James Canyon

I live in a beautiful place and, despite knowing this, I'm still surprised by what I run into near home. James Canyon starts just off I-17 near Flagstaff and works its way into Pumphouse Wash, which lets out at the bottom of the switchbacks of 89A in Oak Creek Canyon. It's about 5.5 miles (8.8 km) of canyon between two major highways that feel as isolated and beautiful as any place I've been. It's also deceptively slow.

Lesyk flew in to visit me and we decided to explore this canyon. Looking online, the best route description we found lists it as a 7.5 hour hike. We parked a vehicle at the bottom of the switchbacks the night before and made sure to leave a few hours of buffer before sunset, but didn't feel the need for an especially early start.

James Canyon is wonderful. Tall, narrow slots scattered between wider canyon oases. An intricate multi-stage rappel through sandstone pools. Many smaller downclimbs and one larger rappel (~40 foot/12 meter--left down canyon is the much shorter drop). Nothing too difficult, although the water is deep and cold even with recent hot and dry weather. We didn't need wetsuits but there were still some swims where they would have been appreciated.

We made it through James Canyon and into Pumphouse Wash with the appropriate timing but didn't start moving as quickly as expected past that. At first, we kept coming across large pools of water and thick thickets of reeds. Pushing through was simple enough, but slow. After that, we made it to the slot canyon section. The slots are amazing but not easily passable (let me emphasize staying left if you want to avoid the slots--every one seemed blocked by some large boulder or cliff but the left ridge made it through easily every time). By the time we made it to the boulder fields, the sun was sinking past the horizon--we pulled out our lights and just kept going and going and going. In the end, navigating through Pumphouse Wash took us about as long as James Canyon, with a total trip time closer to 11 hours than 7.5. Leave yourself plenty of time to explore.

The next day we drove up to Breckenridge to meet up with my dad. We hiked to the Magnolia Mine and found some gold! Real, genuine, gold! Or are we just fools?