Second Journey into The Maze : Moonshine Wash

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Stephanie B

Steph and Blake
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Joined
Dec 7, 2017
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April 22, 2019

After a good night's sleep at our campsite in the San Rafael Desert, Blake and I headed out in search of Moonshine Wash. We'd heard about the slot canyon several years ago, maybe on the TV show "The Desert Speaks" (?) and ever since had wanted to see it for ourselves. We enjoy the twists and turns and "what obstacle's going to be around the bend?" of slot canyons. Moonshine didn't disappoint.

Blake at the first down-climb:

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Starting to get slotty:

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In the wash we found this dead rattler, a dead bat, bunches of jet black fur (skunk??), bones, and a butterfly wing. They added to the mystique of the canyon.

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Just when I thought we'd somehow walked past the old sheep bridge:

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Eventually we made it to the junction with the west fork of Moonshine which, apparently, you can drive to as we saw numerous tire tracks in the sand. It was our intention to hike up the west fork to make a loop, but were stopped in our tracks:

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We wouldn't have minded (too much) wading through the murky pool. But, water was actively flowing down the crack and we knew any attempts to climb up the slippery sandstone without a top rope would have been futile. Dang! We were wanting to see the old 'shine operations. So, back the way we came we went.

From there we headed south to the Hans Flat Ranger Station to pick up our permit for The Maze. I can't begin to count the number of times I've talked with the folks there and it was nice to finally put faces to names. We politely listened to the spiel about no wood fires, packing out everything, no drones, etc., etc. Zach directed us to a great campsite at the end of Road 777 and we set up camp for the next two nights. Tomorrow's destination was one that I'd been reading about over the past few months...
 

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RyanP

Formerly bob32
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Mar 1, 2015
Messages
86
Very nice! How hard/technical would you rate Moonshine? I've heard very conflicting reports (the canyon has apparently gotten more difficult in recent years?). Can you compare its technical difficulty to any other popular canyons as a point of reference?
 

Stephanie B

Steph and Blake
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Dec 7, 2017
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Hello, Ryan.

We've only been through Moonshine once, so I cannot comment as to whether or not it's gotten more difficult. I wouldn't say it's all that difficult, but it's not one that I would do alone unless I were a far more experienced climber (and perhaps magically grew about 5 or 6 inches). A couple times we took off our packs and lowered them/pulled them up on a handline so that we could "hug the sandstone" more closely. Also, a few times I would pinch Blake's boot into a foothold so it wouldn't slip when he pushed up on that leg. And I think one time he threw down a handline to me and I used it to aid my ascension.

I'm having a hard time coming up with comparable canyons for you to use as a reference. It's not a slot canyon that requires stemming, it's not a canyon that you'd rappel (unless you were rappelling off the high canyon walls), it's just a few (3 or 4) pourovers that you friction climb down and up. You might try contacting Roadtrip Ryan as I think he could probably rattle off a few comparable canyons.
 

regehr

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Mar 28, 2012
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952
I've only been in moonshine once, in 2013, and we hit about a 20' drop well before passing under the bridge. The canyon at that point was slottoed up pretty good and so this would likely not have been real hard to downclimb, but we just turned around. This was not what I had been expecting based on reports I had been reading, which even described Moonshine as a good place to take kids.
 

Stephanie B

Steph and Blake
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Joined
Dec 7, 2017
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Not sure if the road has a name, but it’s the first right after leaving the ranger station on the road headed west-then-north to the kiosk. I don’t think there’s a ranch out there (there is an old corral made of dead junipers) and never saw a big wagon wheel. It looks like the road was put in for two drill holes (which is the dead-end of the road). If you need more details PM me and I’ll get you the coordinates.
 

RyanP

Formerly bob32
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Mar 1, 2015
Messages
86
Thanks for the feedback Stephanie and regehr. Sounds like I'll try to do a few other slots first, and then make sure I do this with a partner if/when I get around to it. Do you guys have any tips on how to predict/research how much water there will be in the canyons? Obviously if there's been a bunch of recent rain, that is a bad sign, but otherwise are there any resources available to help with the trip planning in this regards? I tend to plan trips quite a bit in advance and I would hate to drive all the way to areas such as this and then have too much water and/or mud in the canyons to make it safe/enjoyable.
 

regehr

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Well, the only reliable way to find a dry slot is if someone went in there recently and found it dry-- they can hold water a long time. Better to just be ready for water and mud, they're not a big deal, just slog/wade/swim across...
 

SteveR

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Sep 22, 2016
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185
Very nice! How hard/technical would you rate Moonshine? I've heard very conflicting reports (the canyon has apparently gotten more difficult in recent years?). Can you compare its technical difficulty to any other popular canyons as a point of reference?
We are not climbers and found it easygoing last October- so much fun to descend that we returned the same way for more entertainment. It was bone dry throughout which can make a big difference, although my 5'1" tall wife did require a guiding hand for one of her feet, on one move going both down and up the highest drop, which I recall as being around 12' high, at most. I don't have many examples to compare it with: Little Wildhorse-Bell is easier, Moonshine maybe slightly more difficult than Peekaboo/Spooky? (which I have seen people struggle with) We found the initial descent into Round Valley Draw a bit harder than the drops in Moonshine, and the West fork of Red Breaks to be way tougher.
 

RyanP

Formerly bob32
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Mar 1, 2015
Messages
86
Awesome, thanks SteveR. That's really helpful info (and relatively current). My impression is that Moonshine is harder than Crack Canyon (in the Swell) but perhaps more similar to Ding/Dang? I ask because I have not done Peekaboo/Spooky, but I will probably go to the canyons in the Swell this Fall.
 
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regehr

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Yes, I would say that Moonshine is a little bit harder than Crack. Have not been to Ding/Dang.
Still trying to reconcile these things... I found Crack a piece of cake and would have wanted a rope for Moonshine. I guess conditions change!
 

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