Cathedral Wash - Glen Canyon National Recreation Area - Arizona
February 8th, 2010
After what seemed to be a restless night of endless jokes and laughter, Peter and I left Zion National Park early Monday morning and headed across the Utah desert towards Arizona. The second adventure we had planned was the exploration of a short, winding canyon that leads down to the edge of the Colorado River and north eastern boundary of the Grand Canyon. For both of us, it would be our first exposure to canyoneering.
Arriving at around lunch time, we pulled off the side of Lees Ferry road in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and ate our daily snack of hummus. Once again, the weather was perfect and there was no need to worry about a flash flood while hiking down the wash. Expectations weren't very high because neither of us really knew what to expect. From the little I had read, it sounded like a quick and easy hike with few obstacles to contend with... which was pretty much the case.
We packed up our stuff and entered Cathedral Wash by 1:15pm. From the parking spot, the wash begins a couple of hundred feet away on the right side of the road. It's easy to find as there is a concrete bridge/drainage system passing under the road that opens to the wash. You enter it from here and make your way down.
For experienced canyoneers, Cathedral Wash probably would not stand out as anything spectacular, but for Peter and I it was all a completely new type of environment that we found incredibly beautiful. From the curving walls, rounded rocks, pinkish clay deposits, to the ever deepening chasm surrounding us, we were falling for the uniqueness of it. Combine that with our repeated missteps into sinking mud pools and a competition to see who's body could produce (and release, hopefully very loudly) the most gas from our hummus infused lunches, and we had the kind of classic goofy adventure I thought was only possible in childhood.
It was with this sense that we paused along the way for me to try and show off my climbing skills on the canyon wall and hopefully give Peter some good photo opportunities. The canyon wall had so many ledges, cracks and bends all the way up that it looked like it would be very easy to climb out if I wanted to. So with this cocky assuredness and Peter prodding me on with his filming of the whole thing, I started to look for a route up. Well, as is usually the case in such situations, easier said than done. I soon realized that these eroded walls were actually very sharp to the touch. I didn't make it too far up before realizing I was getting a bit scratched up and that the loose stone could easily give way and lead to something quite painful and embarrassing. Peter got a few shots of my pitiful achievement and I headed back down.
There was an incredible silence within the walls of the canyon which was, unfortunately, disturbed quite often by our overly active digestive system... but it was quite peaceful nonetheless. The hike down was straightforward enough with the exception of two or three sudden drop-offs that were all easily negotiated by sticking to the right side of the canyon and working your way down some ledges. Cathedral Wash starts off as an almost overblown ditch a few feet higher than your head, but by the end you have towering canyon walls that give you a small taste of the scale of the massive canyons in this area.
We soon began to hear the sounds of the Colorado river echoing their way up the canyon and after a few more bends in the walls, it opened up to our first view of the fast flowing, brown water river. Without a single soul in sight, Peter and I took some time to ourselves to contemplate the beauty of the place. I looked at the high walls facing us across the river and tried to imagine the next few days ahead when we'd hopefully be making our way down the Grand Canyon. Would it look like this? I had a feeling this was nothing compared to what was in store.
Once again feeling incredibly thankful and blessed for the experiences I was having, I was reluctant to leave, but the afternoon was coming to a close and it was time to head back. Unlike the slow pace going down (about 2 hours), we made it out in half that time, arriving at the car at about 4:15pm. Instead of staying at nearby Marble Canyon Lodge (which looked a bit sketchy), we decided to head to the town of Page, Arizona where we spent the night at the Days Inn ($70).
Distance: Round trip is about 2.8 miles (4.6km).
Time: Our very leisurely pace extended the hike to 3 hours.
Beginning of wash elevation: 3444 feet (1050m)
End of wash elevation: 3106 feet (947m) Elevation Loss/Gain: 370 feet (113m)
Start of Cathedral Wash: 36º 50' 2.59" N; 111º 38' 21.92" W (NAD83/WGS84)
Directions to Cathedral Wash:
- Drive on the 89 towards Marble Canyon in Arizona.
- East bound, just passed the Marble Canyon Lodge (or just before if west bound) is a road called Lees Ferry.
- Take Lees Ferry Rd in to the Glen Canyon National Recreation area.
- 0.6 miles in is a self-serve pay station for permits (we risked not getting one).
- 1.35 miles in on the left is the paved turnout where you can park.
- About 200 feet away is the beginning of Cathedral Wash on the right side of the road.