Canyoneering in Death Valley: Grotto, Bronto, Styx, and Erebus Canyons

Snowy, here in Utah. All over. Rainy down in California, but it stopped raining in time for us to head out to Death Valley for a few days. Dante View road, the main access to canyons, was closed by mudslides but was 'likely' to be open soon. I picked up a virus and coughed my lungs out for a week or two leading in, so I claimed I did not HAVE to stay for the whole Ram-Program. Ram flew to Vegas and got picked up by Dan Ransom. Add local hardmen Rick and Mike, plus quite a few other fun people invited down - a FEST! A Valley of Death Fest!

Parking and packing for the climb up the ridge.

Those Guys did Natural Bridge Canyon on Saturday, and Dante's was still closed, so Ram suggested a mellow day hiking up a ridge to, somehow find a way into, then down Grotto Canyon, which Rick had done in the dark a couple weeks prior, and wanted to see with daylight on it. Chris Brennan had done it by ascending Mosaic Canyon on the other side of a ridge, than popping over the ridge and down Grotto—Rick was looking for a more reasonable approach.

A mellow day? I looked at Ram in disbelief... what had come over my OCD friend?

Brendan and Juno paid us a visit, a stop on a long drive. Juno not so up for canyoneering.

Climb the ridge. Michael from Flagstaff enjoying an aerobic workout.

Climb the ridge more. Ram and Dan gots some smiles a-goin’. Something must be wrong if I can keep up with Ram…

The warmth of the sun felt good, but climbing steeply uphill, it started feeling hot! After we climbed 2000 feet or so, Ram and Rick chose a route in, and we downclimbed a steep, loose, dangerous gulley (no pictures), traversed back and forth on an extremely loose, chossy, steep, scary face (one picture, from below) and eventually found ourselves in the delightful shade of the canyon bottom. Ah yes, the Death Valley experience, I remember it well...

Ram and a few others traversing the extremely loose, chossy, steep, scary face to get to the ridge left to find a reasonable way down to the canyon bottom.

Ali and Steve from San Diego enjoying the cool of the canyon floor.

Ali on one of the several raps in the upper canyon

Ramoo practicing his second-most-favorite sport, canyon-golf.

Michael smirking beside a short drop. A side canyon came in with what looked like an extended narrows, but this short drop prevented further exploration upcanyon.

Hail hail the gang’s all here! The ‘lazy’ group from camp, Malia, Heather, Rick, Carol and maybe a few others hiked Grotto canyon up from the bottom, to enjoy two sets of narrows. We crossed paths here in the upper set.

Abby, Death Valley Ranger on rappel in the lower narrows.

The one and only, Bill Wolverton from Escalante.
Then we went back to camp at Slabby Acres and drank beer.

Gathering of the troops, for another day in the field.

We met Jay and Abby, and two other ranger friends of theirs, to check out a canyon Jay had scoped a couple weeks prior, which I will call Brontosaurus Canyon, or Bronto. I think Jay was not expecting quite THIS size of a crowd, but the canyon had but three rappels, and a bit of a climb to get out, so should be no biggie.

Walkin’ across the stinkin’ desert to get to the first rap.

One advantage of going with the locals – they can show you some interesting rockart on obscure boulders.

The sun!!! The sun!!! The sun!!! (think Tommy)

And the brontosaurus, solid evidence of the co-existence of dinosaurs and cavemen, supporting the theory known as ‘bunk’!!

Abby on the first rappel, kinda long.

Steve Cole from 29 Palms on rappel.
The rock is Lava flow Basalt layered with Xenolith-rich Ash-flows (welded tuff). Interesting stuff, frighteningly loose in places.

Then we hiked downcanyon, rapped, boulder-hopped, climbed up and out, and were back in camp drinking beer in time for the sunset (followed shortly by the moonset)…

Finally, onto the Ram Plan.

Well, kinda, sorta, the best plans etc etc. We planned on going down Coffin, then hopping to the Styx pass, then following the ridge out to Charon. But, the Gods intervened. The road to Dante's was SAID to be open, but was not. Rick quickly recalculated, and found us another way to get to the same canyon (you know, the one with our car at the bottom), by an extensive drive up jeep trails to a spot in the sagebrush and Mormon Tea... We park and get ready for the day.

A couple hundred feet of uphill over a pass, then down a fork of Coffin.

The usual 3000′ downhill hike in DV can be destructive of all leg muscles and joints. Thankfully, this one was not so bad. The chunky gravel was more or less skiable, and it had enough variety to offer muscle relief.

Somewhere in there, we found a nice little rap down a flute.

Which brought us down (almost) to the main fork of Coffin Canyon just at the right place to climb across to the Styx pass (on the right) which gets you into Styx Canyon. Or, for those doing Charon, follow that long up and down ridge out to the end, to get into Charon.

Downclimbing the final drop and rock to the canyon floor. Nice rock!

Tina on rappel in Styx.

At the Styx pass, we broke into two groups. I joined the "Fun Group" which chose wisely to descend the canyon before us, Styx Canyon. Two years ago, Ram, The Crane and I had done Styx and it was really fun. Seemed like a better idea to do it again, than to climb steeply up a ridge in the full sun for another hour or two. OK, I guess I was not REALLY on the Ram Plan, because such suffering is part of the plan. Ram and Dan and Rick (and two others) went to Charon. Tom Kitta, Tina, Carol, Jannek and I went down Styx.

Tom Kitta on rappel.

Interesting pinnacles in the conglomerate.

Tina smiling her way down another rappel (there were like 18 total raps).

Another rappel. Carol at the top, minding the anchor. Tom K on rappel.

Now Carol on rappel.

A baby Chuckwalla, hanging out.

Somewhere in there, a nice little rap down a flute.

Tom Kitta smiling broadly.

Jannek on rappel, getting closer to the ground.

Ah hah! Getting down to the final rappel, the cool one under that there boulder.

We set up a rappel over the boulder, using a retrievable anchor rig, just for fun.

The floor of Death Valley, with some water out there, a once-every-five-years phenomenom.

Tina rapping the front face of the boulder-arch.

For Wednesday, the canyon of choice was Erebus Canyon. Dante’s View was finally open, so we started there and hiked along the ridge an hour to the drop down point that serves several canyons, including Abysmal which we had done two years prior. Erebus ended up being the best canyon I have done in Death Valley; not too bad an approach, lots of raps, fun downclimbs, not too much walking.

The seldom seen, high above the floor of the Valley of Death.

Down a ridge we went, which had a small mining camp near this point. Dan posing point.

Down this ridge, then down the next, then down into that canyon.

Typical DV anchor – big pile-a-rocks.

Always smiling Dan Ransom, rapping a rap in DV Erebus.

And again, smiling again.

The canyon seemed to be tracking the nice rock, seemed like limestone, which turns white in the watercourse.

What a surprise – another Rap!!!

A biggish rap, beside a lot of chossy rock.

Finally, out onto the fan, and walk out to the road.

… Steve Cole generously ran shuttle for us and picked us up at the bottom, after a short wait.

From there, back home, to snowyish Zion, a hot shower, a soft bed.
Catch you on the flip-flop.