LENGTH: 12+ hours (2 day backpack)
GEAR: Standard Technical Gear
RAPPELS: 6 to 60 m ( 197 ft. )
WATER: Many springs. Water should be avoidable. Treat all drinking water.
SEASON: Spring, Fall
Ah Clearwater Canyon! My first trip through in 2003 was one of the biggest canyoneering trips I had done up till then. We, not knowing anything about the canyon, descended it loaded for bear with about 700+ feet of rope, bolt kit, wetsuits, etc. The canyon turned out to be a more or less casual romp deep in the backcountry. Over the years I had wanted to get back to it, but the opportunity never arose. Finally, in 2015 with Diane, I made another trip through and found the canyon much prettier than I had remembered.
Clearwater Canyon offers incredible beauty. The middle section in particular, just below rappel 3, is sublime with springs dripping like shower heads feeding crystal clear pools that rival any I have visited in the desert. This is a place that begs the passing canyoneer to linger awhile, swim in the pools, and really soak in the magic of a hidden oasis.
You may be asking why you have not heard of, or done such an amazing canyon? Well, it comes with some costs. First, reaching the trailhead requires 30 miles of dirt road. Generally good, but a little rough and slow going. It is a long way out there. Second, the exit requires mental fortitude to persevere across seemingly endless loose talus slopes, steep boulder choked gullies, and a final tumbleweed gauntlet that has possibly reduced lesser canyoneers to tears.
This is a trip I would strongly recommend to intermediate or better canyoneers that want a very backcountry canyoneering experience. On our trip, there were no footprints to be found, and it was clear from the shape of the anchors that no one had been down the canyon in a long time. The technical aspects of the canyon are straightforward, but you do need good route finding skills and fitness for the exit. Both times I have done the canyon, I have done it as an overnight. At least one group has done it as a long day hike, but I would not recommend it. You would be too rushed to enjoy the canyon, and very fatigued during the exit when good judgment is needed.