Bighorn North is the next major canyon north of Bighorn Gorge and is an advanced hike passing through a very isolated area which features a nice section of narrows. Difficulties encountered on the hike include at least five medium difficulty dry falls that must be climbed or bypassed and steep scrambling at the end to exit the canyon. Google Earth maps of the route which I used to explore the canyon (turned to the northwest for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 36° 56.967'N, 117° 20.131'W. GPS coordinates for the mouth of Bighorn North are 36° 53.945'N, 117° 23.736'W.
The hiking journey through Bighorn North proved to be one of my most ambitious backpacking expeditions to date in Death Valley. Bighorn North is the informal name that I have assigned to the next major canyon north of Bighorn Gorge. As is the case with neighboring Bighorn Gorge, it is nearly impossible to complete a full hike of Bighorn North in a single day. For one thing, it is a long hike of 5 1/2 miles from the parking area on the North Highway (Scotty's Castle Road) to the mouth of Bighorn North. Another big issue is the high level of difficulty involved in hiking all the way through Bighorn North. I counted 5 medium difficulty dry falls within the canyon that take minor climbing skills to overcome. None of these dry falls were very high, but most had limited handholds and footholds and were polished and nearly vertical, which made climbing them difficult. Finally, the end of the canyon becomes quite tricky to navigate through, with several confusing junctions and other difficulties to contend with. For our hike of Bighorn North, we began hiking one early April afternoon in comfortable weather from the parking area down to Death Valley Wash. (As a side note, both Bighorn North and Grey Wall Canyon share the same exact parking area.) After we crossed Death Valley Wash, we followed a route which climbed up onto the ridge of a long hillside. This proved to be much easier than hiking through the wash below the hillside, which is also true of a hike to Bighorn Gorge. Our route to Bighorn North actually took a slightly different path than the route to Bighorn Gorge, as we hiked more to the north and didn't pass directly by the mouth of Bighorn Gorge, although we could see it from a distance. Once we reached the mouth of Bighorn North, we set up camp for the evening. The next morning, we woke up early and headed into Bighorn North. About a mile into the canyon, we entered the narrows. These narrows were my most anticipated and most dreaded part of the hike. In my planning at home, I had noted that these narrows seemed to have the potential for the best scenery. But at the same time, they had the potential to quickly end the hike if there was an impassable dry fall with no bypass. The narrows did end up being spectacular and we did find a couple of dry falls, but we were able to climb them and continue our hike. A while later, we reached a critical junction in our hike where the main canyon appeared to continue to the right, but my instincts told me to turn to the left into a narrower canyon partially blocked by a rockfall landslide. So we turned left and it proved to be the correct decision. Beyond this area, we came to another junction which seemed impassable in all directions. Thus, we just began slowly working our way up the steep terrain until we attained the ridge high above the canyon. From the ridge, we could see the route we would need to follow to reach the head of Bighorn North. It wasn't easy, but eventually we worked our way around multiple hillside gullies on steep terrain with spots of loose rock. I did take one nasty fall in this area when a large boulder I was standing on broke loose, but I didn't get injured. After about 4 hours of hiking, we finally reached the ridgeline above Bighorn North. We had successfully hiked the entire canyon from beginning to end! It was a thrilling moment because in my research at home, I had serious doubts as to whether or not it was going to be possible to do that. Bighorn North was a hike that had spent about 2 years in the planning stage, so it was nice to be successful. As far as scenic beauty, I would say that the narrows of Bighorn North are about equal in beauty to the 2nd Narrows of Bighorn Gorge. While there was nothing extraordinary about the canyon, it was a beautiful area to hike through and see firsthand, especially with the knowledge that no hike through this canyon had ever been documented before. This was also the first trip in which I used my new satellite text messenger in order to keep in constant contact with my wife, other family members, and friends. Just one year ago, I wasn't even hiking with a GPS. But now I found myself hiking with a GPS and a 2-way satellite messenger and using both of them extensively. Getting back to our hike, we were now standing at the head of Bighorn North. But our hike was not yet over. The best part of this backpacking trip was yet to come. To continue on with us on our journey and see what that was, visit the trip report for Lost Canyon. Our backpacking trip took place on April 3-5, 2014.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT