Clearwater Canyon is a rugged side canyon of Cataract Canyon. Cataract Canyon is well known to white water rafting enthusiast, but receives almost zero climbing and hiking use. Cataract Canyon itself is very rugged and there are few routes in and out of the gorge. What few routes there are at least 4th class in difficulty and usually take several days. If there is a more rugged area anywhere in the Lower 48 States, I have yet to see it. We spent one 5 day trip traversing the benches and side canyons of Cataract Canyon, and all days were long and strenuous. We ended up covering only 11 miles in those five days.
Clearwater Canyon is a beauty and a beast. The canyon is an oasis in the desert and is laced with permanent waterfalls, hanging gardens and other fantastic greenery, spectacular 2000 foot walls, and beautiful crystal clear pools of water. Solitude is assured as very few groups have ever been known to descend the canyon. That is the beauty. The beast? The route and difficulty of travel is the beast. There’s a reason so few people have ever seen the canyon. The descent is a trial. Seldom can the passage be described as even remotely easy. You rappel into and swim a huge icy cold pool of water, scramble through countless boulders, and rappel off several waterfalls, including a 322 foot overhanging falls. There are several downclimbs up to 5.6 in difficulty. The exit chute is also a trial. You must boulderhop up river along a tedious route before reaching the exit chute. The exit chute is a boulder and scree laced merciless chute, 5th class in several sections, with 2200 feet of steep elevation gain. Usually it is exposed to full sunlight, and really nasty in hot weather.
Steve Allen, Harvey Halpern, Jim Finch, and Joe Wrona made the first passage through Clearwater Canyon in the late 1990’s. They succeeded in traversing the canyon, but somehow found a bypass around the section with the huge drop. From the canyon mouth, they swam down river to an incredibly difficult exit chute (5th class and 2500 feet) and climbed out of Cataract Canyon. We looked for several days, but did not find any indication of a viable route out of Cataract Canyon down river from Clearwater Canyon. Even though Easter Pasture Canyon makes a difficult end to the trip, it seems to be the only practical way out of Cataract Canyon unless you can arrange a boat pick up. I don't know of the location of the route Joe Wrona, Harvey Halpern, Jim Finch, and Steve Allen used, other than it is down Cataract Canyon and is used by bighorn sheep.
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