Monday, July 29, 2013

Stewart Falls

On July 29th, 2013, I used up one of my 9 lives. My pictures suck, but the story is pretty good.

On our way down to Capitol Reef, we stopped and met Blake and his crew in Provo Canyon. Oddly I'd never visited Provo Canyon before and was impressed with it's beauty. Our objective for the day: Stewart Falls.

We start loading up gear for the hike and I notice that my helmet is missing, forgotten at home. This was the first of several mishaps.

We hike up the side of the falls without incident. Blake is an excellent leader and the ascent is very efficient. Once we reach the top of the falls everyone begins pulling out wetsuits. "Wetsuits?", Josh and I both proclaim. The need for neoprene was news to us on this warm July day.

If I had done my homework, like I normally do, I would have quickly learned that the falls are fueled by almost frozen water. I stick my hand in the creek. It is colder than the coldest water that comes out of your shower at home. "Josh and I will tough it out.", I say.

I go first down the initial rappel. The water is unavoidable. Instantly, I'm drenched with ice water. I quickly set up the next rappel....

Down we go, setting up and tearing down rappels as quickly as we can in order to complete the route by dark. Josh and I are very cold. We arrive at the final rappel and are greeted by webbing that has been set up by chimpanzees. I cut it all out and rebuild it. Soon the 300 foot rope arrives and we get the rappel line set. We turn on the walkie-talkies and Blake heads down with one of them.

Just as he arrives at the bottom, the walkie talkies die.

We all look at each other and take turns pulling on the rope to see if Blake is done. It's tough to tell; the rope is heavy and the falls are pulling hard on the rope. Cautiously, the other members of the group rappel down the 250 foot drop.

I look at Josh and say, "Shoot man, what else can go wrong?", then thunder rumbles around us. I look above him and see a HUGE thundercloud rolling over the mountain. It begins to rain just as it is my turn to rappel. I work my way towards the edge and it begins to POUR.

I look over the edge and try to see the team at the bottom. So much rain was hanging in the air between me and the ground that it was difficult to see anything at all around the base of the falls. It was impossible to see people. It was pouring THAT hard.

So, I decide that I want to get to the bottom fast. I set up my ATC with minimal friction. Another mistake.

It starts raining even harder. I step over the edge of the falls; the sight I see is surreal. An ENORMOUS 250-foot waterfall covered in a foot of moss. I feel like Luke Skywalker when he first met the Rancor; overwhelmed by the daunting power of the falls. There are strips of moss falling off my feet the size of doormats, then falling out of sight, obscured by the water. To my side, an astonishing display of water accelerating off the lip of the falls then away from me.

A LOT of water that will be hitting me very hard, very soon.

I clip a biner into my leg loop and reach for another, in case a Z-rig is needed. Then I discover I have no more biners... they've all been used for biner blocks and are now safely at the bottom of the rappel with my other teammates. Half Z-rig will be good enough, right?

No. Not right.

I head down knowing that if I pull a rock from above, I could die. If I get stuck on rappel, same result. This must be fast and perfect. My hands are frozen and almost useless.

I get halfway down the rappel and clip into my leg loop and pull up. HARD. NOT enough friction. The waterfall is pummeling me and I begin to loose control. I'm still at least 100 feet off the deck.

I scream to Blake, "Fireman!! Fireman!!", but he can't hear me over the roar of the falls, over the thunder, and the rain. I manage to stop myself and scream for assistance some more. Blake then realizes I'm in trouble and quickly bolts for the rope. He pulls with a few pounds of tension via fireman belay and assists me to the bottom.

Josh quickly and skillfully follows me then we pull the ropes in the freezing rain. We bolted quickly back to our cars and cranked up the heaters, happy to be alive.


Thanks to Blake and his team for inviting me on this adventure. I'm fully accountable for forgetting my helmet, my wetsuit, my biners and my common sense. The thunderstorm was terrible luck. We all did our homework on that one, just hours before, and it still snuck up on us.

Thanks again Blake for saving my bacon! I would have cratered without your assistance, and I am grateful.


Top Half of the Final Rappel

Bottom Half of the Final Rappel

Josh on Rap #3

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