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Pumphouse Wash - Upper, AZ

Guide 19 Triplogs  1 Active Topic
  3.3 of 5 
no permit
1 Active
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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 1.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 2.4 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,308 feet
Elevation Gain -177 feet
Accumulated Gain 200 feet
Kokopelli Seeds 3.4
Interest Off-Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack No
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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1  2020-07-09 fricknaley
10  2019-05-30 fricknaley
3  2019-04-26
Forest Wandering
7  2017-05-20 arizona_water
7  2017-05-13 JoelHazelton
23  2015-09-28
James and Kelly Loop (technical)
3  2013-11-05 geckotracks
20  2012-10-20 DaveB96
Page 1,  2
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 241
Routes 829
Photos 12,055
Trips 4,845 map ( 24,780 miles )
Age 51 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, May, Oct, Nov → Early
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  5:12am - 7:43pm
Official Route
2 Alternative

Oak Creek, the beginning!
by joebartels

Pumphouse Wash is the upper end of Oak Creek, where the magical watercourse begins! Upper Pumphouse Wash described in this guide is a superb option if Pumphouse Wash - Lower intimidates you.

On one of the warmest days in January, I decided to take the plunge into Pumphouse Wash. Having read about the area for years, I finally had a chance to explore.

Along the way, Kelly and James' canyons enter from the east. It's just under four miles hiking distance from the northern end of Pumphouse down to the confluence with Oak Creek. Although possible, the full canyon out and back would take six to ten hours. Therefore, I opted for a more relaxing day and chose to explore the upper section only. Flooding often occurs in Pumphouse Wash. If rain is in the forecast, stay out of this canyon.

Head down into the wash from the parking area. There is no trailhead marker or trail. The canyon is wide and shallow near the beginning. Follow the apparent main canyon south, and you shouldn't have any problems getting lost. For a short distance, the creek bed has striking contours etched by the forces of erosion. In about a quarter-mile, Kelly Canyon enters from the east. Along the way is a tiny cave. Most likely, you will miss it and catch a peek on the return trip. The canyon will start turning to your right. I passed several campsites with fire rings up along a mid bank terrace. I'm sad to report the area was somewhat trashed on this day.

Continue following the canyon. On to the falls, most or all of the gradual turns are to your left. The creek bed is rocky with small boulders most of the way. Be careful, hopping along the rocks. Jumping onto a colossal stone, I was stunned as it gave way. After that incident, I was a bit more cautious. Near the final left turn, watch out for the prickly bushes that cover the wash. On the return trip, I took a fair beating and scratched up my legs pretty good.

Approaching the falls area, be careful not to walk off the ledge. There shouldn't be much problem with this happening, though I did slip right near the edge. The issue was more of a personal challenge. On this trip, I wore hiking boots. It May sound funny, but I rarely wear boots. I have explored nearly everything in Teva sandals. Even on a warm, near sixty degrees day in January, as much as I wanted to wear the Tevas, the snow was too cold. And yes, I tried it for about a hundred yards. A beautiful canyon looking ahead is visible from the falls. The falls is the turn around point for this guide. You can hike on down the canyon if you're up to it. To the left of the falls is your only hope of getting down. Though very steep, it is possible.

Further down, James Canyon enters from the east. The canyon walls get steeper, and to be honest, the canyon is more exciting after the falls. The upper section of Pumphouse Wash, as mentioned above, is ideal for getting to know the area. It's easy to see with the width and length of this canyon how flooding can occur in a flash. Once again, stay safe and stay out of this canyon if rain is probable.

All in all, this was a great adventure. A rare treat to hike a beautiful Arizona canyon without passing a soul. Not that I dislike anybody. Sometimes it's just lovely to enjoy the outdoors in pure peace.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2000-01-18 joebartels
    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.

    Permit $$
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    if incorrect tell us about it

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To canyon trip
    From Flagstaff, go South on 89A just south of mile marker 392 and turn East onto FR 237. Follow FR 237 one mile park on a right spur road that leads to the wash.

    GPS readings taken from field

    TrailheadTop of 14 foot falls
    N35 03.703'N35 02.829'
    W 111 43.208'W 111 43.489'
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills
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