Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Oak Creek, the beginning!
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. Pumphouse Wash is the upper end of Oak Creek! This is where it all begins. 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 choose to explore the upper section only. Flooding occurs often in Pumphouse Wash. If rain is in the forecast stay out of this canyon.
From the parking area head down into the wash. There is no trailhead marker. The canyon is wide and shallow near the beginning. No trail actually exist. Follow the main obvious 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. A very small cave is passed. Most likely you will miss it and catch a peek on the return trip. The canyon will start turning to your right and up along a mid bank terrace several campsites and fire rings are passed. Sad to note the area appeared to be 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 small boulders. Jumping onto a huge boulder I was very surprised as it gave way. Needless to say I was a bit more careful after the incident. 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 bad.
Approaching the falls area be careful not to walk off the ledge. There shouldn't be much problem of this actually happening, though I did slip right near the edge. This was more of a personal problem as on this trip I wore hiking boots. May sound funny, but I rarely wear boots. I have hiked nearly everything in Teva sandals. Even on a warm, near sixty degree, 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. From the falls a beautiful canyon is seen looking ahead. This is the turn around point. You can hike on down the canyon if your 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 if rain is probable please stay out of this canyon
All in all this was a great adventure. A rare treat to hike a beautiful Arizona canyon without passing a sole. Not that I dislike anybody. Sometimes it's just nice to enjoy the outdoors in pure peace.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.