Portland Creek (Ivans Tail)
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Raps:2-3, max ↨55ft
Red Tape:No permit required
Rock type:Leadville Limestone
20 Aug 2023
"Tried to get in a little fun before leaving Ouray. Just did the vertical section to break in a new rope.
With 2 nice rappels, a couple drenchings, a couple hard starts, a momentary free-hang, and most-likely a gallery of people watching you from the bridge, this really is a gem that may only take 30-minutes, and could take less than one hour from town including drive time there and back. A great combination to introduce visiting canyoneers to "C" class canyons is to do Lower Angel Creek first, as the first couple raps are shorter, and then Portland Creek in the same day.
Portland Creek is a blast if you only have an hour or two to spare. With a small competent group this canyon can be done in 30 minutes doing the "Sneak Route" or 1 hour if doing the full route, which does not add any rappels but adds a little more scenic in-canyon hiking and downclimbing. Even though you will get drenched, a wet suit is typically not necessary, unless someone is extremely sensitive to the cold or you are going on a very cold day. More important than a wetsuit is a good rain shell with a hood.
From Ouray Hot Springs Park drive south on Highway 550 for 1.8 miles to a left turn-off for Amphitheater Campground Road. There is a sign for this road. Drive up Amphitheater Campground Road for 1/10th of a mile until you come to a one-lane rickety bridge. Park on the left just before the bridge.
Walk across the bridge and as you do so, look down to gauge the water level. Like all Ouray Canyons, it typically is not safe to go before July or after September. It is cold in this canyon as it slots up and you will get drenched. Just after the bridge on the right is a sign for Baby Bathtubs Trailhead. We will describe two options: the "sneak route" and the "full route". To do the Sneak Route, drop in to the creek right at the trailhead sign and you will be just upstream from the bridge. To do the Full Route, proceed up the Baby Bathtubs Trail for about a 15 minute hike. After the first 5 minutes you will cross the North Fork of Portland Creek. On the other side there are numerous paths to get up a small ridge. It doesn't matter which one you take. Staying to the right will give you good views from several perches overlooking Portland Creek. It is a small canyon, but pretty nonetheless. Hike up the trail until it meets the water level. This is your drop in.
Shortly downstream from the drop-in for the Full Route, which is really a walk-in, you come to a couple downclimbs of about 6 to 8 feet. On the first one, notice how slippery the rock is where the water flows down the chute on the left. Experienced down-climbers will have little problem. Since this is a beginner-friendly canyon, don't be surprised if some people need a partner assist. Alternatively, on the right side there was a hand-line that can be used as an aid. As you are "creeking" down this section look up every now and then to appreciate the beauty of this tiny canyon, as there is little other reason to do it. After about 15 minutes you come to the bridge, and the drop-in for the Sneak Route.
If you elected to do the sneak route, you will find yourself at the first rappel station almost as soon as your feet hit the water. Go downstream about 20 feet and you will find an anchor DCL. This anchor will take you down the middle of the watercourse and can be used in low flow, or in higher flow for experienced swiftwater canyoneers. The rock surfaces here are very slick and this is a good place to use your safety tether while measuring rope length. Always send an experienced canyoneer down first, preferably experienced in flowing waterfalls, and have them give a fireman belay to any beginners in your group. Use caution giving a belay in high water, which can lead to accidents or drowning. Even though this canyon is short, this rappel is not easy for a number of reasons, especially for canyoneers with only A-class or B-class canyoning experience. This first rap is 60 feet and very slick all the way down. The best form here is to go on your hip opposite your brake hand side. Trying to stay on your feet is an exercise in futility and a sure way to bang your knees up for no reason. You can not avoid the water. You will be soaked almost all the way down. Get in and enjoy it.
In high flow or for canyoneers with little swiftwater experience, there is an additional anchor located about 15 feet DCL of the first anchor. Rappelling from this anchor will avoid the the highest water at the bottom of the falls, and will make for a very clean rope pull. The person to set the rope should stay low to the rock and can use a handline to assist getting to the anchor. A rope can also be set up between the two anchors for canyoneers to clip onto with their tethers.
The second rappel is right after the floor of the first one. It is a 2-stage rappel, 40 feet in total. The anchor is bolted DCL. Both of these rappels are difficult starts that involve going over a slick lip. Best to do the sit-and-start method here. The bottom one brings you into a tiny free-hang. In some years, this second rappel is a simple downclimb, but more often than not is a rappel.
At the floor of the second rappel, you can bag up your rope and put away your rain shell. Hike downstream for about 100-150 yards and you will see a huge boulder DCR. Head to the right up the slopes into a small narrow slot. There are two lower fifth class climbing moves to get out from this point. Beginners may want a hand or a handline tied to a tree above.
Update August 2018: There's a bright green rope tied along the trail to use as a handline.
Some canyoners exit slightly further downstream via a social trail on canyon left, but this exit crosses private property and should be avoided. The owner has placed "no trespassing" signs along the social trail higher up. Please respect his or her property rights and avoid this exit, tempting as it may be.
- Canyoning in the Colorado San Juan Mountains Book by Ira Lewis\
- Current Water Level Assessment from Canyoning Colorado: https://canyoningcolorado.com/canyon-reports
- Super Amazing Map : Ivans Tail
- Icopro.org : Portland Creek
- Super Amazing Map : Portland Creek
Trip reports and media
The following videos on YouTube contain scenes from Portland Creek (Ivan's Tail):
Ouray Canyoning Highlights 2013
8/12/15 Speed Descent: 14mins, 20seconds (car-to-car), setting and cleaning own ropes. ;)
08/15/2022 YouTube video of Ivan's Tail, an easy, wet canyon that is easy to video, take pictures and entertain spectators: