Keyhole Canyon, Las Vegas

Keyhole Canyon, 3AI
El Dorado Mountains, Nevada

I found out about Keyhole Canyon back before I’d put my interest in canyoneering into motion. I tore the article (“Adventures In Your Backyard”) out of the Desert Life magazine and stowed it safely in my pile of other papers I may never look at again but I feel good knowing they’re there. I figured out where it was, which was conveniently & torturously on my way to work. When canyoneering became a reality, I made Keyhole Canyon my very first goal. It was an easy, beginner’s canyon and one of the few we had info on in the Las Vegas area. (No, I hadn’t met Rick & his canyons yet!)

On an impulse one Thursday evening, I turned down a powerline road on my way from work and aimed the truck towards where I imagined Keyhole Canyon to be. An hour and a half, many 12 point turns & one sandy wash truck-stuck mishap later, I found the canyon. I walked the few hundred feet in to the base of the last rappel. Looking up at the 100 foot dry-fall, I felt my stomach drop. I began doubting myself, wondering if I’d even be able to get over my fear of rappelling.. That visit, combined with the assumption that it would be my first canyon, gave me a special relationship with Keyhole that even the Native Americans who doodled on its walls couldn’t compete with.

Keyhole wasn’t actually my first canyon, because instead of going the gradual ‘beginner’ route, I met Rick and dove head first into the world of technical canyoneering. Now, after doing some crazy, extreme, advanced canyons, I still feel the need to ‘conquer Keyhole.’

And so, I do.

hiking up the approach

this guy was basking on the rocks but calmly slithered away when he saw me

looking out over El Dorado Valley

The canyon was gorgeous, and the smooth, pale rock is not at all what you’d expect to find in the rugged Nevada wilderness. We did 5 rappels and lots of fun downclimbing, making the canyon just challenging enough without tipping over into the “scary” category.

trusting a pile of rocks to hold my weight…

OK well remember when I said the canyon was challenging without being scary? That was excluding the 2nd rappel. I didn’t take any pictures of it because I was too busy freaking out. It was the mother of all awkward starts, with the anchor positioned low and angled to let the rope swing as soon as I weighted it. My options were to walk backwards off a slippery & steep boulder, or to downclimb past a few boulders that overhung the rappel. Both were terrifying. After 20 minutes of panic, I lay down on my stomach on the edge of the downclimb boulders and just let my rappel device scrape into the rock as I slowly slithered backwards. Luckily I didn’t leave any marks. I would’ve felt bad about that later.

After psyching myself out over the previous rappel, I approached the big finale; the rappel that had me doubting I could ever take up canyoneering.


As we got ready for the rappel, a family with a slew of children was setting up camp near the mouth of the canyon. The kids were climbing around high enough that they could see us and suddenly, they did.

“Look, Dad! Mountain climbers!!!”

I so felt like a rockstar.

And as an aside, some petroglyphs. Keyhole Canyon is on the map because of this huge collection of rock art, some of the coolest I’ve seen. A lot of it is fading fast, probably due to the popularity of the area and people like Mary, who scratched her name over a few complex doodles.

My pictures don’t do it justice, but I give them to you none-the-less. You’ll have to click on them to see the bigger size, sorry about that.

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Many of these pretty pictures were taken by Adam and not me.



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