I was originally intending on reaching Blue Tank Canyon and descend the lower technical section of Hells Hip Pocket, but things didn't go exactly as planned.
So the next level of canyoneering is packrafting and I don't have much experience with that so I was looking for a trip to hone these skills and Blue Tank looked like the perfect destination. Maybe next time...
My start of the rafting trip was Fish Creek Canyon, so after working that Saturday morning I drove down that Horse Mesa Dam Rd and parked at the gate around 2pm. I didn't want to try my luck walking the road all the way to the lake without getting caught, so I ran down just to Ladder Canyon and descended this technical canyon to reach Fish Creek Canyon and rock hopped down to the beginning of the lake. Didn't quite have enough rope & webbing to fully rappel that drop in Ladder Canyon, so I had to do a class 3/4 downclimb of the last 15-20ft on thankfully dry rock.
Oops! Fish Creek was flowing fairly good but I was able only get wet up to my knees and when it started to lake up I blew up my packraft and put on a wetsuit. I didn't fully trust this thing and figured the wetsuit would prevent me from freezing to death while I swam to the side.
Now I'm calling it a packraft because it's kinna like a mini-raft that I can pack up and hike with but what I'm using is really nothing more than a $20 glorified pool toy with $10 plastic oars.
So I started paddling out of Fish Creek Canyon, meet some adventurous kayakers who paddled up from the marina, passed under the SRP bridge, and out into Canyon Lake proper. I wasn't moving very fast, but slow & steady finishes the race. I was paddling in canoeing style with two short oars though I could row both forwards & backwards with ease. Only 2.5 miles down canyon to Blue Tank canyon.
I paddled about 1.5 miles with sun setting in about an hour when one of my oars snapped in half. Holy pumpkin!!!
I was kinna dead in the water with one oar, so I used my one remaining oar to grab my thankfully floating broken oar and paddle to shore to setup camp. Hmm, not much in the way of good places to beach, but that ledge with a ramp up to it looks kinna doable.
Exiting the boat was a little tricky since I didn't have a nice sandy beach...
Hauled all the gear up to the ledge which was a good place for gear & a fire but a horrible place for sleeping so I started looking around. Hmm, loads of deer/sheep droppings; this ledge must lead up to the slope up above and I'm not too far away from Skeleton Cave.....
I had to de-rock & groom my myself a sleeping spot & due to lack of space my wetsuit doubled as my sleeping pad. Collected fire wood & made myself a nice fire to dry my pants while eating my MRE dinner. Yum!
Was able to 'repair' my oars and make them into one long kayak style oar but wasn't sure how slow I'd be paddling this way. I was only a mile from Blue Tank canyon and I might be able to reach that in the morning and at the same time I see possibly doable route to Skeleton Cave from this ledge. Do I really want to paddle further away from my exit on an untested oar setup or find a water route to the infamous Skeleton Cave???
When Joe was hiking to Skeleton Cave last winter I had joked about doing a water approach & had even looked at topos to see if that was remotely possible but shelved the idea since I didn't have the means of paddling/boating there. I managed to sleep fairly well considering and it only got down into the 40s thanks to the not that cold Canyon lake. Though the large catfish were fairly noisy that night and some sheep or something on the southside was knocking some large rocks off of ledges... Slept in a bit, packed my hiking & rappelling gear, and headed up the deer/sheep route following loads of poop along the way.
Hmm, from a distance the direct route looks like class 3/4 slab climbing while the poop goes up & west around the point to the other potential route... I followed the trail around the corner and what look possibly doable on the topo was very terraced & cliffy.
But the poop trail took a steep route towards the point and looked like it might reach the ridge. If a sheep can do it, then I certainly can do it, right?
It was steep & brushy at first and then it started getting cliffy & exposed but I was still following loads of poop. After a few exposed class 2/3 sections, I was surprised to still find loads of droppings but I was kinna dead ended with 3 sketchy options: a short class 4 climb into a large bush, an exposed class 4 climb, and a very exposed class 3 on sketchy rock.
I started up each one to give it a look but sanity got the better of me and I almost added some of my own poop to the pile.
I had given up and was climbing back down when I spotted a class 3 slabby climb that I overlooked before, but the real selling point was a couple palo verdes up the route with a large one at the top. Sweet, if I get stuck halfway up or if I have to come back down this route I can rappel from those palo verdes.
Wouldn't you know, there was more poop up here coming from those crazy climbs that I avoided. I definitely learned a new respect for the sheep and what they can do.
I hiked from the point along the ridge east towards Skeleton Cave and Lo & Behold there's a pack of 5-6 desert bighorn working there way down a ravine.
I was nearing my turnaround time when I reached the cliff overlooking the cave and backtracked down the slope to get below the cliff and then east again to the infamous cave. It was kinna cool to reach this remote alcove but to be honest there not much to it and I didn't 'feel' anything like you think you should feel at a massacre site.
It'd been a year since I'd seen photos of it & I wasn't sure this was really it, so I continued up & SE a bit to the upper alcove to see if that was it but it just a brushy alcove with a small bat cave on the side. The canyoneer in me quickly kicked in and I started examining the technical canyon that this infamous alcove is a part of.
Hmm, 150-200ft drop to the alcove, bushwhack down canyon to another 80-100ft into some sweet narrows, then a huge 200-300ft drop out of the narrows, a flat section and then a 100-150ft drop down to the lake. I doubt anyone's descended it yet since it'd take about 600ft of rope & packrafts.
So while examine this amAZing remote canyon, I was also working my way down the other potential direct route and was looked like class 3/4 from a half mile away was really only class 2/3 angled rock and made my way down it fairly easy. Once down, I just contoured the slope above the cliff that lines the lake until it hit the drainage near the point that was my route down to my landing & campsite. Woot, that direct route is much easier & safer than that Sheep route I took this morning.
Reconfigured the gear for paddling and set off back up canyon to Fish Creek Canyon. This sunday afternoon was much more popular with boaters than Saturday evening and I had to deal with their wakes every 10-15 minutes though my new oar setup was working just as good or better.
Slowly but surely I made my way 1.5 miles back up canyon to a perfect sandy beach that looks popular for overnight boating trips. It's also just below the SRP dam road, so I beached here, deflated my boat, and packed it all up for the 2.5 walk up the road. It's my understanding that they don't mind you hiking out on the road, hiking down it is a no-no without permission, and Sunday afternoon is usually a low traffic time. I only saw 2 SRP trucks when I was like 10 minutes from reaching the gate and they just smiled & waved.
Skeleton Cave was a secondary goal for this trip if I had the time since it's in the area and it's cool to be one of the few to have been there, but I'm still itching to get back and hit Blue Tank canyon and specifically the technical section of lower Hells Hip Pocket. My gear setup while being slow, proved rather effective & stable considering I only dropped $30 on it.
Maybe next time I'll hike down Crucifix Canyon and have only a 2 mile paddle and maybe still exit up the SRP road.
Down SPR road, down the technical Ladder Canyon, and lower Fish Creek Canyon: 2 slow miles
Paddle to where my oar broke: 1.5 nervous miles
Loop to and back from Skeleton Cave: 2 adventurous miles & 1000ft gain
Paddle back to beach below SRP road: 1.5 wet miles
Road walk back to my car: 2.5 easy miles & 1000ft gain