Explore: Yankee Doodle Canyon, a sublime canyoneering experience

LEEDS — Set beneath the towering flanks of the Pine Valley Mountains, a deep crevice in the earth lies unseen from the road and unknown to casual hikers. This cleft — Yankee Doodle Canyon — is often the first slot canyon explored by budding canyoneers.

Looking up at the big drop, an approximately 70 foot rappel in Yankee Doodle Canyon, Leeds, Utah, May 19, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
Looking up at the big drop, an approximately 70-foot rappel in Yankee Doodle Canyon, Leeds, Utah, May 19, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

With two mandatory rappels, numerous downclimbs and multiple swims, this gorge provides an excellent opportunity for those interested in the sport of canyoneering. It is considered one of the easier technical slots in the area. [see Ed. Note]

Yankee Doodle is a sublime place, with fluted walls and oasis-like sections along its course. It is also a quiet and serene spot, where the only sounds are the voices of explorers and the trill of canyon wrens.

Yankee Doodle is located west of Leeds. The approach trail is about as short as it gets: a one-minute walk leads to the gaping entrance to the canyon.

To find the trailhead, take Interstate 15 Exit 22 to the town of Leeds. Drive north on Main Street through Leeds 1.5 miles to Silver Reef Road on the left. Follow Silver Reef Road for 1.5 miles the end of the pavement. Stay right at the fork.

Soon after, the road becomes Oak Grove Road. Follow for another 1.5 miles to another fork. This time, take the left fork. Follow this road approximately 6 miles to a small car park on the right. Park here. A well-defined trail leads into the trees on the opposite side of the road. Follow this path for a few hundred feet to the obvious opening of the canyon.

Kevin Arnone wades through chilly water, one of many such pools encountered in the descent of Yankee Doodle Canyon, Leeds, Utah, May 19, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
Kevin Arnone wades through chilly water, one of many such pools encountered in the descent of Yankee Doodle Canyon, Leeds, Utah, May 19, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

Yankee Doodle — depending on the experience level of the canyoneer and the number of people in the group — can take anywhere from several hours to half a day to descend and return to your vehicle.

The slot starts out with a bang — a 30-foot free-hanging rappel is necessary to reach the canyon floor. A sturdy tree above the chasm makes an excellent anchor. Be sure to use webbing to protect the tree. Once the initial rappel is completed and the ropes pulled, the only way out is by descending the gorge. From the first rappel, the route leads a short distance to the most challenging point of the descent: a 70-foot rappel. A bolted anchor station allows canyoneers set up ropes and safely make the drop.

Kevin Arnone descends through the sinuous slot canyon known as Yankee Doodle Canyon, Leeds, Utah, May 19, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
Kevin Arnone descends through the sinuous slot canyon known as Yankee Doodle Canyon, Leeds, Utah, May 19, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

Once the big rappel is completed, the route consists of hiking, crawling, swimming and some challenging down climbs. These drops are difficult enough for some to warrant a rope, or at the very least a hand line to aid in the descent. There are two drops with webbing already in place.

Depending on the time of year and recent rainfall, the pools encountered can range from chilly swims to warm, shallow wading. If the water has been sitting stagnant for long enough, it can also smell like a cesspool.

The last drop leads to a pool that can be deep and difficult to climb out of without assistance. It is sometimes circumvented by climbing the steep slabs on the left side of the pool.

After approximately 3/4 of a mile and shortly after the last downclimb and pool, a rock slab on the left marks the escape route out of the canyon. The initial 40 feet of the face is steep but not overly difficult, but above this section, a steeper slab requires a difficult move to climb. A few carved steps aid the ascent of this section. From there, a steep trail leads to the plateau above and back to the road.

Weston Hargis prepares to immerse himself in one of the many cold pools of water encountered in Yankee Doodle Canyon, Leeds, Utah, May 19, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
Weston Hargis prepares to immerse himself in one of the many cold pools of water encountered in Yankee Doodle Canyon, Leeds, Utah, May 19, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

Yankee Doodle Canyon is a great canyoneering experience, but it requires knowledge, training and preferably one member of the party who has done it before.

Weather is another important factor to consider; if any rainfall is forecast for anywhere in the vicinity, do not go. Flash floods routinely scour the canyon, and anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in the chasm during a deluge would face dire consequences.

There are several guide services in town that lead clients through Yankee Doodle and also teach courses in canyoneering. There are also groups on MeetUp.com dedicated strictly to canyoneering. Anyone interested in the sport is encouraged to contact one of the these guide companies or groups.

Caution: Canyoneering is a dangerous sport in which the participant can be injured or killed. The information in this article has been written to the best of the author’s knowledge and personal experience. There is no substitute for skill or common sense acquired through experience in canyons, either personal or professional. Canyon conditions can change daily and make a route substantially harder than when the author descended the route. No amount of planning can eliminate the risk involved in descending these canyons.

Mandatory gear:

  • 200-foot canyoneering rope (minimum) or 100-foot canyoneering rope and 100-foot pullcord
  • Helmet
  • Harness
  • At least 30 feet of webbing to assist in downclimbs.
  • Wetsuit
  • Sturdy footwear with grippy soles
  • Food
  • Water

Resources:

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Email: dgilman@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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