Soldier Canyon – Prison Camp to Hairpin Turn

After quite a few days of rain this weekend finally brought drier weather, it seemed like an interesting chance to see Soldier Canyon full of water – so we set out on a hike from Prison Camp to Hairpin Turn via Soldier Canyon. If you stay in the water course there are a number of possible rappels – but this is also very fun canyon to do without technical gear and it is possible to see practically all of the canyon without any rappelling. The weather was cold and the canyon full of water so we bypassed optional rappels 1-3. Here is a quick comparison of the water flow between January of 2006 and December 2007:

2006 Soldier Canyon Boulder

2007 Soldier Canyon Boulder

This hike requires a car shuttle – the lower car should be parked in the pull-out along the right side of the road just before the first hairpin turn heading up the mountain (before the road crosses Soldier canyon). Climbers will know this as the parking area for the Hairpin Turn and Rivendale areas. After dropping off the car head for the the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area (often called ‘Prison Camp’) where, just as in past hikes to this area (same hike Jan. 2006, partial version of this hike 2007), we parked in one of the pull outs along the loop at the end of the road.

Start on Soldier Trail which will quickly take you to Soldier Canyon – leave Soldier Trail as it heads up and left and follow the canyon. Bypass the first drops and falls on a climber’s trail on the right side of the canyon and continue hiking and scrambling into and down the canyon. The scrambling in this section is generally easy, but it is also easy to escape the canyon bottom to bypass any difficulties.

Eventually the canyon flattens out as you hike thru the area where Soldier Trail crosses the canyon several times. Soldier Trail leaves the canyon for the last time and climbs up to the cliffs on the left side of the canyon just before the canyon begins to narrow into another beautiful – and possibly technical – section.

As you work down the narrowing canyon bottom you will come to a short drop, optional rappel 1 (depending on water flow stronger climbers may bypass this rappel). Shortly down canyon you will come to optional rappel 2 – this is more easily down climbed than the previous drop but flowing water could make the climbing quite slick. Work past another short drop on the left side of the canyon and down to optional rappel 3 which takes you around a huge boulder that creates one of the most beautiful spots in the canyon. It is awkward – but possible – to bypass optional rappel 3 by working up onto the cliffs on the left side of the canyon. All of the optional rappels can be easily avoided by hiking along the cliffs above the canyon and thrashing back down into the canyon bottom.

After the giant boulder there is one more set of cliffs down canyon that form optional rappel 4 – when the cliffs are dry this could be a down climb for confident climbers (there are also options to escape and reenter to the canyon). Past these cliffs the canyon is a beautiful hike down to Hairpin Turn with a number of small scrambles and occasional route finding puzzles. Map.


2 thoughts on “Soldier Canyon – Prison Camp to Hairpin Turn

  1. Damien Geoffrion

    Great story and photos. A friend and I recently hiked/downclimbed through this area. We set up one rappel anchor just above the giant boulder. We started the day climbing at Jailhouse, then proceeded to “enchain” the other two developed sport crags along the way with climbs at Rivendale and Hairpin Turn. It was a fantastic day in an incredible canyon!

    Nice work with the blog and map!


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