By Published On: February 17, 2024Categories: california, canyoneerTags: , , ,

In mid-February, our niece Mira came to visit us for her “reading week”. The request was for warm weather and a lot of desert. We did our best to oblige, although the weather forecast was uncertain at best. Death Valley was an obvious choice that met both of the requirements, with some caveats. The weekend prior to our trip, a strong storm had come through from California refilling Lake Manly and closing many of the roads in the park, including the road to Dante’s View. In addition, that weekend was the Death Valley Canyoneering Rendezvous, which brought a crowd of canyoneers to the park.

Our plan was to do Styx Canyon North Fork, one of the classic canyons starting at Dante’s View and descending 6,000 feet to Badwater Basin. This was a great opportunity to invite our Vegas friends to come play with us along with Rick Kent who is one of the first descenders of this canyon. One thing led to another and before we knew it we had nine people (!). Then at the last moment, our friend Vyonne who was at the Rondy asked if she could tag on her group of three people who were planning to run Styx that day as well, so we had a party of 12 people. Wild.

The road to Dante’s View miraculously opened the night before, thanks to the Herculean efforts of the roads maintenance crew at the Park. To celebrate our relief, we all met up at the crack of dawn to set up shuttles, caught the sunrise at Dante’s View and started heading down into the canyon. The approach to Styx is truly a Death Valley experience, walking/sliding down a very steep slope with full-on scree. Good times.

Due to the recent storm, we were able to experience the River Styx, a very rare occurrence. There was quite a bit of water in the upper part of the canyon and some of the rappels were wet or flowing very gently. We also got spectacular views of Lake Manly as we descended lower in the canyon.

Styx is truly an experience of being in the heart of Death Valley. With over 20 rappels and many downclimbs, this canyon is a long descent through some interesting Death Valley rock layers. The rock walls are colorful, ranging from black and brown to yellows and pinks. The bedrock on the bottom of the canyon is often polished with a huge diversity of colors and textures. It’s a fun, beautiful and arduous day.

Right before sunset we came upon the last and most scenic rappel of the day. An enormous boulder sits right at sea-level. You start the rappel above sea-level and complete the rappel below sea-level. This rappel is most commonly done as a simul-rappel, which means that two people can rappel off the rock at the same time on the same rope, with their weights counterbalancing each other. You do need to be careful to weigh the rope continuously until both parties are off and this rappel has two stages which have to be done separately, so it’s a little bit tricky, but not very difficult. At my suggestion that Mira and I simul-rappel together, Mira got noticeably pale, but she did agree. Max and Kate went first to show us how it’s done and then it was our turn! Mira did great and then we got some photos of the people coming after us from the bottom.

When everyone was down, we headed out to our cars as night was falling. It was an outstanding first Death Valley experience for Mira and our first time simul-rappelling. A memorable day!

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