Red Wall Canyon is the third most popular canyon in the Grapevines (after Titus and Fall) and features towering red narrows, two spectacular dry falls, and perhaps the most beautiful slickenside in the park. Difficulties encountered on the hike include getting past the 1st major dry fall by using a medium-to-hard difficulty bypass and climbing the 2nd major dry fall which is easy-to-medium difficulty. A Google Earth map of the hiking route within the 1st Narrows can be found by clicking on the first button above. A link to download a copy of the Talus Jack Bypass (spoken about below) as preserved from Talus Jack's former web site can be found by clicking on the second button above. GPS coordinates for the mouth of the canyon are 36° 51.737'N, 117° 12.460'W. GPS coordinates for the beginning of the bypass are 36° 51.765'N, 117° 11.996'W. GPS coordinates for the crossover of the bypass are 36° 51.856'N, 117° 11.860'W.
Prior to our Spring 2009 trip, Red Wall Canyon was a destination that I had been thinking about visiting for the previous couple of years. Yet, I always held off for the same reason that many others probably hold off. The issue I'm talking about, of course, is the 25-foot chockstone fall which is located less than one mile into the canyon. I did not want to hike nearly 2 1/2 miles up the steep wash outside of the canyon just to get inside and be stopped a short time later. Especially when I had heard that the best part of Red Wall Canyon was above the major dry fall. Being that I am not a rock climber, I knew my limitations, that I would not be able to climb the dry fall without some kind of assistance. However, I decided to go ahead and check out the canyon since I had an extra day available for hiking on the trip. Once I arrived in Red Wall Canyon, I was immediately impressed by the look and feel of the canyon as I progressed through the lower portions of it. Soon, I began walking through the 1st Narrows and arrived at the expected dead-end of the 25-foot chockstone fall. As I walked closer to it, I was surprised to see two assistance ropes hanging down which had obviously been placed by past visitors to the canyon. One of these ropes was hanging all the way down to the ground. I read online later that in recent times someone even hauled a ladder up to the base of the major dry fall and left it there. Since then, the park service has removed the longer portions of the old frayed ropes and also the ladder. From time to time, they continue to check up on the major dry fall and remove ropes and assistance aids which look potentially unsafe or detract from the natural beauty of the area. But this doesn't happen on a regular basis. So you never know what you might find if you visit the area. Keep in mind, though, that it may not be a good idea to use any of the existing frayed ropes or assistance aids to get over the dry fall. These can become weathered and decay over time, thus creating the potential to break off at any moment when somebody is using them. As you can imagine, if somebody were to climb the dry fall using old frayed ropes in place and the ropes suddenly broke, it would be a very painful fall back to the ground. With this in mind, the safest course of action for hikers is to simply visit the lower canyon and bottom half of the 1st Narrows, rather than attempting the climb.
In January of 2012, a Death Valley hiker who goes by the alias of Jack Lumberman (a.k.a. Talus Jack) figured out a bypass route to get around the major dry fall in the lower canyon. The bypass which he created ended up being used successfully by other hiking groups and became known as the Talus Jack Bypass. The Talus Jack Bypass begins prior to entering the 1st Narrows on the eastern side canyon wall. The route first ascends a long, steep slope up a hillside which contains loose rocks and boulders. There is a critical fork about 2/3 of the way up during which you must stay to the right to reach the correct saddle. From the saddle, you then drop down the other side, which is an even steeper slope. It is also quite a bit shorter and the Red Wall Canyon wash is visible while hiking down. Near the bottom, there is a spot which is probably the most challenging of the entire bypass. There is a very short section where you must climb down a small chute which drops down from a shelf of boulders. The shelf of boulders appears to be secure at the moment, but the next earthquake in the area could change that. After the short climb down, you are now back in Red Wall Canyon at the end of the 1st Narrows, safely above the major dry fall. From that point, you can then hike back down the 1st Narrows to see the fantastic scenery which was missed, until you reach the top of the major dry fall from earlier. Nearly three years after Talus Jack published his bypass route for the benefit of future hikers, I returned to Red Wall Canyon and attempted it for myself, along with another hiker. As you can see by my description of it above, we were successful and it took us 45 minutes to accomplish. I would definitely say that the Talus Jack Bypass is a much safer option to get past the major dry fall instead of using old ropes to climb it. However, that does not mean that the bypass is easy or completely safe for regular hikers. I would suggest that only advanced hikers with medium bypass skills use the Talus Jack Bypass. The reasons why are that a bit of route finding is necessary, you are climbing up through a boulder field, and the final climb down on the other side may be intimidating for some people. I would suggest moving quickly but safely when doing the final climb down at the very end. Don't linger on the shelf of rocks as they may give way at some point in the future. I might be overly paranoid in mentioning that, but keep in mind that the main stated objective of this site is to help people by promoting hiker safety in Death Valley. At one of the buttons up above, I am including a link which preserves the information originally found on Talus Jack's web site and allows you to download a PDF copy of the Talus Jack Bypass. When reading it and planning to use it, I would suggest that you double the amount of time suggested (from 30 minutes to 1 hour) and that you view the bypass as medium-to-hard difficulty (rather than easy). For regular Death Valley hikers with experience using bypasses, they will probably view it as medium difficulty. For hikers inexperienced with taking bypasses, they will probably view it as hard difficulty. Upon using the bypass and hiking back down to see what we had missed in the 1st Narrows, we then proceeded farther up Red Wall Canyon. We went all the way through the 2nd Narrows and 3rd Narrows before concluding our hike through Red Wall at an elevation of 3,450 feet. Our hikes took place on March 8, 2009 and November 23, 2014.
This hike contains sections of climbing, exposed bypasses and/or high dry falls and may require safety ropes and equipment in order to complete the entire hike. Those without the proper training, experience, and safety gear should consider stopping at the bottom of the 1st major dry fall and only use the Talus Jack Bypass with extreme caution.
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