Canyoneering: Illusions Canyon, Coconino Forest, AZ:
One of my all-time favorite canyons is Illusions Canyon which is located in the Coconino Forest between Flagstaff and Sedona. Illusions Canyon is one of the premier Arizona canyons. It has between 12-14 rappel depending on your downclimbing skills. The first time I went through it was all natural anchors, but I noticed a lot more bolts in the canyon this time around.
I love it because of the beautiful moss covered walls and intense color that you rarely find in Arizona Canyons. Virtually the entire canyon except for the narrows section is full of greenery. It is literally a miniature jungle in Arizona.
One of the highlights of Illusions Canyon is the deep sculpted narrows, there were points when it gets so deep and narrow that pictures are virtually impossible. I love this shot of Megan just taking in the views. She had only done Zion Canyons prior to this route and loved the diversity of this canyon.
This is David coming through the secondary hole. Most people rappel over the main edge rather than trying to reset the ropes and going through the hole. As you can see it gets very narrow and dark in this area. Sorry, the picture is pretty substandard, but it gives you a great idea of deep and narrow this canyon can get.
Unfortunately, a fire came through the area a few years ago and you can still see remnants of charred wood that has been washed into the canyon. This log had literally been warped from the pressure of the water. This is one of my favorite rappels in the canyon. There is nothing more peaceful and relaxing then slowly working your way down the moss-covered slopes. It is really slippery and I try and avoid touching the moss. Whenever we canyoneer our main goal is to leave no trace of our visit.
This is one of my favorite spots. You can’t tell, but for someone as short as me, this is actually a rather difficult spot. You have to grab the end of the inside hole and swing yourself over a chute. Technically you go down the chute on the other side of the wall, but it ends up in a very deep swimmer. You can avoid most of the swimmer by climbing through the hole and then slowly sliding down the miniature chute. You still end up in the water, but at least you aren’t swimming.
I should mention that the water is FREEZING cold. We did this route at the end of August and I still wore a 5mm wetsuit. One of the guys with us wore a shorty and he was fine, but if we had run into any issues I can guarantee he would have preferred something with a bit more cold water protection. If you do this route, don’t underestimate how cold it gets even in the summer.
I should mention that besides being cold the water isn’t exactly clean. Yes, we rappelled into that log soup and then had to swim through it. When I see the pictures afterward, I sometimes wonder why I love canyoneering so much.
Illusions canyon is one of my favorite Arizona canyons. However, it can be a very dangerous canyon. If you chose to do this route bring extra webbing, raps rings, pothole escape gear and wear an adequate wetsuit. Don’t assume that just because it is a well-established route that all of the anchors will be good.
This is not a beginner route.
For additional information visit the Canyon Collective Route description. It is the complete description I was able to locate.
We used the following ropes:
- 1×200′ rope
- 1×100′ rope
- 1x Shorty rope that was approximately 50′
We carried an additional 50 feet of webbing, had 8-10 rap rings and pothole escape gear. Even with my 5mm wetsuit I was cold a few times. I run cold, so I’m not the best barometer, but I highly recommend at least a 5mm wetsuit, neo gloves, and socks even in the summer.
We left our cars at 7:07 and were in the main part of the canyon and suiting up by 8:15. We finished the main part of the canyon in approximately 6 hours. We were not moving quickly or watching our rope work. We didn’t have to redo any of the anchors but did chose to down climb a lot of the shorter stuff rather than rappel.
Photos shot with my Olympus TG2 which has now been replaced by the Olympus TG4. I’m just waiting for my camera to die so I can get the new version. For additional information check out my blog post on why I love waterproof Cameras.
For additional pictures visit my facebook album – Illusions Canyon
PS. If anyone finds a Pentax WR with a long red knotted strap let me know. My brother’s camera got left behind.
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