Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Beauty and the Beast
Overview: A technical canyoneering loop with required exposed climbing to exit.
Warning: 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!
Danger: 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!
History: Publicized by Todd's book: "Arizona, Technical Canyoneering". Todd rediscovered this canyon, though he does not claim first descent.
Hike: 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.
Camping: Certainly possible in the forests on the rim, though I don't think there are any established campsites in the area.
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.