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Skeleton Cave, AZ

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Guide 14 Triplogs  4 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Mesa NE
4 of 5 by 5
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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Round Trip 18.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,906 feet
Elevation Gain 1,310 feet
Accumulated Gain 6,700 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 14-16 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 52
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Historic, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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23  2019-04-27 Boly20
34  2014-02-22 Hippy
19  2012-11-28 jameslcox44
57  2012-02-05
Skeleton Cave Canyon
31  2011-12-19 Hippy
14  2011-12-19 ultrazona
15  2011-10-05
Skeleton Cave via Cane TH
25  2011-10-05
Skeleton Cave via Cane TH
Page 1,  2
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 213
Routes 824
Photos 10,834
Trips 4,262 map ( 21,474 miles )
Age 49 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Co-Author haggster
co-author avatarGuides 1
Routes 0
Photos 32
Trips 5 map (45 Miles)
Age 43 Male Gender
Location Farmington, UT
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, Mar, Nov → Early
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:14am - 6:21pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Disturbing History
by joebartels & haggster

At the beginning of General George Crooks campaign against the Apache Indians, Captain Burns and Major Brown combined their companies of the 5th Calvary and led them to a secret hide out on the north wall of Salt River Canyon above what is now Canyon Lake. Their guide was an apache scout named Nantaje. The soldiers approached the cave before dawn on the morning of December 28th, 1872. When they arrived, they fired upon the helpless Indians who happened to be Yavapai. The massacre lasted most of the morning and about 75 men, women, and children were slain. There were only a few survivors, who were taken with the soldiers. No one remained to bury the dead.

The cave remained as it was until it's rediscovery in the 1890's. Jeff Adam's found the cave in 1906 and reported it to valley newspapers. Walter Lubken was guided to the cave in 1908 where he photographed the bones and artifacts within the cave. It is believed that Brownie Holmes was one of his guides and is in some of Lubken's photos. Around 1920, the bones were removed and buried by some Yavapai Indians from Fort McDowell. Nothing remains in the cave now.

Hike from the nearest non-4WD location, Cottonwood Camp, to Skeleton Cave. If you approach via 4WD or boat adjust your triplog data as follows.

CottonwoodNon 4WD18.5mi6,700 ft
Cane Spring4WD11.2mi4,000 ft
Canyon LakeBoat0.6mi960 ft

This is an extreme dayhike crossing five ravines. You will undoubtedly refer to them as canyons on the return. Due to location this hike is only feasible during the short days of winter. A moderate strong hiker will likely be 1 to 4 hours in the dark depending on the month. The terrain is seldom traveled, thick in cacti and far from help. Beware the four lethal Chollas, listed in order of pain: Chain Fruit Cholla, Christmas Cholla, Teddybear Cholla, Buckhorn Cholla. When the Cholla thins Prickly Pair blankets the terrain.

(Recommended based on optimal 60-70 degree daytime high) Pants, long sleeves, shirt layers (non cotton for bottom layer), headlamp, leather gloves, hat, one hiking stick/pole, tweezers. Thick leather shoes or boots saves your feet from the dreaded "jumping" Chain Fruit Cholla. In addition to water & food, pain killers & B vitamins were a godsend in my journeys.

Follow FR401 2.7mi to the hairpin turn at 33.61844, -111.41631 depicted on the map. Head directly off trail due east into unnamed canyon #1. It is a steep hike down and may require the use of your hands or sliding depending on your route.

Unnamed canyon #2 is wider. It's almost two ravines in one depending on how you tackle it. Further south keeps it to one ravine and the lowest point going over to #3. The energy saved is lost in time so it's a toss up.

Cane Spring Canyon has a wide base. You have nice views up to the Four Peaks and down to Sheep Mountain. It appears to flood based on the width of the channel. Your goal now is to get to a point in Blue Tank Canyon above where it etches an impassable crevice. View the map for your three choices of travel. The brute force route is non-technical albeit exhausting ascending over rocks. The easiest route follows the channel of Cane Spring NE, then a tributary SE. The confluence is brushy, the rest is nice non-brushy travel. This is the only decent place to break until Hell's Hip Pocket.

The views improve again once in Blue Tank. Be sure to stay north of the critical point depicted on the map. You can't go south unless you enjoy scaling shear rock walls. It's best not to travel in Blue Tank and head directly up the other side. There are game trails contouring down Blue Tank but they're covered in Cholla. So just get right out and head directly SE to the cave.

Hell's Hip Pocket is the beauty of the hike. It can also be slightly technical depending on your route. We opted to follow the channel east until directly north of the cave. Check the map for a possible short cut that looks doable on topo and satellite. If you follow the channel east you will eventually come to a double choke-stone ending. Go under the right. Note - I had difficulty getting back down on the return and needed assistance. Be careful on the other side as you must go up without slipping down. Now you are in what I call the tiers. We had to figure out two on the way up but only one on the way down. Staying east seems to be the ticket.

Over the tiers you are almost home free! It's about a 600 foot climb on a nice open slope up to Peak 3235. It's a huffer but with scarce Cholla and the destination so close you don't care. There's no need to top out on 3235. Staying just east is your best bet. On the flip side Salt River views come into play. Your route is very defined here as you are headed south into the obvious ravine. This ravine comes to an abrupt free fall directly over the cave. If you had the audacity to come here during a rain storm the waterfall over the cave must be breath taking! About a hundred yards before you feel you can't go any further you need to be traveling on the west side of the ravine.

Upon reaching the edge you must go 0.15mi west along very steep terrain. Soon you'll catch views of the cave. Keep going west and head down 200 feet when you can, then go back 0.2mi to the cave. Return by the same route. As you are heading down to the cave contemplating your safety remember the native scouts did this bare foot in the dark!

Skeleton Cave
Once at the cave please remember to treat the area with respect. This was the scene of disturbing history. Overlook Ferg/Tessman's diagram of the cave. I would like to note this cave was published in Arizona Highways Feb 1959 with full access details. Even though it's rarely been visited in the last twenty years it contained a mason jar in the 1960's which kept a registry of visitors. A bibliography is included so you can research yourself. Here are some of the more memorable pieces.
  • One of the Apaches that escaped the cave. Unknowing of the modern sharp riffles he stood in the distance and let out a yell of defiance before being gunned down.
  • Chilling remark by one of the writers "it was at once his song of glory and his song of death".
  • In reference to pushing boulders over the edge onto the Apaches. The noise was frightful, the destruction sickening.

If you access via Hell's Hip Ridge stay away from the Horse Mesa Dam. Local dutch hunter Jim Hatt tells a tale that Homeland security has the area monitored with motion sensors. Stating when you trip a sensor that an Apache Helicopter will immediately be on route to pat you down.

Allowed but not recommended due to the cacti.

  • Bangs, Daniel Joseph & Donald. Arizona Highways Magazine Feb 1959
  • Bourke, John Gregory. On The Border With Crook. The Rio Grande Press, Glorieta, New Mexico, 1971. 63MB PDF
  • Bourke, John G., General Crook In Indian Country, Century Magazine (1891).
  • Ferg, Alan, and Tessman, Norm. "The Mortal Remains of Ethnicity: Material Culture and Cultural Identity at Skeleton Cave," Vanishing River: Landscapes and Lives of the Lower Verde Valley. S.R.I Press, Tucson, Arizona, 1998.
  • Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott, Arizona. Walter J. Lubken Collection. PB 168, F.9.
  • Thrapp, Dan L. Conquest of Apacheria. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a difficult hike. It would be insane to attempt this entire hike without prior experience hiking.

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

2009-12-13 joebartels & haggster
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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
Skeleton Cave
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3 years, 3 attempts, 3 hiking yes, it's going to be a descriptive read this time around and yes I know, that's a LOT of photos for 2 days, but it's 3 years worth!! :A1:

So for starters...THANK YOU PLC & VolcanoCLMBR could NOT have done this without you guys and I mean that. I had a blast even through the prickly, pokey, stabbing, dehydrated misery ;)

Early start, left road 401 without a glance back.
I won't say it's "easy going" but it's really just a matter of following game paths, avoiding cholla/prickly pear/saguaro etc and not losing your breath when you head uphill (over and over and over and over!)

Down then up then down then up, you get the idea.

What felt like 3 weeks later we found ourselves just above Blue Tank Canyon, I found a cholla big enough to lend me some shade and sat a pile of ants, leapt up and ended up with cholla in my neck. Onward!!

We spotted the holes in the rocks in BTC and the saguaro that stands watch over the "waterfall", the whole area was dry as a bone. We traversed the "hill" to the south of the Blue Tank's bed heading generally south west until we could see the other side then we cut sharper south and crawled gingerly to the edge of the abyss known as Hell's Hip Pocket...from there we scampered east up and over up and over up and over and finally we spotted "the way down"

We had separated here and there to push our way through to the clearest path, once I gave a shout we regrouped, headed down into a boulder wash then bushwhacked up to the top of a rocky ridge. There the guys took a break and I blazed ahead to be sure this was the way down, I clearly remembered doing this with GOYAAH on my last trip out here, I returned to the guys and together we made it down in HHP and a few hundred yards up canyon we decided to clear a sandy spot and make camp right there on the "beach".

Frankie brought the beers, PLC made a tiny fire to stay warm by and I attempted to blend into our surroundings with my mass amounts of green gear.
After hours of swapping stories and fighting our eyelids we went our own ways and snoozed a good 9 hours. I only had one ringtail bunny disturb my slumber, it seems it was licking my half empty beer can...

Up with the sun we filtered water another few hundred yards up canyon then headed up.
The jump to reach the chock stone (should call em the Devil's Jewels!)was a bit too big of a jump for my tinyself so the guys passed my pack along and I made a pretty sweet climbing traverse over the water on the right side.
The Devil's Jewels were pretty sweet, not difficult to climb up but going under with a full pack isn't easy. We handed them up one by one, I went last to snap a few photos and made sure everyone was up and adjusted before scrambling up.

From there you pretty much just stay up and along the "creek bed" I know that sounds weird but there is a wash type thing that spills into the bowl behind the Jewels and if you follow it up its mostly easy going. Not far ahead on your right is a gentle slope that leads to a hill, we apparently went wrong and just hiked up and over the hill.

At the top you should see the Salt River, then you head over and down a slope into a drainage, at the end of the drainage you get an overlook of Skeleton Cave, but to reach it you have to go up and over and up and over to the west then follow a scrambly little "ridge" down to the west and along it as it curves back east and toward the cave.

Hug the wall to approach the cave, its a steep yucky slope and voila! :y:

The climb out is much...more exciting than everything you'll have experienced thus far. Especially the way we went. We had no desire whatsoever to return the way we came so we headed east around a bend along the stream bed (the one we climbed into after the Devil's Jewels)we scrambled along that for under and hour, somewhere in that time we happened upon a mini-slot canyon with a deep pool of crisp water, we filtered a bunch of water from there and continued on.

We climbed out and hiked up the nearest hill in minutes, from there we could easily make out the ridgeline we were to follow out to Cane Spring TH.
That 4-5 miles was a super highway compared to what we went through on day 1! We made great time and spotted a tiny bark scorpion, a rattler, a gorgeous red cardinal and a HUGE hissing Gila Monster all within 45 minutes. :y:

We took one last break at Cane Spring camp or whatever it is, I changed socks, I'm soooooo glad I brought 3 pairs! It was great to cycle through them throughout the hike :lol:

We hit road 401 again and still had yet another gajillion miles to go to get to the vehicle parked a mere 200 yards from the giant berm...we split up and hiked our own paces, I went into beast mode and pushed up every hill like I was born to do just that. The views as the sunset were spectacular, the pink and orange splashed up against the Supes Ridgeline and Weaver's Needle, I wish I could have captured those colors to share with you all.

We made it to the car just after sunset.

We're probably the only backpackers ever to hike the length of road 401 from Cane Spring to Cottonwood Creek Camp :sl:

Not gonna lie, as I sit here at home curled up on the couch with a glass of wine in hand a cat on my lap I pulled up my ten thousand photos and start looking through them and I wondered to myself...who willing does this?

Even better what kind of crazy mind tries again a second time gets to within a MILE of their destination then has to give up and STILL RETURNS A THIRD TIME... : rambo :

I always said third time was a charm so there you have it ladies and gents. On the super bright side, I feel amazing today! 100% refreshed! Not sore, not stiff, pretty exhausted mentally but other than that I'm ready for another adventure!

I guess it's time to find something new and exciting to go for!

Note to future adventurers:
It's dayhike-able if you're crazy and hike the first 3 hours in the dark, if you reach the cave area in the dark you're risking your life. Just backpack it, take 3 days to do it all in the light of day and if you really want to enjoy every step of it. It's a GORGEOUS area, BEAUTIFUL scenery for miles around, enjoy it, don't push through it just to do it in a day, its not worth those few moments where one wrong step and you'll be calling for help where none will come...make smart decisions.
Skeleton Cave
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So sweet when a wild dream becomes reality! :y:

So last year after a failed attempt at Blue Tank canyon via packraft, I decided to scramble up to Skeleton cave instead. It was eery to check this place out, but the canyoneer in me was overwhelmed by the sweet canyon below it with the BIG rappel. :o After a whole year of telling my friends my crazy desire to go back and descend it, I finally got my buddy Ryan interested in going back armed with his bolt kit and my 400ft rope. :sweat: We knew it'd be a long day, so we started early down the SPR road after parking at the gate. It didn't take long to reach the lake and we blew up our packrafts (pool toys) and started the 20 minute float to the base of this side canyon. The wind was pretty intense that morning and thankfully was blowing at our backs or this trip would have been a huge FAIL. :lol: We stashed the boats near the base of the canyon while I ran up to check a break in the cliffs to see if we could up climb it. It was exposed class 3 climbing but nothing too crazy so I ran back, grabbed my pack, and all three of us secured the boats with rocks and proceeded thru the break and continued scrambling up towards Skeleton Cave. I had scouted a route from the cave to the lake before and that helped in knowing the quickest way up. It was also SUPER nice to be able to leave the boats in the same place while doing the canyon since there was a possibility we would have had to deflate them and carry them thru the canyon if that route thru the break didn't pan out... ;) Once above the first drop into the Rhyolite narrows, we dropped packs and ran up to check out the infamous Skeleton Cave. Very sad to know what occurred here almost 150 years ago. :( So there's a dry fall above the alcove that is Skeleton Cave, but we deemed it unnecessary and bad taste to scramble up above and rappel into skeleton cave... On a happier note, the first rappel wasn't mandatory but it was a cool one of about 60ft. Once in the rhyolite narrows, we had some down climbing before hitting a huge chockstone requiring another 30ft to bypass and get below. A couple more down climbs and we were atop the BIG rappel that looked to be 250-300ft. The rock was smooth, only some light bushes & cactus to be found, and a few mediums rocks. If our lives depended on it, we could have made a deadman anchor from those rocks in a pothole but who wants to do a 300ft rappel from a few rocks. :whistle: So my buddy broke out the bolt kit and put a couple well placed bolt in the wall. Such a beautiful place to hang out and watch boats going by below down in Salt River Canyon. If only those Indians could see this place now! :lol: I was the first over the edge and while I've done many 300ft rappels, it was kinna different doing one in the Supes for the first time. :GB: Is that punny green thing down there a Saguaro??? :lol: Use rope pro to save your rope from the sharp edge where it goes vertical and give your buddies an appreciated bottom belay. The rappel is southern facing and open, so it could be rather hot during the warmer months... Cool plunge pool at the bottom; would be sweet to see this falls flowing! Once everything is safely down, it's rock hopping until the canyon drops into the lower volcanic tuff narrows. The lower narrows can be bypassed but where's the adventure in that. :lol: Surprisingly most of the lower narrows can be down climbed but were stopped by a sloping then vertical drop of about 120ft. It was nice to still see our boats on the shore and not blown away or taken. Who'd steal $20 pool toys anyways? :sl: After the final rappel, we scrambled back down to the boats, de-geared, and put back onto the lake to paddle back to the SPR road. The day was quickly slipping away as we delated the boats and packed them away for the 2 mile walk back up the road to our cars under a bright full moon. :D
Skeleton Cave
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Skeleton Cave via Cane TH
5:20am and just on FR401A

Thump, thump, thump... something wasn't right. Mark pulled over. We looked underneath anticipating a drive shaft, universal joint or related issue. When all that checked out attention went immediately to the differential... after all we had just crawled a three foot step and it sounded like we hit a rock.

So Mark drives a little and I watch with a flashlight. I see the rear axle and differential flopping to and fro. Crap... the hike today will be home. We check it out and there really wasn't a fresh scratch nor did anything seem wrong. Mark says lets try again and told me to watch the transfer case. It was definitely the transfer case flipping around like an egg beater which in turn yoked the drive shaft and toggled the axle. Upon closer inspection it was simply a torn mount. Simple eh? Did I mention it's a Suzuki Samurai. This ain't no two ton dually we just need something like a twist tie off a loaf of bread! Okay not that simple but with two veteran DIY'ers this was almost more fun at this point than a disappointment. Using a bolt from the jack and a block of wood we created a wooden bushing and the mount was back in business.

It's amazing I forget but the drive in is possibly more exhausting than any hike. I was excited to get back in a Samurai. My last ride was 1987 in high school. Friends Terry, Mark and I took a couple trips off road where the Scottsdale Pavilions and 101 now reside. Apparently I've grown a little since those days. Today I had maybe a half inch to spare before my knee caps where cracked off by the dash. Yeah I was gripping the OS bars pretty tight the entire

8:00am and we were actually hiking. The plan was to follow my previous Hell's Hip Ridge route, drop into Hells Hip Pocket then jump the ridge and visit Skeleton Cave. The weather was perfect. We made good time to HHP. We dropped in the top and worked our way down. There were a couple decision areas but nothing too bad. I showed Mark the Grasshopper Lounge then we continued down. The pocket is one of my favorite areas and I was enjoying it thoroughly today.

With a later start I set our turnaround target at 1pm. It seemed pretty iffy at best. Yet we found ourselves above the cave with an hour to go. Unfortunately Mark's leg was giving him issues from a previous injury. I don't think the exposure was to his liking either and the steep hike down the alluvial fan just wasn't in the cards. I wasn't too disappointed as I've been to the cave before and I was pretty tired rolling on two hours sleep. In addition I'd neglected to bring my headlamp and was not looking forward to hiking in the dark. So perched on a rather uncomfortable rock I had the best lunch view of my life. This was the edge of the cliff looking right down into Skeleton Cave with BCB across the Salt River goose-necking through the high-walled canyon corridor.

Heading back I just wanted to take a nap. The flush white skys we experienced all morning were deep blue and the sun was singing. As much as I enjoy HHP I was ecstatic when we found an easier route. You can only have so much fun in a day on two hours sleep ;)

Thanks for a great hike Mark
Skeleton Cave
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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... :sweat:

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. :o 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. :lol: 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. :sweat: I paddled about 1.5 miles with sun setting in about an hour when one of my oars snapped in half. Holy pumpkin!!! :o 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. :-k Exiting the boat was a little tricky since I didn't have a nice sandy beach... :roll: 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..... :-k

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! :lol: 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??? :-k 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. :D 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. :roll: 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. :o 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. :sl: 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. 8) 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. :o 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. :y: 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. : rambo : 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. :sweat:

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. :D 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. :lol: Maybe next time I'll hike down Crucifix Canyon and have only a 2 mile paddle and maybe still exit up the SRP road. :-k

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
Skeleton Cave
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This almost didn't happen. My alarm never went off, but somehow I woke up about 20 minutes before I was to meet Joe. I rushed around and luckily didn't forget anything.

Our first attempt, Joe gave us a 20% chance of getting to our destintation. I looked at it as a recon hike, knowing we'd be back again prepared with new beta.

The hike was a huge challenge which I had been thinking about all week. Joe had been thinking about it for several years. We started in the dark and my orange duct taped sneakers were fending off the cholla. It wasn't until later in the day when a nice friendly cholla nuzzled up close and personal. Joe's triplog explains everything else, and the hike description will explain the history. Thanks Joe for this awesome adventure and for slowing down so I could jump back in the truck. Sorry I slammed the door ;).

The only thing else I'll add is... treat the cave with reverence and leave only footsteps which will disappear in a short time.
Skeleton Cave
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Mission complete. This is not a breath taking destination nor is this non-4WD/non-watercraft true hike approach for the timid. The weather cooperated from about 34-60 with only light breezes for the most part.

We started at 4am. 3 hours hiking in the dark and ended with 1 hour in the dark after sunset. The pre dawn hike was in near freezing temps. The first hour was bearable with layers and lack of wind. Although we could see our hearty breath for the next two hours it wasn't cold being on the move.

On the first failed attempt we made it to within 1.5mi of the cave in 5 hours. Just a little faster on this trip. Then 3 hours to conquer the final furlongs. Hells Hip Pocket is wildly beautiful in the inner reaches. We had to work away from one side slot. I'm not sure at this point if it's doable down to Blue Tank. If it is it's wickedly awesome for one slotted stretch.

Further up in Hells Hip Pocket, still in the ravine we came to the slabbed end with a chokestone boulder to negotiate. This was followed by a couple tiers to a sloping mountain top. From the top I knew our destination based on having the topos etched in my mind.

We first came to the cave from above and just slightly west. I steped out on a perch and finally laid my eyes on this almost mythical alcove laden in disturbing history. It looked impossible to approach from our position. Luckily I had researched this from across the river and knew we had to skirt west, down and back over.

The cave was larger than I anticipated yet more shallow from all the diggings. It really is hidden from 10-20 yards out due to the slope. It's also guarded well by thick vegetation. I found out a couple interesting things about it's position that will be in the hike description.

Thanks to everybody (hikers, historians & dutch hunters too) that made this possible with research over the years. Especially to member Chazz_Reinhold for iron clad undisputed facts. None of which would have been possible without the help of superman Bob. The scrambles would have been out of my league on my own. I likely would have turned around without the support too. Thanks Bob! The man is nuts and is hiking the Superstition Ridgeline as I type... Whereas I can barely walk as my feet hurt so bad from wearing boots. Not to mention he actually pushed my truck out of the sand.

Possibly the first ever video in Skeleton Cave made public
Skeleton Cave
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Its funny how things get started sometimes. It may be a subtle hint in a thread or perhaps a PM challenging your manhood. This one started out with both. I was planning a double ridgeline(Joe said BORING) or a return to Secret Mountain(I didn't push that one hard enough).

I had read a few articles about Skull Cave(aka Skeleton Cave)and was intrigued with the history of it. I'm pretty much always game for an adventure and I knew this wouldn't disappoint. We met at the girl place @5am and proceeded to our destination which was Cottonwood camp. My hike started out with an under-layer,fleece,and jacket and I was still cold. As we gained some elevation and mileage, the "sweat" began to rear its ugly face. I knew this was gonna be one of those windy/hot/cold/windy/hot/cold kinda hikes. After two miles, we cached water and Joe cached one of his layers. I opted to keep mine( a decision I wouldn't regret).

After the turn off, we were off trail. We came across some moguls(which to me looked like... this is where they bury those who don't make it back). How many more ravines? Does this one count? We came across a whispering cactus who told me we should turn around and come back in the spring.

Another hour has passed and we gained 4 more waypoints...yeah, the views would come and go. Joe said they were better than Malapais. I thought they were awesome in their own way, but couldn't touch those of Malapais. The fact that we had to work harder may have altered Joe's perspective. The turnaround spot was truly one of the highlights and motivated me just enough for a return visit.

The hike back thru the cholla fields was nasty. At one point, I had like 5 stuck to my sneaker and didn't realize it as one by one they ended up on my leg...much to Joe's delight.
On the hike back, I found lots of Chalcedony...some were rose colored and looked like there were diamonds in it.

Someone must of had a birthday party out there, we found a bunch of balloons. Then I found a note from Jayden who is looking for an email pal. I emailed him Joe's video of our Skeleton Cave attempt.
Skeleton Cave
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Close but no cigar...

Bob and I parked at Cottonwood Camp (the furthest you can go without 4WD) and started hiking at 5:50am. We were in the strong moonlit dark for the first hour. No biggie as you are following the 4x4 road for 2.25mi.

With a direct approach preload route in the GPS we turned off and the adventure began. Within the first five minutes I wasn't paying attention and we were off route. Back on track we were headed to cross five ravines. They're really canyons but I didn't want to scare Bob off so ravines sounded more gentle :)

The journey over was pretty much the same canyon after canyon. It's slow going due to thick cacti, mainly of concern is the cholla :sweat: The first few hours I was taking all the cholla hits and yelping like a baby over and over. Luckily after three severe stabbings I went stab free. Bob took up where I left off with more stabbings than I can count. Although I understood the pain, some were rather comical just one after the other every where he turned at one point. :lol:

Back to the game plan, five ravines to paradise...
1) The first down is so steep it's more like skiing. Easier to just slide it down.
2) This little rollercoaster has a fading ridge in the middle to keep the joy level boiling.
3) Cane Spring Canyon, wide and appears to get heavy runoff. It's steep out.
4) Blue Tank Canyon We had to go further than anticipated due to sheer cliffs. It's a beauty!
5) Hells Hip Pocket Jaw dropping beauty, I could spend a half day exploring here alone.

Due to the slow going (lack of calculated daylight) we turned around near the bottom of HHP. I spotted a route up, albeit steep I'm confident it's doable. Although we didn't make it to the cave HPP is stunningly beautiful IMO. Hope to return someday, though I admit this rollercoaster route is taxingly difficult. The cold brisk wind was rough the first five hours too. If I go again it will be with firehose pants and thick boots. Gloves are must IMO, tweezers would be wise. Got a great view of the elusive Sheep Mountain, it looks doable too. The question remains, would a sane person willingly do this again...

For those interested - The total mileage to go all the way would be 15.5 miles and about 5,700 ft gain. I figure another three hours too.

This video does absolutely no justice with it's annoying wind and bright white skys :(

Permit $$

Map Drive
High Clearance possible when dry

To hike
page created by joebartels on Dec 12 2009 9:38 am
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