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Thread: Illusions Canyon (AZ) 4 August 2018

  1. #1

    Illusions Canyon (AZ) 4 August 2018

    It's been a while since I posted, but I was fairly proud of this trip (it has a great story) and I made a video for the first time in a while, so I thought I'd share.

    We hit Illusions Canyon in the Coconino National Forest a couple weeks ago. It was awesome! At least, until the end. The final 100 foot rappel ends in a keeper pothole. Todd Martin's description from Canyon Collective warns that if this pothole is in keeper mode, bear cubs can fall in and drown. I, at least, figured that that wasn't a common thing and that we wouldn't have to worry about it. I was wrong. And it was awful. There was a dead juvenile bear floating in the water. It had probably been there for about a week. This wouldn't have been too bad, but there was also at least one other dead animal in the water that had been there for much longer. As such, there was a film of maggots on the top of the water. It was one of the worst things I've ever done in my life. For those wondering, I would not go into Illusions for several months from now, when hopefully that thing is gone. I don't think that keeper really washes out when the canyon flash floods. The rest of the canyon was filled to the brim with water, but the keeper had a 5-foot climb to get out, so Gavin and I were in there for at least 10 minutes getting the hook situated and hooking out, because we made the mistake of not taking the materials out of our backpacks and hanging them from our harnesses before rappelling.

    Anyway, that was the gross thing. Then we decided to do the sneak exit. You guys, it was the worst exit I've ever done in my life. No joke. I've done the MIA and a couple others that were pretty bad, but this one beats them. There are points where you're clawing your way up slidey dirt on like an 80% grade. Also consider that we had to do all of this while constantly smelling the smell of dead bear on our clothes and gear. Considering the other option was to go out Oak Creek Canyon, which is supposed to be one of the prettiest places in Arizona (and where we probably could have submerged ourselves in clean, running water), I think we made the wrong choice. Our consideration was for time, because the car shuttle is about an hour each way on rough roads.

    Anyway, here's the video. It doesn't have the dead bear or the exit in it. Dustin, our photographer, said that the dead bear was so seared into his memory that he didn't want any tangible reminders of it. If I had been taking the pictures/video, I definitely would have recorded it. It may have been disgusting, but it makes for a great story!

    Happy canyoneering!

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  3. #2
    It still amazes me that nobody has gone down this canyon when one of these bears is still swimming for its' life. That would be a game changer! There had been a dead skunk in it the day before we did it in 2017. When we did it in 2016, it was full and super clean. We did it in late May in 2016 and early July in 2017. If I were to go back again someday, it would be in May, preferably after recent rains.

  4. #3
    Oh God, imagine've got to go thru it and there's a friggin' bear. What would you do? I've never been there so I don't know the geometry, but if there were some way of putting a log in the pool for it to climb out without having the get into the water with the thing.

    Maybe throw rocks at it? That may be the only option if there's no other way to get past it. Try to kill the thing. I sure as hell wouldn't go in there with it, unless it were a small cub. I'd rescue that...a full grown bear? No way.
    Look a gift horse right square in the mouth now, wouldn't ya?

  5. #4
    Yeah, we talked about what we'd do if the bear was still alive. We pretty much drew a blank and decided we were thankful that it was dead. It might have been possible to get around the pothole (dangerously) while still high up on rope and then set up a guided rappel for the rest, but that would have been iffy. I don't remember the geometry exactly, because I think my mind is trying to excise the experience. We also hadn't pulled our ropes up above us yet, so we could have reversed back to a spot where it looked like escape may have been possible. I think that would have been our best option.

  6. Likes twotimer liked this post
  7. #5
    Gnarly man...but hell, experiences like this are actually priceless.
    Look a gift horse right square in the mouth now, wouldn't ya?

  8. Likes mcweyen liked this post
  9. #6
    Here's a video I put together of the last rappel / pothole of Illusions. Could be a serious challenge to get around without getting in.

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  11. #7
    Bogley BigShot oldno7's Avatar
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    We're all here, because we ain't all there.
    nice escape...

    Be a bit more interesting with a bear
    I'm not Spartacus

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  13. #8
    It sounds like you did the sneak exit incorrectly?! Illusions has the easiest sneak exit of them all -- in the West Fork area.

    My preferred route is AB Young - Illusions - West Fork. You 'get it all' including the Westy walk out. Setting the 2-car shuttle is fast and easy, no dirt roads necessary. Usually 9.5 hours door-to-door, taking our time in the watercourse and strolling the exit.

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  15. #9
    I've done that exit four times now. I messed it up once and it was a royal pain when I did it as described in the original post. The three times I got it right, it wasn't too bad.

  16. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by oldno7 View Post
    nice escape...

    Be a bit more interesting with a bear
    What's the rating on that canyon with a live bear?

    I guess if you got there and a live bear was swimming around you'd have to just wait it out. How long can a bear swim? How terrible would it be if you had to devise a way to help the drowning along? Lots of questions, so few answers.

  17. #11
    Wow, cool vids, great trip report.

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