Big Shit Canyon

Fantastic rock chock on final rappel

Trying to find a small-medium canyon in Death Valley with a mixed experience group is always difficult. However, we decided to give Big Shit Canyon (3A IV 11r 190ft) a go with a very early start so we could be back at camp before sunset to cook, setup and prep for our huge NYE celebration. Every Death Valley canyon truly has its own character. This one had a very solid approach on good rock (2.4 mi, 2900 ft) with a technical ridge scramble, a lot of down climbing and very accessible, solid anchors. The only questionable part was the canyon’s name…and maybe descending from the ridge.

Approach (B, Technical)

Parking at the shoulder at the exit’s wash, we looped around a mound to the next wash before then heading up its left fork to the ridge. Gaining the ridge was easier than most Death Valley canyons and the dirt was reasonable (not the super hard pack found elsewhere). On the ridge we reached the steeper rocky section which was about 400 ft of Class 3.5 ridge scrambling on high quality, very sharp rock. Even being careful, a little prick caught and ripped my leggings on the last moves before the ridge became less steep.

Several hundred feet up, the ridge approached a rocky ‘headwall’. The left side was pretty exposed and we stayed close on the right side of the spine to gain the final bit to the peak.

It was NYE so we took a break to eat our celebratory watermelon and Indian snacks before bounding over the two localized peaks into the saddle.

Snack time!


From the saddle it was 300 ft down extremely unsettled rock where rock fall was a major concern. We traversed right a little instead of taking the wash direct as the GPX line showed to try to spread out a little.

Looking down the descent from ridge (left side is the wash in the GPX line, we diagonal’d right)

I was doing pretty well not knocking rocks down until a microwave sized block tumbled from under my foot and another microwave block on top of it joined in the tumble. Kicking my legs to keep them on top of the pile, I avoided the worst of an injury with only skin abrasion and some road rash. My ankle looked to have gotten pinched a little and a couple inches of skin scraped off my palm, but otherwise after a wave of pain I retained all my ankle and wrist strength so it didn’t impact the day. 

It took us about 45min to descend from the ridge to the main canyon watercourse with trying to avoid rockfall on each other. After a short walk we got to the first short rappel. A 45 ft rappel off a pinch. 

First rappel

There would be a lot of large rocks in canyon this day which meant most rappels were off large rock pinches or chocks involving BFRs (Big Fucking Rocks). We almost never used a meat anchor backup since there was often a big rock we could sling for redundancy. There was almost no conglomerate in the canyon and we were blessed with dense, high quality rock that has been atypical of my experience in Death Valley. The large 190 ft rappel was estimated by our LAPAR (last person at risk) to be more like 150 ft than 190 ft. For a long rappel, it actually a very approachable less than vertical descent the whole way despite how the lip looked from the anchor.

The long rappel (R3)

Mid-canyon there was a long wash-walk breaking up the day. Almost all other rappels than the 190 were less than 60ft and there was a lot of 20ft down climbing in the canyon.


After our last rappel, it was about 1 mile wash-walk back to the car past an old probation-era car filled with rocks, embedded in the wash.

“I don’t know much about cars but I think it needs a new transmission”


Overall it was a great, fun canyon that had few cairns, straight forward anchors and interesting down climbs. We replaced no webbing as it seemed a party recently came through this season. The approach was a bit of a kicker with ~3000 ft of elevation but we timed the canyon perfectly to be back at camp to cook and prep for our NYE party.

Technical Details


  • R1 – 45 off pinch 
  • R2 – 20 off BFR
  • R3 – 150-190 ft of BFR pinch. The long rappel of the day, very approachable.
  • 2, 20 ft downclimb bypasses
  • R4 – 35 ft off medium rock
  • 25 ft downclimb
  • R5 – 30 ft off pinch
  • Long walk
  • R6 – 20 ft pinch
  • R7 – 90 ft teacup fiddle stick off chock rock under bus-sized boulder, bypassable on DCR if needed
  • 15 slide over hump on right
  • R8 – 15 ft rappel off pinch, 60 ft over second Boulder
  • R9 – 25 ft off cairn 
  • R10 – 60 ft off pinch
  • R11 – 80ft rock chock through boulders pinch on left. Shorter, less aesthetic rappel on right


  • Approach: 2:45 hrs
  • Descent: 5 hrs
  • Exit: 1 hrs