Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
A Different Breed
by Ram

It started with Skunkman telling me he had a conference in Phoenix, Arizona and had to fly in. Why not invite folks along, extend the trip a bit, and have a little fest? It was scheduled for late January 2007 and dubbed Snowbird Fest. Randi, Gary, Mike, Doug, Paula and others came from afar. Judy and I too. I planted seeds with the locals. Todd and Stephanie came. So did Arizona Aaron, Tim, Nikki, Bill and Tom Wetherall. Four days planned in the Globe area—the Salome Jug, Parker, Cibique and other fare on the table.

Fact: If you stay in a hotel, 2 hours plus from the canyons, you end up not going canyoneering very often. So it was with the folks that came from afar. It took great prodding to get them hotel people out for one canyon. When we did, it was special. A crew of 12 or so in the Jug in late January in wonderful conditions. Good flow, excellent water quality, warm sun. Great stuff.

At the trip’s beginning, Judy and I chose to forgo the hotel and traveled to Roosevelt Lake and joined all the folks who live in Arizona who were dedicated to actually canyoneer and were camping out. The canyons were great, often in high flow and involving working around ice flows—just wonderful. Many fine images remain in my mind from those days, but one stands out far above the rest. Here is the tale.

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We were around the campfire, after dark, with all the Arizona folks and they get to telling stories of their explorations. You need to understand that in Arizona there is some great canyons, but they take great effort to find and establish. In Utah, most every canyon is special. In Arizona?? Ahhh ... not so much. They are fewer and further between. They can have shorter great sections with longer approaches and exits. The pay for the play ratio can often be higher than what we get up to the north. This really has become something of a badge of honor among the Arizona crew. A motto of these folks is ‘Struggle, Suffer, Die.’ I think the part about dying is metaphorical? I think?

So with dinner done, the fire lit, and some spirits flowing, the crew starts into telling tales of some of the explorations that turned out to be duds. That happens, you know. Next time someone shows you a ‘find’ remember to thank them for the effort which may have involved some tough days without reward. Or is there reward in struggling, suffering, and sort of dying when searching for a new canyon, win or lose? I think so. The Arizona folks definitely do! I saw it in the eyes and manic voices of our company around that fire that night. The discussion turns to the intensely well defended plant life in Arizona that defends these canyons. I can’t do better than Todd did in his first book. See below:

“Cholla: This cactus consists of thorny segments, with barbed hooked spines. When brushed, the segments break off and embed themselves in your flesh. The spines are sharp enough to penetrate boot leather and seem to slide effortlessly into your skin. Removal is complicated by the facts that its difficult to get a grip on the segment without your hand also becoming stuck (Winding up like the Br’er Rabbit in the process).”
        —Todd Martin, Arizona: Technical Canyoneering.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it. Laughter reins around the fire as these folks talk of their encounters with the ‘sharp’ world they inhabit. They talk about another villain, with equal pride. This time it is catclaw. From Todd again:

“Catclaw: While cacti may be the most conspicuous of the floral hazards, the catclaw acacia is by far the most bothersome. Catclaw is a shrubby, woody plant with tiny, hooded, razor-sharp thorns which smnag and tear clothing and skin. The plant tends to grow in thickets across unused trails and is difficult to avoid.”
        —Todd Martin, Arizona: Technical Canyoneering.

There are other pricklies out there, but these two seemed to dominate the stories. This brings more and more laughter, the more beer that is consumed. No bottle opener? Tim does the job with his teeth—as he has done for over 30 years.

Nikki says to him, “Your going to lose a tooth some day doing that.”

Tim scoffs. Thirty years is a pretty good track record. Someone else passes him a beer to open. Tough crowd down here!! Soon the crew was showing their many scars to each other. In scenes reminiscent of the scar showing scene in the movie Jaws, the crew try to “one up” each other with their scars.

“YEAH? Look at THIS ONE!”

Judy and I look at each other and smile. I really like these folks. Their brand of masochism has style and depth.

The evening progresses and in one of those moments when everyone is face forward, hypnotized by the fire, I hand and unopened beer to Tim as I stare forward at the fire. In the darkness, everyone sees a small white projectile fly over the fire and land on the ground. Everyone freezes. Tim slowly and calmly gets up, strolls over to the white projectile, picks it up, puts it in his pocket, strolls back to his chair, and sits. No one looks directly at him. Not a sound is heard aside from the crackle of the fire.

A minute passes in further silence.

Then Nikki says, “Told ya!” and the crowd erupts in uproarious laughter.

Tim hands me my now opened beer. I look at it with much less interest than a few minutes ago but decide that this beer must be honored for the sacrifice made in its opening. I drink it with relish. Yes, indeed, they make ‘um tougher down ‘Zona way. A different breed.


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