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Cheesebox Canyon - Cedar Mesa, Utah

Summary: A cool technical canyoneering trip with great narrows, swimming and some moderately challenging climbing. To complete this canyon you will need: 150 ft of rope (the author carried 100' of rope and a 100' of 5mm pull cord, it is possible to complete this canyon by performing only one 25' rappel, but you'll have to locate all the right routes, something I was unable to do), webbing, dry bag, harness & descending gear. A wet suit will be required for all but the hottest weather (the author and his wife carried shorty wet suits, but never wore them, day time temps were above 100 F). Leave the bolt kit at home, this canyon does not require bolts. All rappels may easily be done from natural anchors. Do not attempt this canyon if heavy rains threaten! Another description which does not require a car shuttle may be found at: Canyoneering USA
Directions: Cheesebox Canyon is a tributary of White Canyon and is located on Highway 95 between Natural Bridges National Monument and Hite Marina. The canyon drains into White at a point just below a side road and promontory at mile marker 75 off of Highway 95. If doing this canyon all the way through you'll want to leave your second vehicle here. To get to the entry point, drive on Highway 95 to between mileposts 66 & 67, onto a dirt road marked a short distance in by two soldiers graves (the soldiers were allegedly killed by indians over a dispute about stolen horses). This road is listed as Found Mesa Road or County Road 2271 on my Utah atlas. Veer right just before the grave site and drive down and across White Canyon. Drive 10.7 miles along this fairly well graded dirt road (ok for passenger cars if you take it very slow) and stop at a completely non-descript spot in the juniper dotted desert (GPS coordinates: UTM 12S 0582171 mE 4173679 mN).
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - though it's a bumpy drive, so take it slow
Navigation: Moderate
Length: ~8 miles
Date Hiked: April, 2002
Weather Conditions: Nice in the canyon, cool in the water, hot in the sun
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the starting point described above head due east through the junipers towards GPS waypoint UTM 12S 0582467 mE 4173770 mN . Shortly you will see a prominent side drainage leading into Cheesebox proper. Route find your way down into the upper part of this side drainage. To avoid a large drop off into the next section of this canyon, work your way around to the left to a point where you can climb down. The author then hiked directly down this side drainage and was stopped a short ways later by a chute and 45' dry fall. According to the web site referenced above, it is possible to work your way down into the main drainage without rappelling (to do this, I believe you want to continue further to the left, instead of going directly down the side canyon). It was hot, the author was lazy & was carrying plenty of rope anyway, so he rigged a 75' rappel off of a large boulder on a ledge on the right hand side above the dry fall to land next to a shallow pool. Continue down the drainage and work your way out to the promontory which separates the side drainage from Cheesebox, you can climb down into the main canyon at this point. You are now in a shallow section of narrows (upstream the main canyon looks nice also). Head down into the narrows. There is a bit of climbing in the narrow parts of this section and at least one chest deep wade as the canyon opens up and closes in a few times. Soon you will reach the first (and only required) rappel of 25'. There is a small, but thick, natural arch conveniently located at the top of this drop off which makes for an ideal anchor (you could also rig off of a large chokestone located 15' back from the drop). It's more of the same below the rappel (narrows, down climbs etc.) until you come to a series of two obstacles where large boulders have fallen into the canyon creating drop offs. At the first one, you can rig a 45' rappel, or better yet, have the strongest climber in your party (preferably someone tall) act as a human anchor for the rest to rap off of. This last person can then climb down to a chokestone wedged a quarter of the way down the drop off, then chimney their way the rest of the way down (it gets rather wide at the bottom and you will be faced with about 25' of exposure, so only attempt this if you feel confident in your climbing ability (the author completed this climb twice to show off , actually I climbed back up to help my wife down - going up again was the hardest part). Shortly afterwards you will be faced with a similar boulder obstacle, with a longer ~60' drop beneath. This time skirt the boulder pile to the right and climb/slide down a somewhat steep slickrock ledge to the tallest boulder wedged in the canyon (this is a little exposed, a belay may be desired). Climb down on the up canyon side of the debris pile (even though it looks like the canyon is completely blocked on this side) and at the bottom you will find a little hole that allows easy access to the canyon below. The canyon slots up nicely once again and you will have to perform a short swim followed by a hand line assisted down climb into a water filled narrow hallway which also requires swimming. There is a very nice chamber and a bit more narrows before the canyon opens up to a long sandy, sunny slog. After slogging a while, the canyon actually slots up at a down climb followed by a long malodorous water filled hall (to add to the unpleasant ambiance of the place, the start of this pool featured the bloated corpse of an unfortunate squirrel). If you can stomach the swim, go for it. Otherwise, if you're squeamish like me, climb back out of the slot (or better yet, recognize this spot from my description and don't climb down to begin with) and walk around the slot on a somewhat steep slick rock ledge on the left (there is one tricky, steeply slanting spot on this ledge, take care, and use the little foot and finger crevices to your advantage). It's more wide canyon below. If you are performing this hike as a loop as per the web site above, look for the Anasazi ruins and cairned route out. Otherwise continue slogging along. After a while you will come to another narrow section and a rather long water filled slot that you must swim (much nicer water than the last - watch your footing to avoid stepping on the tadpoles!), followed by another shorter swim. Then you're back in a wide canyon in the sun until you are nearly at the confluence with White Canyon. Just before the confluence you'll hit a short stretch of narrows and two drop offs in quick succession. Supposedly it is possible to bypass these drops by climbing the sandstone around on one side of the canyon or the other; otherwise you can rappel them like I did. The first is a 20' rappel using a small chokestone at the top for an anchor, the second is a 35' rappel from a single bolt and hanger on the right. About a minute below this drop you'll arrive at the confluence with White Canyon. Walk directly out of the mouth of Cheesebox across White and up a sandy slope to some prominent cairns and a well worn hiker trail. The path climbs up to a sandstone layer, heads down White Canyon a ways on that layer, then switchbacks up the other way. You'll have to use your hands in a few places to climb one layer or another. Soon you'll reach the top of the mesa and you can follow the well established use trail back to the dirt road at the milepost 75 turn off from Highway 95 and your second car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
Many thanks to Dave Black for volunteering to provide a car shuttle to the trailhead! Completing the canyon as a through trip is greatly preferable to the road walk (particularly on a hot day), but either way the canyon is well worth the effort. The author and his wife completed the hike in 8 hours after an extended period of dry weather. Water levels may be quite different at other times of the year.
Maps: None used
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Beginning of the
Cheesebox narrows.
The one required rappel.
Boulder problem #1. Coming out of a swim.