Canyon Tales
The Merry Piglet
by Dave Pimental

— Monday, March 24, 2008 —

While searching for petroglyphs in the Hog Springs area of North Wash I noticed a small drainage coming in from the east which looked interesting. I scrambled up the boulder pile at the mouth of the canyon and, by way of a few rock climbing moves, surmounted the small dryfall which guards the lower canyon from casual inspection. The canyon above the dryfall proved to be moderately open, very pretty and full of sculpted huecos and fissures which catch the setting sunlight and throw it back in a thousand variations of the color red. Walking up canyon, the open section leads to a sinuous slot that plunges from above through a 50–foot elevator which is the grand finale drop in the small Wingate canyon. As the bats began to flit around my head in search of newly emerged insects, I made my way back to my truck with a firm resolve to revisit this intriguing little slot to find my way to the rim and view what more may be found above the lovely elevator. Since the pretty little canyon was right near Hog Springs I began to call it Piglet, after the cute little character from Winnie the Pooh.

— Tuesday, March 25, 2008 —

The next morning I returned to Piglet and quickly found a gully that would take me to the rim by way of some steep chalky sandstone slabs. Once on the rim it was a small matter to find my way along the canyon and see that there were several promising places to enter and escape the canyon. While hiking along I noticed a white object down on the ledges below that looked like some kind of trash. I would check that out after I had scouted to the head of the slot and beyond. In the open canyon above the first rappel I found the carcass of a bighorn ewe that looked to have been there for a couple of years.

Although the first rappel isn’t necessary, it does signify the beginning of the slot. On my scouting expedition I by–passed the dryfall on the left side and moved downstream through a couple of short sections which have some small drops which looked down–climbable, especially if the first person rappels and the others climb with a spot from below.

I continued to climb in and out of the canyon and quickly determined that the canyon had a few short escapable sections and a final section that is inescapable and contains the wonderful 50–foot elevator that I had seen the night before. I climbed up and down canyon from every entry I could negotiate alone. The entry to the final drop was guarded by a downclimb that I couldn’t reverse, so I could see the final corridor which should lead around the corner to the grand finale elevator, but I couldn’t actually go right to the brink of the drop. Instead, I reversed a bit of canyon and climbed out to look from above the final drop. Up on the dome, I could see the corridor and the slot beyond as it finished out and dropped into the open canyon below.

During the scouting I came upon the white scrap of trash that I had seen earlier. It turned out to be the radio collar of the bighorn ewe from up above in the canyon. Apparently the flash floods of the last few seasons had transported the collar down a couple of hundred yards and deposited it thirty feet above the canyon bottom.

As an aside, I later brought the collar to the BLM in Hanksville and they put me in touch with the folks who do some of the bighorn studies. I was able to return the collar and inform the sheep people where Ms. Ewe is resting for eternity. They were very appreciative and expressed an interest in hearing of any bighorn sightings by the roadside in the North Wash area.

So, I had scouted the canyon and determined what hazards lay within. Now, all that remained was to pull the trigger. I had looked at all of the canyon and downclimbed a couple of the problems. The only real mystery left was the final hundred feet of corridor leading to the 50–foot elevator at the bottom.

— Monday, April 14, 2008 —

When we got back to the desert I was pretty amped to bang it out and be on our way. We were meeting the Ransom Brothers to do the exploration at first, but Dan’s vehicle was giving some troubles and Penny and I would be alone for the start of the trip. I still figured Piglet would be ideal; several partner–assisted downclimbs and the final 50–foot elevator would require very little in the way of logistics and gear. We would rather have more back–up but it shouldn’t be a problem to pull off this little project with just the two of us. After all, it’s just a few tricky downclimbs, a few rappels, and the final 50–foot elevator.

We geared up with the stuff I thought we would need and buzzed right up the approach to the head of the canyon. We set the first rappel, headed down through several nice problems in the beginning sections, and quickly made our way to the fun stuff near the end of the canyon. The downclimb to the final section, which had turned me back during my scouting, did indeed prove to have an overhung portion at the bottom which is not very easily reversible without setting an anchor for a handline. With Penny spotting me, I was able to jump on down the last few feet to the sandy bottom.

Now we were in unknown ground and enjoying the corridor before the last drop. It is a wonderful little walk around the corner to the edge of the drop off where the slot twists to the right and drops out of sight. Penny rappelled first off a meat anchor and I was going to follow by skittering right down the final elevator shaft to the bottom. At least that was the plan.

As soon as Pen began rappelling down the elevator, she began to have her doubts. I soon heard a small voice come up from below, saying:

“Um, I think you should probably set that drop to ascend and come down and check this out.

I replied, “Huh?”

Up from the depths: “Well, I don’t think this is the elevator you saw and then there’s another 50–foot drop but it doesn’t look anything like you described. There’s a pothole at the bottom and not sand like you said.”

I am astonished; how could that be? “Really?” I ask, hoping she’s just giving me a hard time.

“Yeah, really. The water goes off around the corner,” comes whooshing up the canyon with the next breeze and I’m starting to get concerned.

Of course, I rappel on down and she’s entirely correct; this isn’t the place I described and it looks like we have another 50–foot elevator before the final one that I looked into.

Now we’re both getting concerned, but we’re masking it by saying things like “Yeah, sure, there’s just the 50–foot elevator and that’s all there is to it.”

So we’re laughing and joking about how silly I can be and things are becoming quite merry. The canyon has turned out to have more to it than I suspected and I’m certainly feeling like I’ve been put in my rightful place amongst all the other fools in the world. There’s an undetermined depth of pothole water below the second 50–foot drop, in a series of at least three 50–foot drops, in distance where I had convinced myself there was nothing but smooth sailing. We are running out of rope and to top it all off we don’t have wetsuits because of my overly–optimistic, under–assessment (mis–underestimation) of the canyon.

Sure enough, we are backing out and happy to find ourselves doing so without too much difficulty. I, for one, am much chagrined and sheepishly embarrassed that I misjudged the canyon to such an extent. I also feel the need to get back and finish that last 50–foot elevator. I think it’s just one more 50–footer! It’s beautiful in there and our own antics make us laugh; Piglet has become Merry Piglet.

— Friday, April 18, 2008 —

We’re back at Merry Piglet and once again without the Ransom Brothers. Dan smashed his camera and had to dash home to make some insurance claims before heading out to the Great White North. So Pen and I go in armed with three short ropes and all the rest of the technical gear we think of as being useful in this kind of situation. This time we have wetsuits and pothole escape gear so we can push through to the finish, but we are also prepared to fix lines in the canyon so as to not cut off our ability to retreat. We enter the final narrows with our campaign all set out and our plans in place. It goes off without a hitch. I descend the two 50–foot rappels and enter and exit the water to insure we’re at the final drop without other unforeseen issues. Penny sets the pullcord, follows down, pulls the rope and continues down to me above the final 50–foot elevator. We finish out the final 50–footer and celebrate the accomplishment, but I can’t help but remember how completely wrong I can be, and it turns out that the Merry Piglet has had the last laugh.

Wyoming Dave

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© 2008 Dave Pimental