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Horsetank - Sandrock Canyon Loop, AZ

no permit
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Guide 9 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Clints Well W
5 of 5 by 3
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 8.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,818 feet
Elevation Gain 1 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,500 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 7-12 hrs
Kokopelli Seeds 16
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack No
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
21  2019-06-22 RedwallNHops
50  2011-07-30 Vaporman
8  2010-06-06 nonot
92  2010-06-06 Vaporman
Author nonot
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 236
Photos 1,969
Trips 476 map ( 4,511 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Jul → 7 AM
Seasons   Early Summer to Late Summer
Sun  6:10am - 6:30pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Beauty and the Beast
by nonot

A technical canyoneering loop with required exposed climbing to exit.

This is a technical canyoneering trip that will require appropriate gear, including helmet, harness, rappelling device, several biners, wetsuit, shoes with good grip when wet, a keeper pothole escape kit, a GPS, 50 ft webbing, 4 rap rings, 1x200 ft rope (a shorter, 100ft rope will also prove useful.)

You will also require a fearless lead climber to be a part of your group! The exit route of this canyon loop will require exposed technical climbing, you cannot bypass the climbs, they are mandatory. Our climber brought some pro, but did not place any (he is also braver than I.)

Canyoneering involves rappelling in slot canyons where flash floods are a possibility, always check the weather before setting out on a trip, do not go if there is any chance of rain!

This canyon contains keeper potholes, you and your party need to carry a pothole escape kit and know how to use it. Do NOT do this canyon alone! Do NOT do this canyon unprepared!

Publicized by Todd's book: "Arizona, Technical Canyoneering". Todd rediscovered this canyon, though he does not claim first descent.

From the highway, go through the fence (shut it behind you!) and walk down forest roads for awhile, then proceed cross country to the head of the canyon. I recommend following the GPS route I will submit.

Once in the head of the drainage, maneuver down the pine needle covered slopes. The going gets brushy for awhile and has small boulders which will slow your progress. After a bit, the bushes become absent and you can follow the relatively vegetation free canyon floor as it slopes deeper. You will join another branch of the canyon, and there will be brush on and off throughout the rest of your hike. You will encounter some wall to wall water in this section, but should not worry about taking extra time to stay dry.

After a few swimmers/waders, downclimbs, and rock hopping, you will come to the first major obstacle in the canyon. You can downclimb (optional rappel) 40 ft from canyon right (LDC) towards canyon left along a fault, or you can traverse to a humongous pine tree on top of the rock pile on canyon right (LDC) and rappel approximately 40 ft from there. Beware that those doing the first option will be putting themselves into a keeper pothole. Past the keeper is a lip which may assist pack/shot tossers.

Climb out of the pothole and you will encounter a crack with a rappel of approximately 16 ft which is rigged from a large boulder/chockstone. After completing this rappel, pull your rope (stemming may be necessary to get your stance) and swim a chilly pool to the far side, which is sealed by a boulder. Climbing on top of the boulder, you can rappel or perform and aid/french downclimb of this obstacle approximately 12 feet. If you went over the boulder on left LDC, you will be unable to complete the downclimb and will be faced with a 5 ft jump. Always ensure someone has checked the depth of the water before committing yourself, I do not recommend the first person downclimb/jump down this obstacle due to the possibility of a submerged log being present.

Very carefully downclimb the slick rock into another water filled cathedral which you must swim. This tight section of canyon continues and you will soon run into a debris filled room. I recommend you downclimb/stem the 13 ft high slot to the right (LDC) into chest deep water; however a rappel from the log debris may also be setup for those uncomfortable with performing the downclimb. Pass through the pool which may have lots of fallen tree debris clogging the slot. At the far side of the pool is a chockstone which can be downclimbed without difficulty. Swim the last pool and emerge into the sunlight, huzzah!

The canyon gets a little wider and you will have to negotiate vegetation and fallen logs. Beautiful sections of canyon filled with water alternate with downclimbs and a little bushwhacking.

You will come to a large 80 ft drop. You will not realize it at the time, but you are on rockpile formed on top of a house sized chockstone. Sling a pinch point, minding the pull, and rappel 80 ft total, 70 of which are overhung, into a wet grotto. Make sure you look above you after you have completed the rappel. Pull your rope and continue downclimbing the slick rock, swimming thought pools, and negotiating the live and dead vegetation. One of the downclimbs is particularly treacherous and has exposure of about 15+ feet when dry, though possibly only 8 feet when wet.

A few beautiful flutings are found as you encounter several more grottos. One of them contains an easy downclimb with an oddly slung tree. Passing the tree you will observe that on the far side of the downclimb is a rappel of approximately 25 feet down a mossy wall into another pool. Go back and use the slung tree to complete this section. Another trecherous downclimb is encountered and you will have swim several more sections.

Near the end is a 50 ft downclimb/rappel into a grotto. If water is shallow I recommend you set this up as a rappel due to the difficulty of the crux on the downclimb (it is much easier going up, and without packs.) During periods of high water, this section can be a delight as, after checking to confirm no obstacles in the water, you can hurl yourself into this pool from upwards of 40 ft in the air.

Another moderate downclimb is encountered into a deep plunge pool. Past this the canyon will start to dry out and you will encounter mostly ledges and boulders with a few smaller grottos. Once the canyon widens, this is your sign that you are near the exit route. Most parties will overshoot the exit and proceed a bit too far downcanyon. I recommend a GPS, as the exit is easy to miss.

You are now done with the beauty part of this trip...get ready for the beast. The climb out of the canyon is unpleasant and you will encounter boulder/rock hopping, a class 4 climb up a 30 ft cliff above a plunge pool, a 5.3 40 ft climb up a sandstone cliff, a class 7 climb (60 ft, unclimbable) with a horrible, loose rock and dirt gully you have to climb on right (LUC) to bypass, followed by a traverse out of the gully to the left (LUC) and slight descent back into the canyon bottom. Be very careful with this section, it's as bad and unstable as you can imagine it. At all the upclimbs, the best and bravest climber should ascend first and offer belays to any less confident climbers.

Past this is some more rock hopping, a traverse around a pool, and a 45 ft class 4 upclimb around a boulder (some may want a belay here.) After this it is just rock hopping until you find a decent route out of the canyon and trek cross country. I submit my exit route (GPS upload I will submit) as an improvement over what is in the book. To top off this horrible exit route, you have to ascend all the way to the top of Soldier Mesa on route to your vehicle...blech.

Climbing Notes
I currently consider myself a fairly mediocre climber, perhaps a 5.8 toprope climber who can occasionally climb something a little harder. I was able to complete the climbs without difficulty on toprope, though I would never consider leading these climbs based on my present ability. The exposure is very real even though the climbs are not that difficult. Your group will need a very solid lead climber who would not flinch at free soloing these routes.

Water Sources
Doing this loop during early summer may present conditions with more clear, flowing water than can be imagined. Later in the season may result in wretched conditions with stagnant water. If the former, a water filter is an option, though most will carry 3-6 liters of water for their journey.

Certainly possible in the forests on the rim, though I don't think there are any established campsites in the area.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your canyon trip to support this local community.

2010-06-06 nonot
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Horsetank - Sandrock Canyon Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    After having an epic canyon trip a couple weeks back, I was looking for another challenging canyon trip with a positive outcome to help me further get back into the swing of things and this canyon fit the bill perfectly. :D

    I've done this amAZing canyon so many times I could almost navigate it in my sleep. :lol: Dropped in the side canyon after hiking in from AZ 260 and noticed that the water level was much lower in the upper sections than on past trips, but thankfully the water was at normal levels at the first short narrows. We geared up for the many pools and the few rappels to come. : rambo : Some light down climbing and we reach the main upper narrows were we down climbed that initial drop, the keeper was full, and then made the awkward 20ft rappel and dropped into those sweet narrows. The next drop we down climbed instead of doing a super awkward rappel, followed by many pools, and a exhilarating elevator down climb below what's left of that log jam... The canyon opens back up thru a dirty debris sections before hitting the sweet 60-80ft drop into a wet grotto followed by a tricky exposed down climb. The lower half of the canyon is full of pools, rock/boulder hopping, a couple good cliff jumping pools, and a lone 15ft mossy waterfall rappel. Eventually the canyon dries & mellows out with just loads of sunny rock hopping which is also a great time to drop gear and look for the exit canyon on the right. :sweat: We slowly made out way up that equally rocky exit canyon and worked up the easier up climbs while anticipating the 2-3 difficult up climbs. Storm clouds were quickly moving in when we made it to those infamous climbs but thankfully we were able to work up them without much difficulty and before the clouds dumped up on us. ;) The exit hike out of the canyon and to the mesa was very wet while a major monsoon system passed overhead and soaked us head to toe with a couple lightning strikes being rather close. :o Once we started for the mesa, the cell had already passed and we were greeted with blue skies again while huffing & puffing our way up that slope and then across the muddy roads back to my car. :sweat:

    All in all, another great challenging run thru the humbling Horsetank Wash. :y:
    Horsetank - Sandrock Canyon Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Well it had finally warmed up enough to starting hitting those beautiful Mogollon Rim canyons again and this amAZing canyon definitely deserves to be done again & again. :sweat: I did this canyon twice last summer, so bee-lining cross country to the entry side canyon wasn't too difficult. Dropped into the canyon, geared up and made the wet romp down canyon thru many small narrow sections with plenty of bushwhacking & rock hopping mixed in. :sweat: Eventually the canyon narrows and drops quickly for the first optional rappel and we down climbed in this time and since the creek is lightly flowing the keeper was of no issue, followed shortly by a 15ft rappel into another swimmer. This one prob my favorites section of the canyon and it continue with more chilly swimmers and super scenic narrows. :D We hit the log jam and down climbed before it instead of rappelling it and what follows it what I call the dirty narrows. Though this summer it's not nearly as dirty & cluttered as last year. ;) The canyon soon opens up with more rock hopping and bushwhacking before it suddenly drops 80ft into that colorful alcove that's easily the best rappel of the day for me. The dark chilly swimmer and tricky down climb afterwards seem to get easier & easier each time... Many more scenic pools to be waded, jumped, or swam across with a short falls rappel mixed in there for the next hour or so. :sweat: Eventually the canyon dries up, we drop the gear, and start looking for the infamous exit canyon called Sandrock Canyon. :? It's not all that bad, though it is loaded with plenty of rocks & boulders, three difficult up climbs, and a loose scree chute to scramble up. Eventually we top out on the rim and venture our way thru this rugged terrain back to our vehicles along the highway. :sweat:

    Such an amAZingly beautiful canyon that I've missed since last summer though it seems to be getting much easier every time I repeat it. ;) I'll spare you guys another 50 photos since I posted 100 photos of this canyon last summer. :lol:
    Horsetank - Sandrock Canyon Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    I've been itching all summer to do this sweet & challenging canyon again and it's still one of the best technical canyons along the rim! :y: I second Todd's statement that this canyon is much mellower the second time thru and with a summer's worth of canyoneering experiences under my belt, though it is definitely only a canyon for experienced canyoneers. ;) The entry is fairly straight forward with a bit of down climbing and I was pleasantly surprised to find just as much water as before in the upper section before the narrows. Some wading, loads of rock hopping & down climbing, and one small slippery narrows followed by a swimmer before I reached the narrows. Last time we rappelled this first drop into the potential keeper, but the creek was flowing and I could see from above that the potential keeper was full so I down climbed it this time and beach whaled out of the pool before making that first 15ft rappel into another swimmer. I again down climbed the next short optional rappel over a large chockstone into another swimmer like we did last time. Made it to the debris & logjam section fairly quickly and instead of rappelling from the logjam, I down climbed that 4ft wide drop like Steve & Michael did last time. :) The canyon opened up a bit before hitting tht sweet 80ft drop into that grotto with a chilly swimmer and tricky exposed down climb. A little down canyon and I hit the final slippery 20ft rappel. I tried scouting a way to down climb this drop and do the canyon in only two rappels, but I deemed it not worth the risk and did it as my 3rd rappel of the day. ;) Once down, I stuff my rope and took off my gear but left the wetsuit on since I remember many more swimmers ahead. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find all the pools & falls flowing and just as full as when we last did this canyon almost 4 months ago. :D Some down climbing, loads of rock hopping, jumped that 20ft drop into that huge pool of course, a few more pools to wade, and before I knew it I was rock hopping thru the dry section of lower Horsetank Wash. Dropped the wetsuit, took a light break to refuel, and slowly made my way up that challenging exit canyon. :sweat: I knew the obstacles ahead & listed them in my head & broke them down into baby steps to make them easier to think about. A couple easier up climbs in the beginning, loads of rock hopping, a slick 30ft chute to climb, bypassed a large pool and then another 40ft dry fall to scramble up, a loose scree chute to dig my way up, and then that gnarly exposed class 4 50ft dry falls to climb up while keeping a cool head and not looking down too much. : rambo : After that, the rest of the exit seemed rather tame other a couple of steep climbs with wet heavy gear! :sweat: Turned the GPS unti back on and followed it back to the cow tank and the highway with plenty of day light to spare. Yet another amazing beautiful day of canyoneering up on the rim! :y: I sure will miss canyons like this one when it starts to cool down again...
    Horsetank - Sandrock Canyon Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    This canyon is so good I had to go back with my son for an encore. Shorty wetsuits and a single 165-foot rope worked fine for us this time. The first 40-footer is definitely down-climbable, although it gets a bit tricky at the bottom. I'm still amazed at the quantity of great water in this canyon. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of it ends up resurfacing down at Fossil Springs. 5 stars for sure.
    Horsetank - Sandrock Canyon Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Horsetank Wash is an amazingly challenging & beautiful canyon :y: while that exit up Sandrock Canyon is rugged, brutal, and unforgiving! :sweat: :stretch: 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. :D 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. :roll: 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. :roll: 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. :GB: 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. :roll: 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'. :y: 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! :y: 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) :lol:

    After slightly overshooting the exit canyon, we dropped the wetsuits and slowly bushwhacked & up climbed our way back up the sunny Sandrock Canyon. :sweat: 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! :o 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. :DANCE: 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. : rambo : Todd & Michael weren't going to let a lesser climber like me show them up and free soloed it as well :lol: 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??? :sl: Thankfully we were all headed to the same point and arrived at about the same time and finally ended that long, sketchy, toasty :sweat: hike out with some clean clothes, powerade & wheat thins, and AC cooled car. :GB:

    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. :D Working on the sweet photoset though it was tough to keep the lens dry & the lighting was rather harsh down in this deep canyon! :roll:
    Horsetank - Sandrock Canyon Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Outstanding canyon with easy entry, cool flowing water (while it lasts), long stretches of great narrows and pools and lots of fun challenges. I'd say the scrapes, bruises, bugs and heat of the gnarly exit route are a fair price to pay for a canyon this good. I enjoyed this one more than all the canyons on the other side of the highway that drop into West Clear Creek.
    Horsetank - Sandrock Canyon Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    A great canyon with a punishing exit. The sight of awesome grotto after awesome grotto of this canyon was quite unexpected, and much better than anticipated. Thanks to Todd and Brian for providing much needed belays.

    Unfortunately that gully to bypass the impossible climb had it in for our group :stretch:
    Heal up quick, hope it isn't as bad as it looks.

    Adding a mile because I ...ahem... zoned out during the hike out.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    From the intersection of SR87 and SR260, drive 5.2 miles west to a road on the south side. Those with rugged, high clearance vehicles may be able to drive on the other side of the fence to get closer to the canyon. Without good clearance most will want to park just off the highway. Do not block the road.
    page created by nonot on Jun 06 2010 10:15 pm
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