April 01, 2013
~ 14.6 Miles, ~2,800 Gain.
Trailheads: Mile 73 on US24. Short side road north with parking at N38.3281 W111.3654.
I wasn't sure what to expect canyoneering in Capitol Reef but Pandora's Box did not disappoint. Finishing work in Durango, Tony and I made the drive, set up camp near the trailhead (trailhead works really well for camping) and set our alarms early. Reading several accounts, Pandora's seemed to be a full day affair so we planned on starting out around 6:30 AM.
For some, the approach seems to have some navigational difficulties. We didn't find the approach all that difficult until we reached the top of the mesa. From the parking area, we found a well established trail heading up a a dirt rib and at the top of the rib, scrambled through some rocks to the top of an intermediate tier between the valley and the top of the mesa. Climbing to the top of the mesa is not probably from the intermediate tier, so we just followed the well established cattle trail northwest around the mesa.
Morning light on our approach hike.
We followed the trail around the mesa and then headed back east up the gully which is the only feasible way to the top. At the top of the mesa (N38.3429 W111.3688), the trail disappears and there are plenty of trees and bushes preventing easy navigation to the head of the canyon. A due north hike from the top of the mesa led us to the head of the north fork. Careful stepping was required to avoid cryptobiotic soil.
Looking down canyon, we were excited to start the technical portion around 8:20 AM (N38.3517 W111.3621). At the start, we easily avoided some pools of water and then came to our first 65 foot rappel anchored off of a large log.
Shortly after the first rappel, was our second 2 stage rappel of 90 feet anchored off of another log. The start to the second rappel was very tricky due to the extended webbing from the log going over the lip. The lip would have loved to eat/mash our fingers.
First rappel anchor.
Light at the bottom of the first rappel.
Tony on the first rappel.
Tony on the very awkward second rappel start.
Tony on the second stage of rappel 2.
As the canyon developed, we reached our short third rappel of 15 feet anchored off a chockstone. For those with gymnastic skills, I think this rappel could be down-climbed. Being a bit of a lummox, we decided rappel. A few down-climbs and obstacles later, the canyon widened. The canyon had a lush look with streaks of green and some trees in the canyon. It was beautiful.
Short rappel 3.
Slot section after the first 3 rappels.
In the wide section of the canyon, was a short cliff band around some boulders which we bypassed on the left. A short slog later we came to the infamous tight section where several parties have needed a rescue. Here is a link Scouts to a Boy Scout group that needed a rescue after our descent.
Tony decided to take the high stem while, being a caver, I decided to take the low tight crawl. I made it about 20 feet before a log really caused me some issues. The log snagged on everything. My shirt, harness and pack. Struggling, I saw Tony making better progress up high so I backed out of the crawl and decided to go with the high stem. At times, we were stemming 20 feet off of the ground.
The tight spot.
Tony stemming high through the tight spot.
Continuing though a tight pretty section, the canyon widened. A short distance later, was the junction with the south fork. The rest of the canyon becomes a maze of zig-zags as we worked our way down canyon. Basically, short sections of slot through Windgate sandstone fins would lead to a cross joints which would be open. The canyon would zig-zag through the fins as each fin would offer its own obstacle and challenge. Describing this section of canyon would probably be harder to read and decode than decoding the Pandora's Box itself.
Crawling through a tight section.
Crawling through a tight section.
“Pandora's Box” is the zig-zagging in and out of cross joints. We just followed the path of the stream as we headed down-canyon. Some cross joints required rappels while others required tricky down-climbs.
Crawling under a log in one of many fins.
Notably, near the beginning of a fin, was the fourth rappel of 40 feet anchored off of a log. In other fins were rappels 5 and 6. Rappel 5 was anchored off of a chockstone at 20 feet and rappel 6 was 10 feet off of a log. Both could be down-climbed but would be tricky. Tony rappelled 6 while I down-climbed 6 using the rope as a handline.
Start of rappel 4.
Tony on rappel 4.
Neat subway area.
As the canyon made its final wide opening in a cross joint, we encountered our exit series of rappels. The first rappel of the exit series is 60 feet and is anchored off of a bush which led us to a short bench. A high boulder with webbing from the bench anchored the final 160 foot rappel. We only took a single 60M and a single 30M rope so we set up biner block for the final rappel. Rappelling single strand on a 8.3 mm rope was a bit exciting for me on the final rappel. We finished the technical portion at 12:15 PM.
Tony on rappel 7. Anchors for the last rappel.
Tony on the last rappel.
Looking back at the last rappel.
Two options exist for the exiting the canyon. Since we had a car shuttle, we decided to take the long easy hike out to the Chimney Rock trailhead. From my understanding, the harder climb out option can be tricky especially in the dark and both exits are comparable in time. Next time, I think I would take the shorter technical exit and not use the required car shuttle.
Long hike but wonderful scenery.
Without a doubt, it is a long slog out. Since we made good time through Pandora's box, I decided to bag Mummy Cliff since a trail option on our exit climbs up and over the summit. Tony decided to pass since the 8.6 mile slog from the exit of Pandora's was enough exercise for him. We reached the chimney rock trailhead at 4:15 PM. What an outstanding day making Pandora's Box one of finer canyons I have descended.
Summit views of Capitol Reef from Mummy Cliff.
Pandora's Box rappel profile.
Due to the nature of slot canyons, this GPX should not be used for navigation.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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