Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
FREEZEFEST VII — 2008–2009
Cheese on Ice
by Ram

—  January 2, 2009  —

I sit and wait for it. I have thought of it for a time, before it comes. My presentation is ready. It comes every night at FreezeFest and many other nights during the year. Others tie the knots. Some build the anchors. The strong and young carry the extra weight. I usually lead the way to the entry spot. But this other thing I do, comes from the question that gets asked. “What should we do tomorrow?”

If I were to act as if I knew what was best, I suspect folks wouldn’t ask me. No one likes to be told what to do. They ask because I present options ... and with the options, the pluses, the minuses, the unknowns, the potential for this, the potential for that. Then the participants makes the choice. I would never slant things toward what I WANT to do! That would speak of an “agenda.” Well maybe I do a little ... sometimes anyway ... or maybe more than sometimes. But I know not to spit into the wind, and I go with the flow.

Being asked so often, I have developed a style ... I pick 2 canyons at the far range of the reasonable. These get rejected out of hand, on one end as ridiculously difficult and on the other end as too banal. Then I present the real pool of options and everyone wades in with their feeling on these options and soon the group collective makes their choice.

It is the night of January 1st. The Black Hole is under our belts. Everyone has LOVED the experience. Dinner is done. Tom has lit his most recent abstract fire structure, and all are settled in for social hour, errrr hours. Many, many hours really. Inevitably it gets asked ... What are we to do tomorrow? I start with the extreme option. I suggest Cheesebox ... I never get to present a second option. A ground swell of YES!! Cheesebox, Cheesebox, lets do Cheesebox!!!!

“What?? The cold of the Black Hole today, not enough for ya,” I ask? Guess not. They thought the Hole beautiful and they want more ice. “One problem,” I state.

They ask, “What?”

“The one problem is there are many problems. Let me review ...”

The crossing of White Canyon may not be doable. More likely is that the road is impassable, with snow close to the trailhead. Even if we get up there, the slickrock approaches are probably impossible, covered in snow. And even if they aren’t, the canyon may be treacherous with ice floes and snow. The canyon is 1,000 feet higher than the Black Hole!! Even if we get through AND the exit route is free of snow then the warm day temps that are at hand may make the road an impassable slop on the way out. Aside from those things, it’s a great idea. It is pointed out about these road blocks I mention?

“Well, we won’t know unless we go and look,” they say.

Heck, I don’t want to lose the day to going and getting skunked, or worse getting the vehicles stuck in a place that may take till spring to get them out. However there is no deterring this group. I sigh and surrender, a victim of my own manipulations. It would be great if we could pull it off though. We shall see.

Out the next morning in the pre–dawn, we hit the crossing of White Canyon and there is no issue. The road was graded since the last vehicle passed. That may have been a few months ago, but graded it is. Halfway to the trailhead, we encounter the snow. The vehicles slide a bit, but there are no big drops to make proceeding too dangerous. The muddy places between the snow become more of an issue. Go slow, but not too slow. Don’t stop. We spot my car at the bottom and Brendon’s landrover makes it up top through as much as 8 inches of snow. Lovely.

I decide not to use the entries described in the 3 primary sources available and use an old one of mine. Why? I think the others impossible due to sun exposure angles. I figure I got maybe 30 degrees of angle from south into southwest exposure that MIGHT be partially snow free! This proves pivotal as parts of the route at those exposures ARE snow–free—the only places that are. The snow is deep and everywhere except our line. The world looks different shrouded in white, as I try to pull images remembered from an earlier time to weave a way in. I find a corner we often descended; but not today—a steep snow slide into a boulder, it would be.

We move north and find a place to rap. Rap on approach? And can we reverse? I look and Aaron. He nods yes. I have learned to trust him. I cross an old entry down to the next to lowest level. It is in condition. It provides another exit option should we need to reverse. Soon I am around the corner, looking at the completely snow–covered entry area to the slot. We will have to slide a slab to access it. I am alone with my thoughts, as the others are behind back at the rap. I prepare. Wetsuit on, gear drybagged, and I rehearse my speech for when the crew arrives. They do arrive and I start. Goes something like ...

“Point of no return, yada, yada, yada.” I remind all that “A twisted knee here is life–threatening, yada, yada, yada ...”

“Let’s go look,” they say.

Low angle slopes are snowslides down to the ice–plated wash. The plates creek and creek and crack. We are at a spot I have called ‘The Dive’—a downclimb into the slot. There are ice floes surrounding the thing. Step on one too close to the edge and ... ziiiip, crash! I am ready to call it. No way in and should we anyway? I probe a different angle and under a boulder is some prussic cord, doubling as an anchor. I sigh. The place is calling my name now. I know that there are no other drops quite like this one. Might it be reasonable beyond? I have to look. The rope comes down and I rap in, on my hip, so slippery is it, down a 3–foot thick ice mound, down 25 feet in two stages. A few feet beyond I note the world is fully dressed in winter, but there are no ice floes blocking the way to the ice–coated pools. I have been sucked along by the enthusiasm of my friends, to here, off my own hair–brained idea, and now it is my call. It feels right.

“Come on down,” I call. Gulp!

One of the reasons we had hoped to do Cheesebox was to remove fixed lines that were likely left by a NOLS group earlier in the fall. We come to the first one, hanging in the air. It is ice encrusted to 5 times its actual diameter. I pull on it and note that it is even more deeply encrusted in ice above. Guess this one is gonna stay. Brendon will take the initiative to pull all but 2 of the fixed lines. Me? I was too busy not falling down and breaking my crown.

This world turns out to be a wonderland. A place more beautiful, I am challenged to remember. The snow, often on the flanks, frames the lowest spots. Ice lies over the course of least resistance. It is thick but rotten and it cracks ... and collapses more often than not. We are forced to move 5–inch thick plates of the stuff in places. We clamber up on our knees in deep water on top the ice. Blocks crack off in front of us. We grab an end, turn it sideways parallel to the wall, and slide it down into the water This is slow work, and we take turns with this hand–numbing work. There is no shortage of folks moving to the front. I swear I saw most of them do so with big smiles and barely refrained joy, not wanting to miss their turn up on point.

At the first normal rap, Aaron is captured off the 2nd fixed rope we find that we are forced to leave, also deeply bound in ice. The sun is pouring directing into the canyon and right into our faces. It is by far the trip’s warmest day. Maybe 50 degrees? Sun on snow and ice. Icicles dripping. The constant crack and crunch of ice not stable enough to hold us. When the boulders come, we slide our bodies into the grooves between them and ride the deep snow to safety below and back to breaking ice and into the frigid water.

It is a happy bunch of people, tempered by the concentration needed and the thin line of margin noted. Some rap, others downclimb the cave–like Zion Falls, and we come to an open area right above the Spiral Staircase. Open area means ice–covered and the first person down takes a ride down to a frozen pothole. “That looks like fun!” Randi calls out, and she and the others take the ride. I take a more controlled mini slide, fretful of old joints and the seriousness of the environ. I rap from the snow free alcove for the first time ever, having downclimbed the airy Spiral Staircase since the early 90’s. Not today. It is plastered in snow and ice.

At one spot, my famous impatience lands me on a huge ice slab and it cracks, and Tom and I are dropped into the icy slush. The difficult downclimbs of the lower part of the main narrows challenge, but soon we are out of the slot. The hiking part is not any easier though. Snow and breakthrough ice make every step one that requires total focus. I spy a spot above. Sun, against the wall. We clamor up and it is snow free and warm. We eat and eat and eat and share each other’s food. The chill of the experience has made simple fare taste wonderful. We revel in the variety and quantity of snacks. How long we stay is determined by the swing of the sun out of our warm cove, and we are forced on our way again.

One more 100–yard narrows takes a long time, the ice thick but not weight–bearing. An exit arrives, but the low part is snow–covered. We barely slip up the 75 vertical feet to better sun angles. That was close. Other escapes exist below, but would involve long detours. I note the normal exit has snow in places and decide that the unknown, but more snow free line to the north is a better plan. The route goes well, nearly to the top ... almost there ... got to see if it plays ... and the call comes out from behind ...

“Must take wetsuits off.”

I try to persuade, “Close to out, a little more?”

They need out of the rubber suit. But I must go see what is ahead. The footprints in the snow leave a bread crumb path for them when they are done changing. Others follow me. The road is reached and taken a few tenths of a mile to my car. I sink in the soft mud on the walk. A concern for the drive out. The strip down. Ah, what a joy. Real comfort with tingling skin. I take Brendon, and we go for the car shuttle. It is a slippery road and we don’t slow. Nor can we go fast. And we make it. I turn around and prepare to go back, awaiting the purr of Brendon’s engine. Click, click, click. Oh no!!! His lights were left on!!

Lucky is he that the last thing he threw in the truck were jumper cables. Lucky for all of us. Back to the gang we go, and, while the road out is sloppy and my rear end slides often, we make it back. The normal 6–hour trip through has taken 5 hours. This surprises. The rap on entry. The ice slowing progress. The one long stop ... but it was our only stop, and here we are, all thrilled by our adventure. The weight of my exertions make me drowsy as I drive out but not too badly that I hand the wheel to Aaron.

We arrive back at Sandthrax and join others who chose Poison Springs canyons for the day. It was for me the best day of the trip. I suspect the others agree. It was beautiful, challenging, and never assured of success until the very end. The crew made noise about it becoming a new tradition. I don’t know about that. I’m inclined to call us lucky and call it good. The pictures to follow only partially do justice to this new canyon world for me. It was simply amazing.

I learned a lot on this day. This snow and ice canyoneering involves a different approach to the next few feet in front of you. Certainly sustained concentration. I also learned that maybe sometimes its better not to be such a wise guy on my suggestions. Some groups will take you up on it. In this case, I’m thrilled that they did.

The crew — Tom Jones, Bill Aho, Landon Michaels,
Aaron Ramras, Randi Poer, Brendon, and myself


Tales of FreezeFest:
Perfect Beginning • Ram
Escape from Canyon X • Tom Jones
FreezeFest II • Ram
Logjams in the Black Hole • Ram
Fixed Ropes in the Black Hole • Dave Black
Joining the Shenanigans Club • Ryan Cornia
FreezeFest III • Ram
Cheese on Ice • Ram
FreezeFest IX (short film) • Dan Ransom  
Crystal Kaleidoscope • Ram
Christmas in Imlay • Ram
A Left Fork Christmas • Ram
Call of the Wild • Ram
Mysterious Christmas • Ram
Holy Water • Ram
A Christmas Heaps • Tom Jones

 new  ‹›  rams tales  

© 2007–2025 Steve Ramras