Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
by Ram

I joined a canyon internet forum (Canyons Yahoo Group) many years ago, prodded to do so by Pitney. I am glad I did. All of the new friendships, new techniques, and great places I have visited since then have made that choice one of the best I have ever made. I used to sit back and read what all the ‘experts’ had to say, quite intimidated by the idea of contributing myself. You see these folks did not lack for egos, and boy did they get into some harsh arguments that could best be described as heated and personal. I was quite certain I would get my head handed to me if I opened my mouth. I remember thinking that no one was willing to admit to ever making any mistakes.

I got the clever idea that if someone went first, told a funny tale of stupidity, and did so with humility, others might follow suit and a new atmosphere might prevail on this group. So I wrote my first story ever with these goals in mind. A few people were moved by the spirit of the thing and shared some stories of their own. Unfortunately, all the big players at the time did not follow suit. All I can figure is that these people never made any mistakes. Most of these folks ‘beat each others brains in,’ for years, until they, wrought with frustration, moved on to other things or places. Now the group is much more civil than back then....and much more boring. It was entertaining to watch those old veterans have their ‘food fights,’ but it rarely left one feeling good. Sorta like not being able to avert your eyes from a car wreck.

For me, the hidden and long term benefit of telling that story was that I found that I enjoyed writing, so I got a new hobby for my trouble. Stefan wanted to use my original tale for his story site. After 7 years of practicing, I thought I could do the story much more justice now and he has given me the time to do so. That, and I wanted to tell this little narrative above, explaining how I started writing.

Now to the story ...


Back in the 1980’s, our group of adventurers were a lively and gung–ho group of folks. We were OK alpine climbers and we dabbled in technical canyoneering. Almost no one else was at that time. We knew this because we almost never came upon any footprints anywhere we went. It also meant that we didn’t know many tricks of the trade commonly used today. We tossed 60–meter dynamic ropes off of every drop, sometimes into oak trees, knew just a minimal amount about anchor building, and had a proper fear of getting in over our heads. In particular, anchorless drops and keeper potholes, which we had heard faint rumor of, terrified us.

Our solution to not getting in over our heads was to ascend canyons first, where we could. We figured correctly, that we could get down anything we could get up. A drop we couldn’t ascend? We would exit the canyon, if we could and reenter above the obstacle, as possible. In this manner, we explored Cheesebox Canyon in the late 1980’s, into the early 1990’s. Back then, we didn’t even have 4x4 vehicles, so we approached the canyon from the pavement. This leaves one with a very long hike upcanyon to even arrive at the technical part. We didn’t mind. With each trip, we problem–solved and pushed up further.

On our third trip up the canyon, our group of 7 folks each went as far as we desired and our skills could take us. Gear would get dropped to be picked up on return. Folks turned around where they would when they had had enough for the day. I pushed up furthest, this day, with one fellow named Josh to what we now call the Spiral Staircase. You enter a waterfall room through a narrow doorway, weave back up some boulders, and spiral around to a knife edge boulder. From there, you’re staring at a step over to a steep slab 20 feet below the lip. Ahhh but the spot is mightily exposed. If you make the step, will you stick? If you stick, can you do the climb? I stood on the edge of the boulder and tried to get the nerve up to step over. Josh, the last hold–out on this upcanyon exploration, did the same in turn. Neither of us could pull the trigger.

Finally Josh left and headed back. I could not pull myself away from the spot. I dropped my pack. I sighed deeply. I determined to go. I remained frozen to the spot. A half an hour disappeared. Up to the edge, then back from the brink. Again and again. Time was up. I felt the responsibility to head back and not have my group waiting on me. One more time up at the stance ... and I made the step ... and I stuck ... and I scrambled up the slab to the rim!! I was light headed. Adrenaline surged. I was elated. I continued in a rush, up the canyon. I reached a dark cave like drop in little more than 10 minutes. I probed a slippery groove, but it looked unlikely above and I was out of time ... and the downclimb of the Spiral Staircase weighed heavily on my mind. I tagged this new high point and turned back, pleased that new ground had been visited and a substantial obstacle had been passed.

In minutes, I was back at the slab. The adrenaline still surging. Being sans rope and harness, there was no other options but to downclimb. With focus, I executed the moves and was swiftly down the slab. Exhale! I used the rest of my nervous energy to surge down canyon and reestablish contact with the group, high as a kite from my stretching my abilities a bit further.

By the time we hit pavement again, we had spent 12 hours in the canyon. I surmised that to push further up it would be smart to do an overnight to buy additional time for the upper canyon exploration. And so it was 5 months later, Vladman and I, full–packed and 5 hours up the canyon, set camp by a spring up on a small ledge. The next day, loaded for bear gear–wise, we headed upcanyon. Several swims and small climbing problems led us to the Spiral Staircase. I had shared my experience from the past trip, building the spot up in Vlad’s mind. And my own too! Still when you have done something, you know that you can do it again and after a bit of lip–biting, I was across and up. Vlad followed after some more hesitation. I led us to my turn–around spot, suggesting that we may not get further. It was Vladman’s turn for inspiration. He did the groove and stemmed up, found a rounded rock knob and mantled up to a ledge halfway up. It had looked bleak, this upper part of the climb, from below. But, as often happens, getting up close opens doors unseen. A cave that we could crawl through was now visible, and we were soon past what became known as Zion Falls.

I was impressed. The Vladman was a talented climber and soon would be a veteran of such climbs as The Nose of El Capitan among others. So I was quite happy to have him there when we reached a dryfall that seemed to offer no options. Our solution to the problem was something new to me. I stood in waist–deep water, and Vlad climbed up onto my shoulders and placed cams in a horizontal crack, well above, and set etriers on them. From here he did some fine climbing up the chute and out. Then I tried my first ascending. Let’s just say, it lacked any semblance of grace. Soon enough we were both over what he named Friendly Falls. A few more obstacles remained. An ugly ascent of the 12–foot, overhanging Thrash Falls sticks in the memory, but soon we were out of the slot!!

Success, at last!

We found our way up the various stair–stepped rims and headed west toward Found Mesa until we hit the ‘Cheesebox Road,’ noting features on the mesa that helped me memorize the start–in spot that would allow us to find our way into the canyon from up there in the future. Actually, we would cross country from the pavement, down into White Canyon, then out, passing ruins in a canyon to the west of Cheesebox which we named Cheeseblock on our way to this entry.

We started our descent. Vlad was comfortable setting up anchors for all of the drops but was stumped by the Spiral Staircase. This drop offered few obvious options. The effect this had on me made my head swell right up. After all, I was comfortable downclimbing this drop, and here the Great Vladman was nervous!! Hee hee, haw haw! Boy was I feeling full of myself. I knew I had the advantage of having been up it twice but, more importantly, down it once. This only added to my hubris.

As I strode, exaggerated steps, toward the edge of the drop, ready to lead the way for my talented friend, I tossed my ski pole ahead, knowing it would fall 50 feet down to the canyon floor. Except it didn’t. Rather than clang, clink, bang, thump, it went ... clang ... then silence.

What the ...?

I peeked over the edge of the big drop, and there was the pole, lying on the edge of a chockstone, wedged high up in the canyon. Oh yeah, aren’t I the clever boy!?!? Took the starch right out of me!

Now what to do? So Vladman and Mr. Big Shot went to tossing small rocks at the ski pole, hoping to dislodge it from the ledge and have it drop where I intended it to go in the first place, the canyon floor far below. With some effort, we made progress and the pole was edging closer to the drop. At this point, the angle, which had served us so far, was no longer that good for our purposes. It became necessary to climb down the slab, to the boulder, part way down the Spiral Staircase. From my new perch, I had many rocks at my disposal at a gravel bar next to the boulder and was much closer to the ski pole.

We tossed. Missed. We tossed. Missed. We tossed, hit and nudged the pole ... and so it went. After 15 minutes of this, the pole was almost off the ledge. I reached down and took another rock from between my legs, the same place I had taken all the rocks from ... I felt a strange vibration. I heard a rumbling sound. Before my eyes, the rocks between my legs started to sink! Then fall! And then a hole opened. The the hole grew quickly. Fear gripped me. I literally flew over, onto the boulder, as I watched a 3–foot diameter hole open up, encompassing where my feet had just been. Through the hole, I saw the canyon bottom visible some 30 feet below. I had been taking rocks from a suspended gravel bed, between the boulder and the canyon walls, well above the canyon floor! An ‘Island in the Sky’ if you will. I was lucky that I had not fallen to my death.

So it had only been a few arrogant steps from ‘full of myself,’ to having my pants full of something else. No one else need ever have known the truth. But I knew. For me, a reminder to watch my step. The ones with my feet and the ones in my head. Yes, with some creativity, you can ‘attitude’ yourself to death.


Original Version: link to Canyons Yahoo Group Post #6234
  Almost Terminal Stupidity — Arrogance • Ram
Original Version: reprinted on Canyon Tales
  Arrogance • Ram

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