You'll notice that these canyons can be reached by airplane. There are many backcountry airstrips in southern Utah, most scratched out during the heyday uranium mining boom era of the 1940's and 50's. They offer unforgettable (and often expedited) access to these remote canyons. Most flights are about an hour and are operated in conjuction with Redtail Aviation at Canyonlands Airport. Consider this approach since it allows an unparalled view and understanding of the complex terrain that you'll soon be exploring. The flight is sure to be just as memorable as the canyons themselves.
This two day canyoneering trip into the canyons of North
Wash offers a whirlwind combination of amazing slot canyon hikes. Each
canyon builds upon the previous in grandeur and difficulty. It's about
the most action-packed two day trip anywhere! While Blarney Canyon,
and it's nearby "big brother" Shimrock Canyon,
showcase some of the narrowest slots in the deserts of Utah, the short
but sweet Lavar Canyon adds an easygoing finishing touch.
Blarney is a first-class slot canyon, period. It is shorter and more casual than Shimrock and offers a great first day warmup to the following day's rigors of "Shim." Blarney's charm begins immediately after leaving the vehicle. Switchbacking our way up an immense dome of Navajo sandstone, the distant views get more dramatic with each step. Most notably to the west loom the volcanic Henry Mountains, or simply - the "Henrys." Long considered to last of the named and explored U.S. mountain ranges, these 11,000 foot peaks were originally named the Unknown Mountains by John Wesley Powell during his pioneering 1869 exploration of the nearby Colorado River and Grand Canyon. Never one to pass up a great river trip with buddies, Powell retraced his route in 1871. It was at this time, much to the chagrin of longtime local Mr. Jeremiah Unknown, Powell renamed the range after then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute Joseph Henry.
Upon reaching the top of our ascent of the formidable Navajo domes, the approach hike quickly levels out and our fine views of the Henrys get more of the attention they deserve. Further to the south is Trachyte Point, an impressive uplift of even more Navajo sandstone overlooking the take-out for Cataract Canyon raft trips. Before long we reach the head of Blarney Canyon and the first rappel. And what a nice one it is. If you've never rappelled before, no worries. It's easy, short, secure and with a nice gradual "transition" from flat ground to vertical. Around the corner, however, "the slot" awaits. Out comes the body armor...
You'll quickly learn to love the body armor we provide - basically kneepads and, for truly desperate times, elbow pads. They will save you a lot of skin over the next couple days and you'll likely want yours bronzed afterwards! Chimney after chimney is encountered, all of which are great fun with plenty of "problem solving." There's even another rappel buried somewhere in the midst of this madness! At any one of the two spots in the slot where its wide enough to relax, a well-deserved lunch appears. Eventually we slither our way back out to sunshine and reaffirm that Life is good. This is a fantastic slot and really gets this trip started off on the right foot. While these slots can be serious work - they are serious fun! And Blarney is just the beginning.
As the afternoon lingers on we begin to feel the pull of a comfortable camp, a nice dinner and a relaxing evening under the stars. However, since Blarney is a relatively short canyon hike and we're full of energy (it is our first day out, after all...), the idea of another short hike is often entertained. So we're looking for what's commonly called an "after dinner" hike; one of a relatively short, casual nature close to camp which can be completed in an hour or so. Lavar Canyon, situated just footsteps from camp, is a most attractive prospect!
Speaking of prospects, Blarney, Shimrock and Lavar are located in a region rich in mining history. Gold, silver, coal, vanadium, uranium, unameit - it's been mined. Lavar Canyon particularly contains some fascinating remnants of the good ol' days. Broken down water flumes and decrepit bridges cling to the canyon walls far above. Oh how the miners of yesteryear must have cursed this rugged place for the difficulties it gave them in their search for riches. It's interesting to think that today we've come to value most that which brought the pioneers so much trouble.
Within a stone's throw of our camp chairs are the two rappels into Lavar Canyon. We'll stay dry on the first as it takes us from the canyon rim to the intermediate canyon floor. Here we find ourselves within a heavily vegetated, shallow gorge through which a small creek serenely flows. Almost immediately is the second rappel (aka "Million Dollar Drop"), cascading steeply - along with the water - into the very bottom depths of this little gem. On a hot day, the refreshing spray of water is heavenly. No sense in rushing downcanyon after unclipping from the rope, either. Linger awhile and absorb the water and surroundings. Let the sand and dust from the day's earlier jaunt through Blarney wash away. Then continue on when good and ready, for camp is close and we've nowhere to be anyway.
The hike out the remainder of Lavar Canyon is within an impressive stint of tight narrows yet has no significant obstacles. You can even hike up to the bottom of Million Dollar Drop via the lower end of the canyon from camp, thus avoiding the rappels. This makes for a great area to explore on your own in the late afternoon / early evening hours while the guides prepare dinner. With the tranquil sounds of water always present, there are several idyllic places to relax, enjoy snacks and a drink, read a book, take a nap... Rest up now, for tomorrow promises a grand adventure.
Take Blarney Canyon and stretch it a fair bit length-wise and squeeze it quite a bit more width-wise. That's Shimrock Canyon for you. Twice as long, half as wide, five times harder and ten times funner! It is both abusing and amusing - a.k.a. Abusement! This is one of the most amazing slot canyons around due to the incredibly sustained nature of the very tight narrows.
As you've likely observed throughout this website, most trip descriptions are liberally peppered with praise. Even the notorious Medieval Chamber, despite its name, is described in glowing terms. However, Shimrock Canyon (think about that name for a second) merits a well-deserved caution. It is very, very narrow. While this canyon is 100% "off-the-charts" fun, it is definitely not a good place for severe claustrophobes or heavy set folks. Most of the time it's wide enough for anyone, but traversing a couple spots within this beauty are akin to sliding under your bed (vertically oriented, of course, and without the monsters). If you want something a bit wider or less physical for day two there are plenty of fabulous options (see below), but for now, let's talk about Shimrock.
Being Blarney's brother, Shim shares kindred qualities. Views of the Henrys dominate the approach, which is a touch longer and a little more demanding. The early morning light casts delightful shadows across the sea of polished Navajo domes. Off to our right, and way down there, lies the ensuing action. It lingers in our peripheral view for the better part of the hour-long approach. The deep, dark slot somehow both tempts and terrifies. Fortunately the former overwhelms the latter and we quickly find ourselves at the head of the canyon. Having hiked Blarney the day before we know the rote drill - packs off, body armor on. Check.
The abusement is relentless. It's a rare day (or night, perhaps) where you work this hard and yet have so much fun. Obstacle after obstacle present us with hours of delightful problem-solving entertainment. Shim is a brilliant natural puzzle requiring physical and mental adaptability and improvisation. Teamwork is key as we go deeper into its maw. The slot is often so narrow that you cannot pass one another without having to chimney up and over. In such confined places, the right sequence of gear, packs and even people makes an enormous difference in determining the difficulty of each obstacle. Like Muzak on an elevator, the near constant dull roar of scraping packs, pads and pants becomes so familiar that it eventually goes unnoticed. Only during frequent rests in this seeming otherworld does the silence become startling. Life is really good.
What about the rappels, you ask? Well, there are a couple of short rappels lurking here and there, however, they have no choice but to yield the spotlight to the endless fantastic chimneys. Be assured, grasshopper, you will attain black-belt "chimney master" status by the end of this two day trip...
No visit to the North Wash area seems quite complete without the short stroll to a nearby pictograph panel appropriately named "Cleopatra." This beautiful rock art is from the Archaic Indians which inhabited the area as long as 6,000 years ago. Nearly as awesome is her surroundings - an enormous sandstone alcove. It's a wonderful spot to reflect upon ancient cultures and a couple of days that were very, very well spent.
We could conclude two very spectacular days of canyoneering here by calling it quits and heading back to Moab. Scenic flights from a nearby airstrip or a couple hours on the highway will get us there. However, for those who just can't get enough of these canyons we can offer an additional day or more to this itinerary. Though visiting the above three canyons in two days will satisfy most, there are many other fantastic slots in the area so trip lengths can easily vary depending on your group's desire. Endless Possibilities!
|Costs are based upon a two person
minimum and include all National Park fees and all necessary technical
gear (harnesses, ropes, rappel devices, carabiners and helmets). Camp
gear and meals are provided.
Check out our Frequently Asked Questions page to help you decide on trips and what to bring.