Exploring the San Rafael Swell: North Fork of Iron Wash and Little Iron Wash

We made a typical newbie mistake today: We left the car without our rope. Like so many times before, we left the rope on purpose, at my behest. I read the beta quickly, and decided that if “some may be able to downclimb just passed [the 17-foot-deep black hole in the canyon floor] and jump the remaining 7 feet to the slick angled bottom of the canyon” then that passage was definitely referring to us. Never mind that we hadn’t been canyoneering together in over a year and a half. Never mind that I was thirty now and had a herniated disc in my neck. Never mind that in his year-long girlfriend-induced allergy to intense multi week adventures Allan had become noticeably softer. So travelling nice and light we traipsed along an old mining track up the incline that flanks the reef. We took pictures on the old drilling rig and found our way into the North Fork of Iron Wash just above the narrow technical section – the only part we were really interested in, namely due to a keeper porthole in the canyon floor. It took 30 minutes of approach, 30 minutes of descending, and 30 minutes of sitting on top of a log jammed 30 feet above the canyon floor weighing the risks of a free-hanging dulfersitz rappel on a length of 5mm accessory chord (our only rope-ish implement, although it is rated to around 600 lbs, right?) before we turned around and headed back to the car.
We told ourselves we’d either get the rope and come back, or we’d descend Ernie to the see the petroglyphs, then walk up the North Fork to the log jam rappel from the bottom. But once we got back to the car new places beckoned us and we knew this adventure was done. It wasn’t worth a 5 mile walk to see petroglyphs and we’d already done the best part of erdrgsf. So with Allan driving and me navigating we lubered back up and out of ssgfggfd Wash and on to the road crossing at Little Iron Wash. We walked around Little Iron Wash on the canyon rim and it quickly became not-so-little. Again, we slipped in above the narrows and began descending, and again without rope, though this time we were confident that we were in a canyone that would not require it. The swims were cold. Ice cold. The canyon walls were alive, hidden bats squealing within the flakes. As always, we stemmed across the first couple of swims, only to discover that we’d have to stem down and into the water, both in our extra dry shoes. But the water was clearly, I even jumped from a slanted ledge in one place, and in a notehr we bot dropped out from the bottom of a narrow chute and slid into a blue-green bottomless pool in a sandy alcove with a tall cottonwood, that, on a day warmer than today’s low-50’s, would host an idyllic rope swing. We stripped down in the sun and lay on the warm smooth rocks in the canyon bottom, peering at the bats in one of the cracks in the canyon wall and poking at wooly caterpillars. It is early and cold, but the desert is alive like we have never seen it before.

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