Canyoneering Route Description

Grotto Canyon - Not So Much Fork - 3A III
Death Valley National Park, California.

Quick Facts

12-01-13, 5 people, 1 Day (Travel time in route 8.8 hours) Pictures Icon  - - includes time to explore up the bottom of main grotto a bit.

Time Required - 6 to 8 hours
Distance - 5.5 miles Total, 2.1 miles Technical
Rappels - 2  to 4 Rappels, Longest Rappel 110 feet.
Elevation Range - 680 - 3380 Feet
Shuttle Required - No Vehicle - High Clearance, 4WD if bad road conditions Permit Required - No

Gear Used for Canyon

Rappelling and anchor gear, Ropes and or pull cords for rappels up to 110 feet and 40 feet of 1 inch webbing for sling placement.

General Comments

The Not So Much Fork of Grotto Canyon is not a route I recommend. It consists of a long un-interesting ravine followed by 2 rappels, followed by over a mile of un-interesting wash where we then bypassed the lower 0.3 miles of wash to the confluence. If you are going to do one of the forks of Grotto I suggest the Layer Fork instead as it is a lot more fun, scenic and interesting.

The Not So Much Fork of Grotto Canyon is not a canyon I would recommend.  This route is listed only to offer information about the canyon to those who may be curious.

There are multiple forks of Grotto and I have only been along on two of them. One we called the Not So Much fork because it was not a fun route. The other we called the Layer Fork because the route was more fun and the canyon cut through some very beautiful layers of rock.  Thanks to Rick Kent for inviting us along on the trip to explore this fork.

The final 0.3 miles of this fork we did not do. The 20 foot drop just after where we left the canyon would be rap 3 then you can see a long wash walk after it. From the confluence we were able to upclimb a few small drops to get to the base of a 35 foot drop that would be rap 4 if you continue through the lower 0.3 miles of the Not So Much Fork. Instead when we got to a 20 foot drop (after walking over a mile of wash after the final rap) we escaped the canyon on the LDC side and then contoured around and up and over the ridge to get to the rim of the Layer Fork. Then followed along the rim and the occasional use trail down to the confluence of the Not So Much Fork (this fork) and the Layer Fork. The last 0.3 miles of this fork were skipped but looked like it would be very uninteresting. When you go over to the rim of the Layer fork you can take a short side trip over to the top of the final rap there.

The approach route travels up a long ridge over Point Hideous (name given to the point by Mike Cressman) then down the ridge on the other side to cross a wide wash. From that wash the route goes south up more steep ridge then later leaves the ridge and goes over toward the canyon. The spot to leave the second ridge does not have any good landmarks to tell you when to stop. Pay careful attention to the description so you drop in at the right location or use a GPS to get you to the right spot.

Driving Directions

To get to the Trailhead

From the store / gas station in Stovepipe Wells (wStovpipeStore) drive east on Hwy 190 for 1.9 miles to the parking area for the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (pkMesqSndDune).  The sand dune parking lot is a very large paved parking lot with bathrooms and makes a great place to consolidate people into fewer vehicles if desired.

From the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes parking lot continue east on Hwy 190 for 0.53 miles to a turn off onto a dirt road on the right (south) which is the turn of for Grotto Canyon (exGrottoDV).

Turn right and drive south up the dirt and gravel road toward Grotto Canyon which eventually gets more rough as it passes over alluvial fan and travels directly up the wash.

About 1.2 miles after leaving the highway will be the mouth of the canyon (GrottoDVMouth).  What I marked as the mouth of the canyon is you begin to have steep hills on BOTH sides of you (a few hundred feet after you started to have a steep hill on the right).

The place to park to start the route up the ridge is about 0.37 miles up the wash after getting into the mouth.  Park off to the side (pkGrottoDV) to begin the route.

Note:
There is no signage, markings or good landmarks to denote the parking and a GPS is helpful finding this spot.  As you drive up fro the mouth of Grotto this parking spot is near the end of a sweeping left bend and just before a right bend in the wash as you drive up.

Example Pic.

To help visually find the correct spot you should be able to see some almost vertical sand hills with deep water carved slots / grooves cut into them on the left side (looking up the wash) about 450 feet away.  The sand hills are visually slightly obscured by the canyon walls since they are slightly around the right hand bend in the wash you parked before getting to.  To the left (east) side of the wash almost directly across the wash from the parking spot the slope up to the ridge above should look like you can walk / scramble your way up the slopes.  Farther up the wash the canyon walls are too steep to go up. 

To leave the Exit Vehicle / Escape Pod

No exit vehicle is needed.  This is done as a loop route.

Maps - - - - GPS coordinate information listed at the bottom of this route description.

For information about my waypoint naming convention and map symbols, refer to the Glossary page.

Map Link Icon
Click the links for maps of the route.
Map of the drive into the route.
Map of the entire route.
Map of the technical section Zoomed to Upper.
Map of the technical section Zoomed to Lower.

Details

The Approach:

From the parking spot (pkGrottoDV) go up the slope on the left (east) side of the wash. About 500 feet up the slope you will get up to the crest of the ridge on a saddle.

Example Pic.

Once on the ridge (GrottoDV01) turn right and go southeast up the ridge.  About 0.27 miles up the ridge it begins to get steep (GrottoDV02).  Almost 500 feet farther is an outcropping to scramble up.  As you scramble up around the outcropping it seems to go a little easier to the right.  From the top of the outcropping (GrottoDV03) continue up the ridge for about 0.25 miles and cross a shallow saddle (GrottoDV04).  A little over 500 feet farther the route up the ridge tops out briefly (GrottoDV05).  About 250 feet farther is another small saddle (GrottoDV06) then continue up the ridge where you will have a short steep section with a lot of larger rocks to walk through and one small saddle before getting to the high point (pPointHideous) on the approach ridge about 1200 feet away.

The high point on the ridge (pPointHideous) was named by Mike Cressman as Point Hideous. Follow the more gently sloped ridge southeast down the other side of the peak.

About 0.27 miles down the ridge from the high point is another saddle (GrottoDV07).  About 0.21 miles farther down the ridge is another saddle (GrottoDV08).  About 500 feet farther is another saddle (GrottoDV09).  About 300 feet farther the route crosses over a large wash (GrottoDV10) near its top which is very shallow this high up. Continue south across the wide wash then start up the steep slope / ridge to the south.

Note:
As you go over to the slope you will see a gully going up just to the left of the more rocky terrain. Start up that gully for easier travel but you will soon need to move over onto the more rocky terrain.

About 450 feet up the slope is the top end of the gully (GrottoDV11) where you need to move over to the right a bit and continue up the ridge in more rocky terrain with a couple spots of light scrambling.  About 650 feet farther up is a small flat zone (GrottoDV12) for a tiny break in the steep grade.  About 1000 feet farther up the grade gets steeper (GrottoDV13) and more rocky. Going up the crest of the ridge here involves some light 3rd class scrambling and looks more difficult than it is. A few hundred feet farther and it becomes a walk again on more gentle slopes.

Note:
It is possible to contour around this on the right side but it is not fun travel and going up the ridge is preferred. Ask me how I know this.

When you get to the top of the 3rd class scrambling and the grade becomes more gentle (GrottoDV14), continue up the ridge about 0.24 miles to the start of a semi level section (GrottoDV15) where you can see see a wide mellow saddle a bit lower than you are to the right (west) about 1000 feet away. The drainage running down to the north from that saddle is the Not So Much Fork of Grotto. The Layer Fork of Grotto is one more drainage over to the west. Leave the ridge hear and contour over to that saddle.  Contour around and route find your way over to that saddle.

When you have dropped down and contoured over to the saddle (yGrottoNSMTp) you are on a wide saddle and at the start of both the route to the Not So Much Fork of Grotto and the Layer Fork of Grotto.

Note:
To drop into the Not So Much Fork follow down the drainage to the north.
To continue over to the Layer Fork of Grotto follow down the wide slope to the west which slowly starts to turn into a minor drainage.

The Canyoneering / Technical Section:
From the saddle (yGrottoNSMTp) to go down the Not So Much Fork follow down the drainage to the north. Down the drainage from here is easy travel down moderately steep and wide ravine.

About 0.27 miles down canyon the wash / ravine begins to get larger rocks and involves some light scrambling (GrottoNSM01).

A short distance farther is a  scramble / downclimb (GrottoNSM02) of about 12 feet followed by a drop of about 20 feet to bypass on the RDC side.

About 0.2 miles farther is the top (GrottoNSM03) of a set of about 3 drops to downclimb ranging from 8 to 15 feet each with rap 1 at the forth drop.  About 100 feet farther is rap 1.

Rap 1 (dGrottoNSMR1) is anchored RDC from a double knot chalk and drops about 90 feet.  Less than 100 feet down canyon is rap 2.

Rap 2 (dGrottoNSMR2) is anchored from a large rock about 25 feet back and drops about 85 feet down a slightly sloped wall using about 110 feet.  Continue down canyon with walking and light boulder hopping.

About 400 feet down canyon is a drop (GrottoNSM04) of about 35 feet to bypass by scrambling around on the LDC side.  More walking and light boulder hopping down canyon from here.

About 0.3 miles down canyon the canyon makes a sharp left (GrottoNSM05) to start going down to the northwest. Continue down canyon with walking and light boulder hopping.

About 0.26 miles farther down canyon is a sloped slick downclimb (GrottoNSM06) of about 10 feet.

About 0.25 miles down canyon is the start (GrottoNSM07) of a section about 200 feet long of polished smooth rock to scramble through with a few short downclimbs. This is just after passing a very cool layer of rock extending up from the ground on the RDC side.

About 0.2 miles down canyon is top of a 15 foot downclimb (GrottoNSM08) in a chute. About 70 feet down canyon of the 15 foot downclimb is another drop of about 20 feet. If you continued down this Not So Much Fork you would likely need to rappel the 20 foot drop making it rappel 3.

Note:
We left the canyon at these drops and escaped LDC then contoured around and up and over the ridge to get to the rim of the Layer Fork. Then followed along the rim and the occasional use trail down to the confluence of the Not So Much Fork (this fork) and the Layer Fork. The last 0.3 miles of this fork were skipped but looked like it would be very uninteresting. When you go over to the rim of the Layer fork you can take a short side trip over to the top of the final rap there.

To bypass this lower section as we did exit the canyon by scrambling up the LDC side and route find your way up and over the ridge then down to the rim of the Layer Fork about 400 feet away (GrottoNSM09).

Once at the rim of the Layer Fork scramble down one shelf lower and turn right to walk north down canyon along the rim of the Layer Fork.

Note:
From here you can take a short side trip fro here and walk over to then along a ledge to get to the top of the final rap in the Layer Fork.

About 500 feet farther is the top of a shallow ravine (GrottoNSM10) to follow down then scramble your way down into the wash at the confluence of forks where the Not So Much Fork and Layer forks of Grotto join (jLayer-NSM).

About 500 feet farther down canyon is the top of a narrows (GrottoLayer10) about 200 foot long with 3 moderately difficult drops of 6, 10 and 15 feet. A partner assist will likely be needed on the 10 foot drop. Optionally you can route find your way up and around a long ways RDC to bypass this narrows.

The Exit:
When the final small narrows widens out (yGrottoDV-Bt) walk down the wash about 0.4 miles back to the cars.

GPS Waypoint Information

GPX Files Available for DOWNLOAD.
Downloadable GPX files for many of the canyons listed here are now available at the BG-Gear Store.  In addition to the waypoints, the GPX files also offer routes and tracks for the canyon.  Over time more GPX files will be added.

If you want to avoid manually adding waypoints into your GPS or mapping software, want the additional routes and tracks or simply want to support the efforts put into BluuGnome, head over to the BG-Gear Store and grab the files that interest you.

Elevations are approximate.  Waypoints with no elevation data will display NaN in place of the elevation.

For information about my waypoint naming convention and map symbols, refer to the Glossary page.

Notes for GPS information:
BEFORE
entering coordinates from this website, please ensure your system (GPS or mapping software) is set to the same datum used here.  Waypoint coordinates are listed with WGS84 datum and in Lat/Lon hddd.ddddd° format.  Entering coordinate information with inconsistent datum's can result in the waypoints being off by hundreds of feet.  It is important to keep this in mind when entering waypoints from any source.

Grotto DV - Not So Much Fork 1 - Drive to Trailhead
  1. wStovpipeStore          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.60663   W -117.14688        Elev: 0 Feet
    Convenience store / gas station at Stovepipe Wells.
  2. pkMesqSndDune          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.60625   W -117.11505        Elev: -14 Feet
    Parking area for the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Large parking lot with bathrooms.
  3. exGrottoDV          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.60439   W -117.10572        Elev: NaN Feet
    Turn off to dirt road going to Grotto Canyon. High clearance recomended, passenger cars will have trouble.
  4. GrottoDVMouth          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.58836   W -117.11026        Elev: NaN Feet
    This is the mouth of Grotto Canyon where it opens up to alluvial fan. On the drive up to here from the road this is where you begin to have steep hills on BOTH sides of you (a few hundred feet after you started to have a steep hill on the right).
  5. pkGrottoDV          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.58460   W -117.10608        Elev: 680 Feet
    Parking spot to start the Grotto route. This is about 0.37 miles up into Grotto from the mouth and is near the end of a sweeping left bend and just before a right bend in the wash as you drive up. Park off to the side. There is no signage, markings or good landmarks and a GPS is helpful finding this spot. To begin the route up, go up the slope on the left (east) side of the wash. About 500 feet up the slope you will get up to the crest of the ridge on a saddle.
Grotto DV - Not So Much Fork 2 - Approach
  1. pkGrottoDV          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.58460   W -117.10608        Elev: 680 Feet
    Parking spot to start the Grotto route. This is about 0.37 miles up into Grotto from the mouth and is near the end of a sweeping left bend and just before a right bend in the wash as you drive up. Park off to the side. There is no signage, markings or good landmarks and a GPS is helpful finding this spot. To begin the route up, go up the slope on the left (east) side of the wash. About 500 feet up the slope you will get up to the crest of the ridge on a saddle.
  2. GrottoDV01          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.58564   W -117.10451        Elev: NaN Feet
    Saddle. Turn right and go southeast up the ridge.
  3. GrottoDV02          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.58294   W -117.10179        Elev: NaN Feet
    Ridge begins to get steep.
  4. GrottoDV03          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.58248   W -117.10006        Elev: NaN Feet
    Top of a large outcropping to scramble up. As you scramble up around the outcropping it seems to go a little easier to the right.
  5. GrottoDV04          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57997   W -117.09718        Elev: NaN Feet
    Crossing a shallow saddle.
  6. GrottoDV05          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57885   W -117.09593        Elev: NaN Feet
    Route up the ridge tops out briefly.
  7. GrottoDV06          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57845   W -117.09535        Elev: NaN Feet
    Saddle after the brief top out. Continue up the ridge where you will have a short steep section with a lot of larger rocks to walk through and one small saddle before getting to the high point on the approach ridge about 1200 feet away.
  8. pPointHideous          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57758   W -117.09163        Elev: 2,110 Feet
    Top out of the approach ridge up to Grotto. Cressman named this peak Point Hideous. Follow the more gently sloped ridge southeast down the other side of the peak.
  9. GrottoDV07          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57527   W -117.08784        Elev: NaN Feet
    Saddle along the ridge.
  10. GrottoDV08          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57281   W -117.08586        Elev: NaN Feet
    Saddle along the ridge.
  11. GrottoDV09          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57150   W -117.08587        Elev: NaN Feet
    Saddle along the ridge.
  12. GrottoDV10          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57073   W -117.08558        Elev: 1,970 Feet
    Crossing over a large wash near its top which is very shallow this high up. Continue south across the wide wash then start up the steep slope / ridge to the south. As you go over to the slope you will see a gully going up just to the left of the more rocky terrain. Start up that gully for easier travel but you will soon need to move over onto the more rocky terrain.
  13. GrottoDV11          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56961   W -117.08578        Elev: NaN Feet
    Top end of the gully where you need to move over to the right a bit and continue up the ridge in more rocky terrain with a couple spots of light scrambling.
  14. GrottoDV12          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56824   W -117.08717        Elev: NaN Feet
    Small flat zone for a tiny break in the steep grade.
  15. GrottoDV13          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56567   W -117.08849        Elev: NaN Feet
    Grade gets steeper and more rocky. Going up the crest of the ridge here involves some light 3rd class scrambling and looks more difficult than it is. A few hundred feet fartehr and it becomes a walk again on more gentle slopes. Note: It is possible to contour around this on the right side but it is not fun travel and going up the ridge is preferred. Ask me how I know this.
  16. GrottoDV14          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56433   W -117.08820        Elev: 2,980 Feet
    Top of the 3rd class scrambling and the grade becomes more gentle.
  17. GrottoDV15          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56094   W -117.08910        Elev: 3,339 Feet
    Start of a semi level section. From here you can see a wide mellow saddle a bit lower than you are to the right (west) about 1000 feet away. The drainage running down to the north from that saddle is the Not So Much Fork of Grotto. The Layer Fork of Grotto is one more drainage over to the west. Leave the ridge hear and contour over to that saddle. Contour around and route find your way over to that saddle.
  18. yGrottoNSMTp          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56069   W -117.09240        Elev: 3,167 Feet
    Top of Grotto - Not So Much Fork. This is a wide saddle at the top of the canyon. To drop into the Not So Much Fork follow down the drainage to the north. Down the drainage from here is easy travel down moderately steep and wide ravine. To continue over to the Layer Fork of Grotto follow down the wide slope to the west which slowly starts to turn into a minor drainage.
Grotto DV - Not So Much Fork 3 - The Canyon
  1. yGrottoNSMTp          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56069   W -117.09240        Elev: 3,167 Feet
    Top of Grotto - Not So Much Fork. This is a wide saddle at the top of the canyon. To drop into the Not So Much Fork follow down the drainage to the north. Down the drainage from here is easy travel down moderately steep and wide ravine. To continue over to the Layer Fork of Grotto follow down the wide slope to the west which slowly starts to turn into a minor drainage.
  2. GrottoNSM01          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56442   W -117.09082        Elev: NaN Feet
    Wash / ravine begins to get larger rocks and involves some light scrambling.
  3. GrottoNSM02          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56473   W -117.09099        Elev: NaN Feet
    A scramble / downclimb of about 12 feet followed by a drop of about 20 feet to bypass on the RDC side.
  4. GrottoNSM03          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56740   W -117.09079        Elev: NaN Feet
    Top of a set of about 3 drops to downclimb ranging from 8 to 15 feet each with rap 1 at the forth drop.
  5. dGrottoNSMR1          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56761   W -117.09108        Elev: NaN Feet
    Rap 1 - Grotto Not So Much Fork. Anchored RDC from a double knot chalk and drops about 90 feet.
  6. dGrottoNSMR2          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56779   W -117.09123        Elev: NaN Feet
    Rap 2 - Grotto Not So Much Fork. Anchored from a large rock about 25 feet back and drops about 85 feet down a slightly sloped wall using about 110 feet. Continue down canyon with walking and light boulder hopping.
  7. GrottoNSM04          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.56881   W -117.09135        Elev: NaN Feet
    Drop of about 35 feet to bypass by scrambling around on the LDC side. More walking and light boulder hopping down canyon from here.
  8. GrottoNSM05          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57312   W -117.09093        Elev: NaN Feet
    Canyon makes a sharp left to start going down to the northwest. Continue down canyon with walking and light boulder hopping.
  9. GrottoNSM06          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57446   W -117.09367        Elev: NaN Feet
    Sloped slick downclimb of about 10 feet.
  10. GrottoNSM07          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57552   W -117.09746        Elev: NaN Feet
    Start of a section about 200 feet long of polhised smooth rock to scramble through with a few short downclimbs. This is just after passing a very cool layer of rock extending up from the ground on the RDC side.
  11. GrottoNSM08          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57673   W -117.09938        Elev: NaN Feet
    Top of a 15 foot downclimb in a chute. About 70 feet down canyon of the 15 foot downclimb is another drop of about 20 feet. If you continued down this Not So Much Fork you would likely need to rappel the 20 foot drop making it rappel 3. We left the canyon at these drops and escaped LDC then contoured around and up and over the ridge to get to the rim of the Layer Fork. Then followed along the rim and the occasional use trail down to the confluence of the Not So Much Fork (this fork) and the Layer Fork. The last 0.3 miles of this fork were skipped but looked like it would be very uninteresting. When you go over to the rim of the Layer fork you can take a short side trip over to the top of the final rap there.
  12. GrottoNSM09          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57621   W -117.10066        Elev: NaN Feet
    From the Not So Much Fork on the bypass route to here you will see over to the final rap in the Layer Fork. Scramble down one shelf lower and turn right to walk north down canyon along the rim. Note: You can take a short side trip fro here and walk over to then along a ledge to get to the top of the final rap in the Layer Fork.
  13. GrottoNSM10          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57747   W -117.10161        Elev: NaN Feet
    Top of a shallow ravine to follow down then scramble your way down into the wash at the confluence of forks.
  14. jLayer-NSM          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57833   W -117.10232        Elev: 930 Feet
    Confluence of the Layer and Not So Much forks of Grotto where they join. Continue wash walking down canyon.
  15. GrottoLayer10          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57972   W -117.10259        Elev: NaN Feet
    Narrows about 200 foot long with 3 moderately difficult drops of 6, 10 and 15 feet. A partner assist will likely be needed on the 10 foot drop. Optionally you can route find your way up and around a long ways RDC to bypass this narrows.
  16. yGrottoDV-Bt          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57995   W -117.10317        Elev: 860 Feet
    Bottom of Grotto Canyon just after the last short narrows with a few downclimbs. Walk down the wash back to the cars.
Grotto DV - Not So Much Fork Fork 4 - Exit
  1. yGrottoDV-Bt          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.57995   W -117.10317        Elev: 860 Feet
    Bottom of Grotto Canyon just after the last short narrows with a few downclimbs. Walk down the wash back to the cars.
  2. tGrottoCyn          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.58228   W -117.10404        Elev: 770 Feet
    Trailhead for Grotto Canyon. sings in wash saying no driving up past this point.
  3. pkGrottoDV          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 36.58460   W -117.10608        Elev: 680 Feet
    Parking spot to start the Grotto route. This is about 0.37 miles up into Grotto from the mouth and is near the end of a sweeping left bend and just before a right bend in the wash as you drive up. Park off to the side. There is no signage, markings or good landmarks and a GPS is helpful finding this spot. To begin the route up, go up the slope on the left (east) side of the wash. About 500 feet up the slope you will get up to the crest of the ridge on a saddle.