The First Descent of Purgatory Canyon

Where: Death Valley National Park, California
When: October 11, 2008
Partners: DB, Rick Kent & Mike Cressman

Three of my all-time favorite outdoor partners

With cool weather in the forecast, it was time to return to Death Valley National Park for some more first descents of the fabulous canyons there. On the menu this time, a canyon Rick had dubbed 'Purgatory'.
Mining ruins on an approach ridge

With a 1.5 hour approach on trail, we eventually headed down steep terrain past mining ruins we'd discovered 7 months earlier on the way to the first descent of Abysmal Canyon.
DB getting on rappel in the upper canyon

We encountered the first of many fun downclimbs and 18 rappels shortly after getting into the drainage. And, as per the Death Valley norm, the views as we headed down the shallow but impressive canyon were awe-inspiring.
Death Valley canyoneering - always a sublime experience

Napping as another rappel station is set up

In my eyes, what made this canyon special (and different from other DV canyons we'd explored) were its rather shallow depth and its many potholes. Though none of the potholes could be called 'keepers', several were surprisingly deep (up to 15' or so).
DB in a pothole during a 2-stage rappel set-up

Mike on the biggest rappel of the canyon

Rick heads down

Not just a rappel-fest (as many of the Death Valley canyons are), Purgatory had quite a number of substantial and tricky downclimbs, many of them requiring sequencing to negotiate safely.
Bypassing several potholes via a handy ledge system

Any first descent (particularly of a substantial system) requires time, so with speed, efficiency and plenty of team work, we car-to-car'd this bad boy in 13 hours.
Approaching the mouth of Purgatory