The West Rim Trail is pretty amazing, with rock blasted off to make room to walk in places.
We kept up a good pace, although I couldn't help pausing to take photos along the way.
We reached campsite #4 in about three hours, and then it was time to descend into the canyon. We left the well-maintained trail for scanty social and animal trails, and in just a few minutes reached our first rappel.
It was a bit scary looking down into the trail-less canyon world below. It was a bit of a desert survivor's conundrum. How could we survive this canyon country? Fortunately we had plenty of gear and good information about the route. But once we did the first rappel and pulled the rope, we were committed to about 24 more rappels and 10+ more hours before we would end up at the Emerald Pools.
Many of the rappels looked something like this, a smallish drop ending in water. Sometimes the water was over our head and we swam after we got off rope. Fortunately wetsuits are somewhat buoyant, so it was easy to stay on top of the water.
After the first set of narrows, we walked through this massive corridor. Apparently sometimes it is wet and the sand is like quicksand. This time it was super easy to navigate.
Then we entered a second set of narrows. It was difficult to dry the viewfinder of my waterproof camera, so most of my shots have water spots. You get the idea, though, of the narrow canyons.
At the end we found frogs!
We still had another set of narrows to negotiate, and they were the coldest and darkest yet. Here's a spot with some sunlight where folks warmed up a bit. The third set of narrows was where I finally felt a little bit cold, but not uncomfortably so. I was in a 4/3/2 mm wetsuit, and I think part of the reason I stayed so warm was that I was really hot when I put it on.
After the narrows we had two dry longer rappels.
Then we changed out of our wetsuits, climbed up a slot to the little tree below where our fearless leader Bryan was standing, scooted down a little slot, and got ready for three rappels in a row that totaled over 500 feet and that would get us out of the canyon.
On the first rappel we couldn't even see the bottom, we were just rappelling to the tree below.
From that tree, we could see the tiny pool below. I rappelled with my normal cave gear, so that if I had any problem I could switch over to ascent in about three seconds. That's one of the biggest differences to me between canyoneering and caving--canyoneering is usually all down, no climbing rope to get back out. And you often don't need a headlamp (although I certainly took one!).
Here's Jenny, who was stationed at the tree to make sure we made the transition to the next rope correctly.
At the next transition, the bird perch, the pool looked slightly bigger. Can you see the people on the sandy beach? I think they thought we were crazy, appearing as little dots dangling from a rope.
I spun and spun on the way down, which made me slightly dizzy. It was a 270 foot rappel, mostly free hang, and quite beautiful. We had each person except the first bottom-belayed for extra safety.
It took awhile to get everyone down, but we did it in daylight, something I didn't expect. From vehicle to vehicle it took 15 hours, and was an amazing experience. I especially liked swimming in the pools in the narrow canyons. Although we were really tired, we managed some smiles on the hike back to the road. What a great day! Thank you to those who made it possible!