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Whitetail Tank Canyon - Coconino National Forest

Summary: A technical canyon with a challenging climb on the exit. This exit route should only be attempted by hikers with excellent climbing skills that are comfortable with significant exposure. To complete this canyon you will need 2x100' ropes (or a 100' rope and 100' pull cord), harness w/ descending gear, webbing, and helmet.
Directions: From Prescott drive north on Highway 89 past Chino Valley. Between mileposts 346-347, turn east (right) at the sign for 71 which is initially paved, but soon becomes dirt (ok for passenger cars). Follow 71 for 10 miles until you reach an intersection at a paved road. Turn left (north) on this road which is listed as 173 on the map, but is signed as 73. Just after mile marker 176 turn right (east) on Forest Road (FR) 354 at the sign for the Overland Trailhead (well graded dirt). After driving 7.2 miles FR 354 branches right and FR 105 continues straight. Stay straight on FR 105 driving past right branching roads for FR 125 and FR 127. From FR 127 continue 4.3 miles on FR 105 then turn right onto a faint dirt road marked FR 995 (GPS Point - UTM: 12S 405870mE, 3880655mN, WGS84 Datum). Drive 0.3 miles until the road ends at a fire ring and fence line (GPS Point - UTM: 12S 406071mE, 3880434mN, WGS84 Datum).
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Moderate
Length: ~13 miles
Date Hiked: February 2006
Weather Conditions: Partly cloudy and cool
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking area, hop the barbed wire fence and walk southeast a short distance until you reach the drainage of Whitetail Tank Canyon. Walk down this wide and shallow drainage for about 30 minutes to the head of the canyon, which begins in dramatic fashion with a sheer basalt cliff band. There is a prominent tree at the head of the drop on the right that can be used as an anchor. If you extend the anchor ~25 feet to the edge of the drop, the rappel is about 90 feet to the canyon floor. A short distance down canyon is rappel #2, a 60 footer using a tree on the right on a ledge just above the drop. Once down, you can remove your harness and begin rock hopping down canyon (keep an eye open for poison ivy). Eventually the canyon cuts through the basalt and into the Coconino Sandstone. Unfortunately, though there are encouraging signs, the canyon never really slots up. Eventually you will reach the junction with Lee Canyon. Turn right and begin hiking up this canyon. More rock hopping (what else is new) and you'll eventually reach a spot marked by several cairns in the center of the canyon. I believe this possibly marks an exit trail used by hunters (on your left facing up canyon). I went up this path a short distance, but it was so faint, I decided to try my luck with the canyon instead. A short distance above these cairns you'll pass through a moderately nice section of canyon. Then, as you progress upwards, the boulders in the canyon bottom become larger, and you'll be forced to do quite a bit of climbing and scrambling. Finally as you reach the upper basalt layer that marks the head of the canyon, your progress will be blocked by a 45 foot shear cliff with a dripping spring. There may be better ways out of the canyon at this point, but the author decided to climb the cliff band on canyon left (left side when facing down canyon) at a crack about 100 feet back from the headwall. The exit I chose consisted of climbing 25 feet straight up along a crack to a shelf, moving left along the shelf to another crack, then climbing another 15 feet straight up to a tree. There were good hand and foot holds all along the route, but be aware that a fall could be fatal. Once on top, you can either head north to pick up FR 105 (which you can follow east to FR 995 and your car), or take your chances heading cross country to the northeast directly to your vehicle.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and a friend completed this hike by fixing ropes and exploring down to the confluence with Lee Canyon and back at a fast pace in 5.5 hours. The author hiked the exit route up Lee Canyon on an earlier trip when exploring Tule Tank Wash.
Maps: Click here (410k), or Coconino National Forest Map
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Rappel #1. Rappel #2.

Sandstone pseudo narrows.