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Black Canyon - Prescott National Forest

Summary: A physically demanding technical canyon with rappelling, swimming and bushwhacking. Be aware that the rock in this canyon is very slick, use care when hiking and climbing. Gear required: helmet, webbing (50 ft), harness, descender, a minimum of a 150' rope and 100' pull cord (though I'd strongly recommend a 200 rope and 200' pull cord, since this will provide more anchor options). A wet suit will be needed in cold weather. This trip is suitable for experienced and fit canyoneers with good climbing skills who are familiar with evaluating and using natural anchors. Please leave the bolt kit at home, this canyon can be safely completed using natural anchors.
Directions: From Phoenix take I-17 north to Camp Verde to exit 287. Turn left (west) onto Highway 260 and drive 9.6 miles. Between mileposts 209 210 turn left (south) onto the dirt Ogdon Ranch Road (ok for passenger cars). Follow this road 4.3 miles to the parking lot at the end (watch where you park, there is broken glass everywhere).
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Easy
Length: ~13 miles
Date Hiked: February 2006
Weather Conditions: Sunny
Required Skills:
Hike Description: Begin this hike by following Trail #114 to the point where it drops down to travel next to the stream bed of Black Canyon. Leave the trail at this point and begin walking down the drainage, which is pleasant and forested in this upper section. After 15 minutes the character changes suddenly as the stream drops into a rugged basalt gorge. Stay to the left to bypass a few drop offs and pools. Climb down into the drainage when it levels out and continue through the brush down stream. After some hiking the first rappel is reached. I suspect it may be possible to bypass this rappel by descending a steep scree slope on canyon left. Otherwise, it can be rappelled using a small tree and boulder on canyon right at the top of the drop for an anchor. The rappel is 140' from this anchor. Once down, switch to the left side of the canyon to climb down a few short drops, then a little bush whacking will bring you to rappel #2, a nuisance drop of 12' from a tree at the top. There are some nice pools in the area and the water is exceptionally clear with a green tint in the places that don't see much sunlight (there was algal growth in the sunnier spots). More rock hopping, bushwhacking and down climbing will bring you to rappel #3, a 90' rappel from a boulder on canyon left (the length of the rappel and rope needed will depend on the anchor used). A bit of slogging and bushwhacking through unremarkable canyon will eventually bring you to rappel #4, a beautiful 125' cascade. The anchor for this rappel is a little tricky. We used a sling girth hitched around a football sized rock, the rock was then placed against a crack in a large boulder on canyon left which was far to narrow to permit the rock to slide through. The sling was then routed through the crack so that when the rope was weighted it would force the anchor rock to pull tightly into the small crack creating a solid anchor. If you are unfamiliar with this type of anchor, it might be possible to use other boulders or trees that are located much further up canyon, though this will require considerably more webbing and rope. Once down, continue your progress down stream. Soon the hills on either side of the drainage begin to dwindle and you may begin think the trip is winding down, not so. The stream soon enters a narrow walled, water filled gorge at a point where a stream flows in from a drainage on canyon left. If the weather is cool this is a good place to put on your wet suit since it will not be possible to stay dry through this section. The narrows are quite scenic and in my opinion make up for a lot of the slogging to reach them. Enter the narrows and soon you'll reach rappel #5, a 15 footer into a pool from a pin wedged in a crack at the top of the drop. Just below is a 10 foot jump or slide into another deep pool. A few more swims and down climbs and the narrows end as suddenly as they appeared and the streambed becomes rocky and pleasantly brush free. Rock hop down canyon, the walking is easiest right in the stream bed. Soon the water goes underground, reappearing at occasional intervals. As the wash widens, the walking becomes easier. Though it may not be the shortest route, I strongly recommend you remain in the streambed, until you reach the point marked on my map. Exiting the drainage earlier will bring you into contact with thickets of cats claw. Once you arrive at the exit location marked on the map, leave the drainage to the north and pick up Ogdon Ranch Road. Turn left on the road and follow it the remaining 1 mile back to the trailhead and your car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author completed the hike with 2 capable friends at a fast pace in 10 hours. Slower and larger groups will take longer, perhaps much longer.
Maps: Click here for a map of the hike.
Books: Canyoneering Arizona (2nd edition) - Tyler Williams
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
An icy rappel #1. Clear green pool. Alcove below rap #1.
Rappel #2. Rappel #4. Rappel #5.