Canyoneering in Cave Creek

One of the our favorite summertime treats is the chance to get up on the high plateau and descend the gorgeous, deeply plunging, wet and wild canyons there. Cave Creek is a seldom visited but much-loved canyon, our typical descent for an Extreme Adventure Day.

Cave Creek canyoneering

Amy Fenton skirts the falls in her Devo-esque drysuit

Eye of the Needle

Longest rappel in Cave Creek

Cave Creek is a world of myriad waterfalls: short, tall, chaotic, elegant, simple, and complex. Behind and alongside the taller falls, beautiful green moss grows, dressing the canyon in fabulous emerald green. The sandstone ranges from light browns to deep reds, studded in places with curtains of huecos, small arches, and “drippings” of rock iron-stained rock. In this raw and raucous landscape, it’s always a treat to find a piece of improbable subtlety: a delicate fern or a lone red flower clinging to a sandstone crevice.

Adding to the visual beauty, the sound of rushing, pounding, flowing water constantly accompanies us in Cave Creek. The noise raises everyone’s adrenaline a notch, making it very evident we are in a living, breathing, changing canyon. Sometimes you have to yell to the person next to you, just to be heard. If you’re more than 20 feet from them, it’s usually best to use hand signals or a whistle.

While all this water is exciting and invigorating, it’s also cold! Fed by cold groundwater year-round, Cave Creek is drysuit territory, even when it’s 110º in Springdale. By wearing suits to keep us dry, and fleece underneath to keep us warm, we stay toasty-warm amidst the heat-sucking flow of cool air and colder water over hours in the canyon. Most clients skeptically raise their eyebrows when we first pull the drysuits out, but everyone is pretty happy a few hours later after a few good dousings!

Log Grappling in Cave Creek

Erin Sizes Up the Task

Aside from the great rappels in this canyon, we also find some challenging downclimbing. Most of the shorter drops (5′ – 15′) are the result of log jams, which is technical term for a jumble of wet wood. Our 5.10 Canyoneers are great for traction on rock, but nothing works well on wet wood, resulting in some very careful moves and careful spotting from our partners. The image on the left depicts one of the most unique challenges Cave Creek offers, the Fireman’s Pole. It may look easy from the bottom, but wrapping yourself around a 2′ diameter log and sliding down 12 feet can be more than a little daunting – and lots of fun. Taking on the Pole isn’t required, but I’ve yet to see someone pass on the opportunity.

Big thanks to the Fenton family, who provided the reality for all the images here. The Fenton gang is a uber-adventurous, highly engaging crew from Ohio who I’ve had the honor of canyoneering with a number of times over the last few years. Erin, Amy, Megan, and Lori are admirable ambassadors for outdoor women everywhere, and Paul has admirably managed to adapt to an estrogen-dominated lifestyle. Lucky guy, if you ask me.

The Fenton Family

The Fenton Clan: Paul, Erin, Megan, Lori, and Amy


About Nick

Nick Wilkes found ZAC in 1996, working first as an outfitter, then a guide, then as webmaster. An ardent adventure enthusiast, Nick's recent exploits involve laying down roots in Wisconsin, chasing his kids around the house, working as a Madison, WI photographer and growing his Wisconsin climbing business. Connect with Nick on Facebook, Google+, or directly via email.
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