Fossil Snails in Gastropod Casket Canyon

Some down climbing in Gastropod Casket Canyon

Excited by a past exploration of Fossil Snail Canyon (3A IV 7r 190ft), The Team returned to the fossil laden range to visit Gastropod Casket Canyon (3A IV 8r 200 ft). We found rams horns, gastropods, other fossils, a stiff uphill and cairn-anchor-less canyon.

We drove to the end of Mecca Road and continued driving until it got too brushy to continue. From the van, the six of us loaded out with 600 ft of rope and a good attitude as we started hiking at 8:40am. Walking four miles across the desert over powdery dirt, brush and wash-cuts. About 2/3 of the way there we spotted our first fossil.

Hiking out across the desert towards our canyon (left)

Reaching the base of the mountain at 10:20am we took a parallel ridge North of the one on the GPX track up broken rock and some scree. Then reaching some cliff bands running parallel to the ridge. A little past the cliff bands we descended into the canyon to our climber’s left and hiked up the wash. At around 3,700 ft the canyon opened up and we headed left up the ridge to join the GPX track.

Hiking up the sweaty ridge

Continuing up this GPX ridge we traversed left at 4,300 ft towards the clearly visible bedrock running down the canyon. We setup our first rappel (R1 fiddlesticked boulder, 70 ft) at noon. This rappel was optional because you could have descended below it instead of traversing higher to hit it.

First rappel!

Around this time the weather started misting and the rock would increasingly get wet throughout the canyon. Luckily for all the down-wash walking we did, the super grippy limestone never became slick. The second rappel was off a good pinch (R2, 120 ft) down a gray watercourse, followed by a three-stage 190ft rappel (R3).

The multistage 190 ft rappel

Next we did a couple eight foot down climbs and the fossils became more prevalent.

Fossils fossils everywhere

There were several (R4/5/6) smaller ~30ft awkward rappels we did over stuck boulders and a medium level spicy down climb traverse. …and just as we entered, we were out of the canyon at 2:30pm and hiking back across the wash towards the cars.

Some down canyon walking

I’d say that Gastropod Casket Canyon was a simpler approach and technical challenge than Fossil Snail Canyon. However, it the approach is longer and maybe more strenuous. It was a good time, but if I had to choose one out of the range I’d choose Fossil Snails because the density of fossils was higher.


  • Approach: 3:20 hrs
  • Canyon: 2:30 hrs
  • Exit: 2:00 hrs
  • Total: 8 hrs

Our rappel list:

  • R1 – 70 ft fiddlestick off Boulder
  • R2 – 120 ft off pinch gray watercourse, near vertical
  • R3 – 190 ft off rock chock (three stage)
  • Couple short 8 ft down climbs 
  • R4 – 20ft off rock chock over stuck boulder
  • R5 – 30 ft off pinch, overhung awkward Boulder
  • Medium spicy downclimb traverse
  • R6 – 20 ft off pinch