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AZ: Mogollon Rim Bear Canyon Sep 16 2018

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by slotshot, Sep 18, 2018.

  1. slotshot


    It was 110 degrees in Phoenix, and 85 on the rim. Perfect weather for Bear Canyon.

    I inspected the locale with google maps in sattelite mode, and dropped a pin on 142E where I thought we should leave the road for optimal entry to Bear Canyon. We dropped our packs and a person (meat cairn) there to mark the spot, drove .5 miles further, dropped the car, and hiked back down the road. From this spot we made our way due west, hedging southward to avoid the "deep, pine needle filled, v-shaped drainage" that is referenced as the wrong drainage in "Arizona Technical Canyoneering" by Todd Martin. We wound up in a "deep pine needle filled, v-shaped drainage" that turned out to be the correct canyon, and headed down canyon. After about 45 minutes we reached the first dry fall. Instead of down climbing on the right we opted to rappel to give the less experienced canyoneer in our group a chance to warm up. There was a "good enough" anchor here off of a log on the left looking down canyon (LDC), we did not build our own, but would next time. The next obstacle was a down climb using a log as a ladder on the right LDC. After some more bushwhacking and boulder hopping we reached the technical narrows.

    1st rappell was off of a double webbing anchor on a chokestone pinch point on the canyon floor. To rappel you go underneath a 5ft boulder overhead and down about 10 feet. This would be a good place to practice meat anchor or last man at risk techniques. At the bottom we suited up... and we absolutely needed to.

    There are several potholes and 20-30 ft. swims. The water was cold, very cold. The guidebook reads "wetsuit in all but the warmest of weather." It should read "wear a wetsuit no matter what, a thick one if you have it, because the water is 45 degrees." Our 3 mil wetsuits did just fine, leaving mostly the extremities to get the coldest. Take care to practice risk mitigation techniques and think about how you sequence the team.

    Out of the 5 or so online accounts I read about this canyon only one of them mentioned a "semi-keeper pothole" I do not agree with this assessment. I would say there are no keepers, no semi-keepers, and maybe 1 "beacher pothole". A beacher pothole is where you have to give up trying to find a foothold and just hump your chest and stomach up a sloped lip like you are a beached whale (extra points if you make sound effects to go with it). My feet could not touch the bottom at this lip (I am 5'10"), however 5 ft to the left I could stand chest deep on gravel.

    2nd rappel was immediately after the beacher pothole. We fit 3 people on the ledge with the bolts (which were in good condition), but for bigger parties you may have to sequence so you don't try to put the whole group here, or leave someone in freezing water or teetering on a lip while the first people descend. This is the best, longest (40ft), most picturesque rappel of this canyon. Take your time to enjoy it and get some good pictures here if you are into that sort of thing.

    3rd rappel was 10 feet off a chokestone into a pool. It's a good opportunity to practice rappelling off the end of a short single line into the water to avoid a floating disconnect. The last person can reconfigure to double line rappel with one short side to let it pull through the descender and swim the rest to pull the rope as you go.

    We left the narrows behind and continued with our wetsuits on (we were not too hot) for the rest of bear canyon. Lots of boulder hopping and knee deep wading and bushwhacking. Once we got to West Clear Creek, we took off wetsuits and had lunch (peanut butter M&Ms FTW)

    We reshuffled gear and made our way upstream/Eastish. Not having hiked down to West Clear Creek on a trail, and not being familiar with this area we had a difficult time finding the exit trail. The guidebook was 100% inaccurate about the description of where to find the exit trail, it looked nothing like the book said. This is no fault of the book, it was published 11 years previous to our trip which in some ways is light years in canyon time. We passed the exit for Sundance canyon and saw some other canyoneers there. They told us we were only a few minutes from the exit trail, but pointed us in the wrong direction! (Our fault, we should have known the trail was in between Bear and Sundance) We kept going and ran into a few hikers that confirmed we parked in the same place as they did. We followed them back to the trail (and later broke beers with them as a thank you). The exit trail is 600 vertical feet straight up. One of our party said that it had "Icelandic Switchbacks" which meant it had no switchbacks and went straight up (apparently hiking in Iceland there are no switchbacks).

    It was a very beautiful canyon, with dark and cool mossy covered walls and leafy grottoes filled with ferns, and a great narrows section. The water was low, but there was still plenty of it. It is very cold, be mentally prepared and take a group that can get through this. A GPS would have saved us embarrassment about finding the exit trail, but won't be needed next time. This is not a great canyon for a group of beginners, but it IS a great canyon for more experienced canyoneers to take beginners down. It required many canyoneering skills, route finding, boulder hopping, down climbing, wading, swimming, stemming, short rappels, etc. It was a great place to practice more advanced canyoneering techniques, as well as risk mitigation, and sequencing.

    Our party was 3 people and it took us 6 hours (10am - 4pm) with about an hour of dilly dally time in there. We went on a Sunday and saw no one in the canyon. We did meet a group that did Bear before us and then went and did Sundance. We saw 10 hikers in West Clear Creek Canyon. I took 2 L of water which was ok. When finally making it back to the car I rewarded slash punished myself with an "electro shandy" (canyon-cooled Miller Lite with pedialyte powder)
    Zach T and Austin Farnworth like this.
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