Part 2: Tatahatso Canyon

If you were tooling down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon somewhere near RM 38 in Grand Canyon river parlance, you’d pass the mouth of Tatahatso Wash. You might notice the pool at the mouth, but not give the drainage behind it a second thought. Largely invisible from the river, the drainage stretches above and behind the 50-foot cliff that rises from the pool. But what a cool drainage it is. In the end, I enjoyed the slot and the challenge more than the loop through Big Canyon that we’d just completed (and that’s saying something– Big Canyon was great).

dsc_1825Post-Big Canyon foray, Bruce, Bob, and I drove up the road to Tatahatso Point to revisit Tatahatso Wash (Bob, Mo, and I had been there two years earlier, but had to scratch the technical descent because of illness).

A note about driving across the Navajo land to Tatahatso point–it can be confusing! Even having been out there previously, it was difficult to follow the written directions. Bruce’s GPS came through (although on a bit of a convoluted route).

We reorganized gear and camped the night at the point for an early morning start.


Early-ish, anyway. We started walking at 7am.  We made great time to the break, down the sketchy slope, and boulder-hopping, scooting, scrambling, and a bit of thrashing, to the top of the Redwall for a lunch break in about 4.5 hours of walking (allow more time if you aren’t familiar with the route).

In retrospect, we probably lolly-gagged at lunch a little too long before what proved to be a long–and awesome–slot.

The pools at the top of the Redwall where much deeper than the last time I was there. This suggested the slot would be wet, a good suggestion as it turned out.


Following lunch, we plunged in. Literally. The first rap was into a pool deep enough that even this 6’5″ guy needed a short swim to get across. It was clear a group had been through recently, as the anchor was new and in good shape. We’d run into several more like this through the slot, but we still had to clean a few and build a few.

Todd Martin’s Grand Canyoneering lists the second rap at 75′. It may have  been from wherever his anchor was placed, but from the anchor right at the top of the chute, we found it to be a good 90′ straight down into the pool (we had to extend the pull side of our 160′ of rope with a good 20′ of webbing). Yep, into the pool. Another deep swimmer. We did a lot of swimming, and we were glad for a layer of neoprene in the cooler Fall temps.

Somewhere in the deep murky pool at the base of the third rap, Bruce unknowing dropped his camera. (Reward for the return of this camera hereby offered!) That’s a shame, because Bruce had taken some great shots in Big Canyon, and was the guy who had recorded much of the morning’s scamper down the wash. A short while later, my camera battery died, and I found my backup battery wasn’t charged. (The OEM battery had given a false positive in the after-market charger back at the hotel in Flag.)

While Grand Canyoneering lists 7 raps, we did 9, and we don’t think that included the “tricky downclimb”.  A couple of times we diverged from at least the previous group’s selection to avoid what we felt was an unnecessarily exposure approach to the anchor.

Given what appeared to be a very recent descent, I was surprised by one anchor. It was a different webbing than the new stuff we’d been seeing, but still looked newish and supple. It seemed in great condition. I really wanted to inspect the whole sling though, and that took some doing since fine debris had clogged the pinch point. I worked it at for a minute and was able to free it enough to slide the webbing. It showed on short section that was severely abraded, with about half the material gone. I suspect we would have been fine, but it does speak to the importance of not just assuming the anchor the last guy used is fine today.

What a long, beautiful slot. It was taking some time, though, and we were burning daylight on this post-Equinox trip. And then we stuck a rope  on the penultimate slot. Maneuvering for different pull angles was awkward and ineffective in the deep pool, and eventually Bob ascended to work it loose, followed by a a sporty slide-jump into the pool. (Alas, Bob dropped his Ushba Basic ascender in this deep pool–and thus another reward offered for this piece with sentimental value.)

The section of the slot between this second-to-last rap and the final exit is spectacular. You’ll see others’ photos with some interesting pillars carved into the wall. And in them, you’ll generally see bone dry narrows. Not so this time.  I was enamored with the swim through the twisted corridor in this section–again, the water was deep. And a bit chilly. With the above mentioned camera woes, and because it was getting late and the light was fading, we’ve got no photos of this area.

Finishing the last rap in the dark, we plunked down to spend the night on the debris field beach at the mouth of the wash.

Morning came with the plan being a leisurely float down the river with a side-trip to Buckfarm Canyon. (Not as grim a prospect as the following photo suggests!)

Oops. Perhaps we were a bit too leisurely in our approach. Perhaps we were more concerned about running the riffles in our pack-raft pool toys. And I know we were a bit thrown by the speed we made it down the river. We ran the rapids (really riffles) at Buckfarm before we even realized we’d just passed our objective. And made it to President Harding Rapids in about 2.5 hours, much faster than the 4.5 hours we were expecting.

Had we had enough rope along, we would have done a quick loop through Tatahoysa at this point. But we didn’t. So there we settled in to dry out our gear, eat some food, and drink the can of cider that Bob found floating in the river.

The hike up Eminence Break is steep, but it’s pretty straight-forward (Bruce decided to try to a sportier high-route near the beginning–not necessarily recommended). The footing is good, and the route is solid even when you’ve got to use the hands. Not recommended as a first trail, but in terms of Grand Canyon river-to-rim exits, it’s toward the lower end of the effort scale.

A great little loop. Hat tip (or propeller beanie tip) to Bruce and Bob for a great time!

(More photos)

Tatahatso Point

(Once again!) “We survived the ordeal by drinking our own urine.”





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7 Responses to Part 2: Tatahatso Canyon

  1. Keith Richards-Dinger says:

    Hi Mike,
    Great trip, writeup, and photos. We may have been the most recent party down Tatahatso before you? We were there on Sep. 18: (really should edit those photos down) and I’m curious which anchor had the severely abraded webbing. I’ve got pretty good shots of six of the eight anchors we used (exceptions being 6 and especially 7 below):

    We were leapfrogging a bit and I was very surprised to come up to #4 in use with no rapide. But for the abraded webbing: doesn’t seem like it could possibly be 1, 2, 3, 5, or 8. Can you tell if was 4, 6, or 7 (or the one you used that we didn’t?)? Sorry about not having a better pic for #7: that’s just Dan supplying a bit of a redirect so the rope didn’t snap over a bulge as rappeler descended.


    • Mike Rogers says:

      Hey Keith,

      Thanks for the feedback and question. I think the abraded webbing was on #6 (which was #7 for us.) But we may have used an anchor closer to the drop, I don’t clearly recall that long beige anchor you have picture–not sure I even saw it. (We may have perhaps used a soccer-ball, sized rocks wedged in the crack.) It was not one of the new 11/16″(?) black webbing that the newer anchors were made of. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture–my camera had already died.

      I think it was #4 I put a rapide on. And #5 I think we did as a 2-stage rap right down the middle.

    • Mike Rogers says:

      Hey Keith– It looks like my earlier reply didn’t post. Sorry about the delay. It’s hard to say exactly from memory (that camera issue), but it was either #6 or #7. If it was #6, it was NOT that pictured anchor, but rather something a bit closer to the drop. I think though it was on #7, with an anchor canyon right before that step down.

  2. joe says:

    Great pics, looks like a great outing – a couple questions:
    1. What is the latest with the 5 mile limit? has it been updated or how did you guys get around this?
    2. Was looking at doing this loop this year but the only time I can get my gang of idiots together is early july. what is the sun exposure on the exit? too brutal that time of year? After a spring time sufferfest coming out of lava falls – the thought of dying of sunstroke is not on my list of to-dos.
    3. Am assuming same access type of roads as 29 mile canyon – high clearance ok or does it require 4 wheel drive?


    • Mike Rogers says:

      Hey Joe, Sorry about the delay in responding–I was on a 21-day trip down the Colorado.

      To the best of my knowledge, the 5-mile limit is still in place. But if you walk down the beach on exit from Tatahatso (which you’ll want to do in a pool toy pack raft to avoid the biggest riffles and eddy fence), and exit early above President Harding Rapid, you’re pretty close to that 5 miles. Portage liberally and you’re there. Bonus portage: exit high above Buckfarm and visit that canyon, a great leisurely couple of hours up and down, and get back in the river further below Buckfarm, and you can easily stay within the 5-mile limit.

      Regarding July, I haven’t been there at that time of year…but I’d imagine it’s going to be hot. Hot hot. You’ll be fully exposed up top. You’ll get some shade with an early morning hike down the break to Tatahatso Wash, and then be back in the sun. I’m guessing the slot should provide some good shade opportunities even in July. Once you hit the river, you’ll likely have very hot temps (with a chance to cool off with river water). I’d expect a super hot exit up Eminence Break…start REALLY EARLY and have water at your vehicle (even better–ice cold beverages in your Yeti). There is some light shade opportunity at the beach at Eminence Break.

      Note on July–pay attention to the weather. It’s a long slot and could easily take several hours. There may be a couple bail out opportunities, but I didn’t pay much attention to that.

      While you’re there, temps and time permitting, add a good half day for Tatahoysa which you’ll be positioned for at Eminence Break. You walk right by the head on your way out. I’m bummed we missed the chance.

      After the split, the roads to Tatahatso Point is a bit rougher than most of the road to 29-mile, especially for the last mile or so when it gets pretty ledge-y. (And a bit hard to follow–GPS very helpful all day, and extremely helpful after dark!) That said, we made it out in a toy SUV. I think higher clearance would be better. And some of the road might get slippery after heavy rain, especially around the big pond, but I think you’d be OK in a 2WD.

      Hope this helps. Good luck!

      • joe says:

        Thanks for the getting back to me. We are getting soft in our old age so are most likely going to do Right Fork overnight and hopefully Kolob or Boundary time permitting and save Tatahatso for a fall or spring adventure.

    • Mike Rogers says:

      Cool–It would be a great Fall (or Spring) trip!

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