Friday, October 6, 2017

The Beast

The Beast is an unusual canyon with a legendary status.  Some consider it to be the ultimate skinny canyon, the pinnacle of a sub-section of a the sport.  I only know of a handful of people that have done it from the top-down.

We love skinny canyons, so we have long been drawn to The Beast.  In a round-about way we had spent years preparing for this day.  We completed most of the other skinny canyons in Utah in preparation for The Beast. We had to overcome mental hurdles big and small in preparation for The Beast.  I even lost 20 pounds in preparation for The Beast.

On October 6th, 2017, we finally ran out of reasons NOT to do The Beast.

Lower Brimstone is a popular tourist hike, and for good reason, its beauty is stunning.  But even the most adventurous hiker can't upclimb Brimstone far enough to get to the real goods of The Beast.  For that reason, we did not bother scouting it from the bottom during our approach hike.

This was our first visit to the Brimstone drainage.  We arrived at the sandy open wash near the bottom, stashed our jackets in some bushes, then hoofed it to the top.  We brought along one backpack that carried almost nothing: two liters of water, some snacks, a space blanket bivy bag, a camera, GPS, and 40 feet of webbing.  The lack of gear created a razor thin margin of error, but we didn't have much of a choice; we knew a big pack would simply not fit through the canyon.

We downclimbed into the slot then things got serious in a hurry.  We soon we realized that our tiny piece of luggage might not fit.  We took turns pushing and shoving it.  It was comical yet exhausting.  Movement forward was hard, movement up and down even harder.  Every foot of progress took serious consideration because burning out muscles with sloppy form early in the canyon might have produced catastrophic results later when more difficult moves were possibly required.

We arrived at pinch far too narrow for both of us.  Steph went up and over, then scouted ahead.  She dragged the pack and was working hard.  I went over the pinch, then up a level.  Easy.  Up a level more.  Easy.  Up, up, up, to the top level.  High, but easy.

I could hear Steph battling below, but could not see her.  I heard her throw her helmet downcanyon.  She asked if I could come down and get the pack.  I could not get to her without trapping myself in the narrow slot below.  She battled forward, about five feet a minute.  The glimpses of her below were frightening.  She picked up her helmet and threw it again - it stuck between the walls.

I provided moral support from above while baking in the sun.  After about 30 minutes of inching along, Steph escaped the clutches of the crux narrows.  I was still at the top of the slot, some 35 feet from the ground, facing difficult moves ahead.  Over a small silo, then over a big silo, then finally a reasonable option to downclimb to the ground.  Those moves were harder than anything I'd done before, but were surprisingly comfortable.  A step forward in my progression.

The canyon did not relent.  Over pinches.  A hard stem out of water to get past a logjam that was tilting upcanyon.  Muddy feet were a curse while trying to find purchase on the walls.

We reached a remarkable chamber.  We rested and rehydrated.  Some joker left a cairn on a boulder to reassure us that we were on the right path.

After the chamber the canyon walls got smooth.  There was unexpected water on the floor.  Deeper, deeper, deeper.  Soon we were in a hallway about 18 inches wide and found ourselves swimming.  It was honest-to-God terrifying.  If the canyon pinched in the hallway ahead, hypothermia, entrapment, and death would suddenly become real possibilities.

I blocked out the cold and focused on the walls above, looking for a stemming route up and out of the water.  There was none.  Steph swam just ahead of me and I did not envy her position.  Two minutes passed, then three.  Time and distance warp under that kind of stress, so I might be wrong.  After approximately four minutes of swimming, we suddenly hit dry ground and discovered hundreds of footprints in the sandy hallway ahead, left by adventurous tourists hiking up from the bottom.

PHEW!  We made it!

Seconds after completing that transformative rote we ran into a tourist.  She was lost.  "Am I in Spooky Canyon?", she asked.  She did not ask why we were wearing helmets, or why we were dripping head-to-toe with fresh mud.

We just smiled and pointed to where she was on her map.


Advice for Those That Plan to do The Beast:

Stash extra water and needless gear at the bottom of the canyon before heading to the top.  There are groups of trees that provide excellent places to hide things.  You will be glad to have the extra water when you return.

Bring almost nothing through the slot.  You will need water and food in the canyon.  40 feet of webbing is also helpful.

Bring one pack for the group.  Anybody going high should carry the pack, otherwise, the smallest person should shuttle the pack.

Having a very thin partner leading the group is a HUGE asset.  Steph is one of the best skinny-canyon partners in the world.  I can't emphasize how much harder this canyon would have been without her scouting in the lead.

The Beast is a couple of levels harder than other skinny canyons.  It is significantly harder than Trachyotomy, Trail, Hard Day Harvey, Chambers, or Shenanigans.  The chamber is the only easy section of The Beast.

If you are a thin 5.11 OW crack climber, or a seasoned X canyoneer, you will probably find that the canyon to be a romp and might find my warnings to be silly.  Nonetheless, the advice above will still help you.

And lastly, scout the bottom of the canyon so that you don't get surprised by a swimmer!!

Have fun and be safe out there.


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