Short loop through Devil's Canyon and Skull Canyon - trip report and photos

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Short loop through Devil's Canyon and Skull Canyon - trip report and photos

Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

July 11th, 2018, 7:07 am #1

The original goal of this trip was to find an alternate route from the west to West Mermaid Peak/Peak 4654 after my first visit in March in order to place a summit register. The western side was new to me and while it looked doable on the map, I wasn't sure and figured I'd just go out and see what happened. Of course this was also the tail end of our recent heat wave, so it partially depended on getting lucky with terrain and partially getting lucky with vegetation. I was hoping it would end up being at least somewhat shaded and clear at ground level as West Fork Bear Creek was, but that ended up not being the case. The route plan was pretty fuzzy from the start, but the idea was to start at Windy Gap (parking area off ACH at 5111'), find a reasonably direct route down into Devil's Canyon, take the drainage east towards 5014, then continue towards the large saddle I had previously reached from the other side for a quick final climb up to 4654. I decided to try canyons instead of ridges to reduce sun exposure given the weather.

Starting from Windy Gap at 7:45am (I slept an hour longer than originally intended and then was slow out the door) there is a surprisingly good use trail that goes east to point 5171. From there I found what appeared to be human footprints descending south and then east, so I followed that, hoping somebody else had found a good path down that I could piggyback on. Of course they disappeared quickly and I figured I'd just keep going down the minor drainage and see if it was doable. It worked out, but it wasn't much fun! It was a mix of brushy, steep, and loose, with occasional open and easy sections. Only one or two spots where it was steep enough to be a little sketchy, but I did slip and land on my ass twice due to loose ground. There were a couple very small pools of water along the way, but it was otherwise dry. A few 10-15ft steep but sloped rocky sections had just enough holds to descend carefully, but would be unsafe if there was any water. At one point I was passing through a brushy and grassy section and saw movement down a little ledge two strides ahead of me where I was about to step. It turned out to be a rattlesnake raising it's head up to check me out. It never rattled or seemed too agitated, and as I made my way around it it turned around and went the other way. There were two spots I had to bypass towards the bottom, one a ~20ft drop with a short route to the left of loose soil and rock, and a much larger drop just below reaching the bottom of Devil's Canyon that was easily avoided simply by traversing the slope to the left a bit.

Down in Devil's Canyon I enjoyed the flat ground for a moment, then continued across to the drainage going east towards 5014. As I entered this area there were what appeared to be faint tracks from previous people, though they didn't look too recent. After my previous experience finding the remnants of an illegal grow op and reading about other people encountering similar stuff in this area I tried to be a little extra cautious, though I wasn't going to let it keep me from my adventure. The area was quite brushy, and I quickly came to a 30+ foot wall. I was able to scramble up a very loose and steep slope to the left, but from what I could see up there it looked like a major hassle to get past. My progress up to this point had been slow and I realized this side would be a lot more difficult than my previous approach from West Fork Bear Creek due to the terrain, vegetation, and sun exposure. It was only 10:30am, but I decided to bail on my original plan. It may be possible with enough time and stubbornness, but it wasn't the weather for something like that. Looking at the map to come up with a new plan, I decided to drop back into Devil's Canyon and take it up to the next canyon to the west (which I have since learned is unofficially named Skull Canyon), making a short loop back to my starting point.

Back in Devil's Canyon I started heading north, mostly sticking to the main stream bed and occasionally following some intermittent tracks on the western edge of the canyon. The area is brushy but pretty easily passable, with occasional pools of water and a minor flow in a few places. As with most places like this, there is a fair bit of rock hopping and climbing over deadfall or flood debris in places. In a number of the pools there were even fish, which was new to me! Most were 2-3in, but a few were up to 5in. The canyon gets increasingly narrow as you go up, which was kind of nice because between that and trees it was very well shaded from the sun. As I got close to the branch for Skull Canyon I hit the first real obstacle, which was a pool with a short fall. The area all around is extremely steep rock, so the only way to progress was to wade though the water (just below knee height) and climb up the short fall. It's worn fairly smooth from the water, but has enough of a slope and enough holds that I was able to make it up without much trouble. Luckily there was only a trickle of water and damp moss/algae on the rocks, if the rest of it was wet I'm not sure how passable it would be. Just above the fall is a cool open space in the canyon, immediately followed by a second and smaller (mid calf) pool and fall, which was also waded and scrambled up.

Not long after the pools and falls you reach the junction of Devil's Canyon and Skull Canyon, which was marked with a couple rock piles, one appropriately with a small partial animal skull. Here the real work of the loop begins! Skull Canyon is much steeper than the previous section of Devil's Canyon, and I was starting to feel the heat of the day. The vegetation isn't too dense, but still slows you down, and there are frequent sections that require use of hands. Some were quite fun, some were just a hassle. At one point in another area with lots of vegetation I took a step and realized I was about a foot from my second rattlesnake of the day. I jumped back with a loud "shit!" and got out of striking range. It certainly got my heart pumping, but the snake seemed content to just chill on it's rock with no rattle or movement besides a little tongue flicking. I guess the snake was feeling worn out from the heat too. Continuing up, there were a few minor falls that couldn't be climbed, but I was able to find short bypasses to one side or the other, with occasional footprints to follow. Towards the top of the canyon there were even ropes tied to trees in a few places, as well as some flagging tape. I stubbornly avoided using the ropes until the very end as some were actually pretty helpful and I was feeling pretty wiped out by this point. Rapidly increasing trash density signaled that I was almost back up to the parking area and I was relieved to get over the edge back to my car at 3pm. Though the loop was only five miles, it was a full body workout that kicked my ass pretty good, partially due to heat and partially due to terrain. I was careful about temperature management and drank 6+ liters of water as well as having an electrolyte pill every couple hours, but I'm very glad I decided to change my plans early instead of the original route that would have kept me out longer with more sun, and would have required turning back well before the peak anyway. I was also lucky to not get bitten by two separate rattlesnakes!

Stats: 5mi, 7h30min, 2500ft gain/loss
Trash found and packed out: 1 food wrapper, 2 beverage containers, 2 old but full butane canisters (maybe grow op supplies?), 15 balloons. Towards the upper end of Skull Canyon I gave up on trash collection as it's basically a dumping ground, including several tires and tons of beer cans/bottles. :(

While writing up this report I found Sean's report on a similar route, with more pictures and description. Turns out he was the one that placed that skull!

skull-canyon-to-lower-devils-canyon-t6534.html
Last edited by headsizeburrito on July 11th, 2018, 7:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

July 11th, 2018, 7:12 am #2

Looking east from the parking area

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Steep drop into Devil's Canyon

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Down in Devil's Canyon looking north

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Hitting a wall in the drainage east of Devil's Canyon

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Heading up Devil's Canyon

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High quality photo of fish!

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The first pool and fall that required wading

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Wading and fall number two

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Junction of Devil's Canyon and Skull Canyon

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A few flowers here and there

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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

July 11th, 2018, 7:17 am #3

Snake friend number two

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A steep fall in Skull Canyon requiring a minor bypass

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More terrain in Skull Canyon

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Another section of upper Skull Canyon, I was able to climb this because it was dry, there was a dirt slope to the right with a rope placed to assist if desired

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GPS track of route (I went counter clockwise)

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Trip stats, only five miles but it was the hardest five miles I've done in quite a while! (the heat didn't help)

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Elwood
NHPS Member
Elwood
NHPS Member
Joined: August 15th, 2008, 11:23 pm

July 11th, 2018, 1:50 pm #4

Very nice report and pictures, Mr. Headsizeburrito. I haven't been down Devil's in a long time.
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Girl Hiker
Rock Scrambler
Girl Hiker
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Joined: April 4th, 2014, 1:46 pm

July 11th, 2018, 7:49 pm #5

Nice report. I remember when Sean and I hiked through skull Canyon it was both exhausting and fun. I like the picture of the Tiger Lilly
"Never limit yourself to what you can do!"
Bart Yasso  
My Hero
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Sean
Cucamonga Man
Sean
Cucamonga Man
Joined: July 27th, 2011, 6:32 pm

July 12th, 2018, 1:23 pm #6

Very nice! Skull is one of my favorite short routes. It's much better with lots of water in it. Still manageable without ropes. I also tried to scratch "Skull" into a metal post found in the canyon.

So you popped into Devil's between the main lower falls and that cascade pool? I went down to that pool from Skull, but stopped there. I wasn't sure if I could get back up. There was lots of water back then.
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tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
Joined: April 11th, 2013, 11:07 pm

July 12th, 2018, 1:43 pm #7

Excellent adventure! The canyons don't look too clogged, but constant minor obstacles add up to a big energy sink over time. I've had similar close calls with buzzworms and still sometimes wonder what I would have done had I been bitten hours away from help. Best not to think about that.
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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

July 13th, 2018, 4:58 am #8

Sean - Yeah, I didn't see the lower fall in Devil's Canyon because I dropped in above and only went north, looks pretty cool from your pictures though. More water in both canyons would have made it more exciting I suppose, but it also would have made things slippery and less safe, so I'm kind of glad it was so dry!

tekewin - I was of course thinking about what would happen to me in the event of a snake bite after two close encounters. On the plus side, fatalities are extremely rare, especially for people who are in good health. As the bite would most likely occur in a lower leg (I tried to be very careful about hand placement while climbing after seeing these two!) the symptoms would mainly be a lot of pain and swelling unless you are particularly susceptible for whatever reason. In that case I guess you are screwed, but otherwise the thing to do is probably just keep going if possible and contact EMS from an accessible spot, otherwise at least make it someplace where rescuers can get to you and settle down. There isn't much in the way of meaningful field treatment for a rattlesnake bite. I always carry an InReach, though I'm not sure I'd get a usable signal in the canyons if I wasn't able to move to a more open area. Even then it would certainly be a big ordeal for rescuers to get in as there would be no good helicopter access.

edit: Anyone know what Chileno Canyon is like? Elevation gain looks modest, but obviously real world can be very different with falls that wouldn't be on the maps. New idea for getting to 4654 would be to start from 39 and take the road west, then go up the canyon as far as possible. Ideally all the way to the saddle I reached the peak from via West Fork Bear Creek, but if I hit falls I couldn't bypass I'd just look for a way up the ridges east of the canyon and try to take that the rest of the way to the peak.
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tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
tekewin
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Joined: April 11th, 2013, 11:07 pm

July 13th, 2018, 1:29 pm #9

A snake bite is unlikely to kill a healthy person that gets treatment within 8 hours. Like you said, getting to an accessible location is key if you have a PLB. Even if you live, the consequences could be gruesome: 

http://www.rattlesnakebite.org/rattlesnakepics-htm/

I guess the good news is that snakes don't want to bite you, so it would be an unlucky accident.

Sorry, can't help with info on Chileno Canyon.
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Girl Hiker
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Girl Hiker
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Joined: April 4th, 2014, 1:46 pm

July 13th, 2018, 6:33 pm #10

Wow! who is this Justin dude?  what kind of rattlesnake bit him? this was very interesting. I guess I never knew how much damage a rattles snake can go
"Never limit yourself to what you can do!"
Bart Yasso  
My Hero
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tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
Joined: April 11th, 2013, 11:07 pm

July 13th, 2018, 9:59 pm #11

Girl Hiker wrote: Wow! who is this Justin dude?  what kind of rattlesnake bit him? this was very interesting. I guess I never knew how much damage a rattles snake can go
His story is on the home page, it was a Northern Pacific rattlesnake:
http://www.rattlesnakebite.org/
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