DEATH VALLEY CANYONEERING
9-14 FEB 2009
This is a short trip report describing a canyoneering trip to Death
Valley in February 2009. Death Valley National Park has many canyons
suitable for canyoneering. Thanks to Craig Taylor for helping with
Six of us met at the Texas Spring Campground at Furnace Creek on
the evening of Sunday, February 8. Participants were Ron Bartell,
Craig Taylor, Jeff Fisher, Ron Hudson, Bill Wolverton, and Rich
Henke. Upon arrival, we learned that a storm on Saturday had closed
almost all the roads in the park including the roads to Badwater
and Dante's View, which we needed to access many of the canyons.
The Park Service had no estimate for when the roads would be cleared
and things did not look promising. The forecast for Monday was a
50% chance of rain. This wasn't the Death Valley trip we planned!
On Monday and Tuesday, we explored several shorter canyons off the
Chloride City Road and did not get rained on. The Badwater road
opened on Wednesday allowing us to pursue our original objectives
- the canyons that descend from the vicinity of Dante's View to
the valley floor around Badwater.
The canyons descended in order were (1) Monarch, (2) Keane, (3)
Coffin, (4) Bad, (5) Styx, and (6) Cerberus. They are described
below. The length, elevation drop, and our time required (car to
car) are approximate. All the canyons except Coffin required lengthy
car shuttles. The flooding did not cause any damage to the anchors
in the canyons and there were no pools. We found all anchors intact
over the 6-day trip and only did minor modifications to a couple
The canyons are described in the Brennen website.
Information about Abysmal, Cerberus, Hades, and Styx can be found
on Tom's website. The link below is a photo/trip report that occurred
in February 2008. Note that there is also a link to Ram's daily
diary, which he wrote last year for these 4 canyons.
A selected set of my photos can be found at: http://adventureplus.smugmug.com
(1) Monarch Canyon (2/9/2009)
Length - 6 miles, elevation drop - 1500 ft, time required - 5 hrs.
This canyon starts 2 miles in on the Chloride City Road (turn-off
is 3.4 miles NE of Hells Gate) and ends at the point where the Beatty
cutoff road meets Highway 374 to Beatty. It was a pleasant walk
down an interesting canyon past the ruins of the Indian Mine. There
were 2 rappels although the first could be bypassed. The second
was 180 feet through a moving stream. We placed a new anchor lower
down which shortened the rappel and also provided easier retrieval.
We did a lot of sightseeing. This canyon could be descended very
(2) KEANE CANYON (2/10/2009)
Length - 9 miles, elevation drop - 4000 ft, time required - 8 hrs.
Just south of Monarch, Keane Canyon traversed through some of the
most interesting mining areas in Death Valley. We accessed the start
from a dirt road just outside the park off of highway 374 that goes
to Chloride City. We finished in the valley below where the closed
Keane Wonder Mine road meets the Beatty Cutoff road. We did 6 rappels
and a number of downclimbs. There were numerous mining sites including
Chloride City, the Big Bell Mine, the Keane Wonder Mine, and the
Keane Wonder Mill. The rappels were up to 120 feet in length. They
did not pose any problems and some could be bypassed. We found one
anchor tied to a huge bolder on a rocky slope that could be easily
moved by hand. We slide the boulder down into soft dirt where it
provided a much better anchor. Note that the descent of this canyon
is prohibited due to possible lead/mercury contamination of the
tailings. We did not learn of this until later. This canyon is off
limits until the site is cleaned up.
(3) COFFIN CANYON (2/11/2009)
Length - 6 miles, elevation drop - 1600 feet, time required - 7
The Badwater road opened allowing us to do Coffin from the bottom.
After leaving cars at the south side of the Coffin alluvial fan,
we hiked up the left side of the Copper Canyon fan heading southeast.
We started climbing at the first possible gully and followed ridges
between Copper and Coffin until we reached a saddle at about 1400
feet, which separates the Coffin and Copper drainages. We then dropped
into Coffin and reached the first rappel at about 800 feet. Note
that the Copper Canyon drainage is closed to hiking, but the ranger
I talked to said that the route we followed was outside the closed
area. Our excitement for the day was rappel number 2, which was
190 feet long. We discovered at the trailhead that we had left our
long rope in camp and our two longest ropes combined were only 200
feet long. We were able to get 5 people down by tying two 100-foot
ropes together, having people tie in below the knot, lowering them
100 feet and then having them rappel the remaining 90 feet. So after
5 people were down, Ron Bartell dropped the ropes down and hiked
back out the way we had come in. The remainder of the canyon was
routine. The last rappel passed through sea level. We would have
finished the canyon in less time but the tricky lowering exercise
required lots of time.
(4) BAD CANYON (2/12/2009)
Length - 6.4 miles, elevation drop - 6000 feet, time required -
9 hrs. 3 min.
Ron Bartell returned home so there were 5 of us on this descent.
For the next 3 days, we would descend canyons starting from Dante's
View, a spectacular viewpoint at an elevation of 5475 feet, which
looks directly down at Badwater, which is below sea level (-270
feet). For Bad Canyon, we traversed north to Dante's Peak at 5704
feet before descending, giving us almost 6000 feet of descent! We
used Brennen's instructions to access upper Bad Canyon. The Hades
fault, which separates Bad Canyon from Hades Canyon was very obvious.
We did 8 rappels including one of 180 feet. Our excitement of the
day (no, we didn't forget the rope again) was that we couldn't pull
our double rope rappel on the 6th rappel, a 150-foot drop from an
anchor 25 feet back from the lip. Bill Wolverton had to jumar back
up to release it. For long rappels like this, it is certainly less
problematic to rappel single strand with a biner block and to keep
the other end of the rope or pull cord well away from the rappel.
Our waiting car was at the Badwater parking lot.
(5) STYX CANYON (2/13/2009)
Length - 5.3 miles, elevation drop - 5500 feet, time required -
7 hrs. 50 min.
Another 8 AM start from Dante's View. For canyons to the South,
you park 200 feet below Dante's View at a small parking lot just
below the last steep part of the access road. We followed ridges
toward upper Coffin Canyon which is also the approach used for Styx.
Unfortunately, we followed a ridge too far west so we had to drop
down and climb back up to get on route. We finally reached upper
Coffin and followed it until we reached an obvious canyon to the
right which led to the saddle separating Styx from Coffin, We did
11 rappels in Styx plus many challenging downclimbs. They went quickly
since everyone in our group was a rockclimber. As long as a group
has one rockclimber, it is feasible to do a quick belay for the
non-climbers and then the last person can downclimb with a spot
from below. The cold storm had left a lot of ice in this canyon.
The last rappel was through a natural arch formed by a huge boulder.
(6) CERBERUS CANYON (2/14/2009)
Length - 4.3 miles, elevation drop - 5500 feet, time required 11
hrs. 30 min.
While I took a day off to rest my legs, Ron, Craig, and Jeff descended
Cerebrus. Bill had left for home the previous evening. Cerberus
is a bigger challenge according to Brennen, having 24 rappels and
an estimated completion time of 12 1/2 hours. I drove the group
to Dante's View and they were hiking by 6 AM. The descent went well
- the anchors were in place and everything worked. The canyon was
the wettest of the canyons and damp the entire way. There were 3
rappels between 200 and 300 feet requiring a 300-foot rope. The
most dramatic point was when they reached a 500-foot drop off. A
150-foot rappel led to a ledge and a downclimb and shorter rappels
below but the entire 500 feet of exposure was visible when starting
off. There was 1/2 hour of daylight left when they reached the car.