Canyon Tales
Heaps ... Revisited!
by Randi Poer

Finally, finally, finally! I’ve been trying to get friends or even strangers to go through Heaps with me (or take me through) for a long time. I’ve been haunted by visions of this canyon for years: Always beckoning, inviting and taunting me, yet so darn unattainable. You know how it is: You want something so bad, can’t have it, and it makes you want it even more! Heaps was like that. I’d been invited before (twice during the last two years) to hook up with folks, but never on a date I could make until now.

There were four of us in the group, and we set a concrete date of Saturday, June 18th. Originally we had planned to do Heaps as a long day trip but decided that it might be best (since this was our first time) to make it an overnighter. That way, we could take lots of pictures, take our time, and really enjoy the canyon. One of our party members had to bail, due to work commitments, which left the three of us. I affectionately liked to refer to us as the ‘Three Musketeers’, but some might say that we’re more like the ‘Three Stooges’ or ‘Three blind mice’ ... or worse? Whatever! Musketeers, Stooges or Blind mice, we made a great team!

I arrived at Scott’s house at 5:30 PM, and we loaded up his truck and headed to Jeff’s, which was on the way to Zion. Jeff and his wife Mary had a great steak supper waiting for us! What a nice and unexpected surprise! We ate, and chatted, then headed out. Jeff and Scott were great company on the long drive out, and we had some wonderfully stimulating conversations. The comfort zone was peaking on the ‘green end’ of the comfort meter. Know what I mean? Yeah, it was like that!

Guys are pretty strange, and I’ve always known that. I mean, after all, I do live with one, and I have lots of guy friends. They’re all similar in the strangeness of the way they think, respond, and behave. One of the particularly strange things about them is that they seem to enjoy farting. Sometimes, I think they actually know how to control the process, and they do it on purpose just to gross us women out. Thank god, we women don’t do it! I still remember the early days when Lewis and I first got together. Lewis would fart in bed, and then try to get my head under the blankets. I’ve heard that that this strange ritual goes on in all relationships, almost as if it were a natural stage of the courtship process. The only problem is that they never outgrow it. Well, Lewis never did anyway.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with a Heaps descent. Well, Jeff was ‘letting them fly’ periodically, and I teased him unmercifully! Of course, I didn’t know if he was doing it on purpose or not. He was very polite and apologetic about it, and he wondered what in the heck he might have eaten to cause all the gastrointestinal commotion! I kept teasing him about bringing ducks on the trip, and we had a rather fun time laughing about it.

We arrived in Zion at 1:30 AM and had a hard time finding a camp spot. Watchman was full, and all the hotels had ‘no vacancy’ signs. I had camped at an RV park at the first ACA rendezvous, so I suggested we try it. Luckily (the place is expensive for camping which probably deters tent campers) we found a spot. I threw my bag on the picnic table, Scott slept on the ground, and Jeff slept in the truck.

I got a good night’s sleep, and was feeling pretty spry in the morning. Once we were all fully awake, we headed over to get our permit, went to breakfast, packed up, and jumped on a shuttle. We got started on the trail sometime between 11:00 and 12:00 PM. It was fricken hot out, and my pack weighed a ton!

It took a little while to get into the rhythm, but we were soon into ‘hike’ mode. Hiking along with beautiful views, great company, and lots of humor to boot! I don’t know what gets into me whenever I’m around Scott, but I love to tease that guy. He’s such a sweetheart, and he makes it sooo easy. This is only my second time out with Jeff (he was on our Death Valley Bad Canyon trip), but he seems like an easy–going guy, and I was certain he wouldn’t mind the abuse either, so I teased him too. Everyone we met on the trail got an earful about how the boys were making me carry the heavy pack. Most of them believed me, and I got lots of sympathy from the passers–by.

When we got to the West Rim trail junction, I talked the boys into heading up to Angels Landing. I didn’t get to see it the other time I was here to do Behunin. They hem–hawed a bit, as we had a fair distance ahead of us, but the puppy eyes finally worked. We stashed our packs and headed up to Angels landing. Wow! What a view! Very impressive, and well worth the detour! Jeff and Scott even got a view of a ‘full moon’ right there in the middle of the afternoon! A woman in a thong bikini! Whoo–hoo!

After a short catnap (my energy conservation specialty) of a minute or two, we headed back down to the West Rim Trail, donned our packs, and continued our journey. We stopped to have a bite to eat along the way, and then continued on to Cabin Spring. We hadn’t seen a soul on the trail since Angels Landing until we got to the spring. As we were filling our water bottles, a very nice gentleman ‘Tom from Boulder’ happened along. We hung out and chit–chatted for about 15 minutes, then continued on our way. Ran into 3 more backpackers on their way to the spring.

The trail from Cabin Spring to camp 4 was very lovely with lots of wildflowers, trees, spectacular views, and shade. The shade was a welcome respite from the relentless heat that had plagued us all day long. Gosh, it was good to finally be at camp 4. Getting that damn pack off my back was like kicking a bad habit. The feeling of freedom from that god–awful burden was heavenly! We ate dinner (MRE’s) that Scott had so graciously provided, and we relaxed after a long day. I had my first little mishap here as I tried to put Jeff’s knife away (after slicing open my MRE pouch). I grabbed the sharp end of the blade and tried to push it back into its case, and I cut my finger. Really deep, and bleeding pretty bad. Man, did that hurt! After ten minutes of pressure and a really snug band–aid, I was fine.

I set up my sleeping quarters and hit the sack shortly after landing. The boys were up for awhile, and I would comment, from my tucked–in corner of the world, every now and then about all the moaning and groaning that was going on. They were having a good time, and I knew I was missing out, but it was a true ‘pleasure vs. sleep’ dilemma. I had fully agreed to it on the way up and would have willingly participated in the activity, but I was just too damn tired when it got down to the wire. The shoulder massages we had promised each other just kind of fell by the wayside once I had my bed set up. I wanted one too, but I didn’t want to provide one in return!

It wasn’t long before the boys were in bed as well, and we were all settled down for the night. As tired as I was, I couldn’t sleep. I was dressed in a fleece under–suit, tucked into a lightweight fleece sleeping bag liner (that I had just purchased) and I was freezing my arse off. Mosquitoes were buzzing around my ears and, being the light sleeper that I am, they were keeping me awake. At some point in the night, I stuffed wads of toilet paper in my ears, which may have helped some as I did recall at least one dream in the morning.

Morning light.

Wake up time. Had a bite to eat. Nearly did the same damn thing with the knife again! Thank goodness, I stopped pushing on the sharp side before I cut myself again.

“Hey, who’s that?” I wondered aloud as I saw an unfamiliar person heading towards our camp. “Are you Bruce Almighty?” I asked.

“Yes, I am,” the stranger responded.

(I don’t think he heard the almighty part). I happened to have had an e–mail exchange with a Bruce a few days prior to our trip, and I figured it could be him. Bruce and two other fellows; Don (who was long gone Don at this point, as they were looking for him) and Merlin, who was here with Bruce, were also on their way to Heaps. We made quick intros, said a quicker goodbye, and they were off. We lingered for a while longer, then headed out ourselves.

We were going off of Shane Burrow’s route description (from Scott’s memory), as we didn’t bring the actual beta with us. Scott had programmed some of the waypoints into his GPS, which was helpful. None of us had a watch on, so all time guestimates are just that; guesses.

We located the treacherous Phantom Valley Ridge, which wasn’t nearly as treacherous as what I had imagined. I had seen pictures of this ridge in a friend’s slides and for some reason, I remembered it as a narrow path (covered in thick slabs of loose sandstone) extending hundreds of feet across the valley and dropping vertical on either side for hundreds of feet. It was nothing like that. The ridge was broad in most areas, the rock was merely unstable, and you had to watch your footing.

We removed two old webbing slings from a tree, added one, and were on our way. While getting off rope, I somehow managed to touch the hot ATC to my bare bosom. It hurt like hell, left a huge welt that bothered me all throughout the canyon, and, later, developed an icky scab.

I wasn’t rappelling top–less, but in a bikini top because it was so darned hot out. A couple of guys had come down in the meantime and set up their own rap station farther down the ridge. Although we were the first party down, these two pulled their ropes, overtook us, and then surpassed us. We were in no hurry, and I was seeing a photo op in every rock, crevasse, view, and facial expression. We caught up with our two friends at the first drop, and we gave them a 30–minute lead before we started out. The first technical section was beautiful, and fairly standard for a Zion slot. Narrows, log–jams, some swimming, potholes that were easy exits (because they were full). The biggest difficulty I encountered here in the first tech section was hauling my frickin’ pack out of the holes.

Once wet, it felt like it took on another ten pounds or so, and it was already pretty heavy before becoming water–logged. I felt like a SAR volunteer who was hauling a dead–weight midget through the canyon. It wasn’t too bad at the beginning but got progressively worse as the day wore on.

Somewhere near the end of the first tech section just before the canyon hung a sharp right, we had an interesting partner assist episode; I was in the middle of our group, and Jeff was in the lead. I came around a corner to the pothole, and Jeff and his backpack were down in it.

I’m like, “What are you doing down there?”

And he’s like, “I’m trying to get out.”

The whole thing looked precariously stem–able, and I considered it, but if I fell in, I would have landed right on top of him. So instead of risking it, Jeff beckoned me to come on down and use his body like a logjam. He wedged himself in between the walls right above the level of the water and I climbed up onto him and out. Worked like a charm. We were on our way again, having a fairly easy time of it all, lots of fun, with two notable exceptions: That Damn 11 mm rope was hell to try and get through the ATC, and my pack was starting to really piss me off.

The conduit between the first technical section and the next was gorgeous. It reminded me of Behunin Canyon, with the pure sand (although much of the sand in Behunin was pink), little trees, wildflowers, and towering walls. We saw loads of butterflies too! Big yellow–winged ones, and smaller black–and–white ones. The feeling I get when walking through these lovely corridors is almost like entering a different dimension: a mystical place where reality and dreams collide.

All the cares in the world just seem to disappear and I feel as though I’m quite in tune with the universe. It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling ‘at peace’ I guess. Times like these, I feel so insignificant within this grand design, yet so significant to be a part of it. Like a small splash of color on an enormous living canvas. A feeling I rarely experience outside of being ‘outside.’

Some of the downclimbs and/or raps in the tech sections were a little awkward, and throwing the pack seemed easier and more efficient, until I had to lug it out of the water. I had put a few grommets in the bottom, but the drybags must have been blocking them, because they didn’t work for crap. The second technical section emptied into another lovely corridor, and Scott was trying to tell us that the final rap was right around the corner.

“Uh huh, not!” I replied. “Why on earth would Heaps have been labeled a canyon not to be underestimated if this is all there was to it?”

We had lunch here, and then continued on our way. I vaguely remembered something from Shane’s book (which I had a scant opportunity to look at after purchasing it because Scott ended up with it left in his truck after the last ACA rendezvous), mentioning that the last bit of narrows before the big drop were long and unrelenting. That last bit didn’t fit the bill.

We came to the final tech section, which was by far the prettiest, and the most fun (except for those two notable exceptions I mentioned earlier). By this point I was trying to keep my pack on at all costs, and I had switched over to using my figure 8 for rapping. I became quite the pottymouth at some point in the day, and it was kind of funny to note the guy’s reactions. I have a tendency to be really sweet until I get tired and/or pissed off, and then I start to cuss like a sailor. Inanimate objects are usually my only target, and I just cuss them out as I go. It makes me feel better for some reason. That water–logged pack that was so freaking heavy to pull out of the pothole, becomes a “f**k**g piece of sh*t” and so on.

There were some of those lovely long narrow swims, as well as a few icky–skanky potholes, some logjams, etc. The waning sunlight was streaming in various places, casting a surreal golden light on the water and sand banks. Very pretty! Pretty, and pretty darn unrelenting as Shane described.

I had given Jeff some aspirin earlier for a headache, but he was beginning to feel worse and worse. He was starting to look it too. He was getting paler by the minute (he may have had a fever), and he wasn’t moving as fast now. We were climbing up over a logjam at some point, and I was at the tail end. I heard a splash, and then Scott yelling “oh sh*t!” and then another splash. Our 300’–rope had fallen off of its log perch and was in a very deep, very scummy, black pothole of unknown depth, which was underneath the logjam. Had Scott hesitated at all, we probably would have lost it to the murky depths. We were on our way again without incident.

Once out of the last technical section we tried to step up the pace a bit but didn’t. We avoided a couple of narrows sections by climbing up above them, and rappelling down past them (recalled from Scott’s memory of what he’d read in Shane’s book). At the end of the canyon, we peered out through a long vertical crack to our left to see the Emerald pools far, far below.

Wow! I couldn’t wait to get on rope and rappel down, and was hoping the daylight would hold out. We weren’t quite sure which way to go up, but finally figured out that we needed to climb up on the right side. What looked difficult at first, proved easy. The difficult part was hauling the packs up. There were well–worn grooves in the rock, where other’s had obviously done the same.

Jeff climbed down to a small ledge where there was a sling wrapped around a tree, and myself and then Scott followed. Our positioning was such that it was most practical for Jeff to go first. He rapped down, and we followed him to a ledge that was 100 ft or so down the cliff face (the bird perch I think it’s called).

Night had fallen by this time, and a billion stars had made their appearance. Thank goodness we were at least cognizant enough to have gotten our headlamps readied. Jeff was set to go when we got there, so he was once again the first down. Scott was next, and I was last. We didn’t do a practice pull, we had no method of communication (as both radios were in Jeff’s pack), and we didn’t really think things through at all, beyond keeping ourselves safe.

On a small ledge between the tree and the bird perch, I found a watch. I looked at the time and it said 10:30. I’m assuming it was torn from someone’s wrist as it caught onto an edge. As I made my way down, I was semi-irritated that a) I was doing this in the dark (the thrill is severely diminished when you can’t see the bottom) and b) I was moving at a snail’s pace. I had to keep push–feeding the rope through my rack. Pulling up on three hundred feet of rope is no easy task. Finally, on the last 50 ft or so, I started to pick up a little speed. I was no longer traveling at a snail’s pace, but a fast moving turtle’s pace. Sigh ...

Once down, the first thing I wanted to do was drink some water. We had been thirsty for hours, and we were all out of fluids. This was probably the worst thing for Jeff in his condition, to get dehydrated on top of the stomach flu or whatever it was he had. I suggested that Jeff come and help Scott pull the rope while I pumped water. Jeff wasn’t moving. So I abandoned the idea of water for now, and tried to help Scott pull the ropes. We worked for 20 or 30 minutes trying various things but nothing worked. I needed a break, and a drink of water.

Just great! My pump quit working! So we tried unsuccessfully for another 10 or 15 minutes to get the ropes down, and finally decided to leave them until morning. We’d have daylight on our side then and, if worse came to worse, one of us could jug up to loosen them.

None of us had ever been on the Emerald Pools trail and we didn’t know where it was (when I did Behunin, we somehow avoided most of trail by following a scree slope on the way down). I headed straight away from the wall after crossing the pool and ended up facing a giant boulder field. “Oh hell no!” I thought, “I’m not going down there.” I was done climbing for the day. We looked around, knowing there had to be a tourist trail around here somewhere. Finally found it and started back to the lodge. We were very dehydrated, and I couldn’t wait to get this damn pack off my back, have something to drink, and then pass out for the night.

Of course, the shuttles weren’t running this late, and Scott’s car was still 7 miles farther up the road, but we’d cross that bridge once we came to it.

After a short distance, we came to a junction. I was heading left, which seemed the natural course of the trail we were on, but the guys wanted to go right. I don’t recall why exactly (something about signage of sorts that indicated the lodge was that way?) I never saw it. I was just following now, and we were heading straight up the mountain.

I remember asking, “Are you sure this is the right way?”

And hearing an “I think so.”

It wasn’t long before we saw the lodge lights in the distance. Oh, home sweet home! Even if it was going to be a park bench for the night. Hmmm ... that’s odd, we seemed to be passing the lodge.

“Are you sure we’re going the right way” I asked again.

“Uh huh,” came the reply.

“This can’t be the right way,” I declared.

We were starting to cliff out, and the trail was snaking its way around and up the mountain in a definite direction other than the where the lodge was. I’m generally pretty easy going, but I can get mean when I’m tired.

“Look at the map again,” I barked.

They both must have been slightly more delirious than me, because they looked at the map and said, “Uh huh, this is the right way.”

“What?” I yelled. “This can’t be! Give me the map.”

I grabbed the map in frustration and studied it carefully. It was hard to read in the dark, and the little footbridge we were looking for seemed to reach the ‘upper trail’ which we were on. Upon closer examination however, I could see that the footbridge stopped approx 1/128th of an inch from this trail! I pointed out to both of them that the bridge leading to the lodge intersected ‘only’ the lower trail. The upper pack–saddle trail we were on parallels the lower one, only it’s on a high cliff far above the lower!

Guardia be damned, we found a seeping spring in the wall, and took our fill of water. The water was filtered through rocks and ferns and it tasted wonderful. Scott tried to get me to carry a bottle, and I refused. No way was I adding to the weight I was already carrying (told ya I get mean). Finally we were on the correct trail. This had almost been too much for poor Jeff, and he was in an extremely bad way. He looked like death had warmed over, and he wanted to curl up on the trail and go to sleep. Scott cracked the whip, and Jeff kept going. Jeff and I stopped to rest at one point and we sat down on this little wall.

I found myself drifting off to sleep. OK, no more stopping. Scott was gone, and I pushed Jeff to come on, and stay with me. We kept moving, and finally made it to the lodge. We dumped our packs (what a relief), and Jeff and Scott went in to see if they had a room. No luck.

The lodge lady was very sweet and she called for a ranger to give us a ride. He was a great guy and glad to help. He took Scott to get the truck. I took the opportunity to change, and have bite to eat. Jeff curled up on a bench and went to sleep. Scott arrived shortly and we loaded up. We decided to drive into town and see if we could get a room and we lucked out, and got the last room at the Best Western. We took turns showering and then hopped in bed. Oh, man! A shower and a bed never felt sooo good.

I was awakened from a sound sleep at about 5 am (I think we must have hit the sack around 2 or 3) by an awful retching. Jeff was barfing uncontrollably into the trash can near his bed. Poor guy. I felt sorry for him, consoled him for about two seconds, then zoned out again. Later that morning, I woke everyone up with a “Hey, we’ve got to get up and go get the ropes.” Scott’s reply was “5 more minutes.” We all fell back to sleep for another hour, and then I woke up again, and repeated my mantra. Only this time I added, “Let’s go to breakfast first, I’m starved.”

Once we were fully awake, Scott informed me that Jeff was in no condition to go back and that we were going home. I thought that Scott and I should go back, but he didn’t think we’d be able to pull them from the bottom. I mentioned that I knew someone was going through next weekend (Dave black had mentioned it to me), and I thought maybe we could ask them to drop the ropes and stash them somewhere near the pools out of sight. Maybe GPS the coords or something. So I was elected to be ‘rope retrieval mediator.’

Anyhow, we went to breakfast, and then headed home. Jeff was feeling somewhat better after all the barfing but, having slept very little the night before, he slept nearly all the way home.

So we started the hike at high noon in 100–degree weather, and our gear was too heavy, and our ropes were too fat, and somebody got sick, and we left behind $300 in ropes! We still had a wonderful time. No one got hurt, and I’ve been through Heaps! Finally!

You know what they say, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Or let’s hope at least that it makes you a little wiser.

• Epilogue •

Upon returning home, Jeff found out from a co–worker who had experienced the same symptoms as Jeff (right around the same time) that he had contracted an illness prior to the Heaps descent.

Backcountry rangers were notified (three times) of the ropes that were left. Their response to me was that they would make a note of it and relay the information to parties seeking Heaps permits, and/or parties who may bring the ropes in. The second time I talked to them they informed me that a Ranger Greg had gone up and tried to no avail to pull the ropes from below.

Two days after the report of the ropes, a party of three descended Heaps, cut the ropes, which were hung up on a tree root, and hauled them over to the visitor center. The rangers declined to know anything at all about any ropes left at Heaps, and the party of three (not wanting big, fat old caving ropes) gave them away.

Possibilities exist for retrieving the 200’ pull cord and the 100’ rope, but the 300’ has most likely become only a memory to its previous owner. Live and learn!

• Post Mortem to the Epilogue •

After all the time and effort I put forth trying to retrieve those ropes, which I was inclined to go back for that morning, the owner requested I pay 1/3 of the cost to replace this 11 year old caving rope that “the party of three” who had cut it down said they were amazed we’d rappelled on! I had never seen the thing, as it was bagged during our trip and unsheathed only after dark for the “big” rappel!

I was able to retrieve the 100’ rope from a ranch hand (father of the woman who’d cut it down). Got a call from a local ‘James’ who’d read this report (this is funny) and asked me what kind of watch I’d found and if I still had it. I also found out later that the boys were right about the map when I insisted we head back and take the lower trail. My error cost us another hour of hiking! And, as it turned out, I was wrong. We would have angled back towards the lodge momentarily had we stayed the course. I added over an hour to an already exhausting hike by insisting we turn around.

Like I said—live and learn!

June 27, 2004

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© 2004 Randi Poer