What was I thinking?!?
My one regular weekend of local hiking/canyoneering on my calendar out of 5 and a major statewide thunderstorm thinks it going to spoil my plans.
Meadow is a wider canyon without too much in the way of narrows until the end and I've never had issues with creek hiking WCC in monsoon season and even right in the middle of a monsoon. In fact three weeks ago, I did this same exact loop while getting poured on in the White Box without any issues.
After just coming back from 4 days of canyoneering in Zion and having recently done this route, I was afraid I'd get bored
doing it again so soon and mixed it up by making it an overnighter and spending the night at the amazing Hanging Gardens.
I worked in town until noon, so we got a late start and hit some light rain & fog on the drive up to the rim but nothing to scare us enough to change to a backup plan.
We parked along the highway and trekked in to the drop-in point of upper Meadow and I found it pretty cool to finally see this canyon with some light water in it. It was only flowing lightly in the upper reaches while the middle section had larger pools than I'm used to seeing. We of course had loads of rock hopping, down climbing, and some pools to wade before the sandstone walls closed in a bit and started to get technical. We geared up and dropped down that sweet 80ft double drop and a little further down canyon we dropped down another 45ft drop. Some more rock hopping and the canyon narrows up with that sweet 80ft sloping chute that we of course rappeled because it was wet and that was quickly followed by a short 20ft drop. IMO, this is the sweetest section of the canyon as it further narrows with loads of boulder hopping until it opens up and dumps you into WCC.
Reaching the confluence with WCC is were the trip turned from an easy canyoneering loop into a challenging nail-bitting adventure.
Up until this point, I thought we'd dodged the 70% chance of heavy rains, we didn't get rained on at all dropping down Meadow Canyon, and in the past 4 summers of hiking WCC thru monsoon season this canyon seems to rather unaffected by them. So needless to say, I was a little shocked when we reached the creek and its flowing muddy brown and at least a foot above normal. Ohh snap!
Well we can't go back up Meadow Canyon and going downstream thru the Red Boxes and up Rim Tank Canyon seemed like a worse option than just sticking to the plan of going upstream thru the White Box. As if WCC isn't slippery enough when its clear, now we can't see the rocks thru the muddy water and its flowing about twice as strong as normal making it extremely slippery & slow going.
So we stick to the sides & bushwhack as much as possible and use sticks to cross the creek whenever necessary. It's not too far upstream to the amazing Hanging Gardens and we made fairly decent time to them considering and setup camp at that great spot well above the creek. With an hour of daylight left, we enjoyed those amazing falls/spring despite the muddy water and took a quick bath in them before retiring for the evening.
Now I was hoping that since it didn't seem to be raining much that the creek would drop over night and clear up by the morning, when in fact it spiked overnight according to USGS data.
When we woke up and saw the creek still muddy & lightly raining outside, we were in no hurry to break camp and instead slept in a bit. Eventually got up and enjoyed the Hanging Gardens a bit more before finally breaking camp around noon. I guess it was a good thing we got a late start because the flow was dropping back down all morning and was lowest around noon but was ramping back up by late afternoon. It's only a mile in the creek from HG to the White Box trail; that shouldn't take too long.
So it looks like the flow was about 25cfs Sat evening but on Sunday afternoon it was up to 30-35cps when its normally just a spring-fed gentle 18 cfs... We again stuck to the sides and bushwhacked as much as possible, using stick for whenever we had to cross the creek, and the swimmers were tiring but ended up not being too bad to swim up. It took some time & energy but we eventually reached the White (muddy brown) Box without too much difficulty and I of course had to do the rope swing at least once and found it comical that the bottom of the rope was no longer above the water but a few inches in it.
Above the White Box is where the canyon really narrows up and were I was the most concerned about but up until now there was always an easy side of the creek & pools to swim up. Then we reached that normally easy chest-high wader were the canyon is only 15ft wide and try as we might we didn't have any chance of swimming up that strong current as it roared from one side to the other. I gave it a few tries on both side but the current washed me away like a rag doll.
Before I even had a chance to get scared or think about turning back, my 'climbing eyes' saw a flat bench a good 40ft above the creek and nearby I found a class 3/4 route up to it. So I geared back up and climbed up there with my 200ft rope and sleeping pad, found a huge flat bench up there to easily walk above those narrows, found a solid tree to build an anchor on, and rappeled back down to the creek. I tied the rope around my sleeping pad and floated the rope a good 100ft to Kelli for her to tie it to my pack and was able to easily pull it up thru the current. I sent the rope back down to Kelli and was thankfully able to pull her thru the current without too much difficulty but it almost looked like she was about loose her grip a couple times. She was quite the trooper thru it all and had a big smile on her face now that we had that behind us. A little more battling our way upstream and we were finally at the exit trail.
Holy crap, it's almost 5pm?!? Looks like it took us about 4 hours to do that one mile upstream from HG to the WB trail with a whole hour of that burned getting past that swift-current narrows.
That trail out was super muddy in the lower sections and we were sliding & slipping like crazy, but we eventually made it up to the more solid sections. My pack was waterlogged and my body was sore from battling the creek, so that was a tough hike out with all the gear but it SO nice to top out on the rim and look back and reflect on what we just went thru.
The muddy road walk out was rather peaceful in comparison though we did had to kick thick mud clumps off of our shoes every few minutes. We eventually made it back to the highway and I surprised both of us by walking right back to my car randomly parked alongside the highway with just my personal GPS (guy positioning system)
and thankfully it was untouched. I can't even begin to express how sweet
it felt to finally take the pack off, put on some clean dry clothes, and drive away from this amazingly beautiful yet rugged & challenging WCC wilderness. And not spend another unplanned night down there...