Styx Canyon (North Fork)
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Difficulty:3A IV (v3a1 IV)
Raps:16-22, max ↨105ft
Red Tape:No permit required
11 Nov 2023
"This was the first run of Styx for this season. Plus Hurricane Hilary and the flooding made for a lot of anchor rebuilding and rock farming. Set up sh
Nov-Mar (avg for this region)
After leaving a shuttle vehicle at the exit south of Badwater, drive the long route to the parking lot just short of Dante's View. Cross Coffin Canyon heading west, then follow the major ridge on the left up, and then down. Turn right just before the end of the ridge to overlook a prominent wash below (Cerberus Canyon) and then descend steeply (~40% grade) to the saddle above this wash; do not descend all the way to the wash. Certainly do not follow this wash as it leads to the much more difficult Cerberus Canyon. Turn right and contour along the LDC of the canyon wall until another saddle, then turn left and head down a small wash.
After some initial small downclimbs, the small wash will flatten out and then the walls will start to become steeper and more beautiful. About 1.4 miles from the saddle, the first rappel appears.
R1: The anchor is often built out of sight down two moderate downclimbs, but make sure not to get your group stuck by counting on this fact
After another quarter mile of walking, the first technical section begins. This section only lasts 500ft, but contains a number of rappels. The final rappel ends at what appears to be a substantial confluence, but is actually a minor tributary. After some additional downclimbing and an extra rappel, the South Fork confluence arrives and the canyon turns right. From this confluence, there is a long 1.2-mile section of flat walking among colorful canyon walls interspersed with one spicy downclimb. As the canyon narrows, another technical section containing both rappels and downclimbs begins that lasts the final 0.9 miles of the canyon. Near the end of this section, there is a quarter mile walk before the final sequence of rappels which culminates in the final rappel beneath a giant chockstone.
Nearly all rappels use cairn anchors, so be sure to bring plenty of webbing and quick links to rebuild them when necessary.
The number of rappels will change with group skill/exposure comfort, as there are many spots in the lower technical section that can be downclimbed instead of rappelled. Anchor conditions change all the time due to flash floods.
March 22' Trip recorded the following rappels:
- R1 - Cairn, there was a pinch two easy down climbs below
- R2 - 80 ft, two small drops, cairn
- Small walk then series of rappels
- R3 - 30 ft, bush and looped through rock
- R4 - 40 ft, big pile of rocks cairn anchor
- R5 - 110 ft, cairn anchor
- R6 - 20 ft, slung Boulder could be down climbed
- R7 - 70 ft, cairn
- R8 - 40 ft, massive cairn
- R9 - 70 ft, cairn
- Hike for a while
- R10 - Pinch
- R11 - 55 ft, cairn
- R12 - 110 ft, chockstone
- R13 - 110 ft, chockstone
- R14 - 15ft, looped rope around a Boulder
- R15 - 20 ft, chocked stone
- R16 - 70 ft, pinch two step rappel
- R17 - 25 ft, rock chock
- R18 - 65 ft, cairn
- R19 - 40ft, boulder
- R20 - long, cairn
- R21 - long, cairn
- R22 - long, cairn
March 23' - note on the last rap: If you have a 200’ rope, you can counterbalance rappel off of the huge boulder across the canyon. It is quite a fun experience, and makes for great pictures if you get there around sunset.
Follow the alluvial fan down to the road, taking care to choose the direction that will lead you correctly back to your shuttle car. Especially if exiting in the dark, a GPS is extremely useful to walk a straight line.
Bolting is not allowed in Death Valley; be prepared for many cairn anchors. Also, trash -- even organic trash such as fruit peels -- do not effectively biodegrade. Be sure to pack out all your trash, including organic material that you might leave in other canyons.
Trip reports and media
First descent (of north fork), 22 January 2011: Mike Cressman, Lori Curry, Taylor Fowles, Luke Galyan, Rick Ianniello, Rick Kent, Darija Malinauskas, Tom Walmsley. (Alphabetical order.)