Illiam Canyon, AZ
Location: Arizona, Secret Mountain Wilderness
Longest Rappel: ≈ 235'
The first and last of the "I" canyons. Exploratory after exploratory Iliam was the last “I” canyon to be discovered while being the first in the area dropping into the West Fork Drainage. In the spirit of the traditional “I” names along the South Face of the West fork, Illiam (A.K.A. Ill-I-AM) refers to an exploration sickness or obsession with exploring the unnamed, un-described, and rarely visited areas of the wilderness. Illiam travels through rugged terrain and contains a few rappels that demand particular attention to rope pulls. Extra rope, thoughtful placements, and rigging in the correct direction through the rap ring will be beneficial and may help keep your rope un-stuck. As with others, once in Illiam canyon, rescue would be very challenging to say the least due to the surrounding terrain.
During the exploratory and to this day a few highlights of the canyon stick out. First was the discovery of an unexpected 43' high archway we named "La Bella De Hew" (Spanish for "The Hewn Beauty"). "La Bella De Hew" arch is both a surprise to see on approach from above, as well as a treat to view as you rappel out of it. Secondly there is the Chute rappel, a nice drop that drags you canyon right and has an easy, but not so straight forward rope pull that can be worth a moment of your time to set up properly. Lastly, there is the patio rappel, a drop that presents so relaxing on approach that you can imagine kicking up your feet and taking in the view for hours, yet once on rope and over the lip, this rappel works you into the wall along side two rope eating cracks and immediately drops off in dramatic fashion.
Illiam canyon starts with a hike up the AB Young trail and exits at the Call of the Canyon. Set up a shuttle, hike, hitchhike, chain a bike to a tree ? ...... choose your own adventure for setting up vehicle logistics.
The AB Young is easily accessed from the Bootlegger Picnic area and should parking allow, cross the creek, get on trail, and let the adventure begin. Once reaching the top of the AB Young trail, an easy hike that picks up some nice game trails will shortly have you in the correct drainage. Moving past the brush and logs quickly gets the group to the fist short drop of the day where there is plenty of room for all to gear up. Moving forward, the second short drop of the day is found and has you work down a small low angle slope to a large staging area below.
Now the canyon begins to get down to business and we start throwing rope to work our way towards the West Fork of Oak Creek. Rigging rope for the next drop requires about 150' to reach the landing area below. With obstructed views from the top and a sloping start, it is here, that once you breech the lip and begin to work down the wall, it's recommend you slow down or stop on rope to take in the view behind/below you. The next 120' drop immediately follows with a slightly brushy start to begin, but moves forward nicely. Approaching the next drop, 60' of rope should be enough to get you down a fairly straightforward face.
The Chute rappel soon follows, and you will find yourself curling around a slight bend to canyon right in a nice section of rock. The Chute rappel is one of two that has some potential to stick rope, in our experience, a good clean pull can be made on canyon left by pitching the rope bag up, over, and out of the chute once you're about half way down. The last person can stage the rope so it lays cleanly down the middle of the large boulder to start the rappel and work down with the rope bag in tow. As the chute bends canyon right, this is a good place to lock off and throw the bag over the edge to the crew below.
After a short scramble, the Patio rappel approaches as a nice slab overlooking the canyon below. This drop has two small cracks on canyon right that will properly stick a rope if not managed well. The rappel may naturally pull you towards the canyon right wall and these cracks, but you will find that before committing over the edge, you can lift the rope and stage it about 12" canyon left where it will stay throughout the rappel. Rigging the rap ring for a canyon left pull and staging out of the cracks has historically treated us well. The Patio rappel will require about 235' to get to the large flat landing zone below.
With the big drop out of the way, immediately you will come to the final drop of any substance, roughly 80' that as of the time of writing this was rigged off some smallish tree roots (be kind to the tree, give it a drink to grow, its well placed!).
Once down this easy face and working your way out, you come to a nuisance rappel of about 20'. This drop can be bypassed up and around on canyon left, but it may be easier (and better for the surrounding vegetation) to rig off the convenient tree on the edge and quickly drop down.
With the nuisance rap out of the way, a short walk down canyon will quickly have you standing on the West Fork Trail and working your way back to the call of the canyon.