Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Reflections in Many Pools
by Ram

Why do we cave? Why do we climb? Why do we canyon? Why, why, why? For everyone of us, a different reason. For most of us, many reasons. Some complimentary, some in opposition. And our favorite partners, why are they our favorites? Some are like us and share our aesthetics. Some compliment us and make each other more complete. Why does it work so well sometimes and other times the chemistry is not there? And, sometimes, the partnership spawns true and deep friendships.

In April of 2004, I accidentally drove into an occupied campsite near Torrey, and this is how I first spied Harvey Halpern, along with his girlfriend and her son. I waved, in embarrassment, and slid out of the side as unobtrusively as I could. In the morning, Harv would call out, as our group in first light hiked up a trail above his camp. “Where are you going?” We would answer accurately, but in the vaguest of terms, shielding our destination from this stranger.

A week later and miles away, this same fellow approaches me at the Hollow Mt. gas pump, in Hanksville. He smiles and asks if that was us, the week before, who entered his site. We chat. Then he asks where we had gone the week before. It is not my canyon to give out, and I apologize at not being able to tell him. He smiles graciously, says he understands and introduces himself. The name is quite familiar. He is all over the Steve Allen guidebooks and I think, “I have just stonewalled one of the most prolific backcountry explorers in Utah history.” We exchange some more pleasantries and go our different ways.

Curiosity took over and, when I got back, I networked our common friends and started up an e–mail dialogue with this very upbeat fellow. I must stop to acknowledge that none of this would have been possible if not for Stevee B. and Stevee B. being himself. A trip we had taken together had been sponsored by Clif Bars. Steve, trying to repay their generosity, stuck bumper stickers all over my stuff. My helmet, my car and without my permission. Ticked me off a bit as I never do give free advertising. But, had he not, Harv’s friend Beth never would have pointed out my car in Hanksville. Thanx, Stevee, your actions helped in unexpected ways in my making a new friend.

Fast forward 2½ years and we meet for a 16–day Zion trip. In between, we have countless conversations over e–mail and it sure seems we have a huge amount in common. Having a lot in common and getting along in person can be two very different things. So, with more bravery than he probably realizes, he commits to the 2–plus week trip, in my car and with my agenda, modified from my interviews of his preferences.

Harv has been on so many 3–6 week (sometimes longer) backcountry trips to the remotest areas in Utah that he has even lost count how many. Literally having spent years of his life out there, there is barely a corner of southern Utah he has not been to. The logistics of these trips, 60, 70, 80, 100–pound packs, food caches, finding water and the scope of his and his friends drive to know these areas they visit, make for as large a collection of adventure tales as I have ever heard coming from one source.

But how will our differing styles mesh? I derisively refer to myself as a ‘sport canyoneer,’ going day after day for long periods, in a series of day trips, with a few overnights sprinkled in. I have told him that Zion is no wilderness—that being his biggest love—and negotiating the park service and other logistics are frustrating. But he assures me that he knows what he has signed up for. He had been in Zion for a few days 30 years earlier, and he wants to see this country in detail. He has done very little technical canyoneering compared to the time spent with Steve Allen exploring the remote and, in fact, he will double the amount of lifetime rappels on this trip alone.

Now fast forward to Day 8 of our trip. We are scheduled for a long canyon day with John Corbin and friends. It is working, this trip. Harv has worked out his foot issues. He doesn’t think the car smells too bad. The days are longer than he would like. Not so much because long hard days are an issue for Harv, after all, there is a canyon named Hard Day Harvey. The issue is there isn’t enough time in our day, to stroll and take pictures and soak up what he sees. He is accustomed to stopping, even for the day, when a magical place is reached. Alas, it is a cold October and a wet one too. The sun angle is low and the need to get through the day, do the car shuttle, and set up the next day robs from his aesthetic. As I try to modify the program to give him more of what he wants, I come face to face with the fact that I like the pace. Perhaps love it. And I must look inward again and ask, “Why.”

The forecast for the next day is quite good when we head to bed. Ten percent chance of rain. We have a 5 AM wake–up planned. Then one of those odd things happened. Harv’s alarm goes off and he starts to prep for the trip. I always lay about for a while longer, not being disciplined enough to stretch or in need of any warm food in the AM. Now in a 5 minute period Harv asks what time it is. I look and it says 2:57 AM. His alarm has malfunctioned and he is up hours too early. Then it starts to sprinkle. Then drizzle, then rain. He scrambles and gets all the drying gear, off the clothes line and into the car and back into his one man pup tent just in time for the real rain to come. His waking at the wrong time saved the gear from getting soaked. I assume it is a passing cloud, this rain. It is not.

Within 15 minutes, the skies let loose. I am in a Megamid tarp. I gather up my stuff into neat piles. I reach under the tarp edge and dig minor trenches, to redirect the fast accumulating water. Soon the wind blows and I hold the pole. The downpour continues, as minor flows create rivlets flowing through the far side of the tarp. When the wind relents, I relax. It is still pouring, but I no longer envision the shelter and all my gear flying away. I close my eyes. A new cell of rain comes. As I lay, the lightening comes directly overhead, thunder sounding the instant of the lightning and for the first time in my life I see great flashes of lightning through closed eye lids. I smile in the darkness. Wondrous.

So much for our plans and the good weather forecast. Three hours later and it is still pouring. At 8:30 AM, we get up when there is a short break in the weather and scramble into the car and into town for breakfast. We meet our partners and sit, cozy in a little cabin, watching it just pour. We are in wonder. Our super strong, 30–something partners, talk of doing a flooding canyon if the rain relents enough. Has 3+ inches fallen? Seems so to us. I admit to being intrigued by a rowdy PM canyon. I see Harv is not and decide to hang with my new buddy. At 1:30 PM, the rain still coming down, we note the skies to the southwest look to be clearing. We scramble out and into the car. We will visit the east side of the park and look for waterfalls from the recent deluge.

We drive into the heart of the storm and follow it slowly. The slickrock is pouring water from every tiny wash. It is so beautiful. We follow the rain all the way to the park’s east boundary. We sit for 10 minutes and the rain passes over. It is time to head back west and visit Many Pools Canyon. We encounter some drysuited fellows coming out of Keyhole. I ask them how it was. With wide eyes they say, “Wonderful, but you might want to wait half and hour before going in!!” Many Pools, a local’s hangout and swim hole, after rains is a slickrock wonderland. Harv has loaded up the big camera ... did I mention that, aside from being a noted backcountry chef, Harvey is a noted photographer, giving shows all over the Northeast, while advocating wilderness? Many of Steve Allen’s pictures in his show are Harvey’s too.

Finally a day with water, lighting, and the time. We stroll. The sun won’t quite come out, and Harv is patient. He points out little hints about picture taking. I find myself having to work at keeping my pace down. There is something inside of me that wants to go, go, go. I muse to myself, that the beauty is wonderful, but what I want most is to exhaust myself, as if then, and only then, I can truly relax. I feel silly and a bit of a prisoner of myself. I try again to stroll.

Soon we slide into stories from our youth. How we became who we are is revealed by the events that most influenced us. What is a normal upbringing and an average family? Maybe there is one or maybe the average upbringing is full of extraordinary and bizarre events. Anyway, people’s lives are interesting when they choose to reveal themselves. We have been enjoying each other, throughout the first week, but I could feel us cementing something more on this lazy afternoon. Then the sun came out and the master went to work. His favorite target is the intricate patterns water leaves in the mud. We spent 3 hours covering that 2 miles and I will say that I enjoyed it as much as any time during our trip. I am glad the weather provided for Harv what I would find so hard to provide myself.

We head back to camp and organize for the next day’s fare. We will drive over toward Kanab to hook up with Dean Kurtz. The road to Rock Canyon, which is usually very deep sand, will have been made much easier and safer from all the rain. The sand is now the consistency of sand castles ... if I would only take the time to stop and build a few along the way.


 new  ‹›  rams tales  

© 2007–2025 Steve Ramras