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The Black Hole of White Canyon - Cedar Mesa, Utah

Summary: A scenic, fun and exciting non-technical canyon hike with plenty of swimming through ice cold narrows. To complete this hike you will need: a wet or dry suit (a shorty wet suit will suffice in hot summer weather), and a dry bag. You may also wish to bring: a flotation device (the author, a rugged outdoorsman, uses a childs pool float toy - please don't make fun, especially of the pink one ) and a short rope to help less experienced members down a few climbs. Do not attempt this hike if rain is in the forecast, White Canyon drains a very large area, the danger of flash flood is very real!
Warning: In Sept. of 2003 a flash flood formed large and unstable log jams in the canyon. The canyon is now considerably more difficult and dangerous to negotiate. Reportedly you now need at least 100 feet rope and rappelling gear to get through. Click here for updated info. 
Directions: The Black Hole of White canyon is located on Highway 95 between Natural Bridges National Monument and Hite Marina. The entry point begins at a large dirt pull off directly across from milepost 57 on Highway 95, you'll exit just down the road near milepost 55 (you can leave a second car or mountain bike there if you have it).
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - paved all the way
Navigation: Moderate - some people have reported a little difficulty in locating the exit route from the canyon
Length: ~5 miles followed by a 2 mile road walk
Date Hiked: July, 2002
Weather Conditions: Hot!
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking area across from milepost 57 on Highway 95, follow the dirt track which begins in the left corner of the parking area. Follow the foot path which veers off to the right a short distance later and heads towards a prominent side canyon. A sign (knocked over when the author was here) at the top of this canyon reads "Hiking in the Black Hole of White Canyon can be hazardous. The water is deep and cold and flash floods occur frequently. The narrow canyon provides few escape routes. Enter at your own risk." Read and internalize, the sign speaks the truth. Follow the path behind the sign as it picks it's way down the side canyon into the main drainage of White Canyon. Turn left and head down White Canyon. The canyon is rather wide at first as you wind your way around a boulder pile (easily bypassed on the left). About 25 minutes into White, the canyon begins to narrow and you'll have to negotiate a second boulder field. Five minutes beyond you arrive at your first swim (a distance of 50 ft or so). After another short stretch of narrows you'll come to another slotted pool, this one is easily bypassed by walking on a ledge on the right. Shortly below you'll reach a spot where large boulders have fallen into the canyon creating a drop off. Work your way around this obstacle on the left hand side, then climb/slide down to the canyon floor below. Your next challenge is a 20' down climb along a slippery log into a waist deep pool, followed by another boulder pile and drop off which may also be passed by climbing around and down on the left. Having made it this far the only thing standing between you and the Black Hole is a scummy pot hole. You can either jump over the pot hole to the right hand side where you can climb down, or, climb down and swim through the pot hole itself (if water levels are low, you may have to swim to the right to a break in the rock in order to get out). This makes for a good spot to pull on your wet suit (and inflate your floaty toy). When ready, perform a few short down climbs and begin the first of two back to back extended swims. This section is very cool and hopefully you'll be warm enough to enjoy it. If you get tired of swimming, the many rocks fins in the area provide decent hand holds which will allow you time to catch your breath, or alternatively, simply wedge yourself between the rock walls with elbows and knees to support your weight above the water. There are a few more short swims before the canyon gets a little wider. Then it's mostly easy walking with a few boulder scrambles to negotiate. Keep your eyes peeled for a large natural arch which sits up on the right hand wall. About 10 minutes after passing the arch (if you happened to spot it), look for breakdown on the left side of the canyon and a few cairns. Follow the cairns as you ascend back up canyon through a few layers until you reach a prominent shelf just below the top most canyon layer. The path then follows this shelf down canyon for quite a ways until it winds it's way into a prominent side drainage on the left. Walking up this side canyon you'll be faced with a few climbs, the first is a 25' climb up the sheer face of a boulder (many good hand and foot holds available). Immediately after this climb look for the cairns to lead up to the left out of the main drainage. Continue climbing until you reach the top of the mesa above, and a short trail which leads back to Highway 95 at milepost 55. Those without a shuttle will be faced with a 2 mile road walk back to their car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife have completed this hike on two different occasions, both in the summer. On the last trip (after an extended dry period) we proceeded at a leisurely pace, taking advantage of the low water levels to get photos in the narrows (bet you didn't know that a float toy also doubles as a floating camera platform - it's not so ridiculous looking now, is it?). The hike was completed in 6 hours including the 2 mile road walk.
Maps: None used
Books: Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - Michael Kelsey
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
The canyon begins
to slot up.
The first swim.
The beginning of
the Black Hole.
Within the Black Hole.