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Hiking (and Photographing) Little Death Hollow — Part 2

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

3-4 miles from its trailhead in the Circle Cliffs, Little Death Hollow narrows significantly and stays that way for a claustrophobic 2-3 miles

The Wingate walls of Little Death Hollow close in before the beginning of the "real" narrows. Even here, the walls are over a hundred feet high, and there is no easy escape from the canyon. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

As I have mentioned in previous posts, experienced hikers in the canyons are always looking for alternate routes in and out. Once Little Death Hollow is fully within the Wingate formation, the ways to exit become limited. In the beginning of the narrows, there are a few short side drainages where it is possible to get up on the benches above and then out of the canyon.

Logs wedged between canyon walls high overhead

As the canyon continues further west however, the near-vertical walls come within an arm's width of each other and there is no longer any way to climb out. High overhead, logs are wedged between the walls of the tight canyon. You can't help thinking that those logs were brought there on the surface of a flash flood from a summer rainstorm. Rushing down canyon, the flood waters were forced into the tight slot of the canyon and rose to a height of at least twenty feet.

Tree trunk wedged between slot canyon walls. The trunk is about twenty feet above the canyon floor where the walls are only an arm's width apart. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

With no visible exit from the canyon, you think about the weather. From deep in the slot of the narrows, it is impossible to see much of the sky. Are storm clouds forming? Could it rain? Could it rain heavily?

While much of the floor of the narrows is covered with a level layer of gravel. In other places the canyon floor is boulder-strewn, and in still others the canyon is naked rock no wider than your foot.


Over time, huge car-sized boulders have either been washed down canyon or fallen into the canyon from above. These rocks block or slow the flow of water from intermittent rainstorms. Over eons, sediment backs up behind the boulder to a height where flood waters can pass over the boulder. The canyon floor before the chockstone is level to about the top of the stone, then drops off in a giant step beyond the boulder. Water flowing downstream and pouring over the boulder during heavy rains creates a lot of turbulence, digs out the canyon floor down canyon, and often creates deep pools.

Chockstone. In this case, the boulder probably fell into the canyon from above. I am on the down-canyon side of the chockstone. If the stone and associated rocks and gravel blocked the flow of water entirely, sediment would build up on the upstream side until the canyon floor was as high as the boulder. This side would be free of sediment, much lower, and have deep pools. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Hiking down Little Death Hollow requires negotiating the narrow space, picking your footing over the large stones and petrified wood on the canyon floor, wading through the occasional pools, climbing over chockstones, scrambling down the far side and wading through the deep pools beyond. All the while, you are wondering about building storm clouds and whether you can make it past the next chockstone and pool barrier. The first time I went down the canyon, I was giddy with nerves and excitement.

When the pools are too deep and wide to cross

I have been down the entire length of the canyon about twenty times. On two occasions, the canyon was nearly dry from beginning to end. I never experienced heavy rain. Most times, there were deep pools beyond the larger chockstones, but only on one occasion were the pools too deep and wide to cross with gear. In that case, we backtracked about 100 yards, found an exit route and climbed on to the bench above to get out.

As I mentioned, looking for possible exits while hiking in canyons makes sense for a number of reasons. That is especially important in Little Death Hollow. In the deepest, tightest narrows, there are two—possibly three—exits. They are probably faults in the rock that cut across the direction of Little Death Hollow. They are short, narrow side canyons with a steep, but non-vertical slope up and on to the bench above.

When I couldn't continue down Little Death Hollow because of the deep pools, I used one of those side canyons to get up on the bench above. Then, it is a matter of following that bench down canyon until you can get back in, closer to Horse Canyon.

The sidelight comes from a short and narrow side canyon that offers the possibility of escape if need be. It was probably also a source for the boulders on the canyon floor. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes


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