Friday, April 3, 2015

Death Valley: Corridor Canyon

Essence: Friendly, gravel-bottom canyon walking in stratified stoney chaos. Two Class 3 limestone falls, one Class 3 crack and three short narrows. Mile-long, ruler-straight Corridor with sleek and velvety 90 degree walls transect a flat floor. Way more than one day's worth of delights.

The main hall of the mysterious Corridor is almost a mile long. (THW, photo)

Travel: Fuel-up at Stovepipe Wells. (It'll cost you.) Carry all the water you will need. Drive east on CA 190 for 9.0 miles to Scotty's Castle Road. Turn left/north and drive 33 miles to the Grapevine Entrance Station. Turn left toward Ubehebe Crater. Ascend the one-way loop around the crater. In 5.7 miles, turn right toward the Racetrack. 4WD high clearance is recommended but 2WD vehicles with sturdy tires and moderate clearance can make it to the trailhead turn-off. The road is a mix of dirt and gravel with washboard. Climb to a broad pass between Tin Mountain and Dry Mountain. A Joshua tree forest precedes the pass. The downhill is gradual on a better road. Reach Teakettle Junction after 20.0 miles of dirt. Enjoy the cluttered kettle whimsey with Ubehebe Peak in the background. From here is it another 2.2 miles to the turnoff for the Ubehebe Mining Camp trailhead. Take the middle spur to the right. High clearance is necessary for this 0.7 mile stretch. Park at the end of the road in a mass of mining ruins and wreckage. It is 70.6 miles from Stovepipe Wells to the trailhead. (THW, photo)

Distance and Elevation Gain: 11.4 miles; 1,600 feet of climbing
Time: Allow a minimum of six hours; better yet, wander all day
Difficulty: Canyon walking, no trail, no cairns; navigation moderate; Three Class 3 scrambles with moderate exposure; carry all the water you will need
Maps: Teakettle Junction; Ubehebe Peak, CA 7.5 Quads, or Trails Illustrated: Death Valley National Park, #221
Reference: For information on mining operations, geology, fossils, and a hike into Round Valley, consult: Hiking Death Valley: A guide to its natural wonders and mining past, Michel Digonnet, 2007.
Date Hiked: April 3, 2015
Quote: You may find yourself so distracted that it will take you several visits to make it to the mouth, on the bright crisp edge of Saline Valley. But it doesn't matter much--in this canyon full of secrets, every step is a destination. Michel Digonnet
Route: From the Ubehebe Mining Camp at the upper end of Racetrack Valley in the Last Chance Range, go west down a side canyon for three miles to Corridor Canyon. Walk to the north end of the Corridor, turn around and go almost a mile to the south end. Continue downcanyon to a major barrier fall and turn around, only a couple of miles up from the canyon's mouth in the Saline Valley. 

Mining operations extracted copper, silver, and lead from 1906 to 1968. From the trailhead at 3,870 feet, walk down canyon heading generally west. Gravel-bottomed, unencumbered by water, obstacles, or brush, this is a friendly and welcoming wash. The descent is gentle and pleasant while the canyon does its work cutting through uplifted, almost vertical stratified layers. Desert pricklepoppy is an extravagance in this desert. (THW, photo)

Pass three side canyons, watching for fossils everywhere. They decorate a mid-stream boulder. Rosy veins enliven limestone. (THW, photo)

The canyon squeezes through short and enchanting limestone narrows at 1.5 miles. (THW, photo)

Our thin drainage converges with another Corridor tributary at 1.6 miles. It is a wide and sandy gathering place. Pause and memorize your exit route. (THW, photo)

Water-scoured stone bands stretch across the channel. (THW, photo)

In this bold landscape, walls fold, linear lines whip around, and cap rocks pierce the sky. (THW, photo)

Limestone and siltstones are laminated. Try to parse this wondrous scene. (THW, photo)

The canyon narrows up again at 2.3 miles. Enter the second set of narrows at 3.0 miles. Walk on a water-blasted trench to a polished limestone 12 foot pouroff. Located in a slot with vertical walls, there is no bypass. A few features on the face grant hand and foot holds. There are just enough good solid anchors. Below, my hiking companion has scrambled down six feet to a platform and is considering the final drop.

The narrows constrict to four feet, white streaks crisscross limestone. Blast out into Corridor Canyon at 3.2 miles. The hallway runs north and south. Turn right and walk up the Corridor to its end in 0.3 mile. (THW, photo)

Geological Note: In the vicinity of the Corridor, the Keeler Canyon Formation is upturned, so that its distinct strata stand almost vertically. Erosion has dug along a weaker plane in the stratification, leaving behind this long corridor trapped between vertical walls mostly less than 30 feet apart. Michel Digonnet

The canyon splits, the main drainage swings sharply left/west at a high barrier fall.  For a bypass suggestion and notes on continuing up canyon to Round Valley, consult Digonnet.  It is a simple matter to climb the talus blocks straight ahead to the birthing place of the ever-lengthening Corridor. (THW, photo)

Turn around and go south, passing the entrance canyon, image left. Of course, this is also the one and only exit canyon so mark it in your mind. (THW, photo)

Reach the south end of the Corridor at 4.4 miles. The wash makes a sharp right and runs headlong towards a startling wall of sedimentary layers standing on end. The alternating bands of harder and softer stone looks like another corridor in the making. Vertical layering hallmarks the entire hike and makes me feel as if my world is turned on its side. (THW, photo)

Buckled beauty. (THW, photo)

Enter the third set of narrows and arrive at The Slide at 5.0 miles. After a fair amount of running around and consideration, we agreed on a plan. We'd commit to a one-way trip down The Slide. Whee! (THW, photo)

The ride was too slippery to scale. So on our return we scrambled up The Crack just north of The Slide. Holds are small but generous and reliable. Both obstacles are Class 3 provided you go down The Slide and up The Crack. Below, I am nearing the top. (THW, photo)

The canyon broadens below The Slide. The formation suddenly looks inebriated. The landscape is downright dizzying. (THW, photo)

Pass three enticing side canyons. The walls inexplicably constrict and at 5.8 miles come to a commanding halt at a barrier fall, high and massive. Back up and climb a short slope downcanyon-right to achieve a viewing perch above the pouroff. It looks like the obstacle may be circumvented in the next side drainage. However, I did not check this out for we turned around here at 6.0 miles. It is about two miles to the canyon mouth but much further to the nearest road.
(THW, photo)

Return as you came. The canyon is even more appealing walking upstream; rock runners spanning the floor are more clearly delineated. Back in the Corridor, this amazing creosote bush is anchored to a vertical face of rock rippled with the sea. (THW, photo)

Reach the narrow exit canyon and go right. At the base of the 12 foot pouroff, sharpen your eyes, pause, and search out fading petroglyphs. (THW, photo)

Break out into the wide, sandy tributary and set your eyes on the proper exit canyon. At the entrance to the defile be watchful for petroglyphs and more obvious historic inscriptions. This significant location is honored with bighorn sheep going in different directions, a long atlatl, and anthropomorphs. (THW, photo)

We hiked Corridor Canyon at the end of an extended visit in Death Valley National Park. We ventured into remote and wild places. Death Valley is a pristine and perfect landscape, just as it is. It is a raw desert experience. This is as real as life contrast with that other world to which we reluctantly returned. 

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