Canyon Sem Alma
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Difficulty:3A II (v2a1 II)
Raps:1, max ↨20ft
Red Tape:Permit required
Vehicle:4WD - High Clearance
Rock type:volcanic conglomerate
20 May 2023
"Shallow avoidable pools. Lots of spiders along the walls. Some spicy downclimbs. Encountered a juvenile owl in the watercourse (not yet fledged) which
spring, fall, winter
It's unfortunate that this little gem is so out of the way, I found Canyon Sem Alma to be a wonderful route loaded with fun and challenging downclimbs and beautiful, interesting narrows. Fortunately, there are other things to do in the area, most of which would be in the permitted Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness.
From the small town of Eden, AZ, on AZ 70 between Ft Thomas and Thatcher, turn west on Klondyke Rd between mileposts 313 and 314 shortly after a green highway sign for Aravaipa and Klondyke Rd. Drive southwest on this well graded dirt road for 24.7 miles to turn right at a T intersection to stay on Klodyke Rd. Drive north on Klondyke Rd for another 7.6 miles, then turn left onto Fourmile Creek Rd once you reach Klondyke. After 2.3 miles, turn right (keep your eyes open, this road is not signed and tough to spot) onto an unnamed road that initially travels up a wash, then heads up the slopes of and eventually on top of a ridge that leads north, northwest - shown as "Jeep Trail" on most topographical maps. This road is bumpy, slow, tedious and steep as it passes over many small hills on its way up the ridge - high clearance 4x4 mandatory, but any mid size SUV type vehicle should do fine. After .6 miles, be sure to stay left and on the road vs continuing up the wash (they look about the same), then at 2.7 miles bear left at a Y intersection. At 3 miles stay left again, then stay straight past a left branching road at 3.1. We chose to park just off the road at about 5.6 miles (there are two wire fence gates to pass through along this last stretch - be sure to close them behind you), just after the road that can be used for an exit route, but you could also pull out right at the top of the canyon.
There are not a lot of car camping options along this road, just a few small clearings on one side or the other, some of which are reserved for cattle (no joke). If camping in the area, settle for the somewhat meager pickings along the ridge or try the established campground at Fourmile Creek Recreational Area on the way back to Klondyke - though I cannot vouch for the site since we did not stay there - https://www.recreation.gov/recreationalAreaDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&facilityId=202054.
From the top of the hill above the canyon, head though a barbed wire fence then down the ridge to the west. The entry drainage is the southern one (on your left) which can be entered where it is shallow (follow the GPS track), but this upper part of the drainage is quite brushy. It may be possible to stay on the ridge a while longer (past where we dropped in on the GPS track) to bypass more of the upper part of the drainage to avoid the brush, then drop in shortly before the narrows.
The southern arm of the canyon starts you out with nice, relatively tight narrows with three or four easy/intermediate downclimbs to negotiate along the way. When you reach the main arm of the canyon turn left under a large boulder to arrive at the one rappel of 20 feet from an anchor on canyon left. After the one rappel the going is fairly straight forward with more scenic narrows and sporty downclimbs - be prepared to offer a body belay (meat anchor) for those that may be less comfortable with the downclimbs that vary in difficulty, the tallest being about 15 feet. Follow the canyon all the way to its confluence with Turkey Creek to exit up an old road found just south of the canyon.
An old, faint road still just barely exists that leads up and out to the ridge and the road you drove in on, though it can be difficult to follow especially in the first .8 mile (follow the GPS track - we were able to stay on the road for most of its length). From where Canyon Sem Alma opens up to its confluence with Turkey Creek, head southeast through the brush to locate the road which looks just a bit more clear than its surroundings. The road goes up the first obvious, low ridge to the south, just south of the wash from the next minor drainage. It then winds around a bit, crossing the head of the same drainage to travel up the ridge on the other side. After reaching more open ground, on top of the ridge, the road becomes quite easy to follow as it makes a more or less straight shot right back up to the road you drove in on.
Navigation could be a bit tricky through the fairly complex terrain without a GPS device of some kind (download a GPS appplication for the smartphone you definitely have for between 3 and 20 bucks if you haven't already), and while it would be possible to hike out of the area by picking your own way around cross country, we should endeavor to stay on paths that are already cleared to conserve the environment.
This canyon is located on State Trust Land which is open to recreation but requires a permit. The permit can purchased here: https://asld.secure.force.com/recreationalpermit/
Trip reports and media
Discovery and first descent done by Dallin and Mikaela Durfee and Jeff Jefferies.