Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bull Valley Gorge

On October 13th, 2015, I finally got to do a lap through Bull Valley Gorge.

Some backstory:

The first time I saw this canyon was in 1998, while driving through the Grand Staircase. I saw it out of the corner of my eye as I zoomed across a narrow bridge, hit the brakes, backed up, then gawked in amazement. I got out of my car. Is that 400 feet deep? Why the hell is there a car lodged underneath this bridge? Should I even be parked on this bridge??

Back then the internet sucked, and my maps of Utah sucked too. I could not find a map that showed the name of that drainage. I actually made a special trip to the maps department of the University of Utah library to figure it out.

I looked and looked for beta on the canyon, but none existed (however, I did find the history of the truck under the bridge). So, I visited The Gorge again in 2001, determined to downclimb it. But I had no skills and no rope, so I was stopped by the 10 foot drop near the head of the canyon.

Years went by and the occasional photo of The Gorge surfaced on the internet. I visited The Gorge again in 2011, driving towards Page, but had no time to descend it. It continued to call to me.

Then, a couple of months ago, I read about an easy exit. *gasp!* Time to go back. Again.

The Gorge was even better than I had imagined, very scenic. Worth keeping on my to-do list for the past seventeen years. A fun journey, finally complete.

Easy downclimb when dry. Easy rappel when muddy.

Steph is up on the bridge, but you can't really see her in this photo. Can you see the car that creates the foundation for this bridge? It has been there since 1954. Three men were in the truck when they drove into Bull Valley Gorge, killing all three.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Round Valley Draw

On October 14th, 2015, Stephanie, John, Drew and I ventured through Round Valley Draw.

This canyon fit John's abilities well, and it was fun to watch him kick some ass. He did the entire route by himself (assisted at three drops). I hope he reads this report someday so it will remind him of how proud I was of his effort and positive attitude. The boy just radiates enthusiasm, there is no denying, it is contagious.

Our little guy, Drew, well... he did not like the canyon very much... probably because we dragged him through like a piece of luggage. It was no small feat to get him through safely. Let's just say that Round Valley Draw will be the last slot canyon that our kid-carrier will ever see!


The 2nd Downclimb

The 3rd Downclimb


I’d bet this canyon is normally muddy because it is deep, dark and cool. The mud has a high percentage of clay, very sticky, the type that heavily coats your boots, so upclimbing the canyon would be annoying and somewhat difficult, and is not recommended.

The exit route from of the bottom of the canyon is easy. The route back to the car is also very easy.

We encountered three noteworthy drops:

10 foot downclimb (easy/moderate)
15 foot downclimb through a rabbit hole (very easy)
7 foot downclimb (wide and overhung, challenging with muddy boots, easy partner assist)

The canyon was excellent, but a terrible choice for a small child in a kid-carrier. Drew hated the experience, and we had our hands full getting him through safely.

Our older son, John (4.5 years), had a great time in the canyon. However, it was an arduous task for him to climb the loose and steep exit route. Because of the hardships faced on the exit, we recommend leaving kids younger than 7 at home.

Helmets are recommended for everyone on this route. Harnesses are recommended for smaller children. We recently upgraded John’s harness to the Eldrid Fraggle II and it is awesome, a HUGE improvement from his sketchy Petzl Simba harness. All groups should bring a rope for lowering packs and assisting others.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Water Canyon - Robbers Roost

On September 30th, 2015, Stephanie and I headed through Water Canyon, deep in Robbers Roost.

It is funny how each canyon tends to have a consistent personality. This canyon was an ass-kicker, almost tedious at times. Awkward foot placements. Skinny, pack-shredding twisty-turney skinnies. It never relented. It seemed unthinkable that luxurious High Spur was just next door.

I made the keeper pothole as difficult as I could. I couldn’t make the stemming dyno move across, for fear of swinging back (on rope) and smashing my head. So I went in. Hey, maybe I can climb out? Ha! NO!!

Steph raps down and tosses her pack across. She can’t make the dyno with the rope pulling her back. I pull the rope toward the exit, ensuring that she will not smash her head by swinging backward. She lets out 18 inches of slack. I stand in the water, freezing my ass off.

In what other sport does one get the chance to improvise like this? Excuse me ma’m, you need to learn an acrobatic move, over a gargantuan pothole, leaping around a blind corner, while not losing your balance and falling backwards. Oh by the way, you get one try, and if you fail, all hell could very well break loose. And you get to go for a freezing swim in your perfectly dry clothes and freeze your ass off like the father of your children that is impatiently waiting in the gargantuan pothole below. One, two, three… now GO!

Of course she made it. Of course she anchored the rope while I clambered out. Of course I was shaking like hell because time speeds by while devising acrobatic moves. I was probably in that pothole for 30 minutes...

Down a couple of drops into a sandy pothole followed by a 20 foot rappel into a watery hallway. No anchor options. Oh crap. Hey look, small rocks! We lay down some webbing into the v-shape floor of the pothole exit, pile 100 lbs of small rocks on top, drape the webbing over the top of our rocks,

then we pray, “Dear canyon God, please let our micro-rock-anchor hold.”

Steph backs up while I test. It works! Steph raps next. Off we go. During the next couple of days a mouse will scurry over that pile of rocks and likely knock them loose. Then that mouse will be the lucky new owner of 20 feet of green webbing and a shiny new rapid link.

A few hours later we find ourselves in Horshoe canyon. We pass some pictographs, high on the wall above. Up the switchbacks, to the top of the cliff. Ahhh, relief!

It was an awesome day with my favorite canyoneering partner.

I would like to buy a beer for whoever built this anchor (rap #2). 
It is well placed, bomber, and saved us about an hour of tedious deadman construction.

In order to dyno across the top of the keeper pothole one must go around a corner. A difficult move with the rope pulling you backwards. Scary to do after letting out some slack. Also unnerving not knowing the depth of the water, should you fail. What should I have done here? I should have stayed put, asked Steph to rappel on the blocked side, then I should have pushed her around the corner. Then she could have pulled me around the corner. Something we have never done, and difficult plan to devise while suspended over a pothole. Instead...

... I rapped in, froze my ass off, then helped Steph across from below (she made an amazing move to get across, I just pulled the rope toward the exit lip). In the photo below I'm standing on a very small ledge under the water. The rest of the pothole is chest deep. From that perch it would have been quite difficult to push anyone out.

Wearing a neoprene beanie is a great way to warm up after spending 30 minutes in a freezing pothole.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

High Spur

On September 29th, 2015, Stephanie and I took a stroll through High Spur.

It was an absolutely gorgeous canyon. The sandstone in this canyon is so unblemished and red that few other canyons can rival its beauty. The flat bottom is so wide you could almost push a wheelchair through it. Some canyons take a hefty toll, but this one just gives and gives and gives…

There's not much of a story here, except that I wish we had fixed ropes then reversed the canyon, rather than hike out under the hot sun. Even then, the hike out is pretty stunning, and I’m glad we did it once.

Now for some pictures that do little justice...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Red Spur

On September 27th, 2015, Tyler, Jason, Stephanie and I ventured through the North and South Forks of Red Spur.

Red Spur is broken up into three distinct sections: The top of the North Fork, The South Fork, then lastly, the bottom of the North Fork. I’ll say a little about each one.

The top of the North Fork has several fun downclimbs and nice features. It is challenging, but not hard until you get to ‘the hook rappel’. Until we arrived at this drop, I’d never trusted my well-being to a hook before.

When we arrived at the drop, there was a hook and rope already in place left by a previous group. We cut their rope then used their hook. We all rapped with backup, Jason going last, being familiar with hooks.

We got down to the pool and soon realized that our rope was stuck. Dammit. I’d never ascended a rope before. Time to learn how… on a hook? Double dammit! Up I went, using a pair of Ropeman Ascenders. Scary, but relatively safe due to the swimming pool below.

Once back at the top I discovered a silly mistake. Our rope was pinched between the apex of the sandstone and the rapid link, just past the hook. The harder we pulled, the more pinched the rope was. So I extended the anchor and rappelled again. Amazing how fast we burned those 90 minutes.

Onward and upward we walked to the head of the South Fork. A little bitty guy. Supposta be 60 minutes? NOT SO FAST. The South Fork gets serious in a big hurry. VERY skinny right away.

Steph is a lithe beast. At 110 lbs she moves through skinny slots like a boss. She goes first to scout. She barely, barely fits.

So we dudes go up up up. Stemming at the 25 foot level, comfortably across the top of the slot. Downcanyon we scooch. Then the slot changes character and the walls grow tall and parallel, with a very unfriendly v-shaped slot lurking below. The last 100 feet of canyon looks HARD.

Steph chooses the 15 foot level, Tyler chooses the 20 foot level, I choose the 25 foot level. We battle through to the end and wait. Jason chooses a level, runs out of gas, then slips to the bottom of the slot.

Oh shit.

The canyon is so tight where he is that Steph can’t get to him. The canyon geometry won’t let us stem above him to assist. Tyler and I hike to the top of the canyon, on the cliff above Jason to see if we can lower a rope. No, very dangerous, a last resort.

We go back down to the slot and offer words of encouragement, water and calories, then shuttle my elbow and knee pads. After about 45 minutes of being trapped, Jason musters the energy to go up and backwards, to the beginning of the nasty 100 foot section. It sounded horrible.

Jason rests for a bit, then carefully considered his options. Reverse the canyon, or forward? … … Forward! A few minutes later he pops out of the South Fork, quite relieved.

Downhill we race to the bottom of the North Fork. Tricky and very wet. Through a very cold wade that was chest deep.

We arrive at the final drop then overestimate its height. We built a deadman out of sticks and river rocks (bomber!). Then one of us rapped and discovered that the drop was 9 ½ feet. I’ll remember it as a learning experience involving hypothermia and a graceful partner assist.

We hiked back to the cars while watching a complete lunar eclipse. It was an awesome way to finish a memorable day.


The following photos were taken by our friend Jason Pease

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Big Spring Canyon - Northwest Fork

On September 26th, 2015, Tyler, Jason, Steph and I headed out to Robbers Roost. After making the very long drive to camp, we had just enough time to do the Northwest Fork of Big Spring Canyon. This was a great warmup for the rest of the trip, and a much better slot than we anticipated.

The following works of art were created by Jason Pease.