By Published On: March 30, 2024Categories: canyoneer, UtahTags: , , , ,

Imagine, if you will, a vast maze composed of red sandstone spires, deep vertical cracks, ramps and fins taking you up and down what look like blind passages, incredible arches and ancient juniper trees lifting their branches to the sky. This, my friends, is the famous Fiery Furnace, located in Arches NP near Moab.

The Fiery Furnace is one of the most popular hikes in Arches and requires a permit that can be obtained one week in advance. Permits are available at: Self-Guided Fiery Furnace Exploration – Arches, Arches National Park Tours –, at 8am MDT. These permits go very fast, usually within a few minutes, so if you want one, plan on being at your computer at 8am MDT. Permits need to be picked up in person at the Arches Visitor Center the day of or day before your hike, which includes watching an informative video and learning the rules of interacting with this special place.

Max and I did this hike in 2018 during a trip to the Moab area, and it was a very memorable day. There are no marked trails in this huge area, just a few small signs with arrows that point in a general direction. The whole point of this destination is to explore, get lost, get found, scramble around these amazing formations and find the hidden arches scattered throughout. There are multiple routes you can take, with each trip being different.

As it turns out, there are two different canyoneering routes through the maze, but a local friend is necessary because, well, it’s a maze. Our friend Chelsea Heveran was putting together a trip at the end of March and invited us along. On short notice, we were able to find accommodations at an alpaca farm in Monticello, about an hour away from Moab and at much higher elevation. Friday after work, we took a super scenic drive through Monument Valley and arrived in Monticello fairly late.

Early the next morning in absolutely freezing temperatures, we departed Monticello to meet everyone at Arches Visitor Center. Fortunately, things had warmed up considerably as we got close to Moab. Our local contact was Mike Bilotta and his friend Kailin, who know the Fiery Furnace well. We picked up our permits, watched the mandatory leave-no-trace video, promised the rangers that we know how to canyoneer, and started our adventure.

There are many ways to do these Fiery Furnace canyoneering routes, and everyone has their own approach. We started hiking up the outside of the furnace, gaining altitude and eventually entered the maze looking down into a small bowl with a magnificent juniper tree. Mike calls this “The Tree of Life” and I couldn’t agree more. Shortly thereafter, we started some pretty intense downclimbs, following thin fingers of sandstone through deep cracks. After some twists and turns, we found ourselves right under Surprise Arch! Surprise! Definitely didn’t see that coming. What a cool arch that is hard to see until you’re right under it. We took a breather, had some food and continued on our way.

Soon we entered the more mainstream area with the occasional hiker group present and marveled at the incredible sandstone spires carved into fanciful shapes, sticking up all around us. Here we found Kissing Turtles Arch, an adorable arch that really looks like two turtles kissing. Near the arch was an ancient Juniper stem, lying vertically on the ground, with just a small live branch growing out of it. Nature’s resilience is really incredible.

We left the beaten path and started climbing up a steep fin. Higher and higher we climbed up huge boulders, until we reached a ledge next to a deep crack and climbed up a steep sandstone slope. The next move was to stem up a very narrow crack, while pushing our backpacks up ahead of us, to get to the top. The views were incredible with the snow-covered peaks of the La Salle Mountains in the distance, towering over us.

Walking down some sandstone fins took us to a very narrow crack, the site of our first rappel. We squeezed down the crack and followed Mike through the maze, up and down fins and gulleys until we found another amazing arch! This one was named after Edward Abbey, a famous Arches dweller. We dropped our gear and took a side trip up a steep crack to explore a couple of fins that Mike was interested in checking out at the top. Then we returned for our second rappel down into another vertical crack, right under the arch. Soon we found ourselves at the third and final rappel of this route, on a beautiful pour off above an alcove with a small pool of water.

Max and I realized that we had been here before, on our original hiking trip. We had looked at this pour off and wondered what was above. Now we knew, it was Lomatium Canyon! We emerged onto the main hiking trail, right near Skull Arch, a very cool double arch. It was time to head up to our second route of the day, Krill, a much more technical route not for the faint of heart.

We climbed up a steep fin, up more huge boulders, until we found the crux – a rock with an X carved on it, to mark the spot where a tricky move is required to get over the boulder. Fortunately, I got a couple of short person assists to get through this part, but it was a bit hair-raising. We reached another vertical crack, climbed down through a rabbit hole, and then a strenuous stemming section, about 20 feet off the ground, with our packs hung between our legs and our back and feet on opposite walls of this narrow crack. We made it to a rappel down yet another narrow crack, more downclimbs and a very tight squeeze through a narrow corridor at the end.

We finally emerged in the lower section of the Fiery Furnace and took the obvious trail out to the parking lot. On the way we discussed the fact that we probably wouldn’t be able to repeat this super confusing route without Mike, even though we had all recorded tracks. I’m so grateful that we got to see this incredible place in a totally unique way.

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