|Canyoneering||13.60 Miles|| 13 Hrs 15 Mns ||1.03 mph|
|5,050 ft AEG|
|Intermediate Canyoneering - Difficult or dangerous; Tech Climb; rope reqd; descent anchor; exit technical;|
|C - Strong current; wading/swimming; waterfalls; possible wet/dry suit|
|IV - Long, full day, bivy possible|
||no linked trail guides|
|Josh, Carole, Joel, and I took on Palisades Canyon a few days after Mt. Lemmon received 5 inches of rain in 24 hours. We knew the water levels were going to be high but to actually see it was eye opening, scary, exciting, and totally EPIC!
Josh, Joel, and I had done Palisades two other times so we had a fair idea of what we were in for. This was Carole's first big Catalina's canyon since her epic first canyoneering trip down Lemmon Canyon. She was ready this time!
I arranged a friend to drop us off at Palisades. He happily obliged even though the meet time was 5:30 AM. I definitely owe him a steak dinner! He hiked with us until we entered the canyon.
We started out on the trail with 550 feet of rope (9 mm and 8 mm), 80+ feet of webbing, 8 quicklinks, and all our personal gear which included wetsuits! We had about 4 miles of trail to complete before we got to the good stuff.
As we walked, we could hear the creek below. It sounded pretty strong. On other trips we didn't notice any creek noise on the first part of the journey. There was water running in many of the unnamed drainages and Pine Creek also had a pretty strong flow. We were treated with an awesome view of water flowing over the second big waterfall in Pine Canyon, a view very few probably see.
We suited up after we bushwhacked to the Palisades Canyon bottom right above the first rappel. I donned on my 5 mm wetsuit with a struggle. I felt like the Pillsbury Dough boy. Minutes later I was very thankful for the wetsuit when I was fully emerged swimming across a pool. The water was way colder then I expected for this time of year.
Joel had went ahead to set up the first rappel. He had to rig a new anchor because the normal one was under water. We tested our submersible radios. Josh tossed the rope with the bag over.
He got on rappel and went down far enough to see what was going on. Then he put his ascenders on the rope and came back up. He wanted someone else's opinion as to whether or not we should do this. We all agreed we could just hike out if conditions were too much of a concern. We also asked everyone if they thought we shouldn't do it after it was further evaluated. No one was scared enough to turn around.
I got on rope and took a look. I couldn't see all the way down but what I could see is that the flow was fast and we'd likely be in it. Things I thought about: Would we be able to breath while rappelling? Would we be able to disconnect without drowning because of the force of the water pushing us down? What will the other rappels be like? Finally, I decided that people rappel in Colorado and Europe with conditions like these. We should be able to do this. I admit that I was scared, but I wanted to experience this as it's nearly a once in a lifetime amount of water in Palisades!
Down I went, I discovered if I faced out I wouldn't get plummeted by the majority of the water. Even with that I was thankful when I got the few feet down to the first pool and was able to get out of the waterflow for a bit. I quickly saw that this wasn't a rest break it was a rope management break. The rope had landed in the pool and the swirling of the current had twisted the rope up into a nasty mess. I struggled a bit and got it loose but I could never seem to get it completely untangled since there was probably 100+ feet of rope. I tossed the lose mess over the lip and hoped for the best. I knew that if I had a knot lower down there was the chance I would be stuck in the flow of the water fighting a knot while being water boarded. A situation that was likely life threatening. Thankfully the length of rope I needed had stretched out clean. I was able to continue. The force of the water shot me off a ledge and then slammed me against the rock face crushing my rappel hand beneath me and my pack. Little did I know the crushing also bent one of the supports of my pack, more on that later. I continued the rest of the way down making sure to take deep breathes just in case I got into a steady flow of water and was unable to breathe. I also went a lot faster down the rope than normal to reduce the amount of time it would take to get to the bottom. I never did feel out of control but it definitely was a rush. Finally, I made it to the pool at the bottom. I could touch so I was able to get off rappel without much trouble. I then struggled over to the edge of the pool and clamored out. I was exhausted. I fumbled for the radio and let everyone know I was off rappel. I'm sure there was a collective sigh of relief at the rappel station. I told them to face out and which side to rappel on. Since was below I could help them avoid some of the waterflow that got me. I grabbed the rope and prepared to give the next person a fireman's belay. Typically, once the third person was down two of us would move on to the next rappel however it was hard to leave until we were sure everyone was down safety.
Josh and I went to set up the next rappel while Joel still was rappelling. Little did I know that Joel ended up flipping upside down and had to fight to get upright.
At the top of the second rappel someone had left a message in rocks 'No Rope'. Someone must have done an incredible bushwhack to get to that spot!
We used our 8 mm rope on the second rappel. This is the waterfall that I affectionately call the firehose. From the top we could see most of the rappel. You go down a crack then with an abrupt turn you exit the chute for the firehose and if you are lucky you can get into the pool that is behind the firehose and take a break (and maybe a photo). Then you duck under the firehose and and continue down. I found that the speed of the 8 mm was advantageous for speeding through any flow that might cause me breathing problems. At the bottom of this fall is a nice sized bottomless pool. Typically this is a cold, placid pool that you swim across and get up on a steeply sloped beach. Not on this occasion! What I saw below was a wave pool! I got to the bottom of the rappel and found that the bench for disconnecting was thankfully still above water. I probably should have stayed on the bench and did a belay but I was concerned about whether or not we could easily exit the pool. If we couldn't, I would want someone to deploy the emergency pool float and send it down to me for me to use while I waited for help. I fought the current and got to the lowest lip where the water flows directly over a cliff. I struggled my way up on the lip taking care to keep my balance so that if anything happened I'd fall back into the pool instead of being swept over the edge. Then I wiggled myself up on the steep side away from the waterflow. I radioed up and let everyone know they could come. Joel came next and he stayed below to do a belay.
As Josh and Carole came down, Joel swam over to me. I gave him a foot to help him climb up. Then we discussed our next rigging for the third rappel. Someone would have to swim against the current over to the anchor (a couple of old pitons) with the rope, examine the webbing replace if necessary, thread the rope through the quicklink, and then swim back. Since I am the better swimmer, I went. I had to grab the webbing and do a pull up to see all of it. With my Grade 4 arthritis and torn labrum in my shoulder this task was quite daunting. We had decided that instead of doing a releasable rigging we would just do a biner block, so once I deemed the webbing was in good condition I was able to quickly untie the rope from my harness, thread it, and retie it while hanging from the webbing. I swam back and scampered up Joel's legs to relative safety. I was freezing in my 5 mm wetsuit. Down below I could see some spots of sun and was excited to proceed.
I got on rappel and started my descent. Not being able to see the lay of the waterfall I ended up going directly down the water line. As I rappelled I was facing out with a left handed brake, I used my right arm and core to brace against the rope to keep upright. It was a very unusual way to rappel.
After giving a belay, I found some sun to bask in for a few minutes. Then we had a decision to make. We identified two anchors for the fourth rappel already set up (a third was found later way off on one of the sides). The first was a huge rock and the second a skinny tree. The webbing around the rock looked best so Josh rigged to it. He went first so I could continue enjoying my spot of sun. I was off to the side and got to watch him rappel. As the wall became more vertical towards the bottom the water was a solid wall of white. I saw him enter it and held my breathe. I started to feel anxious. Still he didn't appear. I yelled over to Joel to hurry pulling the rope, but over the sound of the water he didn't hear me. Finally, I saw him! Exiting the pool on the other side of the waterfall. Relief flooded me! He got over to the edge of the pool and then called me on the radio. We discussed the situation and decided that we should move to the tree anchor which from his view was mostly out of the flow. Joel cut off the existing webbing and them rebuilt the anchor. I disconnected the rope via the quicklink we had added (damn those who use hollow rap rings which are not rated for single use and are intended for single use only). Then I brought the full setup over to Joel and we just had to connect the quicklink. Carole went next making this break for me a bit longer. This rappel ended up being one of the most relaxing ones since we were able to mostly stay out of the flow of the water.
From this rappel we had to down climb about ten feet to get to the fifth rappel. Joel went first and Carole after him. I was surprised she didn't ask for help as I typically cannot get down that without some sort of help whether verbal or physical. She has come a long way since our Memorial Day trip down Lemmon Canyon! After Josh and I had everything pulled I took off. As usual I struggled to get down but finally made it with a few verbal pointers. Then I swam across the pool to the anchor. Joel had it ready so I just attached my rappel device and went.
The fifth rappel was especially wet but we were getting used to it so it was more fun. Carole had taken to hooping and hollering down the waterfalls definitely having a lot of fun!
The rope pull on this one was especially difficult. Josh and Joel were pulling with all their might. Finally, we packed things up as we had a bit of a canyon hop to get to the next waterfall. As we walked away, I made sure to take some pictures as this view shows the majority of the falls and is breathtaking to say the least. It's fun to look back to think of what we just gone through. And there was still two waterfalls to go!
The canyon opens up and you get good views downstream. At that point I knew we were close to the sixth rappel and I looked over and saw Joel rigging. Josh went down first. He had to do some rope management as this is a two stage rappel. It was nice as we were again mostly out of the water flow. I went second rappelling in the traditional style. Midway, I followed the rope and scampered up the rock which would ensure positioning out of the majority of the water. I worked to place the rope on the rock as quickly as possible to make it so I wouldn't pendulum over to the side. A lot of canyoneering is knowing some physics. Angles, friction, and swing potential all are part of the calculation.
Once Carole was down, Josh and I went to the next anchor a short canyon hop away. I was nervous as I knew the canyon narrowed up at that point and I wasn't sure if we would be in the flow. I was relieved to see the chockstone was dry! We typically break this rappel up into two because of the danger of getting a rope caught. I went down the short seventh rappel by sitting on my butt and inching off the edge. Stupid! My pack got hung up! My pack is new and has an innovative design which allows you to disconnect the shoulder straps if your pack gets hung up. I never got to test that feature as another feature - the hip belt is attached via Velcro to the pack - released itself. I finally got my feet on the chockstone below me and then saw that my pack had pretty much come apart! No time to deal with that, so I pushed it aside and checked out the rigging. Oddly, someone had tied the webbing so the waterknot was right where the rappel ring goes (which is not recommended) and they did an overhand so you couldn't adjust it. The other webbing in place just looked crunchy. Josh came down and I explained what I saw and we decided to rebuild the anchor. We had attached our safety tether to the existing webbing so we planned to put ours in place using a frost knot, transfer our safeties, and then cut off the old webbing and trim our webbing. This all took some time. But soon Josh was rappelling down. As he left, Carole joined me. Since this was her first time down this canyon I told her to look for the cactus growing upside down under the chockstone we were standing on. Josh radioed up and so Carole then was off. Joel came down to me. He pulled the top rope and I stuffed it. By then I had my pack back together and so I got on rappel. Using traditional style of rappelling I started to lower myself off the rock backwards. It's an overhang so I knew that I needed to make the L then keep lowering myself until my feet are above my head in a V and then let go. Ever since I slipped doing one of these at a pit I have been scared of them. Abnormally scared. More scared than rappelling down waterfalls with fast moving water. After some cursing, I managed to let go and was low enough that I didn't smash my head. Success, but that was definitely a trial for me. I saw the cactus and with a smile I completed the eighth and final rappel.
We took a break and refilled our water. Then we started on the rock hop out. My shoulder had taken such a beating I felt like I could barely move my arm and it hurt really bad. I also found out on my next scoot that the Velcro didn't have enough strength to handle a scoot. It looked like the weakness caused by the support being bent and not in the right spot was causing the pack to be off centered which probably allowed for one side of the Velcro to have more weight causing it to fail. I reassembled my pack and worked on avoiding scooting. Next I jumped off a rock. The jar of me landing also caused the Velcro to fail. Ugh! Between my shoulder and my pack issues, this was going to be a slow mile or so to the trai. I finally found a happy medium between mini scoots and tiny jumps and didn't have any other failures. Luckily, the pack manufacturer is a friend so I will be able to go over the design flaws and have him repair it. When I'm done field testing this pack it will be a masterpiece! However, I was greatly annoyed at the time!
Finally, we made it to the trail. Now only about 6-7 miles left to go! We took a break once we got to the top if the Sabino Canyon road. From there it was a power walk out. I chuckled to myself when I was able to keep pace with the road walkers while carrying about 40 pounds of wetsuit, 200 foot rope, harness, helmet, and numerous prices of hardware!
At the cars, I checked in with our emergency contact. Then practically stripped in the parking lot to get out of my wet clothes.
We spent a few minutes rejoicing in our success and then collapsed into the car happy not to have to do any car shuttling!
What an awesome way to spend a Sunday!