Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Return to Mumbai
by Ram

Here is the story of the first descent and naming of Mumbai Canyon. Read it before. Or after. Or not at all, as you see fit.

Alone Together in Mumbai

Below is the attempt to become the fourth known descent party.

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I worship at the alter of ‘The Operating Day.’ An operating day is a day spent adventuring. It can be in the mountains, a canyon, on the water, in the snow. I collect these ‘days’ like valuable little trinkets, on their way onto a long necklace. A very long necklace. I suppose it is my nature to hedge my bets at all times. To lose an ‘operating day?’ It is sacrilege! Thus I almost always have a fallback plan when scheduling something so coveted—not this day. So it was with minor discomfort, mixed with an ‘outside myself’ amusement observing the thing, that our group—its members hungry for and focused on getting to and descending Mumbai Canyon—committed to that goal and that goal only. I watched contingency options evaporate and blow away. The dye was cast. We would probe toward Mumbai and if the real potential obstacles reared their heads and defeated the effort, the day would be lost to ‘operating.’

Mumbai is in Fiftymile Canyon and can be approached from the Hole in the Rock Road as long as the road is not wet or washed out. It’s access from Glen Canyon and Lake Powell is dependent on the reservoir level. Gregory Natural Bridge was one of many treasures drowned by the reservoir. But in low water ... how low, I had no idea, the reservoir would pass under the bridge and fill a large section above the bridge in Fiftymile that would be inaccessible due to the abandoned meander being high and dry between the two lake sections. At what lake level would the abandoned meander be under enough water for us to pass? The only way to find out was to travel the considerable distance and have a look.

We arrived at the meander and it WAS high and dry. But this group had their ‘eye on the prize.’ Out came the pack rafts. Added a lot of hot air and off we went. Paddles assembled and over the sand dam and back into the isolated section of reservoir. How far up was the canyon? And where would the water relent? Above Mumbai? Below Mumbai? We only had our estimates. We had one less boat than passenger space, so a shuttle would add more time spent getting to the canyon as the sun rose higher and the day warmer. Tick, tock, tick, tock. We were blessed with no wind and the paddle was under ¾ of a mile, ending a short stroll below where Mumbai enters Fiftymile.

Steve ‘Spidey’ Jackson had done the second descent, a week or two after Aaron and I had first done the canyon in May 2010. He had come from the pool, right up to the confluence of Fiftymile and Mumbai in days of higher water. When Aaron and I did it, our final rap had landed in the pool. Spidey told of an easy route to the top of the canyon from the east side of Mumbai. When we got to that spot, we could see the easy part higher up. But with the water lower we were presented with a 30–foot overhanging face to access that spot. That option shelved, we picked up the pace—tick, tock, tick, tock—and hiked up Fiftymile in search of the moqui step route Aaron had found on the first descent.

All but me ran up the steep slab of 5th class moves to access the higher country. I asked for and was provided with a handline. On the way to the top, we could see down into the slot’s upper section. It is an intimidating sight. We arrived at the top and the party armored up—knee, elbow, butt pads—for the stem fest that awaited us. But not me. Pascal and I decided that we would pass on the upper section (rated X-), me with my stomach making all kinds of funny sounds. Jonathan, Guy, Bucky and Brett were good to go. It was after 2 PM and we had been traveling over 7 hours already just to get to here—the canyon head. I took some pictures of them as they headed in. Pascal and I hike around and enter midcanyon and climb up to the end of the high‐stemming part of the upper canyon. We heard our friends in a surprisingly short time. They were really moving well. We offered advice on where to descend to avoid the worst of the bombay that lies under the stemming. Without descending in the right place, one would arrive at the top of an opening with no way to the ground. The group rested in the shade, ate and drank, and talked of raw skin. Then we headed for the lower canyon.

Down in we all went. There were a few drops that these talented folks downclimbed. Ominous potholes were skirted. The deep water was avoided by dynamic teamwork. And then the canyon tightened. One must climb up, over a gaping hole, and up again. I had stopped here on scouting day all those years ago, before doing the moves the next day on the exploration. I was five years older and notably weaker. While I remember what is in store, I have no way to know if the ‘present’ me is up to it. I asked for a belay up the ‘gaper’ as that is what we call these wide spots where the consequence of a fall are grim. With some measure of protection, the climb seemed pretty easy and the climb up grew my confidence. This was pivotal, for the next few hours meant business. I settled in the middle of the group, going third in our party of six.

The human mind likes to play tricks and my memories are faulty. I don’t recall walking sections in the upper section but Tom, from the third descent, and my other partners today assure me there are two sections ‘on the ground.’ I recall the lower canyon easier than the upper. All my partners would feel differently when the day was done. The stemming proved to be sustained and, while having some ledges to work with, it still had it moments of straight, featureless walls and gapers. The good news was no big silos—silos being much larger and scarier ‘gapers.’. This section was really quite pretty, although, at times, it was hard to notice as concentration on our movement was a must.

Going third, I tried to manage my considerable fear. You would think that with fewer days ahead of you than behind you, you might become a little braver? For me it is the opposite and I wrestle with my anxiety. You do essentially everything alone ... yet your connection to the humans with you is profound. The bond is real, but there is more. I was ‘using’ them. I saw Guy up front. Big, long, strong and lanky, he moved in ways I fear to tread. IF I had to do what he did, I was doomed. I had to remind myself that I can and will pass these dangerous places differently than he does. It was better that I not watch him too closely and just snapped off a few pictures of him in the more acrobatic poses.

Behind me wass Brett. Pascal was right behind him and Bucky was playing sweeper. He threw the occasional smile my way. These folks tended to be back a bit. Brett was moving in the same form and manner as me, mostly back and feet on the wall, pivot left, pivot right. Perhaps he was doing a tad less galumping—which means swinging forward, arms out, like one is on the parallel bars—than I, but he was a kindred spirit in movement. Watching him calmed me. But I was using him too. I was past the spots he was moving through so calmly and deliberately and so I COULDN’T get hurt where he was. I was PAST it! And why that buoyed me I can’t say, but it did. It didn’t make me feel good feeling that way, but I couldn’t deny it. It felt self–absorbed.

Jonathan was second and right in front of me. At first I drafted behind him to emulate him and right away was on his tail. It relieved me of the responsibility to decide ‘how’ to tackle the immediate challenges. As my confidence grew, we played ‘accordion.’ He went out 75 feet and rested or waited for Guy and I then moved smartly till I was a ledge or two behind him. He was 40 pounds lighter than I, yet carried twice the weight that I did. I saw it calculated, this extra weight into the controlled moves he makes. A bit more locked knee moves, to support that extra weight. I was thankful that he and the others were taking on more of the burden, allowing me to be safer. The weight really mattered. I did not ask to help more—fear and lack of confidence winning out. Jonathan and I went back years further than my other partners this day. And there was some light conversation but many wordless smiles as we watched each other dance across the abyss.

It felt that we should go down lower toward the bottom soon—that the canyon must change its nature. A VERY tricky spot awaited. The feature of the canyon that led to its naming is at hand—the lower canyon bombay. Without the knowledge of this special combination of features before one arrives here, there would be much peril. At the spot you realize you must go down, you are wise to head back upcanyon a bit. But it is hard to head far enough as one feels the panic ... Can I fit down there? Will I get wedged in there? Go down too far downcanyon and you slide down a narrow 40 feet and are presented with a huge opening, some places 20 feet of wide and high—an open bombay, to the ground, with no way down. To squirm back up would be desperate and exhausting! All that follow us down this canyon in the future would be wise to belay the first person down and be ready, steady, and properly wedged to lower that partner down that last 15–20 feet to the ground. Jonathan did this for Guy. It was not easy to do from a full stemming position. Guy was a big boy. I saw a vein standing out on J’s neck, as Guy was finally lowered.

Once Guy was down, he scampered upcanyon like in a tunnel, deeper into the bombay, and established the spot, a safe and spot–able one for others to come down. He had to do some convincing as the slide down looks frightfully tight from above and we could not see him, just a disembodied voice from below—where your instincts scream, “Don’t go down there!” Soon we are all down in the bombay, struck by its potential to wreck havoc on future adventurers. Moss–lined shallow pools follow immediately. They cast a whole different mood. We were walking on the ground for the first time in a few hours. Was that a snake? Yes. Was it a rattler? Yes. Was it alive? Yes. We posed him for a few pictures and moved on.

The lower canyon is a magical place. After hours of serious focus, it should not be underestimated ... but it is unquestionably easier. The walls had a layer of grit which made it slippery, but the ledges were larger. The walls are not as high, but it is the eloquent curves that abound and move you. It is a very pretty place. You can go high, medium or low in many places. The abundance of options helps keep you ‘in the moment’ as you must choose your path.

The final rappel was at hand and dispensed with. A fiddle off the small arch. A bit of decompress? Heck yeah. Smiles came very easily. A stroll to the pool and the pool toys were topped off with air. I assumed I would be slow and jumped out to the front, not wanting my partners to have to wait for me. Within a minute, it started to rain. I looked up from paddling and the sky was mostly blue, especially overhead. I expected the rain to stop. It didn’t. Big drops hit the water looking like the strafing of a fighter plane’s machine gun on the water surface. The headwind was only minor but that could change in a second. I remained on task against that contingency and to stay warm.

I was feeling pretty good about us—about myself. We were going to pull it off. All the pieces placed back–to–back have worked. Then came a BIG surprise ... there was only one—none before or after, nothing building or receding. JUST ONE!! A BIG BOOM of thunder. The only one on my week–long trip. It was like a reminder: “You think you got this in the bag, do ya?” Yeah right! ... the whole bunch of us on the water in pool toys with lightning about ...

Back over the sand hill, between the two lake sections and we started the the long ride to camp. I waited for the ride to be over before the traditional high five celebration of ‘getttin home in one piece.’ Dinner was in the dark, with the memory of that one isolated boom of thunder as a fresh reminder against hubris. The group in the coming days always rallied. But it was apparent ... a bit of soreness and fatigue showed itself in everyone. The group left a bit of itself behind in Mumbai Canyon, almost like it charged for admission and safe passage. It is one of my of my life’s ‘important places,’ for sure. I am glad for having returned to a spot of such bonding with my son those five years ago. I thank my present day partners for their help and support ... and for tossing contingencies to the wind in the strong desire to feel experience and know this fine canyon. Old bonds grow stronger dancing about between those vertical walls


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