Return to Mumbai Canyon


Feb 15, 2013
A trip report followed by pictures

Here is the story of the first descent and naming of Mumbai Canyon. Read it before. Or after. Or not at all, as you see fit.
Below is the attempt to become the 4th known descent party

I worship at the alter of "The Operating Day." I collect these "days" like valuable little trinkets, on their way onto a long necklace. A very long necklace. I suppose it is my nature to hedge my bets at all times. To lose an "operating day?" It is sacrilege! Thus I almost always have a fall back plan, when scheduling something coveted. Not this day. So it was with minor discomfort, mixed with an "outside my self" amusement observing the thing, that our group, its members hungry for and focused on getting to and descending Mumbai Canyon, committed to that goal and that goal only. I watched contingency options evaporate and blow away. The dye was cast. We would probe toward Mumbai and if the real potential obstacles reared their heads and defeated the effort, the day would be lost to 'operating."

Mumbai is in Fiftymile Canyon and can be approached from the Hole in the Rock Road, as long as the road is not wet or washed out. It's access from Glen Canyon and Lake Powell is dependent on the reservoir level. Gregory Natural Bridge was one of many treasures drowned by the reservoir. But in low low, I had no idea, the reservoir would pass under the bridge and fill a section above in Fiftymile that would be inaccessible, due to the abandoned meander being high and dry between the two lake sections. At what lake level would the abandoned meander be under enough water for us to pass? The only way to find out, was to travel the considerable distance and have a look.

We arrive at the meander and it IS high and dry. But this group has their "eye on the prize." Out comes the pack rafts. Add a lot of hot air and off we go. Paddles assembled and over the sand dam and back into the isolated section of reservoir. How far up was the canyon? And where would the water relent? Above Mumbai? Below Mumbai? We only had our estimates. We had one less boat than passenger space, so a shuttle would add more time spent getting to the canyon, as the sun rose higher and the day warmer. Tick, tock, tick, tock. We were blessed with no wind and the paddle was under 3/4 of a mile and ended a short stroll below where Mumbai enters Fiftymile.

Steve "Spidey" Jackson had done the 2nd descent, a week or two after Aaron and I had done the canyon in May 2010 and had come from the pool right up to the confluence in days of higher water. When Aaron and I did it, our final rap had landed in the pool. Spidey told of an easy route to the top of the canyon from the east side of Mumbai. I could glean it above. It did look easy. Too bad the lower pool level had revealed a 30 foot overhanging face to access that spot. That option shelved, we picked up the pace, tick, tock, tick, tock and hiked up Fiftymile in search of the moqui step route Aaron had found on the first descent.

All but me, ran up the 5th class moves to access the higher country. I asked for and was provided with a hand line. On the way to the top, we could see down into the slot's upper section. It is an intimidating sight. We arrive at the top and the party armors up for the stem fest that awaits us.. But not me. Pascal and I decide that we will pass on the upper section, rated X-, me with my stomach making all kinds of funny sounds. Jonathan, Guy, Bucky and Brett are good to go. It was after 2 PM and we had been traveling over 7 hours already. I take some pictures of them as they head in. Pascal and I hike around and enter mid canyon and climb up to the end of the high stemming part of the upper canyon. We hear our friends in a surprisingly short time. They are really moving well. We offer advice on where to descend, to avoid the worst of the bombay that lay under the stemming. The group rests in the shade, eats and drinks, talking of raw skin. Then we head for the lower canyon.

Down in we all go. There are a few drops that the talented folks down climb. Ominous potholes are skirted. The deep water is solved by dynamic teamwork and then the canyon tightens. One must climb up, over a gaper and up again. I had stopped here on scouting day, all those years ago, before doing the moves the next day, on the exploration. I am 5 years older and notably weaker. While I remember what is in store, I have no way to know if the "present" me is up to it. I ask for a belay up the gaper. With some measure of protection, the climb seems pretty easy and the event grows my confidence, which is pivotal for the next few hours. I settle in the middle of the group, going 3rd in our party of 6.

The human mind likes to play tricks and my memories are faulty. I don't recall walking sections in the upper section, but Tom from the 3rd descent and my other partners today assure me there is 2 sections "on the ground." I recall the lower canyon easier than the upper. All my partners would feel differently when the day was done. The stemming proved to be sustained and while having some ledges to work with, it still had it moments of straight featureless walls and gapers. The good news was no big silos.. Even this section was quite pretty, although at times it was hard to notice, as other focus was required.

Going third, I tried to manage my considerable fear. You would think that with fewer days ahead of you, than behind you, you might become a little braver? For me it is the opposite and I wrestle with my anxiety. You do essentially everything alone......yet your connection to the humans with you is profound. The bond is real, but there is more. I am "using" them. I see Guy up front. Big, long, strong and lanky, he move in ways I fear to tread. IF I have to do what he does, I am doomed. I must remind myself that I can and will do it differently. It is better that I not watch him too closely and just snap off a few pictures of him in the more acrobatic poses.

Behind me is Brett. Pascal is right behind him and Bucky is playing sweeper. He throws the occasional smile my way. These folks tend to be back a bit. Brett is moving in the same form and manner as me, mostly back and feet on the wall, pivot left, pivot right. Perhaps he is doing a tad less galumping than I but he is a kindred spirit in movement. Watching him calms me. But I am using him too. I am past the spots he is moving through so calmly and deliberately. I CAN'T get hurt where he is. I am PAST it!..... and why that buoys me, I can't say, but it does. It doesn't make me feel good, feeling that way, but I can't deny it. Its feels self absorbed.

Jonathan is 2nd and right in front of me. At first I draft behind him. To emulate him and right away, relieves me of the responsibility to decide "how" to tackle the immediate challenges. As my confidence grows, we play "accordion." He goes out 75 feet and rests or waits for Guy and I then move smartly till I am a ledge or two behind him. He is 40 pounds lighter than I yet carries twice the weight that I do. I see it calculated, this extra weight, into the controlled moves he makes. A bit more locked knee moves to support that extra weight. I am thankful that he and the others are taking on more of the burden, allowing me to be safer. I do not ask to help, fear and lack of confidence winning out, once again. Jonathan and I go back further than my other partners this day. And there is some light conversation but many wordless smiles, as we watch each other dance across the abyss.

It feels that we should go down low soon. That the canyon must change its nature. A VERY tricky spot awaits. The feature of the canyon that led to its naming, is at hand. The lower canyon bombay. Without the knowledge of this special combination of features, before one arrives here, there would be much peril. At the spot you realize you must go down, you are wise to head back up canyon a bit. But it is hard to head far enough, as one feels the panic...."can I fit down there? Go down, too far down canyon and you slide down 40 feet and are presented with a huge opening, some places 20 feet of wide open bombay, to the ground, with no way down. To squirm back up would be desperate and exhausting! All that follow us down this canyon in the future, would be wise to belay the first person down and be ready, steady and properly wedged to lower that partner down that last 15-20 feet to the ground. Jonathan does this for Guy. It is not easy to do from a full stemming position. Guy is a big boy. I see a vein standing out on J's neck, as Guy is finally lowered.

Once Guy is down, he scampers up canyon, like in a tunnel, deeper into the bombay and establishes the spot, a safe and spot-able one for others to come down. He must do some convincing, as the slide down looks frightfully tight, from above. Soon we are all down in the bombay, struck by its potential to wreck havoc on future adventurers. Moss lined shallow pools follow immediately. They cast a whole different mood. We are walking on the ground for the first time in a few hours. Is that a snake? Yes. Is it a rattler? Yes. Is it alive? Yes. We pose him for a few pictures and move on.

The lower canyon is a magical place. After hours of serious focus, it should not be underestimated......but it is unquestionably easier. The walls have a layer of grit, which makes it slippery, but the ledges are larger. The walls not as high, but it is the eloquent curves that abound and move you. It is a very pretty place. You can go high, medium or low in many places. The abundance of options helps keep you "in the moment."

The final rappel is at hand and dispensed with. A fiddle off the small arch. A bit of decompress? Heck yeah. Smiles come very easily. A stroll to the pool and the pool toys topped off with air. I assume I will be slow and jump out to the front. Within a minute, it starts to rain. I look up from paddling and the sky is mostly blue, especially overhead. I expect the rain to stop. It doesn't. Big drops hit the water looking like the strapping of a fighter planes' machine gun, on the water surface. The head wind is only minor, but that could change in a second. I remain on task against that contingency and to stay warm.

I am feeling pretty good about us. About myself. We are going to pull it off. All the pieces placed back to back have worked. Then a BIG surprise.....there was only one. None before or after, nothing building or receding. JUST ONE!! A BIG boom of thunder. The only one on my whole trip. It was like a reminder. "You think you got this in the bag, do ya?" Yeah right, the whole bunch of us on the water in pool toys.

Back over the meander sand hill and in for the long ride to camp. I waited for the ride to be over before the traditional high five celebration of getttin home in one piece. Dinner is in the dark. The memory of that one isolated boom of thunder, a fresh reminder against hubris. The group, in the coming days, always rallied. But it was apparent.....a bit of soreness and fatigue showed itself in everyone. The group left a bit of itself behind in Mumbai Canyon. Almost like it charged for admission...and safe passage. It is one of my "Important places" for sure. I am glad for having returned to a spot of such bonding with my son those 5 years ago. I thank my present day partners for their help and support.......and for tossing contingencies to the wind, in the strong desire to feel, experience and know this fine canyon. Old bonds grown stronger, sliding about between those vertical walls


A sand bar separates the two sections of reservoir

A rodent track over drizzle impacted sand

A quiet and isolated section of the pool

Bucky's turn on the paddle

Calm waters

The bottom of Mumbai

Hustling off up Fiftymile

Guy Smith


A long but pretty approach

very good climbers all

Out of Fiftymile and headed to the top of Mumbai

Bucky adds scale to the start of the canyon

Off the deck immediately in the upper section

The upper section on the rim walk

The spot where the upper canyon stem relents at a bombay

J working his way down

Guy doing the same

Brett's turn

Shade, food, water and rest between the canyon sections for Brett

Pascal and Guy

Jonathan and Bucky

Deep water avoided in this series

Starting up the lower canyon stem

Brett feeling it, Pascal coming up. Looking up canyon (LUC)

long way down

Jonathan and Guy, looking down canyon (LDC)

Guy, I might do that move differently, OK? J sports a BIG pack

My friends, LUC


J works it

A lovely place to snap off a few tourist pictures

that is looking DOWN canyon????

Brett just beyond a gaper

The way down to the bombay. VERY tight, you go first!

See the size of the bombay? If you elevator from above to the top of this feature, you are in trouble

a new friend

Buck dodges some water

A different mood. Brett knows his flora

A green and pretty transition. We are forced up soon, but it is moderate

Edges, ledges and curves present in the lowest section

You take the high road, I'll take the low road

Pascal first down

Guy's turn

Just enough rope

Textures in the mud

Brett...come on down!

The finale

Bucky goes last

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Aug 9, 2007
Intense!! Great read and great photos! Thanks for posting, Ram. I was just there at the sand bar last Friday. Good to hear on the down canyon exit and the need for higher water to use it. I would never even dream of doing Mumbai, but I would definitely like to take a walk up there sometime.


Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
Jun 7, 2012
Great write-up and photo's Ram! I read about your first ascent when we had a trip planned in 50 mile. Looks like a great (difficult) canyon.
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Jul 5, 2014
Awesome. I really wish this kind of stuff wasn't so foreign to me. Looks like an amazing time.
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Jan 7, 2015
Wow, this looks amazing. Also, your first trip report was amazing and moving too! Thank you for sharing.
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