Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
FREEZEFEST III — 2004–2005
FreezeFest III
by Ram

— Day 7 —
December 27, 2004
Pandora’s Box

Randi came, she saw, she did. She was right.

It was a magical day.

I know she was having a good time that evening for the conversation lasted until 1 AM during which we solved all the troubles of the world, except the tsunami which we had not heard of yet. That and we talked about all of you saying only wonderful (mostly) things about everyone. The next AM we were to meet Sherpa, Kip, and their partners at 7:30 AM at our campsite. Wait and wait and wait ... It’s cold waiting around but here they come at 8:30 AM. Where have they been? A mere half mile away, in another turnout, wait and wait and waiting for us. Feeling not so clever on this gray morning. Rush, rush, and run the car shuttle at supersonic speeds, and we are off before 9 AM. With the trip longer than the allotted daylight, the loss of another hour doesn’t matter toooo much, does it?

I convince myself it doesn’t. I know better.

Old friends getting reacquainted, new friends being made in the brisk air, walking and talking on approach. No snow except in the shadow of northern exposure, where a crunchy type of Styrofoam snow, makes noise under our feet. How many names do northern natives have for snow and ice? The day would leave me feeling the desire to name 4–5 new types. Before I knew it, the landscape was snow covered and a tad different from what I remembered. I am no fan of the GPS. I feel it dulls my senses and skills, like depriving yourself of the mental exercise of doing math with the use of a calculator. You can’t ‘get skills’ if you don’t practice. It is an art form to take in all the observations, some of them seemingly contradictory, and allow yourself to go forth with a comfort in your uncertainty, adding ideas and observations and changing your analysis as you go. This slight ‘wandering’ cost us 15 minutes and brought a smile to my face as the pieces fell in place. While we couldn’t afford the loss of time, good fortune gave it back to us for, if I had gone the standard approach, we would have had to rap the gentle but exposed entry slopes to the canyon as they faced north and were snow covered. My detour had slipped us around the canyon head, giving easy and safe access, with only a three step ‘running of the slab’ into the drainage at a steep exposed spot.

Rappels were set up and, with some efficiency, we slid on ropes, slid down drops, stemmed other spots well off–the–deck, squeezed through narrow gaps, and generally had a ball. The many narrows, which alternate with openings, were snow free. But, when the openings came, we arrived at a world covered in snow. Walls, canyon bottom, and trees alike all shining in the white stuff, with glowing contrast off the nearby orange walls. Not many come here to begin with but with the snow one felt like the ‘first of all souls’ to enter. It was almost painful to leave our footprints in the snow. There were many frozen pools that held our weight. Some cracked to reveal that all the water in them was in a frozen state with only air below the ice. One pool that did hold water was frozen to 2 inches. I thought 2 inches would hold you, but perhaps the edges were thinner and the sheet of ice cracked into big plates. The water was waist deep and it was hard to balance up on the plates to exit the pool. I found that moving them around and sliding them over or under each other did the trick. The exercise kept us warm.

On one of the many ‘partner assist’ downclimbs, I was dropped by my partners. More accurately they needed one more person on my left side. I was falling horizontally and then my upper body was first to hit the ground. SMACK. A tad stunned, I noted the look of concern on the faces of everyone and sat quite still taking inventory. The obligatory “Are you all right?” was answered, after a pause, with concern for my elbow. Ten days later, it is still scabbed and tender. It still twinges if moved the wrong way. What didn’t hurt at all was the crack my helmet made on the canyon wall. A big crack! Just a friendly reminder from your friendly neighborhood ‘Helmet police.’ Would have been bad ... real bad without one on on this day.

The final rap spills out into a huge cirque in the Colorado Plateau tradition of a grand finalé. The spring making up the last 25 feet of this 150–foot drop was frozen solid. It was fun to rap down the ice. Too bad that I could find no way not to break the 6–foot long icicles hanging down an overhanging part. They were lovely.

Hiking in fading light is an interesting experience. The eyes adjust and you are able to hold off using the headlamps for a surprisingly long time. Alas, 5:50 PM was the call for artificial light. Sherpa and I prod each other. Fast hikers, we get faster together pushing each other. Chattering away, we would occasionally wait for our partners by stopping periodically. I must say that the legs would have liked to keep going. The stopping stiffens up the old wheels. At last the road and off to a restaurant. We were all cold even after a long time indoors. I hadn’t been while hiking but, when we stopped, the cumulative effects of the daylong exposure to cold gave a chill somewhere deep below the skin surface.

A big pizza dinner warmed us some and the boys headed north. The amazing Randi started the finish of her sprint marathon: ten hour drive, campfire for 5 hours, 5 hours of sleep, 11 hour canyon and a 10 hour drive home. Love those with spirit. Me? A 3–hour drive, part way into the Roost, and a tarp set up under cloudy skies had me ready for bed just before midnight. Ryan Cornia showed up an hour later and Tom Jones was 5 hours behind, but that is part of Day 2’s tale.

FreezeFest III was fully under way!

— Day 2–3 —
December 28–29, 2004
Ho Hum Fork &
Rainy Day in Arches

Always been a tad nervous driving into remote areas with bad forecasts. The idea of being stuck for a few days isn’t so bad. It is the loss of options that bothers me. I had driven in 12 miles on the Roost Road to the Flattops. Snugly positioned behind the south one on its eastern side, the substantial wind could sometimes be heard but never felt and the dash to pavement was not too long if the skies let loose. Heck, it’s early on December 28th and I am worried about rain? Snow, OK! But rain? Ryan comes. In the AM, he goes for a walk to confirm that the wind is still out there. It sleets a little. It hails a little. What’s next? Thunderstorms?

Tom pulls on up. The options are tossed. Tom is great. He is willing to roll the weather dice a bit more than I. He has a project in the North Fork of Robbers Roost (NF of RR), his undiscovered fork as it were. So deeper into Roost we travel and spot cars down roads that are barely roads. We consider that if the weather turns bad, all 3 cars will be stranded in different places and that we would have healthy hikes to our respective gear and solo car camping experiences for who knew how long. It added some spice.

The canyon had a couple of raps and some nice narrows, but like many a Roost canyon, the fun was over almost as soon as it began. The NF of RR is a challenging system to exit. Tom had worked some routes out and researched some others and they came into play during the week. We ended going up a side canyon and out to the top benchland. Ryan obeyed his elders and became our designated climbing gun on anything the old–timers felt like passing on (read: scared). With a little support for a foothold and some cheerleading, he climbed up a dryfall and offered a sling to the tentative old folks, who gratefully took it. What followed was a series of small and physical chockstone problems to climb, most solved by stemming up early and over the top of the barriers. Then the expansive views and the trudge up to one of the cars.

The weather did more than hold. We were greeted by periodic sun and temps in the 40s. Tom, feeling lucky still, persuaded us to drive deeper into the Roost, and so we camped around Bluejohns. The skies cleared, and we made dinner, caught an awesome, orange moonrise, and settled around the fire for 3+ hours of conversation and levity. To bed we went with stars a blazin’. Then, a few hours before dawn, the sounds of light rain woke us in our tents and tarps. No problem, it was pretty light. With the first hint of light came harder rain mixed with snow. Then it rained harder still. I heard the sound of opening and closing car doors. Ummm, I know what this means. Suddenly, the skies let loose, and Tom comes to the tarp entry.

“Ah, Ram ... I’m getting out of here while I still can. Meet you at the pavement.”

Seemed smart. I loaded everything into my sleeping bag and, wearing only a rain jacket and bunny boots (ahh, the flasher days!), I sprint to the car. I hit the slickrock and it is a frozen slushy. Slide but don’t fall. Umm, interesting out here. Two more trips to the tarp to take it down and stuff it soaking wet into the bag. Ryan is scrambling in the background. I say, “See ya down the road,” and the race is on to reach the safety of asphalt. At first and at high altitude, the roads are fine, perhaps, a little soft in the middle. Lead foot Ryan flies by. The low roads of the San Rapphie Desert are soft—real soft. Don’t slow down, don’t stop! Ahhh, Temple Junction pavement ... in a downpour. With windows cracked down a bit and stupid smiles on our faces, the call goes out for Arches! We decide to meet downtown.

As we reach the Arches area, the weather clears off a bit and I wait for Tom and Ryan at the entry to Arches, thinking, “Now is our window of weather.” Tom agrees. Ryan is nowhere to be found. Thought he was behind, but ole lead foot must have passed us and a good thing. This window of weather turned out to be pretty small, and we would have gotten clobbered. He saved us and himself from a soaking. Off to a diner where we shared maps, stories, and beta while the heavens let loose a deluge. The street drains and curbs ran mini floods down the street while the very happy waitresses continually refilled Tom’s coffee cup. Then around Noon, it let up. We looked at each other—that stupid smile again—and off we went to the park. The destination for the day was the Upper Courthouse, a ½ day mesa–top hike with awesome views and surprising little hidden corners and climbs. On approach to the class 4 entry gully in the rain, a rockfall occurs 100 feet ahead of us, smashing into the boulders right where we would have been 2 minutes later. A gentle spot before any tech work, the helmets are in our packs. A bit of different timing and who knows ... sobering. True, it was raining and spring is also a time where things fall more often, but it’s one of those random events in life. You have to be a little lucky to get thru this world, and that goes for everyone, anywhere, anytime. Tom and I smile, the nervous smile. Ryan looks shocked.

“Haven’t you seen that happen before?” we ask. “No falling stuff stories?”

“NO!!!” he says quite clearly.

So we regale him with the tales of gravity as seen from our longer and more seasoned stay on the planet. Up we go to the mesa top and the skies clear. The views are awesome, the knife edge fun, the trundle ... no, that wouldn’t be right. Hee, hee. Feeling quite pleased with ourselves for lucking into the right timing, we spend a delightful afternoon swallowing a roll of film each. Out to a few new corners of the world, we go. The sky is getting grayer. We know if we squeeze these extra explorations in we may get hit again, but we go anyway. On the sprint home and down the gully, the rain comes again. A light to moderate affair, it matches the rain on approach. A magic weather window sandwich on light rain bread. Very happy are we.

Damn, I am getting soft. With those motel prices in the off–season when the weather is wet, a room for 2 for $32 with tax just seems so attractive. In November, I could claim that everyone else was inside, so why stay out alone? This time Ryan plans to camp. My shelter is soaked. The forecast stinks, the ground is saturated, and I am sure I could come up with more excuses if I had to. But what the hay, I am gettin’ lazy and soft. Tom and I would share a room and sling wet tarps and tents from every angle and nook and cranny. We would chat and read and dry gear. And I must admit, I enjoyed it ... until the next AM, when Ryan informs us that it stayed dry overnight and that the winds blew everything dry.

Regret: You have no idea how much flack my friends will send down the pike to ‘The New Indoor Ram.’

Ryan called his girlfriend who came up with the trip’s best line and I quote. “You stayed out, they stayed in. You won. Can you come home now?”

No, I say no!

With canyons flooding around the state, we were ideally placed by the Arches playground. Arches had been our awful weather fallback position from the start of each FreezeFest. Time to pull out those old, dusty, off–trail, fin–scrambling, chimney–stemmin’, secret–around–the–next–corner Arches classics from my youth. There is always a place to be. The best was yet to come.

— Day 5 —
December 31, 2004
Finland & A Wildish Night

The next day was in the Fractured Fairyland. We awoke to low clouds and drove back towards the park. This Fairyland is a complex area of passage ways. It can be quite physical and is a ton of fun. One leaves a fair bit of skin behind. Among the pleasures are impossible squeezes, raps off of various arches, crawls under and around boulders, knife–edge ridges, and surprise after surprise—a favorite that always delivers and a great way to spend the last day of 2004. The weather, while gray, never rained.

Now two plus days removed from any substantial weather, it was time to, after a meal out, say adieu to Arches. She has served us well, provided treats, kept us safe, while the rest of the canyon world found its way back ‘into condition.’ Bone tired and driving past the Swell, Tom pulls out a wild card. We had talked about the Wildhorse picto panel. Ryan and I had missed it in years past. Tom got energized with the thought he could find it in the dark. He would later say that a little exercise to loosen the legs after our physical day was a big part of it.

In the dark, we wandered. Night hiking is a whole different animal. Time and distance plays tricks on you. What I call the ‘earlies’ come into play. This affliction leads quite often to ‘I think they are there, before they are’ and effects most folks. Tom after a few halting starts, sounds the Eureka! We sit under the overhang looking up at the art. The sky, in the hour or two, goes from fully cloudy to stars and back and forth, over and over again. In unseasonably warm air in our nook, we stay silent ... then we nap.

Tom breaks the spell and we hike back and do the hour of driving to North Wash. A 10:45 PM arrival, followed by setting camp (we are quite quick at it now) and a small fire sees us to the midnight hour and a New Year. The third in a row I have experienced in this obscure and quiet corner of the world. To good friends! It is supposed to storm big time. Winter storm warnings for not only the immediate area but statewide and regionally too. The third annual New Year’s Black Hole is the plan for 10 hours from now. Still warm. Will it rain? Get cold and snow? Is White Canyon still flooding? What will the weather be like in the high country feeding the canyon? Has recent flooding planted fresh land mines in the canyon? I guess it is dumb to lose sleep over what you can’t control. Let it play out for us to see. We will go and peek and then decide whether to or not.

The edge is back ... I’ll admit it ... and I like it.

— Day 6 —
January 1, 2005
The Black Hole

After staying up OH SO LATE, we take a leisurely breakfast, before our 10 AM rendezvous with Mr. Black.

You get to sleep in on Hole day. After sipping scotch at midnight and a restful sleep, the call went out at 8AM. The sun was up, offering one of the few sunrises of note on the trip. The sky was almost clear of clouds, with some big puffy white ones, hung somewhat low, and the breeze was stiff and gusty.

The trip had been so warm that I had passed on warm breakfast all but one of the mornings (not counting Tom’s pancakes one AM) of the trip. While not a cold morning, by any stretch of the imagination, prudence called for something hot, with the cold, cold Black Hole ahead. Hot soups felt good going down the pipe. A different set of gear for this day required a reorganization of the packs with wetsuits and drysuits packed among the waterproof barrels and extra calories ... and extra calories ... and extra ... You get it.

We make the drive over toward the Black Hole trailhead by 10 AM. We stop at the bridge over White Canyon at the 54–mile marker. This old trick works like this. If the canyon, 300 feet below, is dry, you are fine. If it has potholes filled with water, then it is fine also. If it is flowing white or brown water, find something else to do. If it is—as it was this day—flowing BETWEEN placid potholes, then you are in the gray territory. Some other points of reference. The area by the bridge is an area where water comes above ground more than the average stretch in the canyon. So the canyon won’t average as wet as you see right here—wetter in the Hole area, drier through most of the rest of the canyon. A gentle flow at the bridge may not mean flow almost anywhere else that day. It does NOT indicate what is coming downcanyon from the myriad of canyons that drain into this system.

We contemplate. The weather looks fine overhead. Looks like it will stay that way. It did not rain overnight at our camp or where we are. The uplands draining into the canyon have some clouds but not much and, at that altitude, we guess precip will be in the form of flurries if indeed it does let loose some moisture at all. If it did precipitate in the uplands last night, it would definitely have been snow. This is a ‘granddaddy system’ and one walks the edge here at one’s own peril.

We arrive. Dave Black arrives minutes later. He has looked in at a few places upstream and seen conditions like what I have described. We decide to pack and the take a closer look, leaning toward going. The commitment point in this canyon doesn’t come for a while except in REAL floods. We feel a big flood is not in the cards. We are a group of four. The first year we were six, last year seven. The smaller group feels better with things maybe on the iffy side. Go. We hike down to the canyon floor and what do we see? Water ... a lot of water.

Tom looks and says, “Gonna be a cold one, boys.”

Ahhh, yeah. A little bit of flow, maybe 3 cfs. Lots of placid pools and trickles between them. The decision to put the suits on then is made—awful early compared with the standard dress up party. The suits would stay on until the climb up 4 miles downcanyon.

The day is warming up nicely. It will top out in the 50s as the warmest of the trip, but sunlight will be at a premium with the low sun angle and the high wall. Ryan continually asks if “it is going to be OK in this flow.” I catch him asking each of us separately and also together. An intelligent lad. A psychological aspect to this type of day is that every time you hit a drop or the canyon gets steeper, the flowing water makes more sound. Over your shoulder you look, expecting more flow to be coming down, but no, it is just a loud spot. You have to be careful not to let this into your head. It grinds away at confidence, silently and unnoticed.

Finally the first swims come. In gentle flow, we are off. Tom and I are in drysuits, me for the first time in exactly one year. Dave and Ryan are in beefy wetsuits. Ryan’s may be a tad thicker than our hero Dave’s. It is tricky in drysuits. What to wear? Too much and you fry and drown in your sweat. Too little and the cold conducts through you, a torture that then leads to hypothermia. Dave and I strike out front, hit the sun, and notice no one behind us. Wait. Eat. Wait. Grow concerned. Finally I tell Dave I am headed back, but it makes more sense for a wetsuit–clad fellow to do that to stay warm. It is always guaranteed that when someone heads back, they meet who they are going after around the first bend. A law of nature or something. Explanation? Tom had not worn enough clothing and had to open the suit, add layers, and close it again with Ryan’s help.

It’s slower, with all that water and soft mud. But we trundle onward. Soon we are at the first logjam. It is 40 feet tall, just like last year, but the opening below is high. 8–10 feet high. On Halloween it was 6 feet high. in May it was closed. Last January 1 you had to crawl in places. Seems that each flood has the potential to change the game and this has been the year of the flood. In the fall alone, a dozen or so. While I can’t imagine that any of these floods matched the one (Sept ‘03) that set up the jams and took out the old one at the end of the Hole swims, something was different. Dave and I have made a tad more than two dozen trips through each in the last 2+ decades. We know the place pretty well. While last year, the jams were added and a spot always wet in our time was dry for 50 yards, the layout of the place was very much the same. Not this year! No sirree! All of the features within the Hole had changed. Two falls always there were gone. Three more sprouted near to and far from the old ones, new boulders in place.

As we entered the Hole, the big falls were pouring water massively, making an unnerving racket. The famous Clitoris Rock was gone! This sizable boulder may have been spotted 100 yards downcanyon. It was replaced by a huge tree trunk. Two new falls, one over a boulder, one over a double log, have shown up near the top. I dove in, climbed the first log, and, as I was going to drop off the second one, I found my ski pole strapped around my wrist and stuck in the logs. I was weighted on it. The flow of the falls came smashing in my face. I gulped a little ... ummm, not as bad as I thought. I wondered if I was about to become a stuck and semi–permanent addition to this new falls and then the pole gave way. Swim. When this long swimmer ended and I rose out of the water, I noted that my pole was snapped clean, one and half feet down from the handle. Ummm. Not much use for it now. Glad it was not sticking out to impale my partners as they reported nothing visible at the drop. With the pole in the pack now, it was destined to be used as a log turning poker around the campfire.

Upon us, rather quickly, came the 2nd logjam—another dangerous moment. One log was imprudently stood on, turned, and could have rolled over Tom, who was attempting to climb out of the water—a reminder to be careful and trust NOTHING! It was a spot that looked blocked by the logs. The climb over looked very unstable. Experience had taught me to look low, even into apparent darkness and, yup, with care not to disturb hanging logs, lest they collapse on you. And with shuttling logs and packs back while swimming in near darkness, we cleared out and under with inches to spare. The climb out of the ‘log soup’ on the back end was vigorous work!

Another section of logs were gently walked on for, although they appear on the ground, they are packed on the surface of deep water to near their end. At the edges where the packing is not so compact, down I drop, wrestle with some logs, and move out into the clear swims of the second half of the Hole section, complete with 2 new falls caused by big rocks new to these spots. AMAZING! When the long swim section was over, out came food—cheese, nuts, and seeds jammed and crammed into our mouths—and we are all on the run. Amazing how such simple fare can taste soooo good. This eat and run method is used all day.

Another swim section has a new logjam but it is high enough to slip under. We all marvel at how much easier and how much debris has been moved out in one short year but, with each flood, a new reality may arrive. Tom considers the canyon still to be an X–rated affair. I thought it was kinda R–rated with a reminder that the hazards of moving through this type of terrain is not inherent and must be learned from experience. That and the next flood could turn it X in a moment. Go in with caution but experienced folks should consider going (The author claims no responsibility). It is a special place.

We wanted to change. Walking in these suits, both wet and dry, was a pain ... but the canyon never released us from the need to swim and wade. So we wore them until the climb out. Dave and I hauled up the hill. Ryan told me where his car key was as his car was the spotted car at the top, and I took Dave back to his car. Then he rushed off to his busy life. I sprinted around my car, getting out of my wet and into my dry, then locked up and headed back in Ryan’s car so as not to leave Tom and Ryan waiting. I got back just in time. High five’s all around and great joy for a wonderful experience ...

Then I shared a nagging concern. My car key was not in my pocket. If I had not left it in the door of my car ... well ... Time to go look. I circle the car hesitantly. Ryan goes and looks. Ahh, is it a big single key he asks? Ahhh, yeah ... sitting on the passenger seat, behind the locked door. Dope! The car could not be placed more perfectly between 2 small towns on a late afternoon, on a Saturday, that happens to be a holiday too.

Good one Ram!

I always bring an extra key. Give it to my partner on the trip to cache in his car even though I had never locked my keys in my car before. Errrr, kinda forgot to this time. Actually didn’t forget. Got lazy. Dope!

OK, a plan. Ryan is ready to go home. Five days of FreezeFest are enough and he wants time to reorganize his life and maybe get in and snuggle with the girlfriend. Hard to argue. Tom watched my locked car (No room for him) as Ryan took me to Hite. Almost a ghost town now, it does have a pay phone. It even works sometimes and only disconnects you every minute or so! I do have my calling card number memorized,so hit the phone I did. It wasn’t long before I wanted to smash it to bits.

I would get the operator for MCI on and say in fake high spirits, “Have I got one for you to share around the break table this afternoon!” They gave me the number for the AAA in Blanding. Got disconnected. Then got through ... they were no longer in service. Got back on the calling card and looked for the AAA 800 number. Got disconnected. Tried again and got it. Called my card and tried to enter the AAA number. Wouldn’t work. Operator comes on and asks for the number. I give it. Ahhh, sir (implied), you’re really stupid. You don’t need to use your call card for an 800 number. Yeah, right, thanks. Deadly, 2 ton logs and getting stuck in waterfalls I can deal. This? Dope!

OK. They are coming ... or so they say. Back to Tom and my car with all the wonderful, food, gear, beer, and shelter visible right through the window. Tom goes with Ryan 30 miles back to his car, and Ryan is off. Great fun, big guy! Till next time. Tom agrees to come back around 4 hours later if I haven’t shown up. He has left dirty female lingerie on my hood. Claims he found it staying out of the wind in a nearby culvert. Left the men’s underwear there, he says. Thanks for small favors. Then they are off and it is quiet, with the sun dipping lower—just lovely. Nary a car comes by. So lucky I had changed into dry clothes. I could use some more layers but, hey, some quiet time to reflect on what a dope I am. Do you know that a Ram stride takes 4 strides to cover the white dash in the middle of the road and it takes him 16 strides to cover the distance in between these dashes? Every time! Bet ya didn’t know that. Also, do you know how well cows listen? I strolled ¾ of a mile over and held court with two of them. Absolutely captivated by my monologue. Every now and then they would call me by one of my nicknames, Moo (As in Ramoo). Very polite beasties but they looked skeptical of my sales pitch.

Not bad really killing time. I was an old time hitchhiker, so I know how to do nothing. Along comes Ma and Pa Kettle from Blanding and AAA. Great folks. Offered me the warmth of the cab. Told stories about opening many a car at the 57–mile marker in years past. Apparently I am not the first Hole vet to be such a Dope! He jiggles the lock open in two minutes. I send my compliments. He seemed genuinely irked that it took him that long. He said, “Tough one!” OK by me. Cost, you ask? With a preferred (Ouuuu) AAA membership ... my signature only. No idea what they charged AAA. Don’t care either.

Time to head back to Tom. I grab some snack, load the drying gear, and off I go. Think I am done being a dope yet? Naw! I drive. Tom has a small electrical problem. When he switches off his high beams, his car becomes a Cyclops with only one headlamp shining, making it easy to pick him out, coming down the road. Only 9 miles in on my way to the Sandthrax site, here he comes. I pull over. He swings around behind me. I am touched that he would come for me. I chat a second and head for my car. Plain as can be, in his headlights. Hey, why is the back of my car open? Where is some of my gear? Must not have closed it in my rush to leave. Back I drive the 9 miles, on the wrong side of the road, with my high beams on. I find the gear, all of it, right where the car climbed up onto the pavement. No damage done!

At last I pull in, cook, eat, clean, drink, and hang at the fire with my buddy Tom, laughing easily ... mostly at myself. We decide to awake early and sprint back into the Roost. The 3rd Annual January 1 Black Hole has left us all energized and ready for more.

— Day 7 —
January 2, 2005
Not Mindbender

The 6 AM wake up on January 2nd came quickly. 15 minutes later we were on the road toward the Roost. Gas in Hanks followed by first light on the dirt roads heading toward the day’s goal. Tom picked a return engagement with Not Mindbender Fork of the North Fork of Robbers Roost. He had shown great enthusiasm in wanting to share this gem with me as I had never been there. Payback for the ones I had shown him on this trip? As with many of you folks, Tom and I had shared back and forth for years. I was all for something new. It was 3 hours to the car spot, down ever smaller roads, to what could only be called a track at the trailhead. Over the hill we go and are presented with a whole row of small drainage’s, parallel to each other, but not all go where we wish to go as they diverge and head into very distinct forks of the North Fork of Robbers Roost, some for which we don’t have enough rope to descend. Ummm, better get it right! Freed of the GPS, we were allowed to experience doubt, considered hard the terrain, and made our choice, senses fully alive.

Up on the rim, as we decide to drop in, I feel a tad lightheaded. I tell Tom that I am going to have a quick snack. He takes off down the hill and I chow hard and fast so as to not fall too far behind. Almost done, I bite down on a bar ... and feel great pain shoot through my mouth. A gentle investigation. A tooth way looser than what is right. I am basically done eating for the rest of the trip. When I got home, an X–ray showed a vertical crack through the tooth. Could not be crowned. Out it went and the implant surgery is tomorrow. An inauspicious and painful start to the day. Swollen and sore, it would remind me of its presence for the rest of the trip.

We dropped in and strolled into some Carmel layer narrows. Ledges abound and large quartz slabs do too. We follow fresh cow droppings down the narrows. I am reminded of the days when the cow was everywhere I roamed in the desert. I am glad they have been restricted and wish them to be more restricted. I could, but wish not to get into an argument about the ‘traditional lifestyles’ vs ‘damage to the ecosystem’ thing. I shall leave it at preferring not to follow a trail of poo. Soon we reach the Navajo layer and stop to suit up. Probably won’t be too wet. But it is chilly and we will do more than a little tight work, so a thin wet suit works on several levels. The canyon is delightful. The narrows offer moderate and fun downclimbing. The canyon has that special thing too. Its lines are eloquent. It is colorful and its curves swoop in ways pleasing to the eye—a good combo with both the visual and the physical. It also gets progressively tighter.

I turn to Tom and ask, “You were getting a bit nervous here, on that first time through, weren’t ya? Wondered how tight it was gonna get, didn’t ya?’

He cracks a huge smile with glowing eyes. Nods the affirmative. A nice downclimb, followed by a rap and a sculptured wall and the narrows relent. We stroll through big wall country, taking the time to scout some side canyons, both with fine grand finalé rappels that draws the eye to the slots above, with longing eyes and deep curiosity.

The canyon narrows again as we enter the final technical section. Tom walks the bench above a wet and intriguing narrows and prepares to rap off to the set–up spot for for the bigger and final rap below. I make arrangements to descend the upper narrows. After all, I have the wetsuit on, it looks great, and why not? I tell Tom to let me know when the rap is set up so I will not have to mill about wet and cold and can come straight through. I stroll, my mind drifting to other places and times. Maybe not a great thing to do when in such a place. Tom calls up and is hooking into the final rap. I stroll, stem, swim, glide down to the anchors, and inspect ones that Tom would have had to get wet to really look over. One is marginal. One is pretty good. Neither the best. One is attached by a 6mm cord, the other 1–inch tubular. Both are quite long, about 25 yards or so to the lip. I tell him to “go gently into the night.” Off he goes.

Now it is my turn. Was my mind not fully back from its wanderings? Guess not. I had carried the rope, Tom the pull cord. I knew when we left the car that the grand finalé was a single rope off of a biner block. Standing here on the lip, I pull up both ends (both the full rope) and attach myself. The rap is 95 feet or so, the last 88 free. I slide over the edge and down to a tiny ledge, literally at land’s end on the edge of the undercut and survey (a little late), and I note that one of the ends is joined to the pull cord 10 feet down. If I had continued or not noticed, I would have gotten hung up on the knot and been suspended 80 feet in the air, far from any wall, with my prussick in my pack, and on anchors barely better than marginal. Could I have dealt the situation? Yes. Would it take the correct side of my brain longer than the average fellow? Yes. Would I have pooed my pants? Probably. As it was, that strange sensation in my tummy was back. Grabbed both ends of the rope and hauled myself up the 7 feet back onto the ledge. I called down to Tom, that I was going to take a little time. The slight tremor in my hand may not have been noticeable. I knew. It originated inside my body which was invisibly shaking. Damn! Damn! I walk on legs I can’t feel back to the anchors to gander again. They’re OK.

After 5 minutes I return to the edge and do the rap correctly this time, with my composure outwardly calm. My insides knew better. So here we are 36 hours into the year and I have driven down the highway with my car hatch open, locked keys in my car, gotten hung up on a waterfall, broken a tooth, and nearly rapped myself into trouble. And I’m wondering why my partners are leaving for home? Thank goodness I had slept 16 of those hours or imagine what other trouble I might have gotten myself into. Again, I was forced to learn for the umpteenth time. Focus and vigilance is safety. Lucky again.

Out of the suits, we continue down the canyon to the exit. I have carried the weight today as Tom had volunteered for the lead on the exposed upclimb spot. Up the slab he goes, into and out the solution holes and up to the top. He mentions a couple of chopped holds at the top. We haul the packs and I follow. There they are. Two new, small 3–inch holds hacked into the cliff. I ask Tom if he knew who did this. You guessed it: “Probably The Author.” The author refers to such vandalism as ‘enhancement.’ I would like to take this time out to thank him for improving on millions of years of erosion. Without him there to make such a judgment, I don’t know what the rest of us would do. It’s inconceivable to me the level of arrogance one would have to have to ‘alter’ permanently, a wilderness environment at one’s whimsy. Who elected him? If I had met him then and there, I would have put that geo pick where the sun don’t shine. Still makes me angry. (Note that at the time Tom thought it was the Author, but it turns out that it was not in this instance as clarified by a later conversation.)

OK, up the hill nearly 800’ vertical to the car, then the shuttle, and, at this time, Tom confesses that his body has had enough of being Rammed. We hug and say our good–byes. I understand. But I wonder if he just wants out before I can come up with a new and creative way to lose gear or hurt or kill myself. Alas. I wrestle with camping and doing a fork of White Roost that I have wanted to do. The sky is very gray. May rain. Also could drive to Arches and do an Elephant Butte the next AM before heading home. A great climb but best shared with others. Something else nags at me. The family comes home the next day and I miss them.

I drive. I am in western Colorado before I know it. 50 miles in, there is a pull–off with an overhang. I pull out the bag, foam pads, and cook kit. With headlamp blazin’, I cook up some soup and feel the full scope of the good fortune that has become my life—a passion for adventure, decades old, that still feels fresh; a body that still says yes, when I ask it to rock and roll; a wife who answers some ‘friends’ inquiries as to how she could allow me to go so often with a “Why would I want to stop him?”; well–adjusted kids (I did marry well) who have the same love of adventure as their mother and father; a very big collection of friends with that sparkle in the eye; and a life comfortable enough with a ton of free time to make it all possible. This evening I am in awe at how it has all worked out for me. In the AM, I rush home and get my work done so I can greet them the way they deserve, coming home from their own trip. But on the drive, my mind can’t help but wander to and wonder about what to do on the March trip.


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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