Waterholes Canyon (Lower)
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Difficulty:4B III R (v5a2 III)
Raps:14, max ↨320ft
Red Tape:Permit required
Shuttle:Required 45 min
9 Sep 2023
"Absolutely gorgeous, top notch route! Probably a bit less water than the week before but still lots of swims. I wore my cavesuit with wool base layers
Enjoy the immense sculpted canyon walls as they close around you the further you go, twisting and winding your way down leading up to a massive rappel sequence. Multiple sections require some minor high stemming and tight, body wedging downclimbs in between rappels, as well as semi advanced moves to avoid potholes.
Depending on the time of year, this canyon may have a couple swims and several deep wades. However, most of the year this canyon is fairly dry and a couple potholes may require a partner assist to enter or escape. Wetsuits should only be necessary in the wettest and coldest of conditions.
Note: This canyon requires a Navajo Permit (info. provided below in "red tape" section). Do not descend without one. Also, a minimum 320 ft rope is needed for the big wall rappel. More length would be needed to offer a belay.
This canyon requires a shuttle vehicle to be left at Lee's Ferry and either a packraft or boat charter.
From the parking area, North side of bridge, East side of road, hop the fence, and descend the wash that leads under the bridge. There is an easy path down from the bridge at the start of the canyon. You will encounter a crashed car, some downclimbs and several fixed ladders. Continue into the slot.
R1: 50' bolts canyon right. Pothole if empty may require a partner assist to escape.
R2: 30' bolts canyon right
R3: 50' bolts canyon right
R4: 25' bolts
R5: 70' bolts canyon right, two-stages. Be mindful of debris on first stage which could snag your rope upon retrieval.
R6: 40' bolts canyon right
Some tight body-wedge downclimbs.
R7: 30' bolts canyon left, or downclimb
Deep pool followed by a keeper pothole just below R8, which can be accessed by traversing RDC to single bolt on ledge (handline can be set to protect this traverse).
R8: 15' from single bolt high on ledge canyon right (room for 2 people) down onto lip of keeper.
R9: 80' bolts canyon right from lip of keeper (room for 2-3 people).
BIG DROP SEQUENCE R10 - R12 (***See info below***)
R10: 90' from bolts down into crack, or 120' if passing crack and continuing down to 320' rap station (recommend stemming high on rappel to not get stuck in crack).
R11: 30' bolts. Only room for 2 people in crack. Recommend all but last 2 people stay on rope and skip this rappel continuing down to rebelay (this anchor is here mainly to assist with rope pull when cleaning.)
R12: 320' bolts and chain. This rap station is exposed on the top of the big wall. There is a tiny ledge to rest feet on whilst clipped into anchor and switching ropes (only room for 2 people).
R13: 20' bolts canyon left
R14: 75' pitons canyon right
From here pack up and hike roughly 1 mile down and out to the river.
(***Many ropes have been stuck in the crack along the big rappel sequence. Pulling the first rope from within the crack (at R11) then re-rigging to access the rebelay (R12) is advised. If you pull from the rebelay the rope may fall into a crack and become unretrievable. Radios are also recommended for communication here.***)
Packraft 3.5 miles to Lee's Ferry where your shuttle car is waiting! You can also hire a local fisherman to pick you up from the beach and take you to Lee's Ferry for about $50 a person. Dave Trimble is excellent boat pickup to hire 1(928)380-4504. During high wind, pack rafters will be unable to paddle downstream and the river can get very choppy.
Take caution. Even though the river and winds may not be "that bad" at the Waterholes beach, as you continue down the river any bit of wind and choppiness you initially see will intensify the closer you get to Lees Ferry.
If you do decide to packraft and you the river ends up being more than you bargained for, there is a hiking trail halfway down on the right side of the river that can be picked up for the rest of the way. It is very hard to see this trail from the water.
The Navajo permit office is located at the Navajo Nation Tribal Park - 337 N. Navajo Drive, Page, AZ 86040. It is currently open weekdays (M - F) from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm Navajo (MST) time. The permit costs $15 per person. It appears that you need to ask for Effie or Brenda to actually get the permit in person at the office. They will ask to inspect your gear as a method to ensure you're qualified for the technical descent and to distinguish you from the tourists that occasionally get trapped in the canyon and require rescue. One person can show up for permits, and represent the group. If you are not in Page, it's best to call 928-645-0904 to verify the open hours and to be sure that someone is available to issue a permit.
Despite what locals may say, Waterholes is OPEN for technical descents.
After verifying with DPS, parking is legal on the North side of the bridge, East side of the road, right by the fence. Be sure to display your permit on the dash.
- BluuGnome.com : Lower Water Holes Canyon
- Super Amazing Map : Lower Waterholes Canyon
- CanyonChronicles.com : Waterholes Canyon
- Grand Canyoneering Book by Todd Martin : Water Holes Canyon
- AmericanSouthwest.net : Water Holes Canyon
- Super Amazing Map : Lower Water Holes Canyon
Trip reports and media
- Canyon Collective -- Erik Bernhoft, 2014
- Bogley -- Erik Bernhoft, 2014
- Candition.com : Lower Water Holes Canyon
- Mark Kilian's Adventures : Water Holes Canyon
- Candition.com : Water Holes Canyon
- Gallery July 4, 2012 by Christian Lupercio
- Galley November 11, 2016 by Christian Lupercio
- YouTube highlight video