Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
The HogFest
by Ram

When we drove into Sandthrax after our chilly Cheese, and we met Bruce from Bryce. Soon we had the fire going. The day before, the cold wind burnt our wood quickly, not forming a true coal base in the pit. We would lean forward, trying to get close enough to be warm, but then snow flurries would fly, land on our backs, and melt. Chaaarming. With weaker winds this evening, the coals formed quickly and we settled in for hours of revelry.

Soon a truck came driving by and circled as if to decide whether to risk engaging our group. Finally, they drove up, opened the window, and asked, “Are you canyoneers?”

Why yes, of course, who else would be in this desolate corner of the world, in February, during a cold snap?

Then they asked, “Who are you?”

Ram and crew answered. And who are you?

Dave Black, the mysterious.

Alright!! A veteran of the first New Year’s day Black Hole!

They went to set camp and then pulled up a chair by the fire—well, his pal John did anyway. Dave lied down in the dirt.

“Ahhh, Dave, want a foam pad?”

After three offers, I just went and got him one. And I thought I was the bottom dweller! Dave’s friend was the fellow trying to start up adventure tourism in Saudi Arabia. He and Dave entertained with stories of their recent foray in the Middle East. The conversation seemed to swallow the hours and, as the day turned into tomorrow, we called it a night. Others were due as there was a canyon exploration the next day.

We awoke to the cold once again. Saw a couple of vehicles. Walked on over. One group we did not know—from Telluride, Colorado. They would get hooked up by the Emperor, Tom Jones, who was camped over with Hank Moon and Katie. Here I was standing outside of folk’s tents, saying ‘Good morning’ again, prodding them to alertness and the start of a new day’s adventure. It seems like I have been doing that to people for decades—probably because I have been.

The natives began to stir. They got in at 1:30 AM or so—plenty of sleep. Breakfast, packing, trips to Hog Springs for the AM constitutionals, and car–spotting, and we were on our way. I waited with Davewyo at Sandthrax entry and who drove in but Jason of ‘No Kidding’ exploration fame. He thought we would have been off already to the day’s canyon. If I had anything to do with it, we would have been, but the sleepyheads carried the day. He scrambled to organize his gear, and we were seven for the HogFest. I was hoping to explore what we were calling Hog 4 (AKA Miss Piggy), do the other three Hogs as well, and make a real pig of myself, but the 10:45 start did not bode well. Dave Black and pal John, in a piece of irony, had planned to explore this very same canyon. We invited them to join us, but the size of the group deterred them. They headed to Leprechaun and planned to follow us down the canyon, politely giving us first crack at it.

We hiked. Hank spied a way off the rim and we moved to the first drop—not downclimbable. But ledges on both sides offered access in and we geared up. It droped fast and looked interesting. Having let others, who were new to the other canyons done on our trip, take the lead the last three days, I move smartly to the front of what has been my project.

A stiff downclimb comes into view. I dropped my pack and pole, and down I went. We spoted or belayed others. A few easier but exposed climbs lead to the first rap. Johnny B set it up, and down the 60–footer we went. After A tight narrows and a few more downclimbs, John got to digging out the side of a boulder. We slung it and off we went on the two–stage affair, down into Hog 1 (AKA Boss Hawg). Miss Piggy had lost her virginity.—a nice canyon. The last rap was 80 feet. No ethical dilemmas here. Straightforward. We eat our first lunch and consider our futures.

Davewyo soloed the 5.7 slab and belayed others up. The handline for followers was fast and easy. The wind was back and up the steep and pretty slickrock we went. Near the crest, I slipped over into the lee of the wind—decision time. Tom and I had done all four Hogs. Dave, Bruce, Johnny had only done the recently completed Hog 4. Hank and Jason had done Hog 4 and Hog 1 only. So Hog 2, a canyon named ‘Swine Flue,’ made sense for five unintiated souls.

Tom had done the rap entry only. I showed him the steep downclimb left and up, looking downcanyon from the rap. He said I need to do the rap sometime, said its nice. Poor Bruce. I let him know that we are to be buddies for awhile as downclimbing school is in session. He humored me and was a good sport. Over the next two days he made huge strides, probably so I would go away and leave him be. The steep 100–foot downclimb, the little squeeze and subway, the back–to–back raps, the shallow shoe–eating stem, and the easy but terrifying pothole stem and downclimb into the big subway—a nice canyon full of memorable features.

It was after 3 PM now and we were at a crossroads. Hank and Bruce decided to stroll out the bottom. Dave and Tom planned to climb up and go scout for possible Hog 5 and 6. Johnny, Jason and I headed up for Hog 3. Johnny lead the slab this time and we were up and off. After the slickrock upclimb of 600 feet, with the wind down and late afternoon lighting, we enjoyed the very nice rim–walk around Hog 2, over to Hog 3 and down in.

This canyon, which was explored on FreezeFest in December 2005 by a large and strong group, is my favorite in the system (Dave Black informed that he was there before us). It is unquestionably the most serious of the lot too. It has steep, stemming, with exposure. The walls are quite abrasive (thus its name ‘Razorback’) and it just keeps dropping fast. Its biggest challenges are in getting into the stems at the top of the drops—committing moves with consequences. They are not too hard but you don’t know that making the moves as the moves hide their exposure, until you make the moves. Along with Upper Stair, Hog 3 makes for great intro to the world of off–the–deck canyoneering. Stair is more lateral and Hog vertical. Belays are possible in Hog 3. Be careful. We continued on and dropped the 95–foot free rap at the bottom. A spring–fed jungle made the hike out to the main canyon both pretty and a bit of a thrash. After a left turn, we hauled out to the bottom.

It was only five miles back to Sandthrax from the trailhead but on the drive it grew dark. Three Hogs for lunch and now we whip together a fast dinner so as to get to the campfire festivities quickly. It would be 1 AM and a ton of laughter before the fire started to die down.


Related Tales:
For the Puzzle Solvers • Dave Black
Return to the desert caves of Saudi Arabia • John Pint,
NSS News, November 1997, pp. 329–335

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