Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
FREEZEFEST II — 2003–2004
FreezeFest II
by Ram

We had had so much fun starting 2003 in the desert that, when I found out that the family was once again going to Florida over the holiday, Tom and I nearly leapt at the opportunity to organize this year’s FreezeFest. The trip started with a drive from Colorado on the afternoon of the 27th, the infamous Vladman sitting shotgun. We two would draw the trip to a close with a drive home on the 4th of January.

I spent the weeks leading into the trip doing the usual, throwing bait here and there to see who would be foolish ... I mean ... inspired enough to join us in the trip we dubbed the FreezeFest. The replies we received varied, but there was a common theme, and I quote, “What are you nuts? I ain’t swimming in January!” We learned a lot last year and learned even more this year having spent nearly 2 weeks living outdoors in the shortest and coldest days of the year.

I would like to share some observations. There’s a rhythm to the thing, and it goes like this. I, unlike most of the folks, slept out in the open. I don’t require much sleep, so I could see the movements of all the others. I would note the group peeking outside at 7:00 am in first light and then quickly burying themselves back into their shelters. At 8:00 am, the bravest of the brave would come out to cook hot breakfast. Ryan Cornia would be first up on the 4 days that he attended, cooking his daily oatmeal. I chose a variety of soups. Tom would put potato dishes together.

Anyway, with temperatures ranging from 4 degrees to a balmy, drizzly, 32 one day, the drill would be to get up and to put on a ton of layered clothing. It would take us hours to get out of camp. We had one truly decadent indulgence. Many of us would drive the 4.9 miles every morning to take our morning constitutional in the shelter of the Hog Springs facility (I’m sure you wanted to know that). On the colder mornings, water would be heated to pour on to the neo socks and our canyoneering shoes, thawing them ... so one could put them on. Somewhere between 9:30 and 10:30, off we would drive a short shuttle and into our canyon of the day.

Off we would start from the flatlands above the canyons in vicious wind chills. It was at these times that I and others most questioned the sanity of our endeavor. Soon though, we would be in the bowels of the canyon, protected from the wind and shedding our layers. On three of the days, we finished canyons early enough, say 2:00 pm, to scramble, set up another shuttle and descend another canyon, slipping out just before dark. I believe the colder temperature drove us through some of these canyons in faster time, opening up this opportunity for added indulgence. I remember thinking that there was no sense in settling into camp and becoming stationary and, as such, chilled until absolutely necessary.

Upon arriving back at camp and changing out of the hiking clothing, the evening program would begin. It would start by overdressing for the occasion. I would most often be garbed in 2 hats, gloves, 5 layers on my upper body, 3 layers on my lower body and Alaskan Airforce bunny boots upon my feet. Really quite weather proof, although one did feel like the Michelin Man. Big dinners, tea, cocoa, and for 2 hours eat, eat, eat. And drink. We had fires on 5 nights, on the other 3 nights the winds would be whipping too strongly for fires to be practical and safe. We retired to Tom’s huge tent, on those occasions, all in our comfortable soccer mom chairs, sitting around the propane stoves, headlamps pointed to the ceiling. What we found was the collection people who would come out to play at this time of the year were a spirited and interesting lot. The conversation sizzled, with spirits available for those who chose. Bedtime would often come between 10:00 pm and 1:00 am. It is awfully nice to have a subzero sleeping bag.

Vladman and I arriving at 8:00 pm on the 27th, found Escalante Backcountry Ranger Bill Wolverton waiting for us. Campfire stories ensued and the next day Vlad’s friend Eric arrived. We went and did 2 canyons, one an exploration. Highlights of the day were doing a free rappel down to the edge of a wet keeper pothole vigorously pushing off the walls to avoid a swim. Huge icicles hung many feet from the overhanging wall. Another dark twisting corkscrew down climb was done on belay. When we started down, the second canyon, we noticed the footprints of a solo canyoneer. We followed those footprints all the way down to my vehicle at the bottom. I learned many years ago to cache my key somewhat close to the vehicle and to show my partners the location, so that anyone arriving back at the car would have access. This is a handy approach and makes your world a little safer. Now this lone canyoneer, whose footprints we followed, revealed himself in his modus operandi by first finding my key cache and immediately finding his way to my buried cache of beer. Yes, I guess I have done a lot of days with Tom in the last 2 years and he has me pretty well pegged. Nice work, Mr. Jones.

The next day, with Tom and Ryan on board, we descended Stair Canyon. On the half mile trek cross country to enter the canyon, wind chills were way below zero. This was the coldest hour of the trip. But once again, once in the canyon, life became quite comfortable. Soon, we were in one of 2 extremely narrow sections. Squeeze, stem, chimney and generally break a big sweat. This is a great little narrow section requiring judgment and energy. The second narrow spot, which I chose with 2 others to avoid, is a 20–yard Mae West stem, 40 feet or so off the deck and no chance to get down into the bowels. Tom and Vlad rated it sustained 5.8.

A short distance below, the group made the commitment rapping off the Keyenta Falls. Several miles later, we were presented with the Wingate Narrows and Falls. This is where we stripped down (most of us) wearing our hats, our helmets, our harnesses, our socks, and our shoes for a little December dip. I had tried to convince everyone that, when one has this experience, 5 minutes after this shocking event one is completely comfortable again and, as such, it is no big deal. I made many converts. So to you out there who still feel that this is nuts, well, maybe a little, but the concern about it is much worse than the reality.

The next day it snowed in the early hours, and we waited for some of the snow to melt or blow off the slickrock. We did a couple of North Wash canyons and generally had a good time. In the evening, Bill left and Steve Cole and his friend Mike arrived. These folks reminded me of the story of the barbarians coming over the 7 hills and precipitating the fall of Rome. Politically correct? I don’t think so. They were in the neighborhood to take pictures and I can only attribute their behavior to their frustration at not doing canyons with us. The year’s last day saw us in Shenanigans. I had been down it just 2 months earlier, and it is one of my favorite canyons. Its 4 narrow sections, each harder and more committing than the last, are great fun. Ryan exited the canyon after the 3rd narrows by the route of my escape of the year before. This leaves Tom, at 180 pounds, still the largest soul to squeeze through the 4th and tightest narrows. We stayed up partying until 1:00 AM bringing in the New Year.

The next day was the 2nd annual New Year’s Day descent of the Black Hole. We arrived, the 4 of us, Tom, Eric, Vlad and I, at 10:30 AM to meet Dave Black and his 2 friends. The weather would get up into the 30’s under cloudy skies. We had heard that there had been a major flood in the Black Hole on September 8th and that it had created some new obstacles. We chose to throw in a couple of harnesses and 150 ft of 6 mm pull cord. The approach went well cracking the ice on an occasional pool—until reaching the Black Hole section proper. Coming around the corner there stood a logjam, 40–feet high, blocking the entire canyon. OK! This is a little different. Mr. Black led the way crawling through the darkness, under the logjam making sure not to touch any of the potentially unstable logs supporting tons of other logs. Out the backside we went and into the hole section and found it completely dry where Dave and I have been swimming for decades. Stunned, we wandered downcanyon, lamenting the loss of our old classic.

When the next bend displayed a wet section so filled with logs and debris that passage looked dubious, Vladman jumped in and developed a style of pushing down on the logs and pushing them behind him in the process. We all followed suit. Soon we came to a logjam larger than the last. Now understand, there is no real shoreline in such a thing. So when one attempts to climb up on the logjam, the logs just give out, one after another, and progress is nearly impossible. Add the stress of undermining the logjam further, and one realizes one is in a rather dangerous situation. I hadn’t felt this way since I was under some seracs (ice blocks) this last summer in the northern Cascades. The thoughts of the Texas A&M bonfire came to mind also.

After great efforts and once on the logjam proper and out of the water, one wanders and twists and climbs through chambers within the complex jam which proved to be over 75 yds long. It felt like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Winding and climbing carefully, we soon found our way to the top. Carefully stepping to its edge, we found ourselves 60 feet above the canyon bottom. At this point we carefully rappelled and downclimbed down to the canyon floor, trying not to get pulverized by the occasional large log falling to the canyon bottom.

The logjam that historically has been wedged overhead at the end of the Black Hole section is completely gone. Two new swimming sections have been created, and one old one, in addition to the one at the beginning of the Black Hole, is now dry and filled in with deep sand. The day took an hour and ½ longer than normal, and again we slipped out with an hour of daylight left. Scott Patterson was waiting at the exit spot. He was supposed to join us but arrived a little less than an hour late. Had he known, we would encounter such difficulties, he could have caught us.

The next day found Tom nursing a sore knee and Vladman, Scott and I looking for something to do in stormy conditions. Remarkably, North Wash remained an island of good weather surrounded by the maelstrom. We chose to do Trail Canyon which is a favorite, with Scott and I both dropping to the canyon floor and crawling through its narrowest spot. A couple of wades and one swim, some stemming and a couple of rappels. Great place! Finishing at 2:00 pm, we drove back to the campsite and had Tom shuttle us around for an afternoon run of Leprechaun Canyon.

The next morning we broke camp and noted more and more, with every mile we traveled from North Wash, conditions became more untenable. In blizzard conditions, Vladman and I drove to Arches and in a winter wonderland did an old favorite hike of mine including a trip to some isolated Indian art. That evening we drove to Glenwood Springs, CO for a soak in what Vlad calls the Hippie Springs. Home the next day to our loved ones.

The 2003–4 FreezeFest was a (Arctic) blast.

January 6, 2004

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

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