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Barney Springs Canyon - Sedona

Preface: This hike was previously listed as a 'Secret' on my site. It now appears in the  2nd edition of Canyoneering Arizona by Tyler Williams, so I am making the information available. I do not agree with Tyler's decision to disclose the location of this hike. I believe the difficulty and remote location of this canyon could pose a serious danger to the unprepared and those without the requisite skills. If you attempt this hike, please be very careful, and please leave the bolt kit in the pack unless no other option exists and the safety of the group is at stake. This canyon has been descended many times without bolts and none are needed. If you can not complete this canyon without placing bolts please do not attempt this hike. No map or driving directions are provided with the description below.
Summary: A long and challenging technical canyon hike with lots of bouldering, bush whacking and scrambling over dead, rotted logs. Many of the rappels feature awkward starts and undercut edges. This canyon is recommended for experienced canyoneers familiar with the use of natural anchors only. To complete this hike you will need: 2x150' ropes (or a 100' and a 200' which is what my party carried), harness, descender, webbing, helmet, dry bag, carabiners and a wet suit in all but the hottest weather (and maybe even then too).
This canyon has one very large and deep keeper pot hole (a water filled bowl shaped pool that is difficult to exit) which could pose a serious danger to those unprepared!

This canyon is located at the mid-point of the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon on the south side and requires a car spot. The first time the author completed this canyon we spotted a car upstream of Oak Creek where it crosses the road (bad idea, this made for a long arduous hike out). The next time a car was spotted at the bottom of the canyon (at the Call of the Canyon Trailhead). This requires a very long drive after the hike to retrieve your vehicle.
Directions: None provided.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Difficult
Length: 10-12 hours or more (perhaps much more)
Date Hiked: July 2003, July 2005
Weather Conditions: Hot, with cold water
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the car park, begin hiking until you can locate a minor drainage leading off from the road. Follow the brushy wash as it leads down a hill to connect with a larger tributary. The brush abates a bit as you rock hop down canyon, though you will encounter the first of many piles of dead and rotting logs you must climb over. Watch your footing when traveling over these piles, they are unstable and shift and break with every step. Eventually you will reach a minor dry fall of 20'. You can put on your harness and rappel down this small fall or work your way around on the right (though the latter is an unpleasant thrash). You then pass through a few short sections of narrows until before long (about an hour and a half from the start of your trip) you reach the beginning of the technical section. The first rappel is a short 2-stage drop that can be rigged from a tree on canyon left. Both drops are only about 15' though and can be down climbed with some difficulty. Immediately afterwards is a 20' rappel from a dead log situated 15' back from the edge. This rappel, like just about every rappel in this canyon, has an undercut and awkward start to it. Once down, a short walk will bring you to rappel #3 and you have a choice: rig the rappel from a rotting log pile straight down the canyon, or risk a somewhat sketchy traverse to canyon right and rig from several sturdy trees (I would recommend the latter since it provides a clean start and easy rope pull). The rappel is about 60' (from the edge of the ledge to the ground), 20' of which is free hanging. A short distance below this rappel you will reach the confluence with a major fork of the canyon and another drop off. Continue down canyon by working your way around on the left into a steep break in the rock which will allow you to descend using a narrow ledge. Continue hiking (climbing over dead log piles, avoiding brush etc.) until you reach the next two rappels, which occur in quick succession. Rappel #4 is 40' from a sling through a pinch point formed by boulders at the top (note: do not use the sling located on far canyon right, it will force your rope into a narrow crack during the rappel, increasing the possibility of getting it stuck), rappel #5 is 25' from another sling around a choke stone and has a particularly troublesome start. Moving on, you soon enter the deepest (and nicest) section of canyon. The obstacles begin with a 15' chimney next to a large boulder, followed by a 45' rap from a choke stone, followed by a sloping 100 footer (rap #7 if your counting) from a dead log leaning between the canyon walls. If you've managed to keep your feet dry to this point, that will no longer be the case. A short walk through a wet hallway will bring you to a short, icy swim. Just around the corner is a tricky down climb followed by a 4' jump into pool and another short swim. Turn the corner and the next drop (30' from a choke stone at the top around a corner into a keeper pot hole) awaits. According to Williams, it is possible to climb up on the right side of the canyon and avoid the pot hole (I have not used this route). Here are my recommendations if you choose to tackle the keeper. Before entering the keeper pool I'd strongly suggest setting up a rope as a hand line for one member of your party to descend and look around the corner at the water levels in the pool. The amount of water will directly impact the level of difficulty you will face trying to get out the other side. Pull yourself to the top of the drop, formulate your plan, your back up plan, your contingency plans and make sure you can get back up the rope if all of those fail. The pot hole is quite large, the water is deep and cold and the side you must escape has a perfectly smooth and steeply sloping lip. Once one member of your group is out, they can assist the rest of the party. Rappel #9 (50') lies just beyond the pool. Do not pull your rope from above the keeper pool, instead, connect your ropes together to use the anchor point above the keeper pot hole for this drop as well (Note: Recent reports are that a bolt has been placed as an anchor for this rappel). Once everyone is safely through this section, a few down climbs and a little walking will bring you to your final rappel (your tenth), an 80 footer from a tree on canyon right. Stay to canyon left at the bottom of the rap to avoid a pool. Take off your harness, stow the ropes and rock hop your way down stream until you reach a confluence with the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon (traveling at a steady pace with a group of 4, it took the author 7 hours to reach this point). Unfortunately, while you have successfully overcome many obstacles to reach this point, you are still nowhere near civilization. Depending on where you spotted a second car, you'll turn up or down this larger canyon. If you go up canyon you will wade many pools, climb many boulders, push through considerable brush and complete 1 swim before finally reaching a road and your vehicle. Down stream is easier walking with the last 3 miles following an easy, well established trail.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The first time through, the author, his wife and two friends completed this hike in a grueling 12.5 hours, the last hour of which was spent hiking in total darkness with head lamps. The keeper pot hole was escaped, with some difficulty, using a partner assist, but not before I had become mildly hypothermic and begun shivering uncontrollably (even though day time highs were around 100F). The next trip, the author and a friend completed the hike in 10 hours. Water levels for the keeper were somewhat higher and escape was easier.
Maps: None provided, though I strongly recommend using a map.
Books: Canyoneering Arizona (2nd edition) - Tyler Williams
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Rappel #3 Rappel #4  
Rappel #7 Downclimb into icy pool. Entering the keeper pot hole.
Exit rappel from the
The final rap.