Senator Gulch

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Senator Gulch Canyoneering Canyoning Caving
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Senator Gulch Banner.jpg

Difficulty:3C1 III (v3a2 III)
Raps:‌8, max ↨130ft
Overall:7-8h ⟷3.6mi
Approach:2.5-3h ↓1680ft
Descent:4.5-5h ⟷1mi ↓1930ft
Exit:1min ↑0ft
Red Tape:No permit required
Shuttle:Required 15 min
Rock type:San Juan Volcanic Tuff, Grandiorite
Condition Reports:
7 Aug 2022

"This was my first Ouray Canyon and my first solo canyon adventure! Incredible scenery and a beautiful day with a few scattered showers. I did not hav

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This beautiful high alpine canyon is a downclimber's dream and includes incredible views of the Canyon Creek valley as the approach hike takes you above treeline.


Drive up Camp Bird Rd from Ouray. Just after Thistledown CG and Weehawken Creek, you will reach a culvert under the road and two switchbacks just after a drainage with falls in it. This is Senator Gulch and you can leave your vehicle for the shuttle at the parking area at the lower switchback.

After you've dropped your car, continue up Camp Bird Rd. Once you've passed the turnoff for Governor Basin and gone through the overhanging section of the shelf road, there is a pullout on the right which used to be an old mining road. You will see an open gate and maybe an old campfire, this is the start of the approach ( 37.974872°,-107.740745°). Don't camp here, the NFS will leave you a ticket.

Walk up the switchbacking mining road towards Bimetalist Mine. Start out on the obvious overgrown road, then go right onto the less visible road. If you head up to Hawkeye Mine with a view just left into a waterfall/dry fall, you have to retreat back down and find the other road. As you near treeline you will see an old mining cabin, this is where the route finding becomes more difficult. Find little used trails with occasional cairns as you work your way uphill. When turning toward the north, find a well used wide game trail contouring up to 12,000ft. At 12,000ft, keep on the trail to the northeast dropping into the basin and enjoy the amazing cirque surrounding the upper basin.

  • panorama from the ridge
  • Work your way down about 1,000ft in elevation staying to the right or the left of the rivulets that form the gulch. Take a trail on either side of the valley down to the 11,100 foot level. The first rappel is just above 11,000 feet.


    R0 Walking down the watercourse, the first 50' waterfall can be bypassed before the canyon really starts another thousand feet further down canyon.

    R1: ~100' from tree CR into a multi-stage rappel R2: ~70' from an anchor built on a middle stage Combined, these can be done with one rope of 180'. Be careful of the pull if combining.

    R3: 130' from a tree CR

    R4: 100' from a tree CR. Nice chute into a pothole, then a second drop. The good down climbing in Senator Gulch begins after R4.

    R5: 60' from a rock in canyon center

    R6: 100' tree RDC, two stage

    Long walk to next rap, lots of down climbing throughout

    R7: 60’ log in water course

    R8: 130' from a tree CR. This is the big rappel near the road and is ice climbed in winter. Two bolt anchors are on the shelf just below the top. Use a tree or rock pinch to rappel to the bolts on the shelf or to rappel in or out of the flow to the bottom. A climber trail departs the base of this waterfall and returns to a switchback on the dirt road, skipping the last rappel.

    R9: roadside 45' final drop using a 100' rope from a tree CR or climb up CL and rappel from tree


    Walk 5 minutes downstream to the road.

    Red tape

    Until recently (2014) it was thought that the bottom portion of this canyon was closed due to property issues. According to ice climbing information on SummitPost ( and Ouray Mountain Sports the property issues have been resolved, signs removed, and is accessible to recreational users.

    Beta sites

    Trip reports and media

    First (Published) Descent 8/12/15 Kelton Manzanares, Dean Brooks, Alden Anderson, Kirk Belles, Bronic Bednarek, Francisco Camberos, Jef Funch. A.J. Pastula claims to have done it before and 2 old anchors, most likely from ice climbers, were found at the bottom.



    Information provided by automated processes. KML map by (unknown). Main photo by (unknown). Authors are listed in chronological order.

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