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Raps:7-10, max ↨130ft
Red Tape:No permit required
Rock type:San Juan Volcanic Tuff, Quartzite, Cutler Sandstone
21 Aug 2023
"Perfect conditions made this a 5* morning. Steep, direct approach. 3/2 with jacket was more than enough. We all agreed R3 was one of the best raps w
For big flowing waterfalls, this one is the best in Ouray and should not be attempted by beginners. The waterfalls and rappels through the waterfalls are in a class of it's own in Ouray. This is a beautiful canyon, one of the best in the region.
Besides the high-flowing waterfall rappels, the other unique feature of Weehawken is the snow tunnel at the bottom of the Upper Falls rappel, which is the third rappel. In August 2014 the roof had melted but in August 2015 the tunnel was about 300 feet long and had a beautiful dripping and sculpted roof. In 2018, a drought year, the tunnel was completely absent.
It is critical that everyone on your team has a water-proof whistle and you go over whistle signals with your group before the first rappel as it will be impossible to hear the person at the bottom of most of these rappels due to the loudness of the waterfalls. It is critical to do a contingency rigging for all rappelers and to have mastery of swiftwater canyoning rigging, rope management and know the proper body posture to take a hit from a big flowing waterfall spout.
The difficulty of Weekhawken is highly dependent on the water quantity. This can be a high flow canyon with significant challenge and danger in some years and yet much more manageable in years with lower snow pack.
From Ouray Hot Springs Park, drive south on Highway 550 for 0.8 miles and turn right where you see a sign for Box Canyon Falls on the left and a sign for Camp Bird Road/Yankee Boy Basin on the right, or County Road 361. Follow CR 361 for 2.7 miles where you will see the Weehawken Creek Trailhead sign on the right. There is room for 4 cars here, or ample parking back a few hundred feet on the left at the entrance to Thistledown Campground.
Hike up the Weehawken Creek Trail. It is exposed and climbs sharply in the beginning. After 1.3 miles at the junction with the Alpine Mine Trail, stay left on the Weehawken Creek Trail. Stay on the Weehawken Creek Trail for another 1.2 miles where the Weehawken Mine Trail goes left and down.
A bit of history here. The top three drops were rappelled as early as 2002. By 2005, after several rappels down R3 (just above the snow tunnel) that this rappel is not ideal - multiple rocks, up to football-sized, have come down here while rappelling. One almost caused an accident. Maybe it has cleaned up some, but it is recommended for safety to follow the guidebook's directions to enter the canyon. Here you hike up to the Weehawken Mine trail, and follow it down to the mine. Look for a spot at the rim of the canyon to the southwest of the mine where there are some trees where you can rappel down to the stream on a steep dirt slope. From here you can easily hike upstream for about 10 minutes and see the upper falls and the snow tunnel. You do not miss much with this entrance - the first two rappels are forgettable, the third is pretty but seen from the bottom, and you won't miss the snow tunnel. Plus you can see part of Ouray's mining history at the mine. The attached kml GPS track includes this entrance.
If you are ok risking rocks falling on you as you rappel, then instead of going to the mine, stay right and follow the Weehawken Creek Trail for another 0.5 miles. The trail climbs steeply once again with switchbacks. Continue for a half mile at the 10,400 foot level. When you reach a gully, which will be dry most of the time, head down the gully to the watercourse. If you get to the North Fork, noticeable by a trickle of water flowing, and a view of chossy peaks to the right, you have gone too far. You can follow the North Fork to the main watercourse in this case.
The hike starts at the 8,800 foot level and climbs to 10,400 feet for an elevation gain of 1,600 feet in 3 miles. The hike will take 2 hours to get from the trailhead to the drop-in at an average pace. A fit group can do this hike in 1 1/2 hours. Most of the way, you will see the intended drainage on the left and the massive rising walls on the south side of the drainage.
The first three rappels are accessed by following the fork in the trail to Weehawken Creek.
Otherwise take the fork to the left to Weehawken Mine to begin below R3.
The safer route due to rockfall potential at R3 -especially in high water years- is recommended as the Weehawken Mine entrance, skipping these top three drops.
- R1: At the 10,200 foot level, rock pinch point mid-watercourse, 40 feet in the falls. The force of this water is usually enough to knock you off your feet if you take it on the body. Best to keep on your feet with careful foot placement, keeping the intense waterflow going through your legs and not impacting your hips or torso. You can stay to the left of the falls mostly.
- R2: A hundred feet or so down canyon from the bottom of the first rappel, small tree on canyon left, 45 foot dry rappel. Alternatively, you may sling a large boulder in the middle of the watercourse for a bomber anchor to go directly down the falls, but the potential V geometry, slippery ledges and powerful flow makes this option very dangerous.
- R3: Descend at your own risk! These are the famous Upper Weehawken Falls, one of the greatest in Ouray. A hundred feet down from the R2, tree anchor on canyon right, 130 foot nearly vertical rappel. Safest to cross through the waterfall as quickly as possible near the top. Dangle pack between the legs. Keep the head in close to the wall for a slimmer profile while getting hammered by the intense flow. Once across the falls, stay on the right of the falls all the way down. Note that near accidents have occurred on this drop due to the rappel rope dislodging rocks, some as big as footballs. Have your team mates move away from the edge so they do not kick rocks on those who are rappelling. Windy days and rope pull may also dislodge rocks. Move away from the bottom of the falls once you are done with your rappel.
Entering from the Weehawken Mine Trail puts you just above R4. You can hike upstream from here and see the falls of R3 and the snow tunnel, so you don't miss much entering this way, and it is safer in higher water flow.
Snow Tunnel: At the bottom of the Upper Falls (R3) a snow tunnel forms in most non-drought years, which you may walk through for 300 feet or so, for a truly rare experience. Notice the dripping ceiling and imagine tonnes of ice above you. This ceiling melts completely and eventually crashes down in some years. This tunnel is one of three that may appear in the canyon, and the one that appears most regularly. It was called the Tunnel of Love by the first explorers.
- R4: 85 feet from either a tree high on canyon right to the left of the waterfall with a short free-hang at bottom. Alternatively, it is possible to anchor off a log in mid watercourse and descend directly in the flow for an intense pounding depending on the water flow and a potentially dangerous descent due to the V you get pushed into that the intense flow keeps in. There is no way to communicate in this situation.
- R5: 45 feet, bolts canyon right. They get buried by mudslides in some years. Rocks or logs can also be used. Do not equalize the bolts with webbing. Equalizing Ring Anchors creates a pocket that floods can then apply excessive force onto the bolts. Instead feed the line through both rings and block on one side.
- R6: 15 feet, chockstone middle of watercourse during high water, possibly downclimbed in low water.
- R7: 25 feet, bolts canyon left, momentary free-hang if you choose to stay in the middle, pretty V-shaped falls
In some years another snow tunnel appears below R7.
- R8: 40 feet, tree canyon right down an easy dry staircase; waterfall is on rappeler's right
In some years another snow tunnel appears below R8.
After a half mile of creek walking, The Crystal Section begins. This section is known for down climbs with some exposure. Some rock is rotten and holds may pop off. This entire section, down to the last rappel, has been down climbed though some rappel. Anchors can be difficult to locate.
- R9: 30 feet, anchor canyon right. In the Crystal Section, the entire watercourse squeezes into a tight V with very powerful laminar flow and drops into a severe boil which may be dangerously deep in bigger water conditions: a 6 foot man went in over his head. It is best to straddle the waterfall the entire way down with very careful steps all the way to the bottom. Send the best climber down first. Position a helper on the lip at the edge of the boil ready to assist.
- R10: 90 feet final rappel from a pinch point or log on canyon right or off a tree on canyon left. The final waterfall shifts from one side to the other from year to year. Make a decision on your rappel course based on water flow and comfort level.
In the lower section of this route, from the snow tunnel all the way to the final rappel, are numerous challenging and fun down-climbs. Nothing that would require a partner assist except for the very novice canyoneer, who should not be attempting this canyon anyway.
After the final rappel, follow the creek down for a few minutes until you see the bridge. Easier to hike up the right side of the bridge to get to the road, then go left down a couple hundred feet to your car. The exit hike takes 2 to 3 minutes and is another great aspect of this canyon route.
The entire Weehawken drainage has been proposed for wilderness protection, as part of the Whitehouse extension to the Mount Sneffels Wilderness. Please treat this canyon like wilderness. Practice leave-no-trace techniques.
- 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 : Weehawken
Trip reports and media
- Candition.com : Weehawken