This super sweet technical canyon has been on my list since I learned of it's existance last summer but didn't have a long enough rope back then to descend it. But now armed with a 400ft rope, I was able to visit this amAZing gem with a solid crew of experienced canyoneers and bask in the magnificence of this BIG secretive canyon.
This is also ticks off the last of the 'known' BIG canyons of Arizona for me, having already done Waterholes, Deer Creek Narrows, and its sister canyon Illusions last summer. That is of course until the Grand Canyon canyoneering book comes out later this year and blows away all these 'easier' Mogollon Rim canyon.
We setup the shuttle the afternoon before and camped along the rim near the upper drainage of Insomnia and the next morning huffed it north down one of the side drainages. All eerily similar to an Illusions run... Illusions is known for it's massive amount of rappels while Insomnia is known for it's massive 320ft rappel.
We all know it's coming but it's the 'elephant in the room' of the whole trip that we try not to overanalyze...
The western side drainage we choose started off thorny & overgrown and then presented us with log traverses and down climbs before dropping into the flat main drainage. The canyon started off with some small upper narrows so we geared up and took turns on the optional first rappel into a high wading pool. The rest of the upper narrows was full of chilly pools to mostly wade, small slides & down climbs, plenty of logs to climb over, and a couple short rappels. One rappel of note is from some above a potential 8ft deep keeper and continues down a chute just a little too steep & long to safely slide into the shallow pool below. The sweet narrows continues on thru some tight squeezes & deep chambers with an occasional green room full of lush vegetation. There was also a few rappels and down climbs in there but nothing a seasoned canyoneer should have any trouble with.
The 2nd to last rappel before the BIG rappel is a double drop into a staging chamber for the BIG boy. This double drop rappel goes over a sandstone fin that after just two rappelers it had already sawed into & corseshot our 200ft rope.
So for this drop, I highly recommend just doing the first stage of the rappel down the chute, avoid crossing over the fin, and just down climbing the remaining 8ft of the drop into the chamber. Once you got you're gear ready and gotten your rappel roster down, it's time to make the 40-50ft sloping rappel down the chute to the bolts for the BIG boy. I had the 400ft rope on my back & lead camera man, so I was rappeler #2.
I had done that 310ft rappel in Waterholes, but these huge rappels are still kinna new to me and I was again blown away by the height of it.
Luth went over the ledge first, making sure to put the dangling carpet in place to protect the rope from a coreshot on the sharp edge. It's takes a good 5-10 minutes for each rappeler to slowly descend the rope, but eventually it was my turn. I let out plenty of Woohoos! to get myself ready, slowly got on rope, double checked all the gear, and slowly made my way over the lip. It's not completely overhanging with the first 50-75ft you're walking down a rock wall , so by the time it goes free hanging I had already overcome my anxieties (with a few Woohoos! to help out) and I could fully soak in this flipping amAZing rappel as I spun around and saw the beautiful West Fork across the way.
I'm glad this is a slow rappel, first off so that I don't go speeding to an early death, and second so that I have more time to fully soak it all in.
Once down, I broke out the camera snapping loads of pics and taking turn fireman belaying the remaining 3 rappelers. Once we were all down and safe, we ate some food and continued down canyon to what few obstacles remained. After a couple short nuisance rappels and down climbs, we were bushwhacking & rock hopping our towards the confluence with lower Illusions Canyon which comes together down a slippery slide. Just around the corner from that confluence with the main confluence with West Fork where we regrouped and dropped gear before making the relatively easy creek hiking thru the Subway and the even easier yet equally scenic 3-mile trail hike back to the lower vehicle left at the West Fork TH along the highway.
Unfortunately the journey didn't end there... We still had to go get the upper vehicle along FR231 which involved getting turned around by the FS for using that closed off 535 due to logging, going the LONG way thru Flagstaff, changing a flat tire on the upper vehicle, and making the even LONGer drive back to Flagstaff and then back south to the PHX valley getting some late dinner and much needed caffeine along the way. But I assure you that it was ALL worth it!