ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SOUTHWEST
Hike K12. Afton Canyon Slot
- Hiking time: 1 hour
- Estimated hiking distance: 0.7 mile
- Elevation gain: 300 feet
- USGS Topo Map: Cave Mountain
- Difficulties: One tricky 25ft climb, several smaller, easier climbs, pitch black slot
- Special equipment: 100ft rope, 20ft webbing, helmet, harness, rappelling gear, headlamp
- ACA Rating: 3A I
Out in the vastness of California's Mohave Desert, in a place where no-one lives and few ever venture, there is a ``river'' with only occasional water that, over the eons, has carved is own canyon through this arid landscape. Known as the Mohave River, this peculiar feature is not only dry most of the time but it leads nowhere, dwindling its essence in one of the larger salt flats of the Mohave Desert. In places the river has cut through the mountains and Afton Canyon is one such feature. Just a few miles from the narrow ribbon of ``civilization'' known as Interstate 15, Afton Canyon is unknown to virtually all those speeding along that highway.
In the canyon the wind and the rain have carved marvellous shapes from the loose conglomerate rock. The steep walls of the main canyon have also been sliced by the run-off from the surrounding mountains and one of these slices is particularly dark and cavernous. It is known as the Afton Canyon Slot and this brief adventure takes you up that slot as far as you wish on an out-and-back hike. Even if you climb all the way to the top, the hike should only take about an hour and so it makes for a brief side trip during travel across the desert. However, the climbs become increasingly challenging as one progresses and so technical equipment is advisable if you wish to get to the top. Moreover, the central section is so deep that it is pitch dark and a flashlight (preferably a headlight) is necessary.
This hike is suitable for the fall, winter or spring; in the summer it is too hot.
Leave Interstate 15 at the Afton Road exit (Exit 221) between Barstow and Baker, 36mi from Barstow and and 26mi from Baker (35o4.21'N 116o24.71'W). Follow the good dirt road south as it proceeds toward and then drops down into the broad Afton Canyon through which the Mohave River flows occasionally. About 2.7mi from I15 the road approaches close to the railroad tracks and here there is a fork where the right-hand choice, marked Mohave Road, goes down under the railroad. Instead take the left fork which proceeds down canyon toward Afton Campground (35o2.28'N 116o23.05'W) which you pass 3.5mi from I15. Continue on the gravel road beside the railroad, crossing the stream at 3.8mi and then passing under the railroad and recrossing the stream at 4.7mi from I15. From here on it is wise to stick to the track close along the south side of the railroad and not wise to venture too far into the floodplain in the broad canyon bottom. Finally, 7.3mi from I15 at a point where the tracks are very close to the north wall of the canyon and where both turn left you will arrive at the readily recognized entrance to the Afton Canyon Slot. There is a bridge/tunnel under the railroad which leads directly into the Slot. Park anywhere off the dirt road to the south of the tracks (35o1.85'N 116o19.78'W) at an elevation of 1280ft.
Proceed under the railroad and into the slot which immediately narrows to about 20ft. Initially the slot bottom is loose gravel that make for easy hiking but the slot quickly narrows to just a few feet and the conglomerate walls close in above you. Within a few minutes the light is gone and you will need your flashlight to find your way and to avoid hitting your head on the sidewalls. There are several easy sloping climbs up the bedrock bottom of the slot and, as always in this rock, there are many projecting nodules that provide footholds and handholds. However, progress gets harder and at 1380ft you encounter the frist serious climb, an easy 15ft ascent with lots of good holds. This is followed by a similar 20ft climb that brings you to a small room at the base of the most serious obstacle in this adventure, a two-stage dryfall that is often equipped with a rope left by previous visitors. It would be wise not to trust this rope but to have your best climber free climb and then belay the rest of the party. The lower of the two stages is the tougher, a 25ft climb that is made difficult by the relative absence of holds near the top. This is followed by an easier 15ft climb. The rope is usually anchored to a solid boulder at the top of this upper stage; it makes for a good rappel anchor on the descent.
Afton Canyon Slot near start The 25ft climb in Afton Slot
Once above this two-stage dryfall, you begin to emerge into the daylight and there are two more easy climbs of 12ft (at an elevation of 1490ft) and then 15ft, the latter being again equipped by a dubious fixed rope. Several small climbs are then encountered over the next few hundred yards as the canyon becomes much shallower. Soon, interest will dwindle and about an elevation of 1550ft you will turn around and descend by the same route.
The total out and back time will be less than 1hr and the distance about 0.7mi.
Last updated 11/22/05.
Christopher E. Brennen