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Big days are fun! Ok, perhaps not everyone shares my view, but there is something very satisfying to completing a big day in the desert. Upper Iron Wash fits the definition of big day. On my first trip with Kent, Penny, and Tom, we walked the approach, did the canyon, and walked the exit in a thigh burning 12.5 hour day. I remember the canyon being beautiful, and the exit as a gradual and seemingly never-ending uphill death march. Oh, and there will always be a special place in my heart for the ice cream Kent had at camp that he had brought in a dry ice filled cooler to share with the group. It was an amazing treat after such a long day, Kent is the man!
In 2015, I re-visited the canyon armed with a mountain bike to help speed up the approach and exit. Solo and with a mountain bike, I cut my time in half. Wow, it was still a physical day. This is not a suitable trip for big groups, beginners, or those that lack fitness. With a mountain bike, it is 7.2 miles by bike and 7 miles by foot. Without a mountain bike, it is 14.2 miles by foot, a long day with a heavy canyoneering pack by most peoples standard. As all good long days do, this one starts off casually, with a gentle downhill, and easy section of canyon. Fun! The canyon gets harder, and the exit virtually all up hill, bring your A game for this.
Ok, enough about the big day, what is the canyon like? Fun! In Coconino / Cedar Mesa sandstone, it begins as fairly wide yet very colorful. The bottom part, where it becomes more technical, is sheer walled with many pools and pothole obstacles to contend with. On both of my trips, the potholes were all easy to get out of with a little partner assist work, but a major flood could change that. The final few potholes, the biggest in the canyon, are avoidable by escaping out on the right, but also very fun to work through if your group has time.