Hall Canyon, Manly Falls, Telescope Peak


By: Steve Smith


Hall Canyon is a very steep and prominent canyon on the west side of the Panamint Mountains. It begins at the summit of Telescope Peak at 11,048' and in six miles drops a precipitous 10,000' westward down to Panamint Valley. The lower portion of the canyon at 5,000' becomes very narrow before opening up at 1,600' on the eastern boundary of Indian Ranch in Panamint Valley.

A difficult 4-WD road extending south for 4.5 miles from Jail Canyon can be driven to the small Rowland cabin in central Hall Canyon at 4,650' This cabin is maintained by Tom Budlong for public use under BLM's Adopt-A-Cabin program. Since the lower canyon would soon become the new boundary between BLM and DVNP as well as Dart of the new BLM Surprise Canyon Wilderness, I scheduled a BLM exploratory inventory trip. I had no information that anyone had ever gone through the lower canyon so knew we would have to be fully prepared. John McCully helped with his observations from a trip where he had entered and exited the lower canyon from the north side while hiking the northside trail.

BLM Friends of the Inyo Wilderness volunteers Wendell Moyer, Marc Smith, Morgan Irby, Doug Kari, Tom Budlong, and Brian and Matt Webb joined me along with two new volunteers, Roger Lion and Dave Bowler. We decided to explore the entire Hall Canyon watershed starting from Telescope Peak. Our rappelling equipment and additional supplies for descending the lower portion of the canyon were cached at the Hall cabin prior to starting the descent from Telescope Peak.

Parking vehicles at the entrance to Indian Ranch we shuttled everyone up to Mahogany Flats and started hiking the Telescope Peak Trail late in the afternoon. By the time we reached Arcane Meadow, it was really stormy so we decided to camp on the lee side of Rogers Peak between the communication building. We got little snow that night but the extreme dampness made for a cold night. Morgan Irby, wanting to fully experience some winter weather opted to keep going and ended up experiencing a bad winter storm on the summit of Telescope Peak.

Fortunately, the winter storm began breaking the next morning up and there were beautiful winter views of snow covered mountains when we reached the summit of Telescope Peak. Starting from the north end of the summit ridge at 11,000', we dropped westward down the prominent ridgeline which runs along the north side of Hall Canyon. While steep, this ridgeline dropped fairly smoothly down to 7,800' with only a few easily traversed rocky outcrops encountered.

We camped at 7,800' where the ridge begins some elevation gain and next day dropped directly south to reach the bottom of Hall canyon at 6,600' We made sure we did not descend above this point since there appears to be some high waterfalls in the canyon bottom immediately above 7,200' Matt Webb came down a ravine more to the east and passed an intact historic cabin near some mine tunnels. Papers in the cabin had nothing more recent than 1978.

When coming down off the ridge, we encountered the traces of a dozer road which extended about .25 mile northward up towards the ridge. Upon reaching the canyon bottom at 6,600' we intersected a well defined dozer road and followed it for three miles down to the Hall Cabin at 4,650' which had our cached provisions and rappelling gear for the lower canyon. The dozer road is washed out at several points above the cabin and impassable to most 4-WD's. The dozer road also extends for an unknown distance up the south fork of Hall Canyon.

For our third night out, we stayed at the Hall cabin which is located at a spring with crude fences of rock and sticks about 400' down canyon. It's rumored that the area had been used as a pasture for sheep by Indian Ranch residents during the 1950's. A foot trail, marked on the Telescope Peak 15' topo, runs from the cabin along the north side of Hall Canyon and re-enters the canyon bottom at 1,800'. This trail was not well built and only about one-half can easily be seen and followed.

Lower Hall Canyon

Leaving the cabin with our rappelling gear, heavy brush was immediately encountered and continued down to our first rappel at 3,730' Further down canyon there were short stretches of heavy brush and two real dense brush stretches at the bottom - this brush was relatively easy to move through however since it was neither thorny or rigid. From the cabin, there was a continuously flowing small stream all the way down canyon to Indian Ranch which in many areas made hiking difficult. We also saw a lot of evidence of Bighorn sheep throughout the lower canyon, with two observed during our stay at the cabin.

Rappel No. 1
Encountered at 3,730', 50' high which we downclimbed with a belay. It was necessary to get into water along the bottom. I put a BLM sign marker at this point.

Rappel No. 2
Encountered at 3,700' just below No. 1, 45' high in two stages of 30' and 15'. A narrow, scenic chute with high vertical rock walls where it was impossible to stay out of the water. There was a 3' deep pool at the bottom but people at the bottom were able to use the rappel line to pull people off to the side to avoid going into the pool.

Rappel No. 3
Encountered at 3,670', just below No. 2, 70' high with an overhang at the top and a deep crevice off to the north side which dropped into water and must be avoided to keep from getting wedged. One climber did get himself and two packs caught in the northside notch which required help to get out of. There is heavy brush along the top with limited room for just a few climbers. We spent time trimming the brush back. This chute has a heavy growth of wild vines which were difficult to initially break through and present a hazard of getting ropes tangled. Anchor placement was limited and we installed one bolt for the rappel rope. This rappel ends in dense brush and shallow water at the bottom.

Rappel No. 4
Encountered at 3,600', an impressive 100' vertical fall which begins with a 20' free fall by dropping through a 7' diameter hole through wedged boulders. One bolt was installed for helping with the anchor placement.

Rappel No. 5
Encountered at 3,530', 25' slope with an unavoidable 2' pool at the bottom.

Rappel No. 6 ("Deep Slot")
Encountered at 3,520', 120' with an incredibly deep (up to 50'), linear, narrow and vertical water notch cut into the granite along the south side. Rappelling into "Deep Slot" looked extremely hazardous. Unfortunately, the fall line from the top leads directly into the slot which has a heavy streamflow falling through it. In order to get away from the notch an exposed class 5, 50' lateral rock traverse to the north and 30' climb up is necessary. We belayed our expert rock climber Roger Lion across first and then he begin belaying the rest of us across. From there, it was a 120' rappel down a beautiful, open 50 degree rock slab well north of the "Deep Slot".

Six of our group made it across to a steep, rocky slope and spread out among the jumble of boulders where we carved out small, sloping sleeping sites among the cactus plants for the evening with everyone careful not to roll in the wrong direction during the night. Darkness prevented additional traverses and four people spent the night in a small grassy area next to the stream which was a much more comfortable site - space there is limited to about four.

So we spent the fourth night with the group split and camping on both sides of the wide rock slab with beautiful views west into Panamint Valley and over to the Argus Range and the sounds of the high waterfall in the background. There were many active Bighorn sheep bedding sites at this point and a ring tail cat visited the campsite next to the stream. Next morning, the last four were belayed across and we continued working our way through the brush and down the waterfalls.

Rappel No. 7
Encountered at 3,410', 70' high rappel out of the water with a large tree at the base and some brush to break through along the upper portion of the rappel.

Rappel No. 8
Encountered at 3,300', this was a combination 100' downclimb and rappel which involved going down 70' to a shelf and then 30' to the base. A hex stopper nut chock anchor for the rappel line failed when a rock section pulled out while Tom Budlong was 15' from the bottom. He was caught on belay by Wendell Moyer - the first anchor failure we've had during 27 canyon descents. It brought home to everyone the importance of a solid, properly tensioned belay line.

Rappel No. 9
Cascading waterfall encountered at 3,180', 120' high with 20' overhang at the top. Most rappellers were in the water in the lower half but with careful foot placement and luck, it's possible to avoid getting wet.

Rappel No. 10
Encountered at 3,020', a 50' high vertical rock face with a heavy growth of barrel cactus around the top.

Rappel No. 11
At 2,900', there was a long, inclined waterfall along the north side of the canyon. We elected to use a 140' long rappel line as a fixed line to downclimb the south side with an exposed 30' high pitch at the base.

Rappel No. 12 (Optional)
At 2,900 ', there is an 60 ' vertical waterfall on the north side of the canyon which is free of water. While some rappelled this, the rest made an easy downclimb along the south side of the canyon. There was an old bolt in place at the top of this waterfall, the first sign of any previous canyon visitation. The bolt was well rusted and an older style with narrow edge hanger which appeared to have been in place for many years. We believe that some climbers had come up from the bottom to reach this point in the past to practice rockclimbing in the lower canyon. We used this bolt with a piton backup for our rappel anchor.

Rappel No. 13
Encountered at 2,550', a 45' high rappel through a thick covering of ferns with dispersed waterflow. From this point until the canyon mouth was reached, there was generally very heavy riparian growth. This growth was composed of grass, reeds, and willows which was relatively easy to push through. In some areas, it was necessary to walk across thick accumulations of the brush which was covering flowing water.

Rappel No. 14
Encountered at 2,270', a 100' high, beautiful 10' wide flowing waterfall which smoothly flowed down the 80-degree cliff face into a fairy-tale pool surrounded by a gravel beach, shade trees and no undergrowth. A small rock barrier had been constructed to impound the water into a 2' deep pool. We were able to rappel a vertical wall along the south side with some overhang which was completely out of the water. I found an old carabineer at the top of this waterfall.

From the last waterfall, the thick brush continued for .5 mile until the road and waterline for Indian Ranch was reached at 1,700' At 1,800', we passed the lower terminus of the Hall Canyon Trail which is not marked and not obvious on the northside canyon wall. Walking down the road, we passed through Indian Ranch where there are several trailers and buildings obviously being used but we did not see anyone. The road comes to a locked gate shortly before reaching the Indian Ranch Road where we had parked our vehicles.

Manly Falls

Five of us decided to stay another day and check into rappelling down Manly Falls at the mouth of Redlands Canyon. Following the mining exploration roads up to the top of the falls, we used several large boulders for anchors. The top of the falls consists of loose streambed gravel and I carefully removed all the larger sized pieces of rock - knowing that the ropes would probably knock some of the loose gravel over the top.

It was an exciting 215' high rappel - perfectly smooth and almost vertical for its entire length. A new experience for me was when the knot on the belay line came over the top and knocked 10 or so small pieces of gravel over the edge. I was glad to have the helmet on as the loud bee like buzzing sounds of the rock could be heard coming and going on by. Manly Falls is both a spectacular geologic feature and historic site on the route followed by some of the 49'ers. This is the site of a proposed open pit mining operation and if it goes into operation, Manly Falls will be dug out along with a large portion of the mouth of Redlands Canyon.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

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