Surprise rappels in Typhon’s South Fork

A short, more slotty section of the canyon

We were driving out of camp at 5am, an hour and a half before sunrise, for my first big canyon. Our beta was we were going to descend Typhon (South Fork) (there are many forks) rappelling 18 times down 6.5 miles of technical canyon. It was a good crew, that worked well together and a great day of consistent efficient moving that reminded me of multi pitch climbing. (Typhon Canyon (South Fork) IV)


Red headlamp on the approach

We arrived at Dante’s View parking area 5400 ft above sea level at 5:45am. A few blurry lights flickered deep below in Badwater where we would exit at 200 ft below sea level. With all our layers on in the brisk air, we started hiking along the ridgeline by headlamp. Half an hour later a red outline of the mountains became orange across the clouds over our right shoulder as sunrise hit.

We reached the saddle to leave the well defined ridgeline trail around 7:10am. We scree ski’d down the hill a couple hundred feet before traversing left to gain a ridgeline to our left. From there we walked down the ridge on hardpack and gravel for an hour descending 1300 ft before taking a hard left into the canyon at 8am. 

The gulley we descended from trail with the ridge we gained mid-picture


The canyon rock displayed beautiful marbley metamorphic swirls as we passed through it. Just one of many different layers we would pass through that day in our descent.

At our first rappel I amusingly over estimated the 80 ft drop by double with the amount of rope I fed out. Probably a little nervous about the big day and our future 185 ft drop of the day.

The first rappel

We did several rappels off cairn anchors, mostly in the 50-60ft range down through these marbly sections with many downclimbs between before the canyon opened up in a tan layer at 10:30am making good time. This tan layer was mostly a walk and then we reached our 8th rappel which went through a hole created by a small diagonal arch just off the deck. It was cool, but not as picturesque as Utah desert arches.

A cairn anchor we rap’d from
Arch rappel, you can see the diagonal 1/3 of the way from bottom

There was a long walk between R10-11 which was highlighted by walking over a major rockfall that blocked the canyon with mid-size talus and a conglomerate section that looked like a rock climbing gym. This was followed by an intimidating looking but easily performed downclimb into a short cave-like slotty section.

The rock gym
Rare view down to Badwater from the canyon

At R14 we reached a downward slanting constriction with a steep looking lip and an anchor a few feet from the edge from a slung chockstone. I was pretty nervous about the exposure and weird exit of the constriction to start the rappel but I used a mantra I had been using to calm those nerves when it was my next turn.

The intimidating and awkward rappel

After the great multi-tiered R15 (185′) we messaged my partner we would be at the canyon exit at 3:30pm thinking we had 3 rappels left. Little did we know that we had a decent number of rappels remaining in the canyon ahead despite what was listed on Ropwiki where we got our beta from. We downclimbed whatever we could but 10 rappels later (all the 30 ft range) we reached the mouth of the canyon. Things were a little more creative the last 10 rappels, encountering a knot and rock chock, we fiddlestick’d a couple times, and lots of boulder anchors.

A short near-cave-like section
The last rappel off a chocked rock

Reaching the end I was left with an impression thinking on our reliance upon others’ beta when planning these big objectives. Both Fossil Snails (in max rappel length) and Typhon South Fork (in number of rappels) had differences between our experience and the information provided. However, the topo tracks provided were super accurate and I am totally appreciative of them.

Canyoneering is a newer (since 1970s), obscure sport, which doesn’t have the traffic and popularity of climbing and has the ethics of adventure exploration. We did a good job of getting an early start, bringing extra rope and moving continuously while using three ropes to leap frog rappels to keep speed which meant these surprises didn’t cause too much of a disruption or for us. However it’s a good reminder that we are out there on our own self reliance doing something that few people do with the best information we have that is just someone else’s account. Part of Canyoneering is taking someone’s account and using that as a guide so its okay if its a little different. That is to say, these experiences reinstilled the active adventurous exploration feel of Canyoneering in me.


  • Approach: 2 hrs
  • Canyon: 7.5 hrs
  • Exit: 20min