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Clearwater Canyon

  • The Hype

    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.

    Getting There

    The turnoff for the road is near Hite Utah along Highway 95. From along Highway 95 between the Dirty Devil and Colorado Rivers (Lake Powell at high water), turn north on the dirt road between mile post 46 and 47. This is the Hite Road. The road is a 4wd road, but not that rough by 4wd road standards. Using a map, drive along this road to the head of Clearwater Canyon near Willow Tanks. This is about 28 miles along the 4wd road. If you have two vehicles available, drive the second one to the head of Waterholes Canyon. The road to the head of Waterholes Canyon branches off the Hite Road just past Willow Tanks. The road branches to the right and ends at a stock pond.

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    The Canyon - Rating: 3B IV R   Longest Rap: 322'   # of Raps:

    Ethics:

    The canyons in this area are very pristine. Bolts are not needed to descend this canyon, and would detract from the incredibly pristine setting of this wild canyon. There are plenty of chockstones to wrap slings around for anchors. Try to leave as little behind as possible. This trip is certainly not for beginners; canyoneering techniques must be practiced before going on this trip.

    Note:

    The route description is intentionally brief. If you don’t have the skills to read a map, route-find, set up rap stations in very awkward locations with natural anchors, climb exposed 5th class pitches with no protection, and disconnect from a rappel while treading water, then this is not the trip for you!

    Description:

    Follow the drainage down from Willow Tanks. There are some falls to pass and is an Indian ruin on canyon left a little before the fist drop if you keep your eyes open. The first technical drop you come to is a double drop (the second one is overhanging) into a section of narrows. You can do it all in one rap from the bench to the right or left. There are several downclimbs up to 5.6 and there are five more rappels of various lengths, but none are over 100 feet except the last one. The narrows are all short. One of the rappels has a floating disconnect into a large (and cold)over your head pool. This one will always be a swimmer. Other rappels are next to flowing waterfalls.

    The section of the canyon below Waterholes Canyon and the big drop is really nice with several waterfalls and huge pools of water. Eventually you will find yourself looking over a 322 feet high waterfall. This is one of the highest permanent (though sometimes it has a low flow) waterfalls on the Colorado Plateau. Find a chockstone or boulder for an anchor and enjoy the ride (and shower!) on the way down and landing next to a huge pool. Make your way down the rugged canyon to some nice campsites with good water not too far from the Colorado River (or Lake Powell in very high water). This took our group of six 10 hours, but a smaller group can move faster.

    This is an extremely difficult route with lots of technical climbing. Go well prepared! A strenuous trip!

    [​IMG]

    Option:

    There is an optional route on canyon right (LDC) with shorter rappels that bypasses the big drop. I have not done this route.

    The Exit

    Boulder-hop and walk up river (there will be a route regardless of lake levels) to the mouth of Easter Pasture Canyon. Easter Pasture Canyon is a very steep canyon with lots of boulders and bypasses. Most falls are bypassed on the right. If you stick close to the drainage, the route will be low 5th class, but if you search around it may be possible to find a 4th (maybe even 3rd?) class route out of this extremely steep canyon. The route is very rugged. There are ruins on a ledge at the high drop in the upper end. There is also running water in the canyon below the ruins too. From the rim, follow the map carefully and hike up the drainage and back to your car at Chaffins Camp at the head of Waterholes Canyon. You will need a map and route-finding skills for this.

    [​IMG]
  • The turnoff for the road is near Hite Utah along Highway 95. From along Highway 95 between the Dirty Devil and Colorado Rivers (Lake Powell at high water), turn north on the dirt road between mile post 46 and 47. This is the Hite Road. The road is a 4wd road, but not that rough by 4wd road standards. Using a map, drive along this road to the head of Clearwater Canyon near Willow Tanks. This is about 28 miles along the 4wd road. If you have two vehicles available, drive the second one to the head of Waterholes Canyon. The road to the head of Waterholes Canyon branches off the Hite Road just past Willow Tanks. The road branches to the right and ends at a stock pond.

    [​IMG]
  • Ethics:

    The canyons in this area are very pristine. Bolts are not needed to descend this canyon, and would detract from the incredibly pristine setting of this wild canyon. There are plenty of chockstones to wrap slings around for anchors. Try to leave as little behind as possible. This trip is certainly not for beginners; canyoneering techniques must be practiced before going on this trip.

    Note:

    The route description is intentionally brief. If you don’t have the skills to read a map, route-find, set up rap stations in very awkward locations with natural anchors, climb exposed 5th class pitches with no protection, and disconnect from a rappel while treading water, then this is not the trip for you!

    Description:

    Follow the drainage down from Willow Tanks. There are some falls to pass and is an Indian ruin on canyon left a little before the fist drop if you keep your eyes open. The first technical drop you come to is a double drop (the second one is overhanging) into a section of narrows. You can do it all in one rap from the bench to the right or left. There are several downclimbs up to 5.6 and there are five more rappels of various lengths, but none are over 100 feet except the last one. The narrows are all short. One of the rappels has a floating disconnect into a large (and cold)over your head pool. This one will always be a swimmer. Other rappels are next to flowing waterfalls.

    The section of the canyon below Waterholes Canyon and the big drop is really nice with several waterfalls and huge pools of water. Eventually you will find yourself looking over a 322 feet high waterfall. This is one of the highest permanent (though sometimes it has a low flow) waterfalls on the Colorado Plateau. Find a chockstone or boulder for an anchor and enjoy the ride (and shower!) on the way down and landing next to a huge pool. Make your way down the rugged canyon to some nice campsites with good water not too far from the Colorado River (or Lake Powell in very high water). This took our group of six 10 hours, but a smaller group can move faster.

    This is an extremely difficult route with lots of technical climbing. Go well prepared! A strenuous trip!

    [​IMG]

    Option:

    There is an optional route on canyon right (LDC) with shorter rappels that bypasses the big drop. I have not done this route.
  • Boulder-hop and walk up river (there will be a route regardless of lake levels) to the mouth of Easter Pasture Canyon. Easter Pasture Canyon is a very steep canyon with lots of boulders and bypasses. Most falls are bypassed on the right. If you stick close to the drainage, the route will be low 5th class, but if you search around it may be possible to find a 4th (maybe even 3rd?) class route out of this extremely steep canyon. The route is very rugged. There are ruins on a ledge at the high drop in the upper end. There is also running water in the canyon below the ruins too. From the rim, follow the map carefully and hike up the drainage and back to your car at Chaffins Camp at the head of Waterholes Canyon. You will need a map and route-finding skills for this.

    [​IMG]

Condition Reports for Clearwater Canyon

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