Descending into Hades (Dante’s Variation)

One of the longer 180 ft drops

Dante’s canyons in Death Valley are some of the longest I’ve heard of at ~5,500 ft of descent and upwards of 20 rappels. They require no approach and almost no exit, but keep you moving in canyon for 10+ hours. I did my two big canyons from Dante’s last year with River Styx (3A IV 22r) and Typhoon (3A IV 24r). This time for NYE we were to do some people’s favorite canyon Hades (Dante’s Variation) (3A IV 27r 200 ft).

We woke up early, but logistics got us to Dante’s View (5,400 ft) parking lot at 7am. We received a hero send off with one person taking a video of us racking up and a car stopping to watch our descent down steep scree to the canyon-right side of the platform. We went down this loose rock for over an hour until we reached our first rappel (30 ft) off a fresh cairn we constructed.

Descending from Dante’s View
Part way down the scree, Badwater below (-200 ft)

What would follow is 20 rappels until we we reached Hades Canyon direct. The last few rappels before Hades were probably the show stoppers of the day. One a spiraling four stage rappel and another a trickle of a runnel that expanded from a couple inches to 10 ft wide.

One of these multi-stage rappels
Amazing runnel rappel (150 ft)

The webbing was often sun-bleached but we only ended up replacing about 1/3 of the webbing. Most anchors were cairns and we probably build a half dozen where there were no anchors throughout the day and deconstructed and rebuilt most others.

Inspecting and rebuilding a cairn anchor

Once in Hades proper, the webbing and chordalette became newer and we fiddlesticked a little more often trying to avoid building an anchor for every place there was none. A couple places there were pitons for anchors which was a first for me to see in canyoneering. There was longer sections of wash walking that were really beautiful.

Beautiful wash walking

We found many semi-technical down climbs throughout the whole day with probably a dozen in total. Despite doing down climbs that other people might rappel we still ended up with 33 rappels (6 over what was listed) as sunset hit and headlamps went on. We ended the canyon at 5:30pm after 10.5 hours of continuous movement and problem solving. We used five ropes (300ft, 200ft, 130ft, 100 ft, 70 ft) to get multiple ropes rappelling at a time with our party of six including two beginners.

Our rappel list went like this:

  • R1 – 30ft off cairn (built)
  • R2 – 90 ft off cairn
  • R3 – 30 ft off cairn
  • R4 – 50 ft off cairn (built)
  • R5 – off cairn
  • R6 – 90 ft off cairn
  • R7 – 90 off cairn behind boulder
  • R8 – 35 ft off boulder
  • R9 – 120 ft did as 2 stage
  • R10 – 150 ft off boulder pinch
  • R11 – 20 ft off bomber cairn
  • R12 – 25 off cairn (Linked 11 and 12)
  • R13 – 40 off cairn 
  • R14 – 150 ft off cairn (11:30am)
  • R15 – 150 ft off cairn (built)
  • R16 – 120 ft off huge cairn (three stage)
  • R17 – 40 ft off embedded cairn
  • R18 – 150 ft four stage rappel around swirling water course (Five stars)
  • R19 – 150 ft off cairn (built) down huge runnel (Five stars)
  • R20 – 25 ft off cairnoff cairn 25 ft
  • Hades
  • R21 – 20 ft off fiddlestick
  • R22 – 80 ft off cairn
  • R23 – 30 ft off fiddlestick
  • R24 – 80 ft off fiddlestick 
  • R25 – 180 off wrapped Boulder
  • R26 – Spicy downclimb and then a single rusty piton (60 ft) or Boulder (150 ft)
  • R27 – 200 ft off cairn (four stage)
  • R28 – 140 ft off cairn
  • R29 – 50 ft off cairn
  • R30 – 200 ft off cairn (three stages)
  • R31 – 75 ft off two pinches
  • R32 – 145 ft off two pitons (multiple stages)
  • R33 – 60 ft off slung chockstone 
Multistage rappel