Canyon Tales
Descent of
The Hammerhead

by Brian Cabe

Right Fork of North Creek
Complete Canyon Descent

—   Zion National Park   —

Technical canyoneering descent of the ‘Hammerhead’ and the complete Right Fork of North Creek from the West Rim, southwest of Potato Hollow. The ‘Hammerhead’ is the hammer–shaped canyon formed by the very uppermost watercourse in the Right Fork drainage. 14 rappels, the longest being 130 feet. Compiled by Brian Cabe (Salt Lake City) following his and Tom Jones’ descent on 19–20 October 2002.

The information provided herein is for historical reading entertainment and is not intended to be a guide.

Kolob Reservoir, Utah (7.5 minute, 1980); Guardian Angels, Utah (7.5 minute, 1980); and Temple of Sinawava, Utah (7.5 minute, 1980).

No information on the upper canyon from the rim. The standard Right Fork hike is in the ‘green guide’: ‘Exploring the Backcountry of Zion National Park’ by Brereton and Dunaway.

One 60 meter (200 foot) rope, 60 meter 6mm pull cord, omni sling (retrievable webbing), helmet, rappelling gear, bolt kit, dry suit, extra slings and rapid links (rapides). 3 liters of water and water purification system. Bivy sack, bivy jacket.

Getting started:  
Note: all directions will assume hiker is facing the direction of travel. Distances and descriptions are estimates.

—   19 October 2002   —

We left the parking lot at the West Rim trailhead at Lava Point at 8:44 AM. We undershot the approach and hiked up between points 7370 and 7325 instead of hiking further east toward Potato Hollow. When we reached the rim, we followed loose slopes and brush back around to the south, then east, to the steep drainage southeast of point 7325. Nice view.

•  Drop into the ‘Hammerhead’   •

We walked down the loose drainage noting the burned trees. At an airy pour over, we left a sling and rapide on large dead tree in middle of the drainage and rappelled 130 feet. After a short walk and downclimb to another dead tree in the drainage, we rappelled 80 feet. Noting some fine foliage, we walked to the start of the upper ‘handle’ of the ‘hammer’ (canyon changed direction to running straight west–southwest). On a large rock back from the rim, we rigged an ‘omni sling’ (retrievable webbing) and rappelled 40 feet.

Rigging the omni sling off a stump on the left in the creek bed, we rappelled 50 feet, then downclimbed a chockstone and used a sling in a rock pinch for a 20–foot rappel. With a skinned log and stacked rocks, we built an anchor, looped the rope around the log and dropped 30 feet. We again rigged the omni sling, this time 20 feet back from the lip of a 30–foot drop, and completed the last rappel in the ‘Hammerhead’ portion of the Right Fork.

We hiked the rest of the ‘handle’ of the ‘hammer’ and marveled at how deep the slot was cut from the rim. In several hundred feet we reached the confluence of the main Right Fork with a small drainage coming in from the right, where the main watercourse we descended makes a big left–hand bend. Walking on the rim, just upstream of the confluence, we hiked down into and fought thick Gamble oak and rose bush to re–enter the stream course. In hindsight, perhaps staying in the main watercourse would have been a better option.

•  Main Right Fork drainage   •

At 2:00 PM, we lunched and then hiked the shallow and somewhat brushy, damp drainage down to an area of open slickrock marked by a cairn where the standard Right Fork hike arrives. Here, we met up with friends Dave, Phil, and Tom. After a debate on the lateness of the hour and the unknown canyon descent, we hiked to the business and, adding Tom Gendron to our party, we all donned dry suits. Mr. Jones took the first plunge while Mr. Gendron and I stepped across above the pool at a neat narrow spot and climbed around the first pool set. Soon, the hike–around options became scarce and we all entered the canyon proper.

Great narrows. Starting with a butt slide for 5 feet into a deep pool, we encountered short drops into deep and shallow pools. Much wading and swimming, through a natural bridge in one section. The 3 or 4 rappels were all short, the longest from a thick log bridge above a 55–foot drop. We employed many partner–assists and roped downclimbs whilst spotting each other from below.

After exiting the nifty, tight plunge pool area, the canyon opened up and not far downstream, some large rock fall created a 25–foot drop–off. This drop–off was skirted by ugly downclimbing in a tight, debris filled slot on canyon left to a ledge, which was downclimbed to the canyon floor. The trail coming down from the Giant Staircase, as noted in the ‘green guide,’ may enter the canyon immediately down stream on canyon right. We swam the long Black Pool, hiked around to the right to a bolted (2) rappel anchor on canyon right, and dropped back into the watery slot for a stemming disconnect and long swim. Arriving at the Grand Alcove, complete with running spring water, we were reunited with Stevie B, Ram, and the rest of our crew in the fading daylight at 7:00 PM. A great campsite ensued.

Grand Alcove and Final Rappels: We packed up, traversed around on the ledge to the bolted rappel, rappelled to a ledge, and then rappelled from a small stout tree to the sandy creek bottom. Carrying down packs enabled a couple of folks to follow the creek down and slide and swim instead of rappel. Beautiful hanging gardens abound. At 10:00 AM, we rappelled Barrier Falls (70 feet). We hiked around another waterfall, then Double Falls noting some poison ivy, completed the long, open hike back to the confluence with the Left Fork, then up the lava cliffs to the car by mid afternoon.

•  Notes   •

A dry suit was mandatory, as water exposure in the nifty narrows and Black Pool was extensive. Two full days.

•  Time   •

    Left the car at 8:44 AM.
    Drop into Hammerhead at 11:15 AM.
    At the main drainage at 1:50 PM.
    At cairn from hike–in trail at 2:45 PM.
    Don drysuit at 3:30 PM
    Arrive at the Giant ‘Stevenson’ Alcove at 7:00 PM.

    The following day was around 8 hours long.

See also Tom’s Rave:
Right Fork of North Creek • Tom Jones

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© 2002 Brian Cabe