Page 1 of 1

Upper Big Fall Canyon backpacking trip

Posted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 7:13 pm
by bbb
I've done a couple of backpack trips from Scotty's Castle Road over the winter, both times leaving my car near the intersection with Titus Canyon Road. It's been important to me to try and get to some of the less visited places from a paved road, since I almost always have a rental car. I have had some tough lessons going off road with rental cars and rental car tires.

Below is a map of the general trip plan, though I ended up parking slightly south of here.

Image

When hiking across the valley floor towards the Cottonwoods, it's very easy to see a parked car from several miles away as well, which is both good and bad. Good, because it's easy to find a way back. Bad, because it makes one feel like they haven't hiked that far to constantly see a rental sedan laughing at them from the roadside

Image

As the trek begins, the hike gets easier even a couple of hundred yards from the road. There are fewer rocks to climb over, and there are even long stretches of sand. There is an occasional ditch to climb around, but it's not much of an issue. Pretty soon, the vistas become hypnotic. That was before it hit the fan. Drybone fan.

Image

Pictured above is the Drybone Canyon fan from the roadside. The arrow points to my first destination, which was the left side of the fan entrance. Drybone fan is easy to spot because it has the widest opening at the top. It also has a slope that starts closest to the road compared to other fans in the area. The problem with the fan though is the rocky terrain and the mileage to the top. In my case, this was exacerbated by a long drive and a late start.

Image

Slightly defeated, I don't think I had even made it to the top of the fan before I decided to set up camp for the night. With high pressure and blue skies forecasted for the next two nights, I finally took a leap of faith and left rain fly in the car:

Image

The early night, though, gave way to an early morning. I was up around 4 am the next day. This is one of the advantages of hiking alone is being able to leave at any hour. This would be a big day too, since Upper Big Fall was within striking distance, with only some slight drama in the way.

The hike up the fan became much easier too. There were wide stretches of gravel. Deep ditches gave way to soft creek braids. Once again, the miles went quickly. I did take a wistful look at the entrance to Drybone Canyon to the north, which I had earlier planned on covering too:

Image

Now I knew the miles and terrain to Drybone would be too much. I didn't think I would ever climb up that fan again either, so it would have to be in another lifetime maybe.

As the sun came up, the drainage around me lit up brilliantly which quickly made everything better. There wasn't a foot print to be seen or sound to be heard except for an occasional caw-cawing bird.

Image

As I headed further up and further in, there were some great little side canyons too. The country started getting greener, and I finally felt like I was in the high desert, so I called the one here Sierra Canyon:

Image

There were some polished blue slots branching off the side of Sierra Canyon that I tried to explore on the way back, but it ended up being too dark to see very much. The canyon itself, though, had some nice dry falls that ended up being easy to climb. From the satellite pics I wasn't sure what kind of surprises I'd run into here, but it ended up being an easy hike.

Image

Image

Image

After this canyon, it was a little bit further up to a high ridge. Once I reached the ridge, there was were some navigational and route-finding moves here that were slightly nerve-wracking. It ended up being easy finding my way out, but still, a forgotten turn or a false step in this area of the park could be a very costly mistake.

There was one canyon, in particular, that I'll call Coronary Canyon because of the number of bypasses it required and the feeling that it gave me as I headed down. Dropping into this canyon looks easy enough from Google Earth, but on the ground it was another matter. Every drop point was too high or too rocky. After a lot of looking, I finally found a black stony drainage to hop down into. I think this was it but I can't be sure:

Image

This was a point of concern - if this was the only way into the canyon, how would I find my way out on the way back? I decided to take a picture and burn the way into my mind. Here is the drop in point, and it's as fun as it looks:

Image

If that wasn't enough, heading further into the canyon, it became clear that there were a series of forks and tributaries - all impossible to climb out of - leading to the main canyon. Once again, it was memorization of the way. I had a personal locator beacon with me, but I really did not want to be a story on the Morning Report. I also had two phones with GPS apps on them. Marking waypoints, I was noticing the blue dots skipping around as the phone had difficulty locking a location with the high canyon walls around. Memorization.

When I hit the first dry fall, I was ready to turn around:

Image

The same was true for the second, third, and fourth dry falls too.

Image

But each time I found a bypass on the right side of the canyon. The third and fourth dryfalls can be bypassed together by simply staying out of the canyon. I was getting the hang of this route-finding thing, after all.

Image

Image

Posted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 7:31 pm
by bbb
Upper Big Fall itself is truly something incredible. Narrows that go on forever, colorful polished rock, and an eerie stillness are just some of things that struck me. I had planned on spending a night nearby to explore more of the area, but wanted to find the way back out of the last canyon too before I forgot the way.

The canyon starts off ordinarily enough.

Image

But things change quickly:

Image

Image

Image

I did spot some interesting rock formations at the top of the canyon. An arch...?

Image

I even spotted water in a couple of potholes in the canyon. There were enough dead insects floating here though that I could only imagine the sickness that drinking this water would cause.

Image


Video of some of the narrows: https://youtu.be/HS2jWNwEnAc

Finally the Big Fall appears...

Image

Video of a look almost over Big Fall: https://youtu.be/XGyvc8V0CEo

I hiked out of Upper Big Fall Canyon and made my way back up Coronary Canyon. It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be. I easily found the bypasses and way out.

I even got a great look at the snow-covered Panamints from close to my camping spot on the second night.

Image

It started to get dark suddenly, and I realized I'd been hiking since before the sun came up. It seemed like a good time to set up camp.

Image

I woke up even earlier the next morning and started for the long trip back to the car in the dark. When I went through Sierra Canyon this time, I made a quick side trip into a couple of the side canyons. It was too dark to see anything and I didn't get very far before there would be some climbing involved. By time I got down into the valley, the temps were in the 80s, which was the main reason I slightly rushed back to the car. The car thermometer said 85 when I finally reached it

All things considered, it turned out to be a fantastic trek. I stopped off at Furnace Creek for a shower, got back in the rental car, and puttered off for Nevada.

***

Steve Hall's trip report, which inspired this trip, can be found HERE

Posted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 7:29 am
by TacoLand
Right on, thanks for sharing this report! Backpacked out to Upper Big Fall late Feb. 2015 from the Cottonwood / Marble junction and it was a beast of an experience. Unfortunately by the time I made it all the way out to the canyon and narrows it was dusk (and dark by the time I got back to the head of the canyon to make camp) so didn't get to see the area very clearly. It was a very surreal experience hiking in those narrows in the dark though ... anywho, never would have thought to go across the desert floor and up to reach it. Well done. How much water did you bring along? That was my biggest issue with that one-night trip.

Posted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 6:12 pm
by bbb
Taco -- The route that you went is the the way that I've read about more. But yeah, water was a very big part of the planning. I left the car with 2 gallons plus 2 one-liter bottles, so about 2.5 gallons total. I cached some at the first night's camp since it was an out and back hike. It made the second day's hike much easier. It also made finding the water cache on the way back a priority. I actually found some water in the canyon too. I'll add a pic.

Posted: Sat Apr 01, 2017 8:50 am
by MojaveGeek
Very nice trip. You put in a few miles crossing over to get into the canyon! Sounds like a fun time.

Posted: Sun Apr 02, 2017 7:03 pm
by Gowergulch42
Amazing adventure. One day, I keep telling myself. Glad you could get out there to keep me want to do it! Truly a more amazing place to go solo is hard to find in DV.

Posted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 10:21 am
by shane
wow, great job on pulling off that hike. the 5 mile rock route is cake compared to the one you took. that must have been a real slog heading back to the car across the dry bone fan :lol:

Posted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 7:29 pm
by bbb
shane wrote:wow, great job on pulling off that hike. the 5 mile rock route is cake compared to the one you took. that must have been a real slog heading back to the car across the dry bone fan :lol:
Down hill was easier but I'm not a big fan of heat plus backpack. :cool:

Also, I think 5 Mile Rock is the route in Steve Hall's original report -- which he's recently updated with topo maps and route notes. I have to acknowledge that Steve's reports played a big part in getting me interested in this area, even if it took a few years to finally make it to some of these canyons.

Posted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 7:51 pm
by TacoLand
Wow ... so Steve updated his trip report with topo maps and directions after all. Seems a shame he was so upset about other people sharing their experiences visiting that location that he stopped visiting this forum.

I also don't know that I'd call the "5 mile rock route" cake either. The terrain hiking out when I did it was pretty ridiculous ankle-busting wash the entire way. Personally I'd rather not do either approach! :cool:

Posted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 9:03 am
by shane
yea that is curious given all the drama around keeping it secret. oh well

the 5 mile rock cyn route didn't seem that bad to me, at least there are none of the endless ups and downs you encounter on the alluvial fans. the scenery is nice the whole way and it had the most sheep manure i've ever seen, although i never did see a sheep unfortunately.

i would like to backpack the route steve calls "gateway cyn" someday but it would probably need to be a solo trip as it's a pretty long loop. longer than my regular hiking partners are likely to want to do anyway.