Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
by Ram

We had poked our nose up from the bottom of this canyon for years. Its bottom section—swimming, while squeezing, while wanting a headlamp—is top notch. The fluted walls, going up to the sky, are reminiscent of Antelope and Pine Creek. We call the canyon Blast–phemy now. We had gone up the canyon quite a ways on several forays. We were finally stopped by a tall greasy dryfall. It was time to drop this beauty from the top. We noted the large cross joints dotting the canyon, casually went back home, looked at the map, and guessed which canyon it was—not noticing another nearby canyon with the same configuration of cross joints and never bothering to confirm that we were in the canyon that we thought we were. Every turn matched up. Beware seeing what you want to see!

Another trip out to the Glen, the time had come to pull the trigger on Blastphemy. We had been what we thought was 3/4 of the way up it. So, just a short descent to known territory and the great stuff below. We aligned the map and scoped the entry options and lined it up with what we thought was the canyon on the map. It turned out to be a brilliant canyon. It was also not the one we thought it was. One can get in trouble doing this—a lot of trouble.

‹› ‹› ‹›

We scope the canyon entry and nervously probe into the canyon. At its doorway is a hoodoo—its top cap looking like the top of a beautifully carved bishop of a fine chess set. The slot drops fast in a joint, leaning left, with drops of 25 feet at a time. Some we climb in are tight and we have to slide down. Others we stem widely, beyond their constrictions. The canyon levels, joggs to the right, and potholes appear—one after another and 10 feet lower than the ones before it, some deep, some shallow. We suit up and got after it.

Soon we reach a 30–foot drop after the seventh pothole. It landed in a keeper pothole. No obvious anchor revealed itself. A pothole, back upcanyon early in the series, had some rocks. Everyone went back up the drops, one person per pothole, and rocks were ferried forward, from pothole to pothole. Benny goes to wrapping the best rock. Dave, Tim and Ryan assisting. Into a shallow pothole they go, only 3 feet deep. Ummm. The rap is not vertical and it is a somewhat curved lip ... should, could, maybe work. People are rapping off of me, testing the anchor fully. The rocks that form our anchor in the pothole, are moving and coming up but not fast and not out of the hole. Benny and I share knowing glances. He exhales. He built it. He goes clean–up. The drop–in is into deep water and, after everyone else is down, he edges over, ever so gently. From below, I see the webbing creep forward a foot and a half and stop. Smearing the wall on rap, he slides down and into the water. The webbing gently slides back a foot and a half when it is no longer weighted. Collective exhale and smiles ensue.

The pothole is a bit of work to get out of. Partner–assists and pack–tosses do the trick. Then a full splashing pothole and another rap is encountered, this one about 50 feet. The pothole in front of the drop is shallow too, but it has a wonderful ledge underwater to wedge rocks into, in opposition to the drop. Perfect! Except there are no rocks ... anywhere ... except, perhaps, down below. Off of people Josh raps. He confirms—there are rocks down below. Backpacks are emptied, lowered, filled with rocks, and hauled up. Hard work and we are rewarded with a sound anchor. Very cool!

I don’t recognize the spot at the bottom of the rap. I am expecting to see canyon I recognize. No, not yet. Ummmm. Nothing to do but go down. Right away, a spot of off–the–deck climbing is followed by some full potholes. Maidenhair hangs from the walls and then we come to a spot where there are two canyons in front of us. They split off in different directions! Now I get nervous. This is impossible. This is not a cleaver on a volcano!


We have burned a lot of time with the anchor building and it is after 3 PM! A pothole downclimb looks hard. Benny goes around and checks out the second canyon. He calls back. The slots join via a super narrow slot between the narrow walls separating the two canyons. The way to the right goes down without interruption. The canyon on the left goes up a total of 6 vertical feet before dropping off the back side and forming another canyon. We know which way to go again. We go right, through the tight cut in the wall—a very weird spot.

We come to rap into a pool, essentially a severely undercut hole in the floor. Others go 25 feet up and wide–stem around it. Another time, we rap off Benny and big Ryan catches him on the way down the 18–foot drop. Ryan is really strong. Benny is really grateful. We are squeezing on the bottom, then short swims and wades, and, beyond, it gets too narrow for humans. Up we are forced, in a tight, vertical, shaped slot. We rarely touch down for the next 45 minutes. It is tight and narrow to the 30–foot height. But if you go up there—where it is comfortable and stretch out—you can only travel at that height for 20 feet or so then it bells too wide and you are forced down again. The effort to get up is daunting so you just stay and work your way through at 15–25 feet up, in narrow, largely featureless slot, using your body as a camming device, shoulders and knees grappling through, trying not to leave too much skin behind. The sun shines in and we all pour sweat. Grunts and the occasional advice are the only sounds. I keep my worry to myself. Time is ticking away and this is not the place we are supposed to be.

The tightness begins to relent. There are a pair of faded and tacky shorts attached to a boater anchor, down where we can’t reach. We come to a cross joint and a well deserved rest. We see the high water mark 40 feet above us, confirming what I have suspected for a while. We are in a great canyon, a challenging canyon, but not the one we planned on. And the boat guy will not be waiting at the bottom ... if and when we can get to the bottom.

We eat and drink. It is 5:30 PM. Our scheduled pickup was at 3:30 PM and we have 2 hours of light left, maybe less. The good news is that we only have 85 vertical feet to drop to the pool. The bad news? The slot tightened up right away, looking more fearsome than ever. We are forcing up onto vertical and featureless walls. Progress was slow and tenuous. We are 30 feet above the narrow bottom. Soon though, it belled out below. Wider in fact than the height we were at. The young and skinny ones, Benny and Josh, descended and gave it a try. It works and we are down with the sculpted curves, bridges, water and slimy walls, on the bottom, sometimes squeezing through twisted tight openings. The canyon above turns impossibly narrow. Shuts down essentially. I wonder, which way it will play. If we get squeezed off down low, we are in big trouble as we can’t fit through the middle ground to get high enough to stem. Time is short. To retreat and climb up would be disheartening and cost more energy than perhaps we have left. But no! It opens below and I start to stroll, thinking about how to find a boat that is not looking for us where we are coming out. Around the corner, I find Josh and Benny, struggling mightily where the canyon has shut down to just 6 inches wide.

Josh looks at me and says, “You’re not gonna like this.”

I am sure he is right. I thought the canyon had released us, but it saved its hardest and most dangerous place for last.

Understand that the walls are vertical and mostly featureless. These walls have only recently been exposed from the receding lake levels. All this was underwater last month and have been under water for nearly 30 years, and everything is like grease. You really can’t call this stuff rock! Foot or hand holds, if you find any, crumble. Or is ‘smear away’ a better description? Try to stem and you slide down, with mossy slime coating you. We rest, quite tired and make our way up with teamwork, with big strong Ryan going it alone in the rear. Tim and I are warring and breathing hard, with the youngsters ahead calling back advice. The advice? Stay high! You are forced up in two stages 35 feet up. You concentrate on every gooey contact point, moving carefully, ever so carefully. The climb–up goes at 5.9 R. Just beyond, you are forced to stem over a long pothole, impossible to exit from within—scary, wide moves. Then 75 yards beyond, you can slide down to the bottom again. Relief. A few steps and you are walking in the lake. Then you are swimming the canyon, 3 feet wide.

We come out into a flooded cross joint. Released at last!! We enter a bay but there are no places to get out of the water. Benny and Josh have swam out near the main channel. We all cling to walls, upper bodies clinging to slab, lower bodies floating in the pool. Then we hear an engine of a boat in the main channel and spy the boat briefly as it flies by. The collective shout from the marooned canyoneers could have awakened the dead. Oh, what relief when we hear the boat throttle down!!! Ivy the boatman comes into our little bay and turns off the engine. He stares one way, then another, and then another. Everywhere he looks he sees a half submerged canyoneer clinging to the wall.

He shakes his head and says, “Pitiful.”

We sheepishly swim on over and into the boat. Ivy has traveled the main channel back and forth looking for us. He has swam the 375 yards and into lower Blastphemy where he expected to find us. I saw his footprints a week later when we descended that canyon for real that time. He climbed up hard and far searching for us. He was calling our names, hoping there would be no repeat of the Psycho Damage bivy of the year before. Now there was joy all around and high fives. It is 6:30 PM and we have dodged a bullet.

‹› ‹› ‹›

We will spend a few days figuring out a name for the canyon: The fact the canyon went X–rated plays a part; the fact that we went down the canyon that we thought we meant to but that it wasn't actually the canyon we thought it was ... bad communication, for sure; and finally the X–shaped crack system on the wall at the entry to the bay. X–Communication it became.

Sometimes when you skate on thin ice, you have to shake your head and count yourself lucky. Everyone stayed within themselves and performed. Back in the setting sun at camp, smiles went all around. I saw Tim shaking his head while he smiled broadly, looking off in the distance at nothing in particular. His face and spirit were aglow.

He looked at me and said, “I have no one I can tell about this, who would have any inkling of understanding. I am busting to tell someone and there is no one anywhere, who I know, who would understand.”

I smiled and sensed his pride in a job well done and thought ... maybe the people who care about us most ... not knowing might be for the best?


 new  ‹›  rams tales  

© 2007–2025 Steve Ramras