Canyoneering in the San Gabriels: Lower Eaton Canyon

Canyoneering in the San Gabriels: Lower Eaton Canyon

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 11, 2011
Activities Activities: Canyoneering
Seasons Season: Summer
Canyoneering in San Gabriel MountainsRefreshing rappel

When the water is flowing, this canyon is more fun than a water park. Unlike its upper reaches (that is, from the canyon’s beginning near Eaton Saddle descending to near Idlehour Campground), the lower section of Eaton Canyon is a technical descent. The American Canyoneering Association rating is 3B IV.
Please, Please Take the Belay NowPlease take this belay now!
A Happy CanyoneerHappy Canyoneer Norma

Our group of 11 southern California canyoneers gathered at the trailhead for the Mt. Wilson Toll Road in Altadena one balmy Saturday morning with the usual gear, including wetsuits, and lots of anticipation. Though early summer, we could tell that the water was running swift and cold.
I decided to experiment and try doing a wet canyon wearing dive booties. Big mistake. Downclimbing a short section into a pool early in the descent of the canyon, I jumped a few feet and my right foot landed on a pointy rock. The bottom of my foot sustained major bruising which made walking difficult the rest of the day. I changed into trail runners but kept my foot continually submerged in the ice cold stream bed to keep my foot from swelling to an incapacitating size. (The next day I actually had to resort to crutches because my foot was so tender). Live and learn and all that.
Canyoneering in San Gabriel MountainsComing down

This is a fairly challenging canyon when the water is running hard. On this particular day, the falls were flowing with significant volume. There are difficult starts on some rappels due either to slippery rock or awkward terrain at the lip of the waterfall. You want to focus on a good rappel stance on those rappels over mossy rock. Be ready for wet disconnects. The number of rappels (6-10) will vary depending upon the number of drops you elect to slide down. We set up anchors at all significant drops so that people could rappel places where they didn’t feel comfortable sliding.
Awkward Start on RappelAwkward start on rappel
Meat AnchorsMeat anchors

By far the biggest adrenaline rush was getting caught in the icy cold nearly head-crushing force of the longest waterfalls. On a couple of rappels I felt as though the water was going to rip my helmet off . Somewhat frightening were spots where the force of the water was so great that it became hard to catch your breath. In some places, you could avoid being swept underneath the waterfall with careful maneuvering on either side of the water, but it was not possible to totally avoid taking a frigid bath on many of the rappels.
Canyoneering in San Gabriel MountainsI'll bet we don't find your contact lens
Audience for RappelAudience on the last rappel

The next to last rappel is about a 50 foot vertical drop from a narrow rock slot. The last drop is the 60 foot Eaton Falls. You’re likely to have a big crowd watching you do this last rappel as family hiking to the bottom of Eaton Falls from the Eaton Canyon Nature Center is a favorite activity on weekends.

Other comments: A 160 foot rope will suffice for this canyon. It took our group of 11 about 9 hours to run this canyon car to car.
Canyoneering in San Gabriel MountainsLower Eaton Canyon fun
Professor Brennan's chapter on this canyon


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