Clinging to the crimson quartzite, I felt my feet slip on the water-smoothed rock. Piles of driftwood left by floods 15 feet above the waterline offered the only handholds.
If I tumbled down into the narrow pool, deep in the heart of Box Canyon, I knew I’d break at least three things on the way down: my pride, my ego and several bones.
So moving from one teeny, tiny handhold to the next, I climbed to the top, before standing, breathlessly.
“Riffraff filter,” shrugged my fishing friends, seemingly indifferent to my near-death experience.
This counted as my sixth “riffraff filter,” designed to keep the undeserving out of this spectacular, remote and challenging canyon.
First, we hiked down the steep unmarked trail. Next, we crossed the freezing Christopher Creek as it plunged toward its confluence with Tonto Creek. Then we navigated a narrow cliff pass, scrambled down a scree slope laced with prickly agave and finally climbed an endless succession of boulders.
My boyfriend, Drew, and his friend, Joe, had fished here many times before.
They like the riffraff filters — even welcome them.
Most people they have brought here never return.
“They think we are crazy,” they say. As I looked up the narrow slot canyon I could see why.
But to them, it is fishing heaven.
Game and Fish last stocked German browns here in the 1970s. Joe has pulled out several 16-inch-plus Germans from the pools that stream down the canyon, each connected by a waterfall.
Drew caught his first Rim Country fish in Box Canyon, a rainbow trout.
And it is where Joe and Drew surprised a canyoneering group, decked out in wet suits, harnesses and ropes. They were amazed to find two men scrambling along the cliffs and pools in hiking boots.
I had to know what all the fuss was about, despite Drew’s warnings about the “riffraff filters.”
We planned to spend two nights near the banks of Christopher Creek, just below Box Canyon.
After hauling down my overstuffed pack with enough food to last at least a full week, we set up camp.
A small, spring-fed stream ran along the east side of our camp, joining a creek swollen with snowmelt. The sound of flowing water drowned out any sounds coming from the forest, including the snaps and cracks that normally keep me up at night. I slept peacefully, if naively, dreaming of all the fish I would catch the next day.
We set out at 6:30 a.m. from camp, hiking upstream. It all looked pretty tame. The creek, sparkling in the sun, looked like a scene from a calendar.
Then we turned a corner and I finally saw Box Canyon for the first time. Cliffs of metamorphic rock fused by heat and pressure towered on either side.
Pressure? I felt it as we scrambled up the first set of boulders.
The trail seemed to vanish deep into the canyon. I wondered where we were headed.
I soon learned it was across the creek, which we would need to cross several times.
Each time the crossing became trickier.
At one, Joe held out a hand so I could make the five-foot crossing. The rush of water nearly knocked me off my feet and washed me downstream. We were all soaked now, except for the dog, which Drew lovingly carried across each pass.
After more scrambling, we came to the biggest crossing yet — a four-foot jump across a gap. Below the gap, a tumbling waterfall promised certain doom.
Unsure, Drew and Joe jumped across first and held out their hands. I barely made it. We kept on, stopping to fish every so often.
Finally, we could make it no further without climbing gear. So we turned around, fishing the pools on the way back.
We lost plenty of lures on greedy tree branches, but had not a nibble. Finally, Joe swore he felt a fish on his line, but when he pulled the rod up, it was empty.
In the end, I never saw one fish.
Fishing heaven? Maybe for the fish ... who never get caught.
But then, perhaps for Joe and Drew — the lure’s in the challenge.
I was determined to get out after two days camping by the creek.
And 39 flights later (according to my Fitbit fitness tracker), I was back at our vehicle — final riffraff filter checked off.
Will I return? I don’t know if I have the courage to make some of those water crossings again.
So, maybe the riffraff filters worked after all.
Contact the editor at