Cheyava FallsCheyava Falls  

The Discovery of Cheyava Falls

by Emery Kolb

(From The Grand Canyon Guide, May 7-20 1978)


The following account, written in 1935, recounts their exploration of Cheyava Falls below the North Rim. During spring runoff the falls are visible from Yavapai Point.

Emery Kolb

As early as 1902, vague rumors were heard of the mysterious Thunder River roaring far below the western end of the Kaibab Plateau. That these same prospectors and miners who circulated the reports never mentioned a similar roaring of the Clear Creek (Cheyava Falls) in the eastern section of the Kaibab on the western slope under the Walhalla Plateau which gushes out on a slightly higher level from the blue lime wall, is probably due to the fact that the blankets of snow and cold always drove out both cattle and men to lower levels towards the north, preventing them from returning with their cattle before the heavy thaw and after the subsidence of the outpouring of the greater part of the spring run-off from within the cave.

In early May of 1903 William Beeson, now of Flagstaff, who was then driving a tourist conveyance for the Cameron Camp reported seeing from O'Neil (Yavapai Point) a huge sheet of ice several hundred feet in length glistening over the wall a dozen miles away. Our experiences within the canyon led us to believe that it would be impossible for ice to withstand the warmth of the canyon walls so late in the spring. Searching with a powerful glass from the veranda of our studio, we were repaid by finding that instead of ice, the glistening we could see was the top of a high falls of sparkling clear water pouring out of the sheer wall. From then on each spring this was one of the major attractions to be pointed out to the tourists from O'Neil, where it shows at its best advantage, generally beginning the middle of April. The urge of visiting and photographing the remote and undiscovered sections of the canyons was early embedded within us, but it was not until the spring of 1908 that opportunity presented itself, made possible by the cable crossing over the river, and a tourist camp established near the mouth of Bright Angel Creek known as Rusts Camp, later Emery Kolb rigging a boom and pulley for a descent into the Canyon.

Roosevelt Camp as Colonel Roosevelt spent a night there in 1913 and still later called Phantom Ranch. Obtaining the services of one of Mr. Rusts employees, Mr. Israel Chamberlain of Kanab Utah, my brother Ellsworth prepared for a mad dash over the Granite and Tonto bench to photograph the fall. To make the climb and hike with the heavy plate cameras and canteens of water made it impossible to carry a blanket and rations were extremely light and soon exhausted as were the men who sat shivering in the gusts of the cold night wind on the high plateau. My brother was gone four days and returned with excellent pictures.

My first visit was by a different but more dangerous route. With a friend, Milton Madden, our cameras and luggage were dragged and rowed up stream from Bright Angel Creek to Clear Creek in an open fourteen-foot canvas boat. At the mouth of Clear Creek we camped two nights. The trip to the fall and the return to the river occupied a full day. By this route only cameras and a lunch were carried to the fall and we slept comfortably at night without the necessity of packing our beds on our backs, but it was all hard work nevertheless, though' thrilling to the utmost. The return trip to Bright Angel Creek down the river was made in an hour as we were caught in a fast rising river which gave us no little alarm and hazard together with the necessity of quick thinking and quick action.

Since that trip. while much thought may have been given, little action was taken towards the region until Chief Ranger Brooks, with his aids. planted Clear Creek with trout. Mr. Brooks reported finding considerable evidence of small ruins of the prehistoric Indians. Either they had access from the Kaibab at the head of the canyon or followed the tortuous Tonto Bench above Bright Angel Creek and around Brahama and Zoroaster Temples, is still a question to be decided.

Though a topographic map was made embodying this region. not until 1923 was the falls marked on the U.S.G.S. maps. at which time Colonel Birdseye. Chief Topographical Engineer requested us to give the falls an Indian name. My brother chose Cheyava, meaning intermittent river in Hopi which at the time we though applicablel but upon later investigation we found that our supposition that the water dried up entirely part of the year is probably incorrect. In the middle of September 1930 when we thought the falls to be entirely dry we decided to explore the cave. To our disadvantage on the one hand and delight and advantage on the other we were surprised to find considerable water running through the crevices and brush at the mouth of the cave at that tlme of the year undiscernable at a distance, leading us to believe that there is some perennial water there.

Reaching the cave was no minor undertaking. Through our telescope it appeared to us that the 3000 foot descent to the top of the blue lime wall could be reached without much rope work except the final 200 foot sheer drop to a projection underneath the cave.

My brother drove around to the north rim with ropes pulleys beds, etc., to search for the nearest approach from the road for the descent. This being solved he phoned that all was m readiness. To curtail the absence from my daily lectures. and thinking the job might be done in about one and one half days.I flew across, where he met me at the air field. We slept in the pines and made a fairly early start in the morning. A huge cut or slide exists through the entire Kaibab me and almost on through to the bottom of the unusually perpendicular Coconino. Through the telescope the cut appeared to be complete, but arriving near the bottom of the Coconino with our load of rope, cameras, food. and other equipment we were stopped by an eighty foot precipitous drop. Our loads were dropped to the bottom with a rope. several fir trees growing twenty to twenty-five feet from the cliff extended to the top of the ledge. The top of one of the trees was snared: the other end of the rope fastened around a huge rock. Over the rope and down the tree we climbed overcoming our first difficulty. Here food was left for our return. No hats or coats were taken, our sacks, canteens and huge coils of dangling rope gave us enough trouble in the thick brush. About 400 feet below, another ledge of about forty foot drop was passed with the aid of a w ire, which we left there. After we got down the red sand wall, huge fir tree, which was stripped of its limbs by rocks, was slid three hundred feet down and over another 40 foot drop. The small end of the tree flopped down first, making the pole difficult to “coon.”

One hundred and twenty-five feet of rope was left at still a lower point over a series of sheer ledges. From there on leaving nothing but slope climbing in the descent to the top of the blue lime. The amount of rope distributed over the ledges for our return left us but 400 feet of one half inch rope for our block and tackle, just half the amount needed. Darkness was now upon us so we covered ourselves as best we could with knapsacks and whiled the hours away until daylight. We were now without food and water, so leaving our cameras and other equipment we climbed out again to obtain more rope and provisions. About 200 feet of three inch rope was all we could secure, but we decided to make the final 200 foot descent with this addition. The following noon we topped off again  taking what we thought to be sufficient food and water, leaving another cache at the base of Coconino. It was too late to accomplish much that evening, so another night was spent just above the cave. A miserable night it was--no shelter. We worked all morning constructing a boom over the ledge to attach our pulleys. The brush hampered our work in stringing out the 600 feet of rope, and it was nearly 5 in the afternoon when we were ready for the final descent. A heavy storm was again brewing, but as we were again out of food and water, Ellsworth decided to take the canteen and make the drop to the sparkling water 200 feet below us. Sitting in a loop, down he started, I handling the slack end peering a thousand feet below into the Clear Creek Canyon. Ellsworth was just half way down when we were caught in one of the most terrific rain and hail storms I have ever witnessed. The lightning struck many times close by. So strong was the wind I had fear of being blown from the cliff. I withdrew from the edge, tying the rope to a small pinyon, leaving my brother dangling in the air, and as the cliff recedes below he was prevented from steadying himself against the wall which permitted the wind to whirl him round and round until the three wet ropes became as one. When the storm abated some. I dropped a pole to him on a thin line, with which he would poke the wall, gradually unwinding himself. It was a long task but finally the rope slackened. Inch by inch I pulled him down. The cave exploration was cut very short, not only due to having no lights but 200 feet of loose rope must now be untangled from small trees and brush on the ledge below and the hour was growing late. The canteen was filled and I began pulling his 165 pounds of weight up with the three-way rope, which necessitates much more effort than the usual four-way block and tackle. Ellsworth dropped his pole and again the rope spun but by dark I had him up. He was exhausted and the strain was such that I immediately developed an uncomfortable rupture, causing no little in the climb back over the ropes which we had previously left, in total darkness reaching the cache at the base of the Coconino, where it rained upon us the whole night through. We climbed the tree and "cooned" the rope previously mentioned at the break of day and soon tipped out, reaching our car about 10 A.M. My condition prevented further immediate attempts at the cave, for now I could neither walk nor ride across the canyon, necessitating the expenditure of sixty dollars for an airplane to come after me.

With the aid of a helper to handle the ropes at the pulley, my brother made two more attempts. A weighted wire was dropped beside the ropes, preventing them from spinning, but not until the third attempt, when he took a twenty foot ladder to get over rocks in the cave, did he make any real ingress. He describes the cave as being approximately 60 feet high at the entrance, the lower opening blocked by huge rocks which fell from the ceiling. Inside, the ceiling extends upward in the shape of a dome 100 to 150 feet in height. The width about 100 feet with a lake extending 600 feet back. This is divided by a huge rock or ledge necessitating the 20 foot ladder. There are no stalactites of importance but considerable lime crystals and incrustations. With the exception of the 75 feet at the end of the room no wading was necessary. Here the ceiling tapers down to within two feet of the water. A cataract could be heard still beyond, but no attempt was made to duck under the ceiling. A fine trail is now being constructed from Bright Angel Creek to the Clear Creek Falls, but the opportunity for further exploration of the cave is still open. Our boom still hangs over the cliff patiently waiting for the next one.

 Special thanks to Mike Quinn and the Grand Canyon Museum

The Kolb Brother's Fantastic Photos!          A Short visit With Emery Kolb!


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