Martin, Joe DeSalme, Sara DeSalme, Tom Wetherell, and (insert 5th person). The canyon register tells of the numerous scouting missions and partial descents leading to the first full descent. Thanks to their hard work, you might enjoy this canyon.
Secrecy, protection, elitism, privacy. All of these factors play into posting trip logs. Should you share information about a place so that others might be better prepared and avoid mistakes, or should you keep it to yourself so that you can keep others from finding out about your special place? Do you avoid telling people about possibly dangerous places so they will stay away from ignorance, or do you warn them and rely upon their judgement to know when they are incapable? Do you believe in personal responsibility?
What about asking others to keep things a secret? Should they comply? What happens if people who are not in your "clique" find out about your secret? Do the outcasts have an obligation to keep the secret if the "secret holders" decided to exclude them and deny them information, but later ask for their participation in secret-keeping afterwards? What if they tell you of the location and in turn for sharing the beta, ask for your secrecy? Is that different? How much does ethics factor into this? How much of this is highschool-esque clique elitism nonsense?
Is a secret still a secret once enough people have found out about it that the original secret holders can no longer control their secret? Isn't it always the responsibility of the original people to keep their secret? Ben Franklin once said secrets can only be kept between two men if one of them were dead. Later he also said we shouldn't sacrifice our personal freedoms for the perception of security. Were Old Ben still around he would sure have something to say about the events of the last few years in our country.
Whoa, I digress, too much heady stuff, best discussed over a beer...or three...
Hike: Descriptions will be brief as you should have enough experience to not require step by step instructions.
Descend north-east into the gully. Make sure you hit the correct drainage into the correct canyon, otherwise you are setting yourself up for disaster. Find good use trails as only a little bushwhacking is required (at first in the upper drainage). The first obstacle is a walk around bypass on left. Avoid creating a new use trail. The second obstacle involves going slightly up canyon of a right incoming drainage, around the drainage, and descending from the opposite side where you first came to face the 2nd obstacle. Avoid creating a new use trail. You will arrive in a large flat area. Gear up here.
Descend the canyon. Numerous awkward down-climbs, rappels, and keeper potholes are present. A significant amount of time is spent in cold water. The first half dozen raps are pretty short. A 100 ft rappel off the backside of an exposed pothole stance may think you are at the end, but you are not. A few more raps and downclimbs will lead you to the 2nd to last drop, which is the tallest (120 ft) and has the most difficult keeper pothole of the canyon. You cannot see this final pothole from the rap station. Have a plan ready. Execute it.
You can take off the wetsuits after this, pack up the ropes, and walk for quite awhile. Where you reach the West Fork of Oak Creek will be the final 50 ft rappel down a slippery cliff.
Hike downstream along West Fork until you reach the trail and hike the trail out to the highway.
Alternative exit loop option: Instead of leaving a shuttle at the highway and driving back to the start, hike downhill on the highway to the AB Young trailhead and climb the 2000 ft elevation gain up the AB Young trail (with wet 60 lb packs?) onto the rim and then walk the road back to your car. This option adds 2-4 hrs and about 3.5 miles beyond what is listed in the upper left statistics.
Water Sources: Nothing you will want to drink in Illusions. Possibly filter from West Fork. The TH of West Fork of Oak Creek does not have running water either, bring all you need with you.
Camping: Free on the rim, numerous pay sites along the highway near the lower trailhead.
To canyon trip Leave a shuttle at Call of the Canyon Trailhead as described in the West Fork of Oak Creek description. There is a pretty significant fee to park here.
Drive your vehicle through Flagstaff to Woody Mtn Rd 231. Follow this a long ways until about a mile before the lookout tower is encountered at the end of FR231. At the intersection of FR9019M and FR231 park here or drive about 300 yards north on FR9019M, depending on your vehicle and road conditions.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.