| The Super Swimmer: Black Holes Canyon
October 2, 2012
~7.9 Miles, ~1,200 Gain
Trailhead: Enter near mile marker 57 off of Utah 95, End near mile marker 55 off of Utah 95 (2WD, ~6.5-7 hours from Denver)
It's that time of year to head back to the slots. After a few superior days of exploration in Cedar Mesa and a quick climb of Ancient Art, it was time for some slot canyon action. I was hoping for more free climbing but my jammed finger wasn't going to cooperate. That finger is going to be a longer than anticipated recovery. Fortunately, I received a text from SarahT mentioning that Black Holes was in good shape so that made the canyoneering decision easy. Thanks Sarah! Originally, I had planned a bunch of shorter more technical canyons in the same area but with warm temperatures and a good condition report we couldn't pass on Black Holes.
Sign placed due to log jam in 2004?
My wife and I finished our treks in Cedar Mesa quicker than we had anticipated which was good since we wanted to do Black Holes during the hottest part of the day. After a short hike in Comb Ridge, to let temperatures warm up, we headed to mile marker 55 off of Utah 95, packed gear, stashed a water bottle and running shoes and drove to the informational sign on the north side of Utah 95 just before mile maker 57 (mile 56.8?).
From the informational sign, we hiked north on a well cairned trail to an east/west side tributary canyon which required some minor class 3 scrambling to descend. Once at the bottom of the canyon it was a mellow hike for about a mile before we donned our wetsuits for our first wade/swimmer. Continuing down canyon we were in and out of the water. I was glad to have the thick wetsuit and I couldn't imagine descending this canyon without one.
The down-climb into the canyon.
Looking down canyon.
The start to some water.
At least two long swimmers and some walking led us to our first obstacle; a pool under some boulders with an unknown water depth. I poked around looking for a good way into the pool but ended up taking a somewhat unexpected slide into the water. It was deep and I got fully dunked. Ah, so much fun. As we swam out from under the boulders, I was glad I packed a few empty Gatorade bottles for extra floatation.
More walking led us to the start of the Black Hole which was a short tricky down-climb from a jammed log. I was able to bypass the log on some slickrock on the right side of the canyon and carefully descended into the water. Shortly thereafter, was another tricky down-climb which my wife rappelled ~10 feet off of a fixed anchor around a large boulder.
First log down-climb. Avoided on the right.
Reaching the right bypass to the first down-climb.
Once she was at the bottom, I put away the rope and was able to down-climb the short rappel with a webbing hand-line. Now for the long swimmer. Another fixed hand line led to another pool with at least 300-400 feet of swimming. We swam around logs and through a beautiful and deep dark slot.
Lots of swimming.
The beta I had was pretty lousy and only mentioned 4 swimmers. At this point, we had definitely done more than 4 swimmers and things were starting to get a bit cold even though the temperatures were in the mid 80s. If I had to guess, I think the water was near 55-60 F. Fortunately, we were able to walk a while before swimming again.
The final long swimmer.
The final long swimmer.
Somewhere in the Black Hole.
I'll admit, the exit we took was probably not ideal. 10-20 minutes after passing an arch, we found a cairned but not very traveled trail leading out. I believe the correct exit is another 200-300 yards down canyon. We zig-zaged up the south side of the canyon, did a short class 4 chimney and then hiked on a ledge south before entering a north/south side canyon.
The arch near the end.
Once in the side canyon there was a short 20 foot low 5th class climb up a dryfall followed by 2 more sections of class 4-5 slickrock scrambling on the east side of the canyon before reaching the canyon rim. We reached the road near the mile maker 55 and I grabbed my running shoes and stashed water and made the short 2 mile run to the car. One of my favorite slot canyons to date.
Anyone thinking of descending this canyon should keep in mind this story of a flash flood victim http://climb-utah.com/CM/blackhole1.htm. They began their descent under sunny skies but a massive thunderstorm the day prior 30-40 miles up canyon caused the flash flood.
I would also consider taking a 30M rope with webbing and a mandatory wetsuit. I can't imagine enjoying this canyon without one even if it was 100 degrees out. Moreover, take the easier exit, ours was convoluted and difficult.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):