Great Falls Basin
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Difficulty:3B II (v3a2 III)
Raps:5-7, max ↨50ft
Red Tape:No permit required
28 Oct 2023
"Woo Wee Woo Waa, that's a lot of water!! We went into this canyon thinking we'd encounter maybe knee deep water at most... we were wrong. DEEP POOLS G
A beautiful granite canyon in a surprising place. Five mostly clean, beginner-friendly rappels. Easy approach, great bang for buck effort-wise. Though probably not a destination in itself for many, it could be tacked on to a trip to Death Valley or combined with local climbing or camping at the Trona Pinnacles to make a worthwhile trip. Wild burros are commonly seen in the area. Photos show a canyon with swimming at the right time of year (Oct 2018 was wet ankles). The canyon is in the shadows the first half of the day making it an appropriate descent year-round if properly prepared. A 100ft rope should reach perfectly. There are many rebar and other metal shrapnel on the rappels that did not present any issues but probably warrant extra caution to not get a pulled rope stuck on.
Driving: From the rest area on the east side of the highway through Trona drive north 5.76 mi to a dirt road on the left with a Great Falls Basin Wilderness/OHV sign. Follow the road dead straight for 1.69 mi (shallow sand and ruts, OK in Prius) to a low angle junction with another road and continue. The roads fork or anastamose a few times; generally take the leftmost fork closest to the wall of the wash. The sand becomes progressively deeper so don't stop. A Prius has made it 2.6 mi from the highway before parking but it was scary in the sand. Continue up the wash stopping at the base of the foot trail at 3 mi or continue another 800 ft to the obvious car camping area.
Hiking: You'll be thankful to do the hike outside of the heat of the day. Follow the excellent trail as it climbs and traverses the steep side of the wash to gain a hanging valley. The trail then follows the contact between the resistant Alabama Hills-style granite and the more erosive granite-type to your left. Once the saddle is reached with 800ft of elevation gain take whatever path of least resistance you find downward towards the canyon bottom. Stay on rock ledges 10 to 30 ft above the canyon floor to avoid thick spring-related vegetation until an open sandy wash is reached. Continue down the canyon through a few minor downclimbs. The first rappel is down a fluted chute into a chamber beneath a large chockstone (pretty obvious).
R1: 40ft from historic anchor or natural anchor of your choice (I double wrapped the anchor beneath the washer and used a rap ring). Rappel is clean and not too awkward but has a minor overhang at the bottom. Enjoy the nice grotto beneath. This is followed shortly by a 5ft downclimb over a chockstone.
R2: 25ft from historic anchor or natural anchor of your choice on canyon right. This is followed by a sandy corridor with some trees to a small concrete weir.
R3: 20ft. Series of three short drops (tallest 8ft) from two bolts DCR. Alternately: can downclimb; 8ft pitch is awkward. A nice polished corner in the canyon follows.
R4: 45ft from two bolts and chains on canyon left. Nice rappel.
R5: 50ft from two bolts and chains high on canyon left. Wet landing. Some historic hardware to avoid on the way down. Downclimb over, around, or under a chockstone beyond the pool. (Also possible to rappel here if you don't like the downclimbing options.)
R6: 40ft from two bolts and chains on canyon right. Really nice fluted rappel. Once out of the basin below and around the corner the canyon opens up.
Once down R6 and around the corner the canyon opens considerably with a wider field of boulders including a couple multi-story house-sized ones. There is an additional drop if you are feeling motivated but climbing down between the boulders and then veering DCL allows descent down user trails to the parking area. Return to your car.
No red tape. Land is administered by BLM. Visitation to the bottom of the canyon is common. Camping is allowed. There is established rock climbing routes in the area. Bring a trash bag to clean up a little trash at the parking area (though not too bad).
Photos and beta from 1999-2003 rope descents (they describe 6 rappels): http://www.lenzenhuber-studios.com/mountaineer/local_desert/great_falls/great_falls.htm
Trona Gem-O-Rama: http://www1.iwvisp.com/tronagemclub/GEM-O-RAMA.htm
Trona Pinnacles: https://www.calwild.org/trona-pinnacles/
Trip reports and media
October 13th 2018: https://travels.ncbarth.com/2018/10/great-falls-basin-oct-13.html
Lou Lenzenhuber did a series of descent starting in the early nineties.
Hardware and historic photos indicate much earlier descents. Vintage canyon photos: http://www.trona-ca.com/great-falls/
Description here is from a solo trip by Nic Barth on October 13 2018 during the Trona Gem-O-Rama event. Conditions were dry. 10am start. 3 hrs round trip including lots of roped tripod selfies...