Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
FREEZEFEST IX — 2010–2011
Crystal Kaleidoscope
by Ram

Over the years, I would need to up the challenges for the children, to keep their interest alive and growing incrementally along the adventure highway. The problem now is they are getting or have become stronger than I am. So what to do to get Aaron psyched for another installment of FreezeFest? Certainly the planned Sandthrax descent was a draw. But the girls were Florida bound again, meaning that we had no Christmas obligations. What to do? The idea springs forth. ‘Christmas in Choprock!’ It sounds like a TV special, doesn’t it? The canyon has an older name ... Kaleidoscope. How about the Crystal Kaleidoscope? Thinking the canyon being ice–covered a likelihood. Yeah, this excites!

But why does it excite? OK, I’ll admit it. It is a really long, difficult, wet canyon. We are planning a day trip, choosing not to do the hike in to the likely friged river valley. It is four days past the solstice. How can you fit a hippo in a small closet? And knowing the canyon as well as we do ... oh what fun figuring out the logistics! Some love the anchor challenges best. We do too, but we love the logistic challenges the most. Others love the beauty. We do too. It is sure to be beautiful. But what else? The mystery beckons. What is in there at this time of year that few if any have ever seen? I’s gotsta know!

But, but, but it has been storming hard. Zion flooding. Escalante soaked and more coming. Can we get out the 27 miles of dirt road a day after the rains have stopped? Most locals think not. I mull an after dark arrival and decide that one is better served not driving sketchy roads after dark. Not without asking for it, that is. In the meantime, Aaron and I have tossed about the idea ... do the thing, just the two of us? Advantages are less exposure to injury. Disadvantage ... if injury occurs we would be toast. Go with two? Or go with four? And if four, then who? The other two find us. Michelle and Tim write of availability. We are a group of four.

We meet a half an hour early at the edge of pavement and head down the road. It is 2:30 PM after a 9.5 hour drive. The dirt is wet. The dirt is muddy but not too bad, and we find ourselves out at the trailhead with over an hour of sun remaining. The air is still and warm in the 40s. The view off the Egypt Bench is stunning in the late afternoon. Shelters up. Dinner pumped out and pictures taken. I sign in at the register. I note that no one has signed in in 13 days. There are no footprints about. We settle around a fire, with the wood we have brought. Aaron led the way to bed at 6:30 PM. I left Tim at the fire at 7:35 PM, for my warm sleeping bag. It takes some getting used to the cold at the start of a FreezeFest.

The alarm goes off at 3:30 AM. The stove is ready and at arm’s length. I fill 3 thermoses with chai tea. The packs were packed back at home days ago. Breakfast and off at 4:35 AM by headlamp, enhanced by a moon four days past full. It is not really a trail and there has not been folks here for awhile. But I stay true to course and soon we approach the river and Tim and Michelle comment on the white glow. I am fooled initially, but, lo and behold, the valley is filled to 300 vertical feet with a dense white fog reflecting the moon. We enter in and find it damp and much colder. The headlamp reflects what appear to be dust particles, not water droplets. It is confusing and disorientating. Soon we are at the river. I hand off my light (lent by Michelle) and play probe into the river. It is swift but not too deep. The mud on the far bank tries to wrest my shoes from my feet. The cold, I assume was present, I ignore.

We probe out into an area that was trailed last time I was here. Now it is a series of sloughs, devoid of the landmarks I am accustomed to. In the dark fog shrouded world, I wander, trying to ‘feel’ the passage of time and distance to the Wingate slab that is our key to escape the river valley and the dense fog. I get lucky and wander over to the corral that marks the wall. My next concern comes to reality. The rock slab is wet and greasy. I don’t stick. Aaron takes over and leads two pitches in the dark up the wall, making use of the gully on the left for belays. Tick, tick, tick, time is passing. Once on top, we walk the bench and climb out and above the soup of fog. It is still dark.

Soon the eastern sky fills with light and we make haste across the desert, alternating sandstone, sandy hills, and frost covered vegetation. We stop at Sunrise Rock (I have a few places that go by this name) and marvel at the total lack of the signs of the workings of man—that and the silence minus the low whistle of a little wind. A weak sun adds color but only for a short time. It is a day of muted lighting after the early morning long sun angles. Conversation makes the distance disappear and soon we are on the slickrock and final approach to the canyon. Then I am instantly on my butt. Others follow my lead in the coming minutes. Where lichen is on the rock, it takes the property of ice. It is incredibly slippery. Our concentration is demanded. Even on flat ground, care must be taken.

But how to descend the few hundred feet of slickrock to the canyon proper? This proved to be a routefind challenge of the first order. Hand lines, slide in, captures, and approach angles never tried before solve the problem, but eat more time. We note that the canyon is flowing several cfs and we stop one bench up and put on our wetsuits. It is almost 10 AM before we enter the canyon with a slide down the slope, some 5 and a half hours into our adventure.

I stroll up front, with 6mm of rubber on my core, 3mm on my limbs, a warm hat, a double glove system, and and hot fluid available when needed. A thin layer of ice snaps in front of my shuffling feet. I hear the others behind. We dispense with the tricky climbs up high. Tim expresses disappointment with Aaron and I for providing ‘paint by number’ solution to problems. I apologize ... but continue to offer advice that will move the passage along. Time matters. I am unsure I could find my way to Fence Canyon if we arrive in the area after dark.

Off the Riparian Ballroom rap and into a larger measure of commitment to the canyon. The riparian lay dormant and we make up time lost on greasy slabs. As we transition into the Happy section, we are presented with muted lighting. The day has grown cloudy. It is a shame but also the day is calm and near 40 degrees. We float on OK. The normally crystal clear water of the Happy section is silted up with the flow and it looks almost ordinary. Then some orange corridor lightens our mood and please the eye. Swim, swim, swim. Never have we swam so much in here before. The Grim section arrives, but the water doesn’t sink into the sands. More swimming.

We arrive at the short stem and crawls. I descend off a log into a familiar room and pull out fresh logs from the entry to the canyons tightest crawl. I send Michelle ahead while spotting those behind me. She returns and says she can not fit through. Is it technique? Or is there something new? I peek in and a new block of wood blocks the way, out of reach of any attempt by me to kick it loose. We must go up—up where I saw Rob Heineman go once.

The squeeze past the log is awkward. Aaron simply stems over the top and helps with packs. A rap off a log jam appears to offer a route down and past the difficulties. A brand new bolt is spied up there, several yards upcanyon. All shiny and new, it can’t be but a few months old. But it is an alluring trap. A devious lie. It leads a prospective rapper down between two even newer log jams and into a dead end and a trap which to climb out of would be very difficult. The irony does not escape us. A fixed anchor, a fixed solution in a very dynamic environment. Someone needs to remove this ‘temptress’ before someone gets into trouble.

Aaron waits while I probe downcanyon. I call back that the canyon seems to go for the time being. He pulls the rope and the others rejoin me after a marathon swim. Soon we arrive at the bombays, the place where the boys succumbed those half dozen years back. We find similar high water and struggle a bit. Two go over the big log. I see it move. Two, including me, go under getting wet to the top of the ears. Then the wiggle up and out. Beyond lies endless swims mixed with short downclimbs. Finally, we reach the last drop which is also flowing, offering a 65–foot waterfall and cold shower when on rap.

I am wet and somewhat cold, and I take no time on the sunless afternoon to change out of the wetsuit. My eyes are on the prize. Getting back to where I know I can find my way home in the dark. I hike the few miles to the river. Soon my partners are on hand. Tim tries to float the river and a rock informs him of his error. He suffers still, I hear. Michelle is determined to float the river. I would like to save the time and there just doesn’t seem to be enough water. Finally at Fence, I strip down after the final river crossing, eat the last of my food, and drink the last of the hot drink. I wait trying to stay warm and hoping to keep my focus and drive. Michelle arrives and soon we take to the final 3–mile hill in fading light.

I don’t remember what Tim and I talked about, but it swallowed the miles. Then the race to the top before the headlamps were required. It became my game of choice. Barely making it without the artificial light, we hit the trailhead at five minutes to six o clock. Thirteen hours and 15 minutes from start to finish. With shelter up, there seems no reason to leave. I change clothing and prepare dinner for my partners still coming up the hill. After dinner, we settle around the fire, quite pleased with our efforts. We have not seen a soul all day. The canyon was largely pristine. Conditions were pretty friendly for a Christmas Day in spite of a huge amount of swimming.

FreezeFest IX was now under way. The next AM starts with lovely lighting. But snow and rain come in at 8:30 AM and we scramble to get out to pavement before getting stuck out there. As for Aaron,he is mulling options ... What would be a worthy challenge and inspire curiosity for next Dec 25th adventure day?


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