Waterholes Canyon, Arizona Strip


"In SETI, the Water Hole is the band of radio frequencies between 1420 MHz and 1640 MHz. This is the band between the hydrogen line and the strongest hydroxyl spectral line, and is notable because it is a quiet region between two notable frequencies; it is theorized that this would be a good band for communications to or from extraterrestrial intelligences.The term was coined by Bernard Oliver. The combination of hydrogen and hydroxyl yields water (the "water" part of the name); the "hole" part refers to the sudden drop in radio noise within this band. The term also serves as a pun as it has been theorised that extraterrestrial species would use this band as a commonly recognised communication channel (in English a watering hole is a vernacular reference to a common place to meet and talk).



No, no, not THAT Water Hole... Waterholes Canyon, down on the Arizona Strip.

I had planned on doing Waterholes a couple of years earlier after a Glen Canyon trip, with Todd Martin and Aaron Locander, but bad weather and an attempted suicide the night before had pre-empted an actual attempt. This time...

Waterholes is famous for sticking ropes. Some have referred to the Waterholes Rope Exchange Program. Here's Luke's account with pictures.

Packing packs at the trailhead: Aaron Locander, Steve Ramras, Hank Moon (driver), Rich Rudow (invisible), Sonny Lawrence, Todd Martin, Tom Jones (taking picture).

(Waterholes Canyon)

(Waterholes Canyon)

Rich had picked up a permit a few days ago, so we arrived at the edge of the canyon as the sun was rising.

Ram and I had visited the "Middle" section of the canyon a week previously, so we opted the cut around the middle section and descend the "Escape Route" to get to the Lower Part more quickly. The Middle Section is a nice, Navajo Sandstone slot with a couple of rappels.

We were hoping and planning on re-engineering the BIG DROP to avoid the infamous Rope-Eating Crack, and to set it up so others could too. We had a lot of rope (including backup strands, in case we stuck 600' of rope at the Big Drop), TWO bolt kits, pool toys and wet suits for the river segment - big loads.

Alert readers will note that this is actually the permit from 10 days prior, rather than the permit for that day.

Lichen or leave it. The entry Ram and I chose allowed us time to sniff a few lichens on the way to the Big Drop.

Sandstone detail, by Ram.

The Young Bucks caught up with us soon enough. Waterholes is an interesting canyon that draws a lot of attention, being just outside “civilization”, if one wants to call Page that. We found a lot of trash in the canyon, including a LOT of ropes and webbing. The Lower section had fixed ropes on 4 rappels/downclimbs, and the fixed ropes were new-looking and in good shape, so we left them in place (and used them, after careful inspection). Here’s one fixed line on a ‘rappel’ down into a narrowish slot.

Evidently, this was a Banditos route!

We were able to stay dry up to this point, so when we came to a water-filled pothole, Todd pulled out his boat and started pumping. These are two bolt studs found near the top of the drop into the pool, from which some have set up a zip line.

Of interest here is the erosion pattern. From the fin of sandstone downstream of the left bolt, we can surmise that the bolts were flush with the surface originally, but the surface eroded down over the years. Hmmmm - interesting!

Todd carefully paddling across…

The rest of us put on wetsuits, just in case, but getting IN the water, even though only waist-deep, was not appealing in the early-morning chill. Todd carefully paddled across, then we used a pull cord to ferry first packs, then people back and forth across the puddle.

Getting from the bottom of the downclimb into the pool toy was a little tricky. In this picture, Sonny is stepping into the boat…

…which proved to not be an effective tactic. As the boat slid out from beneath him, Sonny channeled Daniele Hypolito, tucked his head and executed a forward somersault into the water – avoiding his other option, a sinus-filling-with-algae forward belly-flop. Unfortunately, he did not stick the landing, which severely effected his scores…

Now wet, Sonny was kind enough to hang out in the water and hold the boat steady for the other gymnasts.

There were other obstacles in this section, including this deep Pit of Doom, passed easily by a traverse on canyon right, then a short rap to where Aaron is, which is the anchor point for a longer rappel.

…dancin’ on the edge, above the large drop…

Finally, we arrived at the Big Drop. Todd and I scurried forward to assess the engineering requirements. The BD starts with a 100′ rap into a comfortable slot above the 300+’ smooth, vertical drop. Here Rich is hanging out in the comfortable slot, waiting to assist the Drill Baby Drill types…

Not far below the lip of the drop is the Rope-Eating Crack, with three ropes stuck in it. From the anchor, we could see how the rope would run down and then INTO the crack and get stuck. Some time in the past, plucky canyoneers (or Banditos) had set up a three-bolt station down adjacent to the Rope Eating Crack, but there were only studs left from this anchor. The perch offered a small stance, and Todd and I used this to install two 1/2″ x 3-3/4″ Powerbolts.

There were also doubts about the length of the rappel. Given much choice, we would have carefully positioned our anchor to be about 280 feet above the ground, so it could be done with a 300' rope (accounting for shrinkage). But the little ledge offered only one position for the anchor.

We set up a Rappel-and-Lower and Todd went down first. I lowered out about 10 feet of rope, and this was enough to get Todd to the ground. We then pulled it up and re-rigged out 300 foot rope without the contingency.

There was a big pile of trashed rope at the bottom of the rap.

My newly-cut 300′ rope was just the right length. Eeeeks!

From the bottom, here is the top HALF of the Big Rap.
There is also a mid-wall rap station, but it is 15-20 feet off-plumbline, and we did not even think of using it.

Rich coming down the Big Rappel, Ram providing a bottom belay. There were amazingly obnoxious flies at the bottom, and the absolute worst spot was the bottom of the rappel. As we provided a bottom belay for each rapper, there was much dancing and waving on the part of the belayer, to escape the flies.

Rich at the bottom of the big rap.
Rock climbers note: 300′ tall splitter crack, with a nice little overhang at the top… yum!

Rich on the Penultimate rappel – short – final rappel in the background.

The last rap in the canyon.

Todd and Aaron, hiking out the lower canyon.

No sticking the ropes for us! We did, however, gather up 80 lbs of trash to hike out, some of which a charming boating family carried out to the Marina.

Life on the Big River.

At the end, we blew up our pool toys and floated out of there, down to Lee’s Ferry. And floated, and floated… It was the most placid section of river, so we paddled much of it, to the point of aching shoulders. The Trail Boats do not paddle very well!

Aaron split for the long drive back to Tucson, Ram for Fort Collins. The rest of us stuck around for a little canyon the next day... but that's another trip report altogether...