Originally on this weekend, my son and I were going to do a climb of Horseshoe Mountain in Colorado, but a big snowstorm was forecasted.
We decided to go to Utah, but the weather forecast was iffy for slot canyons as well. After some brainstorming we decided on Three Canyon, south of Green River. It only had one rappel at the top and then a 5.6 exit at the end, with lots of pretty canyon between that would be fairly low risk for flash floods.
Deep in Three Canyon.
Three Canyon is a placed that I had frequented in the past and had explored thoroughly. As early as the early 1980’s I had hiked up the canyon from the river on two separate river trips.
In the early 1990’s, my dad, my brother Mark, and I came overland via Junes Bottom. We explored the delightlful canyon thoroughly, including all three of the side canyons from the bottom. All of them ended in falls and I had wondered what was above the falls. On the way out we explored around the old and long abandoned ranch at Junes Bottom and found some rancher bolted routes up the cliffs behind the ranch.
In the mid-1990’s, two of my brothers (Mark and Richard) and I hiked down the canyon to a big fall with an old antique bolt (probably installed in the 1990’s by June Marsing himself). It looked interesting.
Barb, one of our friends, also checked out the canyon and thought it looked interesting. Along with Barb, my cousin Bronwyn, and my wife Kimberly, we decided to make the descent.
Barb is a very experienced canyoneer. At the time, I had also done a fair amount of canyons, but I always relied on my friend Josh for the rope skills. I was really good at stemming, upclimbing, and downclimbing, but it was Josh who rigged the ropes in most of the canyons I had done. Even though we were inexperienced, we pulled off some difficult descents, such as Imlay Canyon in 1990 and Egypt 4 in 1992.
Anyway, on this trip, I don’t think Barb was impressed with my rope skills or lack thereof (after that trip I gained much more rope experience). We had also packed overnight gear for the canyon, expecting that it may take a while.
We hiked down the drainage to the big dropoff and made the first rappel. At the time, there was no information at all available on the canyon, so we had no idea of what to expect. After completing the rappel and after hiking down canyon for quite a ways, I had come to realize that the drop we reached from the bottom and the top were one and the same. We had underestimated the difficulty of the canyon and made our way quickly down to the beach at the Green River, where we set up camp.
At night, I had one of the most “interesting” camping experiences that I have ever had. We slept under the stars and at night, this BIG wet bull frog jumped right on my face while I was sleeping! I woke up screaming and I’m sure the bullfrog got as big of a scare as I did. When I screamed my wife asked me what was wrong, I and I told her that a big wet frog jumped on my face.
In the morning we packed up and hiked the mostly washed out and somewhat treacherous cattle trail along the Green River to Junes Bottom. I had shown everyone the shortcut through the cliffs, so once we found it; it was a scramble and a hike through the slickrock back to the vehicle.
After this trip, I only had one more thing to do in order to complete the exploration of Three Canyon. Early in 2002 (we moved to Fruita in 2001, so it was a short drive), I joined Penny Martins, Kent Beverly and headed for Three Canyon (my wife was very pregnant at the time and couldn’t do any canyons). I had one last thing to do to complete the exploration of the canyon system. I still hadn’t descended the two side canyons on the north side near the mouth of the canyon.
After some scouting of the canyon from the rim, Kent, Penny, and I hiked over to the head of the western most slot and rigged an anchor. We rappelled and downclimbed through the canyon (possibly a first descent). It was a nice little adventure. After the technical section, I looked up and saw a sling high on the wall at the top of an exposed scramble. We checked it out.
We then hiked down the canyon, making the somewhat exposed traverse around two dryfalls before reaching Three Canyon itself. We hiked up Three Canyon and met a BLM ranger and his girlfriend, who were hiking the canyon on their day off. They wanted to know how we had accessed the canyon. It was their sling who was hanging off the wall and the ranger said that the route was referred to as the Sneak Route, since the ranchers long ago used it to sneak in and out of the canyon system, but the route had been forgotten about long ago and after the ranch was abandoned in the 1940’s. This was the only time I have ever met anyone in Three Canyon. We climbed out using the Sneak Route, which had one 5.6 pitch with moki steps right at the top.
Once back to the vehicle, the last thing to do was to explore the slot to the east. We explored the canyon down to the big drop in Three Canyon. I named the slot canyon, the “Baby Slot” for both its short length and in honor of the baby that my wife was about to have.
After the trip in early 2002, I had felt that the exploration of Three Canyon was complete and that I had seen every nook and cranny in the canyon. Since I had considered it to be a done deal, I hadn’t returned to the canyon since then and it had been more than 13 years since I had visited.
Three Canyon on May 9 2015.
May 9 2015
In May of 2015, as explained above, it was time to visit the canyon again. Unfortunately, my son got sick last minute, so I would have to go solo (my wife had to work and my daughter wanted to sit this one out). I prefer not doing technical canyons solo, but it appears that I was out of luck and besides, I left a detailed plan with my wife. I could only go for one night since it was mother’s day on Sunday as well.
I drove to Green River in the rain before checking in the Robbers Roost Motel. Staying there was a good move since it did rain hard at night.
I was surprised when I woke up in the morning to sunny skies. I drove to the head of Sneak Canyon, where the exit is and hid my bike. Since I was alone, I hiked and scrambled to the top of the crux exit route of the canyon and left behind an aider and a rope. I didn’t want to free solo the route alone.
After placing the aider, I hiked back to the vehicle and drove to the head of Three Canyon. I hiked down through some narrow sections to the head of the rappel. The 100 foot rappel is the only technical obstacle in the canyon until the exit.
Part of the upper slot.
Looking down the 100' foot rappel.
The bottom of the rappel in Three Canyon.
Once I completed the rappel, I left the rope behind and hiked down the canyon. It was delightful to experience the canyon and I had forgotten just how beautiful it was.
Desert Varnish on the walls of Three Canyon.
Three Canyon is usually ignored by hikers and canyoneers. The entry and exit routes are hard enough to keep out hikers, and since the canyon has few technical obstacles and is mostly a hike, and since there isn’t a real slot, not many technical canyoneers do the canyon either. What the canyon is however, is probably the most beautiful of all the side canyons draining into Labyrinth Canyon of the Green River. The high walls streaked with desert varnish, the oasis in the desert, the small cascades, deep narrows, and crystal clear running water make the trip very pretty.
A bend in the canyon.
Three Canyon did get some attention in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when some of our friends put the canyon in a guidebook and on a website, but as more canyons became known, Three Canyon more or less has dropped off the radar again. Other than near the river, I never did see any footprints.
After completing the rappel, I hiked down the canyon, passing one obstacle which was a 10’ downclimb. After that it was smooth sailing (with one more minor obstacle at a big pool and small waterfall and some very minor bushwhacking) through a very beautiful canyon.
The fun little downclimb.
Three Canyon rounds a bend.
Inside the deep narrows.
At first the canyon was dry until the downclimb and then a little creek began to seep out of the rocks and sand. The gurgling stream added to the aura of the canyon and at times the water flowed over little cascades and over the slickrock. There was one big pool with water dripping out of the rock as well.
Water flows over the slickrock.
The little bit of greenery highlights the red rocks.
Water flowing over the slickrock.
I reached the exit in Sneak Canyon faster than expected. I hiked up the canyon and scrambled the bypass ledges around two falls, just like we had done years ago. This time though, there was a faint path of use that had developed.
The ledge bypass in Sneak Canyon.
After locating the Sneak Route, I made the exposed 4th class scramble up to the “sneak route” 5.6 pitch. With the aider behind, it was pretty easy.
Part of the 4th class section of the exit.
Part of the 5.6 section of the Sneak Route. I left the aider because I didn't want to freesolo it alone. Notice the chipped Moki step.
Looking down the 5th class Sneak Route.
Looking down Sneak Canyon from part of the Sneak route. The steep part is where the route drops over the rim visible.
Once out of the canyon, I retrieved my bike and rode the three and a half miles of dirt road back to the trailhead. It was a great little trip.
Since the canyon took less time than expected, I still had a little time on my hands. I visited the Chaffin Geyser on the way back. Luckily it was having a small eruption right when I got there. I watched the eruptions for a while before heading for home.
Chaffin Geyser is interesting because it is a cold water geyser, rather than a hot water geyser. It is caused by carbon dioxide buildup in an underground aquifer. That means I could walk right up to it and even feel the squirting water. It is an interesting phenomenon.
The Chaffin Geyser (cold water) is near the San Rafael River just north of Three Canyon. It was having a small eruption when I visited it.
It was partly cloudy, but the threat of rain never did pan out.