Horsetank Wash is an amazingly challenging & beautiful canyon
while that exit up Sandrock Canyon is rugged, brutal, and unforgiving!
I've been know for soloing a fair amount of easy/moderate canyoneering routes, but I second Steve's warning of NEVER doing this canyon solo!!!
We parked just off of the highway since the road in was too torn up. The hike in was fairly easy & uneventful as Steve & I followed our GPS units to the entry canyon. That side canyon involved a fair amount of bushwhacking & down climbing but we quickly reached the main canyon. Todd's beta took us right to the good stuff and it wasn't long before we were hitting the first of many pools and proceeded to put on our wetsuits before jumping in.
We went thru at least a handful of waders/swimmers thru brief on/off beautiful sandstone narrow sections before we hit the first 40ft rappel (or a tricky wet down climb) into another swimmer. This drop puts you into that potential keeper that thankfully was full since the creek was still flowing lightly. The rope pull was a little tricky on this one due to the anchor being back a ways from the drop and the beaner block catching on some small vegetation.
This was followed very quickly by another tricky & tight 15ft rappel into another swimmer followed by a huge chockstone that required a sketchy 8ft down climb though I 'cheated' by using some old webbing to secure myself while I lowered myself down. Another short drop/butt slide into another swimmer and we proceeded into the 'Debris Section' of the canyon.
Thankfully the log jam has been cleared out a bit since previous summers, so we didn't have to do such a crazy logjam rappel this time while half of us just stemmed down a 10-15ft drop and the other half did an easy rappel from one of the remained logs. Beyond this rappel, we had to push thru much more treefall and sand/gravel piles before getting back to the easier rock hopping & pools then quickly hit that SUPER SWEET 80ft overhung rappel into an amazing grotto formed by massive boulders.
That grotto is exited via a super chilly swimmer followed by a tricky 10-15ft down climb that wasn't any easier by us getting it all nice & wet for each other.
The canyon opened up a little to reveal her amazingly beautiful tall sandstone walls towering above us as we did some more rock hopping, pool wading/swimming, another slick 15ft rappel, and then we hit the SWEET 'Big Pool section'.
That first big pool had us climbers doing some free water soloing up a good 10ft above the water before jumping off. Just when we thought we couldn't possibly have any more fun crammed into one day,we hit that second pool had us doing 20 & 30ft cliff dives into a living room sized pool (or a tricky & slippery down climb). Woohoo!
This was followed by even a few more down climbs & one last swimmer and a dirty wader before the canyon sadly dried up and required loads of rock hopping. Back in another one of those rock hopping creeks! (inside joke)
After slightly overshooting the exit canyon, we dropped the wetsuits and slowly bushwhacked & up climbed our way back up the sunny Sandrock Canyon.
So if Horsetank Wash is easily the sweetest Mogollon Rim technical canyon I've yet to do, then Sandrock Canyon is by far the toughest exit hike I've done so far!
It starts off easy enough with some light up climbing, pools to bypass, and loads of rock hopping. Though the many up climbs got slowly more difficult the further upstream we got... It was the 4th up climb (depending on what you're counting) that posed some difficulty for us. Michael did an exposed traverse above us while Todd did the exposed class 4 20ft climb and belayed Steve & I up. That was quickly followed by a 60ft unclimbable dryfall which forced up to bypass via a loose & steep chute on the right which inflicted an injury on one of our group. After about 10 minutes, I explored an exposed & loose ledge to see if it lead back to the canyon above the falls and was pleased to find that it did.
We soon hit that exposed class 4/5 40ft climb and I must have clicked into climbing mode or maybe it was seeing our 'designated climber' take a nasty fall, but I decided to just push upward pack and all and setup a belay for anyone that needed it.
Todd & Michael weren't going to let a lesser climber like me show them up and free soloed it as well
while I don't blame Steve with his soleless shoes for wanting for a belay. After that sketchy climb, it was easy slick rock & rock hopping up canyon a bit more before the canyon opens up and the sides of the canyon go from towering walls to gentle slopes. We exited the canyon east, broke out our GPS units, aimed for a cow tank, and thus began the 'A Tale of Two GPS Units'. Any one see Steve???
Thankfully we were all headed to the same point and arrived at about the same time and finally ended that long, sketchy, toasty
hike out with some clean clothes, powerade & wheat thins, and AC cooled car.
To be a good canyoneer, you also need to have selective memory loss and I've half forgotten that exit hike already yet fully remember that amazingly wet & adventurous romp thru Horsetank Wash and I should be more than ready to do this canyon again by next year if not in a month of two.
Working on the sweet photoset though it was tough to keep the lens dry & the lighting was rather harsh down in this deep canyon!