Part 1: Jane and the Reynolds Boys visit Big Canyon

Jane on Rappel - Big CanyonRather than an extended dance mix Sufferfest in the Grand Canyon, Bob and I talked ab0ut doing two short loops this Fall, Big Canyon, and revisting Tatahatso where we’d had to skip the narrows on a previous trip. Bruce signed on. And Jane was able to join for the first loop.

Big Canyon is one of the tributary drainages of the Little Colorado river. We tackled this as a loop, driving to the Big Canyon trailhead (as described in Todd Martin’s Grand Canyoneering), having camped and spotted a car at the Salt Trail trailhead the night before.

img_2302The roads across the Navajo tribal lands (permit required) can be confusing, but Bruce’s GPS took us right to the Salt Trail trailhead. (Be prepared for a few misses is you’re relying on written descriptions alone.) After the obligatory gear futzing to prepare for the trip, and a beautiful sunset, we hunkered down for a very windy night, sandblasted by strong winds all night, with gusts seemingly in excess of 50 mph.

Morning found us piling into Bruce’s jeep for the quick shuttle to Big Canyon. (Thanks again, GPS!)

The approach involves picking one’s way through some Class 3 hiking (or Class 4, depending on the specific line you take) down a steep ravine to Sheep Wash, and continuing to Big Canyon. It’s some fun hiking, especially as the narrows start to form and the scrambling returns.


dsc_1718Water levels in Big Canyon appeared lower than in others’ photos. (This was in stark contrast to the trip a couple days later in Tatahatso, where we did a lot of swimming.) But water was still flowing over the little falls below the spring.

While this likely isn’t a canyon that’s visited a lot (yay for difficult approaches!), it may be that every group feels it has to leave it’s own tangled mess of webbing on top of the other tangled messes. Boo! I found I was cutting away a multi-colored spaghetti of nylon at every anchor. Two words on this: If you’re rebuilding an anchor, please remove the previous stuff, and pack it out. And in the Grand Canyon area, black is the standard webbing color–keep the funny colors for your propeller beanies. (Bruce might be willing to lend you his.)

Proceeding down the canyon, the travertine falls and the pools at their bases are beautiful. Some wading, and a couple of very short swims. And a lot of fun.


Big Canyon Emerald RoomEventually you pop into the double-falled Emerald Room. As it was getting late, and we were getting cold, we opted to rappel canyon right and avoid the plunge into to pool.

Plopping down, we removed neoprene and continued on to the Little Colorado. Hint, stay left and stay high and go all the way to the river–within about a foot on this trip–to pick up the trail leading downstream. The routes to the right and down the middle proved quite sporty!

From there, we walked downstream a short ways to eat dinner and camp.

After spending the night under a mesquite tree, we walked another 100 yards downstream, to the mouth of the Salt Canyon trail, and found the much bigger campsite used by AZFRO. We would have had a lot more elbow room and much less silty water to filter there!

From that point, it was a pretty straightforward hike up the Salt Trail, including some fun Class 4 up near the top. We exited and went to retrieve the Jeep. Jane headed back to Flagstaff and Bruce, Bob, and I headed up to Tatahatso Wash for Round 2.

More photos of the Big Canyon foray.


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One Response to Part 1: Jane and the Reynolds Boys visit Big Canyon

  1. Angela Stokes says:

    Beautiful write up, felt as if I was there along side of you.

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