I am going to go ahead and say that no one has done this canyon. Let me clarify what I mean by that. As at least one other canyoneer puts it, it is the first modern descent of this canyon. While the canyon had no evidence of ever being descended, the who's to say it didn't have visitors long ago. I'd like to think that at least some remnants would have remained, webbing and pitons depending on its placement can last for decades. I completed this descent in company of my brother Jose and my cousin Federico.
The canyon was beautiful and unique as it was brutal. I am only sharing our experience and should not be taken as accurate information, specially since 3.5hrs of the canyon was done in the dark. Running out of light was something we were very aware of specially now that it is winter, but it might prove too hot for the summer. Perhaps in the fall. It took us 15hrs and 7min to complete it, 6am to 9:07pm. Note that we sped up a lot towards the end when it got dark, it should be treated as an 17hr canyon, so it would be best enjoyed as a two day canyon. I plan on a revisit to properly record the bottom section. We didn't even take a lunch break, just munched on food as we moved. The canyon was dry with the occasional pool or puddle that was all avoidable.
Click here for a map with photos in the location they were taken. In the future, look for our photos in Panoramio or Google Earth, they have been selected for Google Earth and are awaiting final approval.
We stepped off at the Cactus Spring trail at exactly 6am. The trail is easily followed and has easy terrain. About 1hr from the start, the trail descends into at creek named Horsethief Creek that at the time had water. The trail then climbs steeply for a bit and it eases off again. Following the trail is easy and at about 2.25hrs you'll come to a post that indicates to veer right. We put a blue ribbon on this marker but if you look closely at the post there is a "Q" along with an arrow pointing left engraved on it. You leave the trail here and follow the wash you see to the left. Be careful not to take the wrong wash, you should see footprints as I suspect this is the route for a backpacking trail that can start at either The Cove or the Boo Huff trail head. If you look at a topo, you'll notice that this wash eventually turns southeast, it turns at about 3hrs from the start and northeast of this labeled wash another lies northeast of it. this is the start of Guadalupe Creek and you reach it by maintaining a northeast direction, eventually you'll come to one of the many drainages that end up at Guadalupe Creek. Once at the creek itself, the going is easy until about 3.5hrs when the canyon narrows and has dense bush.
The bushwhacking here, as the sections that will follow are difficult for several reasons. Most of the time you aren't stepping on ground, you are literally bush surfing. What ever bushes/trees there was, they had a flower that released a lot of pollen. In every section like this, we could taste the bitterness in our throats from breathing it in. I don't take the word bushwhacking lightly, and believe that most beta misuses the word as their claimed bushwhacking is often just weaving through brush. The bushwhacking here is such that looks impenetrable at first sight and very well might be, but what is one to do? Just sit around and pout about it? Nope.
After this first section of bushwhacking the canyon clears up and you come to an old camping spot. Could be a geocache, or part of the trail from Boo Huff to the Sugarloaf Cafe, we didn't stay long to explore. There was just an old wood stove and a pile of wood that resembled a once shelter. Just ahead of this will begin the technical section of the canyon and it begins with down climbs.
Some may choose to rappel these, but right after the camp spot there was a 30' fall we bypassed on the right. Another at about 4hrs of the same height that we also bypassed on the right. These are followed by a 40' that was also down climbed on the right. Bushwhacking is followed shortly and the canyon clears up once again. At about 4.75hrs we came to a 50' fall that we choose to rappel. Anchored from a pointy rock formation that had its tip pinched with a large boulder. The canyon remains fairly clear ahead with a lot of boulder hopping. At about 5hrs there will be another brutal section of bushwhacking. When able, we climbed on the sides to avoid it, which that in itself wasn't much better, but more often than not, we had to power through thick pollen-releasing bush. At 6hrs, you come to the largest rappel in the trip. The canyon opens up into an amazing rocky amphitheater that has a deceiving height. Perhaps one of the most amazing drops I have seen. Anchored from a boulder 40' up the lip, we extended the anchor those 40' as close to the lip as possible with some rope. If anyone else does this canyon, you'll noticed that there isn't really any consistency with the anchors as I used various items that I have accumulated. Some have the standard webbing and link. Some have rappel rings and some have rope as webbing. Just making use of miscellaneous gear. The fall drops about 20' to a ledge which keeps you from seeing the bottom and makes the height seem a lot higher than what it is. It then drops into an overhang of about 160' to a prominent ledge. It is then another 80' to the bottom of the fall. I'll add that we only had ropes of 200' and made do with that. The anchor has to be extended to the lip for it to be possible to use 200'. That length deposits you on a series of ledges or footholds that lie to the rappeler's left. It is precarious but possible to descent the remaining 60' or so by down climbing. It would be a wiser choice to bring a length of 270' to rappel all the way down. This amazing rappel is followed by even worse bushwhacking.
Continuing on, we at one point we climbed over to the right side of the canyon and then high over to the left.So much so that we had to rappel back into the canyon. The bush here was too thick to attempt to pass through. The rappel placed us near an open area high on the right side of the canyon. Rappelled down, crossed the creek and continued on the right side. Throughout the next section of canyon around the 8hr mark, take some time to enjoy the surroundings. There are very cool rock patterns that hint at the violent activity that had to have formed them. At 8.5hrs we came to a 50' sloping rappel where afterwards the canyon clears up a bit once again. At about the 9hr mark there is a 20' down climb that is immediately followed by a 30' rappel. At 9.5hrs we reached a section of canyon that was unlike any place I have ever been. It is a twisting precipitous section that has about 6 substantial rappels. It begins with a 50' that is immediately followed by a 70' drop. We choose to bypass this 70' fall due to time, but it is a beautiful waterfall. It drops into a narrow chasm-looking section. Only a few yards ahead is a two stage rappel. One can choose to rappel 150' and then 30' but a full length of 200' will reach the bottom of both. The convenient tree at the center of the lip provides an easy pull. This places you on another ledge that is followed by 45' rappel into a deep pool. The pool was stagnant but it is entirely avoidable by veering to the rappeler's left. Right after you'll come to a 60' fall. Anchored from a tree in the center it begins a little awkward and ends as a free hang. This amazing section of canyon will come to a conclusion with a two stage rappel that can be completed with 120' of rope.
The next section of canyon is fairly open with small sections of bushwhacking. Along this section would be a good camp spot. I do not recall this for a fact, but just based on the time it takes to get to this section it would prove wise to do so. At about 11hrs you come to a 120' rappel. Perhaps because of the darkness that had already rolled in on us, we rappelled off to the side of it.
***Note: From this point forward it was night. While I took occasional notes, it wasn't as frequent and safe to say not as accurate as before. You'll notice that on the audio clips as I often make corrections. That's why this next section is fairly short, but not short in ground covered.
Immediately after, the canyon narrows and large rock formations appear and you see the canyon open up again to an abyss below. Well, it seemed so as there was a faint hint of light left. An anchor was difficult to find here. Those that are bolt happy would without a doubt drill obstructively here. I wish it was light enough to have taken a picture of the anchor but we used a rocky point on the right wall of the canyon. We dug out as much as we could of the accumulated dirt in the crack to wedge a rope in. We extended the anchor at least 50' to have it closer to the lip. Thankfully we did so, because 200' of rope was the exact amount needed. At about 12.75hrs there is a 35' sloping rappel. The canyon clears up again with a lot of boulder hopping. At 13hrs we down climbed a 30' fall on the left side. You come to a 180' rappel at 13.75hrs anchored from a large boulder conveniently located on the side of watercourse. This followed by a series of down climbs, one of 20' and the other of 15'. The next section of canyon opens up and stays so for about one mile. It is a welcoming change of pace from the continuous bushwhacking and boulder hopping. After the mile and at about 14.5hrs you reach the last rappel, a 30' fall that is another chasm-looking formation. An interesting anchor we did here as we ran out of everything. A length of rope as webbing, which is fine, but the link was replaced with an overhand knot on a bight. There is a boulder in the center of the watercourse that can be extended but we chose not to. Once at the bottom, it is about a 30min walk to the trail head. This is where your recovery vehicle would be parked, we got picked up so the shuttle didn't apply.
If you want to leave a comment, click on the title of this post to open the post itself and the comments section is at the bottom. No log in required. Alternatively, you can click here.
Here are all the images in no particular order. Videos will come in the following days.
EDIT: Two videos at the bottom of the post. One of my cousin slipping while on rappel and the other is just a compilation of all the videos. No fancy stuff.