By Published On: February 18, 2024Categories: california, canyoneerTags: , , ,

The day after Styx, we thought we would up the ante a bit by making an attempt on Grotto Canyon (Layer Fork), located near Mosaic Canyon in the Stovepipe Wells area. We were waiting for our friends Chelsea and Vyonne at Stovepipe Wells Village when they pulled up with Tom Jones! Tom was at the Death Valley Rendezvous and decided to accept Chelsea’s invitation to join our group. I was secretly wondering if we all knew what we were getting into!

Grotto Layer Fork is most definitely one of the best canyons we have been to in Death Valley so far (we have barely scratched the surface) but is a pretty high pay to play proposition. No permits are required, aside from park entry. Beta is found here: Grotto Canyon (South Fork, Death Valley) – ropewiki. The approach is a 3,400 foot climb up and up and up steep hills with typically sharp Death Valley laceration rock. The views were pretty epic as the valley fell away below us on all sides. Eventually we reached Point Hideous, named by Mike Cressman, of course. We rested and took some silly selfies to commemorate the occasion and then we plodded on for another few hours of endless uphill.

It was after 1pm when we finally dropped into the wash that led to the canyon. Thank you to our friend and former ranger, Kate, for giving us the magic point for the sneak route! There were a couple of rappels and downclimbs in a side canyon that led to the Layer Fork itself.

As we entered the canyon, we couldn’t believe its scale and beauty. The very first rappel is quite astounding, descending through a folded staircase of white-clad rocks that extend to the bottom. There are 16 rappels in total and we knew that we had to make haste before sunset, so we kept the ropes moving.

I suspect that this particular fork, the Layer Fork of Grotto canyon, is named after the wide diversity of layers that are visible in this amazing place. Being so close to Mosaic Canyon, you can tell this is Mosaic’s big brother. Every turn of the canyon presents a different rock color or texture. One of the most interesting formations consists of enormous, perfectly rectangular “doors” carved into the cliff face. This is next to a huge chamber with a couple of impressive downclimbs, where enormous rock “stripes” are running diagonally across the entire length of the canyon walls from the top and making a right turn in an unbroken line. Most of the rappels are polished chutes of various shades of gray – not quite 50 but close 😊.

There were also some very interesting anchors in Grotto that we had to reconfigure. The most fascinating was a non-locking carabiner taped shut with medical tape. We were rather speechless. We also found two bolts midway through the canyon. Bolts are not allowed in Death Valley, but it is possible that they might have been historical bolts left over from mining days.

As dusk approached, we found ourselves in the lower part of the canyon, walking through a long section of wide wash. We approached what we thought was a rappel, but there were no anchors present. Chelsea gave me a meat belay and I explored the dry fall from the bottom. It certainly was not a downclimb. As darkness fell, we realized that there was a rabbit hole between the rocks that people could climb down. This fortuitous discovery led to some great photos that look like we are descending into a cave.

We put on our headlamps and made it through the last two short rappels and the long walk out of the canyon. The night sky was magnificent and lit our way to the cars. It was a long but very memorable day in a truly amazing place.

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