Here's an out-n-back trek to the "Five Pools". Which is a downward swerve of layered swimming holes. Be forewarned as this is rather strenuous, not elevation or distance wise: just constant scrambling in addition to bushwhacking, rappelling & climbing. No actual trail exist, just actual beauty worth the effort. Tack on the 4x4 approach for one complete adventure. Best hike this trip April through June and September into October when rain definitely isn't forecasted. The monsoon season is risky and really just too hot. Winter would be fine to the pools. You might squeak out March & November with a wetsuit.
I tagged along with Fritzski and his buddy Bruce on this grand trip. A quarter mile east from the windmill in Hackberry Canyon head east/down the canyon.(0.4 miles)
The first obstacle encountered is a 40 foot dryfall
, which is fairly easy to zigzag down it's ledges. From here on the going is slow and somewhat exhausting compared to trail hiking. Several minor obstacles are encountered along the way to the five pools. This requires crisscrossing the creek back and forth in addition to occasionally high banking the canyon walls. In essence canyoneering is rougly 2-3 times more difficult then general trail hiking. From the 40 foot dryfall to the Devils Canyon confluence is prime real-estate, for rock-jocks anyhow. The north canyon wall is lined with rock formations. Dozens of climbs up to a YDS(Yosemite Decimal System) rating of 5.10c line the wall. The favored "Glitter Box" area is just north up Devils Canyon.
Upon reaching Devils Canyon thick tree coverage takes over. Take a right/south and head down the canyon. Be forewarned, I've personally witnessed wall to wall poison ivy
in which I simply couldn't imagine getting through. Of most concern is the section between Hackberry Creek & Oak Creek canyons. However, on this trip it was nearly non-existent compared to years past. In addition there's a short use-trail that rises slightly on the west side to bypass most of it. The section between these two tributary canyons also boast the densest bushwhacking. Going in we bypassed it somehow on the west side wall but to our surprise plowed right through it on the return.
Continue on passing Oak Creek Canyon. From here to the pools it's a "which side of the creek is best" battle. A small waterfall
is passed along the way along with some beautiful pool
s. When the canyon suddenly bends east and then west it's time to get excited as the "Five Pools" are near. My map isn't exact on the pools as I didn't bring my GPS, maybe next time.
1st pool is a beauty
. This pool has the
largest span of low ledges of all the pools, which is on the left.( that's going
in, as all my left/rights will be meant as ) The drop-off is 12 feet. The
jump or rappel is the same height from a ledge on the immediate left.
Rappel wise it's actually less as there's a small ledge. This was my first
time rappelling/climbing anything. I can tell you first hand rappelling is
twice as scary as climbing. Basically, it's just that first step backwards
over the edge, after that it's almost fun. Although climbing isn't as
scary, I don't have any upper body strength and it was brutal. For the
record I made it up this 120 foot section on my own. Okay, okay it's maybe
10 feet and by far the easiest as it has a slight slope. I believe there's
plenty of hand holds to climb if you're experienced at all. Better yet
read Fritzski's mini-tutor below for the technical info.
The water temp on this day was perfect. The game plan on all
these pools is to swim across. You could come to the first pool and turn
around as I'm sure many do. If you're more into swimming and sunbathing
the first pool is plenty. Much further is probably too much unless you're
experienced. Keep in mind the trip home up Hackberry Creek Canyon is in
full-sun-exposure even with a crack-of-dawn start.
The 2nd pool
is maybe ten to
fifteen yards from the first pool and it's tiny. It's really more of a
creek filter then anything you'd want to swim. Since it's a necessary swim
it's tough to leave out, therefore "Five Pools" is accurate. It does boast
a curved slide into the water, which may be fun if the creek is running.
Then again I prefer dry as it'd be a pain going up the smooth slippery slope.
The 3rd pool
is a 15 foot drop
from the second. The jump or rappel is 3 feet higher from a ledge on the
immediate left. I didn't jump any of the pools going down. I believe
everything in sight. I made it back up this route too. However, it
was more of Fritzski & Bruce pulling a dead body up the escarpment then me
actually ascending on my own.
The 4th pool
drop off all wrapped into one package. Everything about this pool is
The waterfall drop is 50 feet and the rappel is about 65 feet from a ledge up to
the left. Bruce jumped this one from a scramble a third of the way around
the left. He said it had a little smack/sting going in but was definitely
deep enough. He also mentioned the water down below is cold and makes you
swim up fast!
The 5th pool
is down a short
slope from the third. I bypassed the 4th & 5th pools. The fourth
pool was so amazing I more or less ignored the fifth pool on details.
Instead I scrambled the left sloping wall down to the lip of the bottom pool.
The left bank does add a new variety. A
was a pleasant surprise and previously-undocumented to my knowledge.
It's amazing it can grow in this brutal canyon, especially on these rock walls.
The wall is terraced just enough to catch soil from above. Or possibly
decades of leaves and wood decaying as the spongy soil felt like rotted wood.
That combined with tree shade and the kicker being a good seep trickling down.
Below the 5th pool is a huge sloping slab which resembles
poured concrete. It slopes down to a perfect sharp edge across the canyon.
To get below here scramble a short
slope on the
right. I noticed rocks stacked on the left but the right is the sure way
to go. On the left wall a
from high above
. Devils Canyon continues on down 4.2 miles to a not so
happy ending at the mining town Ray. It's
for as far as I could see.
You may not even want to come
down this far and reserve some energy. As I didn't realize that second
little tub was a "pool" I was searching for the fifth. Ding bat "Sherlock
Teva Holmes" came home and spent countless hours studying photos, water levels
and theorizing "the Missing Pool". It was pretty bad. First I
imagined a dynamite alteration between the first and second pools. This
was of course somebody's kind deed to lower the water lever 3 feet and expose
the slimy ledge for easier rappelling or something. Then came the
. Only to be followed by
. Puzzled I went back to admiring my photos of
un-blurred jumps when it all made sense.
Oh that pool
Note: Hackberry Creek Canyon and surrounding canyon walls are rock-jock magnets. Most notable is near the Oak Flat Campground where bouldering contest take place. It's not unusual to see large groups of people in March.
Flying Bruce - 5.4MB Mpeg - Warning Huge File - Sep 16 2002 joe bartels & Fritzski
| Fritzski Technical Babble:
To descend down through all the "five pools" of Devil's Canyon is considered
"technical canyoneering", thus requiring the appropriate equipment, knowledge,
and experience. As Joe mentions above, the pools consist of a classic series of
plunge pools(1) of which one is a small tub and
another a punchbowl(2).
1st Pool: From the top of the first broad dryfall (Sept.) you overlook a 15' drop
into the first pool. There was a
line bolted on the left side for the fairly easy descent. Despite its shabby
condition, the descent is a bit less than vertical and with good hand and foot
holds. Of course, just heaving oneself over the edge and into the pool is also
an inviting option after the long hike in.
2nd Pool: Swimming across the first
pool, you come to the top of a ramp or chute leading about 12' down to a
only about 10' across. This tub would be the sensible limit for those with
no technical experience.
3rd Pool: Again, you find yourself at
the top of a dryfall, this time overlooking pool #3 where you will again find a
hand line bolted to the left side. Here though, the drop is much more sheer,
smooth, and slightly farther than previously encountered. We deemed the
condition of the rope unsafe and tied our own hand line from an extra coil
brought along for just such an occurrence. Before commencing this drop, be
confident in your ability to climb back up this sheer pitch using
hand-over-hand, with the use of a belay or ascenders as an option if needed.
Once again, jumping is an attractive option.
4th Pool: From here things take a turn
for the technical. You are now
the sheer sides of an immense punchbowl at least 60' straight down to the water.
Although my daredevil partner choose to jump "for the fun of it", I wouldn't
recommend it. I instead opted for the
of which the lower half is free hanging. The anchor bolts look new and solid,
but bring your own webbing and ring. Having only a 100' static line(3),
I had to rig for a single line rappel with retrieval cord(4).
You will need rope at the bottom for one last rappel into pool #5.
bottom edge of the pool you now overlook the final pool #5 and the forested
floor of the canyon as it once again flares out from the sheer rock walls. There
is a small tree on the left side that serves well as an
the final rappel, which is down a smooth slope and onto a lower ledge where
you can make about a 30' jump or continue the rappel into the water assuming you
have long enough rope.
The exit at the bottom that Joe discussed above will get you back up to the top
of pool #4 where you can retrieve your webbing and any other gear you choose to
leave there. From there it is simply a matter of climbing back out via the hand
lines (in conjunction with pre-positioned top roped belays if needed).
NOTES: (terms taken from "Canyoneering-Beginning to Advanced" by C. Van Tilburg)
(1) Plunge pool - collection of water at the bottom of a waterfall
(2) Punchbowl - large plunge pool
(3) Static line - lightweight, low stretch rope designed for rappelling
(4) Retrieval Cord - better go buy the book :)
Fritzski's Factoid: Joe mentions the Yosemite Decimal System for rating
technical free climbing from 5.0 all the way up to 5.14 (which is like climbing
a piece of sheetrock). But where does the "5" come from and what does it mean?
The Yosemite system lies within a much broader system of terrain classification
ratings developed by the Sierra Club. These classes are as follows:
- Walking on level ground
- Hiking on or off trail with some elevation change
- Scrambling; may require hands for balance or support
- Easy vertical or near vertical climbing not requiring protection
- Technical free climbing (equipment used only to protect against a fall)
- Technical Aid climbing (equipment actually used for support while
So now when someone says the top of the Flatiron or Brown's Peak requires
some class 4 climbing, you'll know exactly what to expect!