Canyon Tales
Little Mid Fork of
N. Middle Fork
Robbers Roost

by Steve Mestdagh

Thought I’d relate some excitement we had a few weekends back (“You were joking about NOT bringing the drill kit, right,” Dave asked) AND drum up some partners for this weekend.

One of my climbing partners wanted to check out the canyon action I occasionally talked about. (Dave is an experienced trad/alpine climber who I know well and is experienced in chimneying, funky rope work, anchors, etc., so I wasn’t worried about him having troubles in a canyon.)

We did a nice UD canyon I’ve done before on Saturday and we’re ready for the meat.

We glanced at the Kelsey guide for Little Middle Fork but didn’t bring the description to keep adventure at a maximum. As we remembered: Three raps interspersed with climbing ending with a 45m rap from a rock stack in a pothole. Downcanyon was a moki exit. I’ve done plenty of creative anchoring but was a bit worried about the rock stack in the exit pothole since it had been raining hard recently. We’d figure something out. (You see where this is headed, right?) I decided not to bring the drill kit since the canyon is in the book and I didn’t want the temptation.

From the drillhole camp spot we headed into the canyon. A downclimb quickly brought us to the first rap where we slung the rope around the chockstone for the 45’ rap. Next rap was Kelsey’s Ibis hook rap. Not having an Ibis hook, we walked up on the bench and found a group of small trees with a sling. Dave found a new bolt backing it up. Totally redundant but we didn’t have removal gear. I figured, if someone put a bolt here, the exit rap would be bolted to heck. This 70’ ft rap was followed by a cool slide into a full pothole followed by a downclimb to a full pothole with a slung rock. Might need another rock though.

Dave was still up at the top of the rap. I had asked him to fix the rope while I checked things out below. I batmanned back up the slide and moved a 40lb rock down from upcanyon while he rapped. We moved the rock down with us to improve the slung rock in the pothole. From this point, we could see the canyon opened up a bit for the rap. It didn’t look like a 45m rap though. Dave set up another chockstone for equalization with the pothole rock. Every step in the pothole sent water sloshing thru the narrow slot and down the cliff. We couldn’t really see what the rap looked like though until we got things setup.

I went first. Ah, there’s a big ledge about 8 ft down. I continued down into the pool. Only about 45 ft. We saw from the side of the ledge one could downclimb if they could get down the top 8 ft (which was steep and wet). This couldn’t be Kelsey’s 45m rap though. Or did he mean 45 ft? Looks like the undercut Kayenta at the rap. Weird. This canyon was messing with us. Found a bull head with horns intact. So that’s what those bones were we’ve been seeing. The canyon continued as an easy walk. Then it slowly became narrower. We styled across many potholes without getting wet. Then we saw something dark on a bench. It didn’t move but it looked like an animal. We carefully got closer. We’d have to get very close to bridge the pothole below.

It was a porcupine!!

I’m right under it. Still not moving. Must be dead.

“What was that? Dave, did you see it move?”

Dave said, “I’m not sure. I hope it’s not one of them killer porcupines you read about. The kind that pretend to be dead but aren’t. Then they jump on you.”

I could see its head now. Did that eye just open? Spooky.

I quickly finish the pothole. Dave wasn’t so lucky. It jumped on him. He simultaneously sh!t in his pants and fell in the pothole. When the excitement died down, it was gone. Dang, upcanyon or downcanyon? Was it waiting to jump us again? Spooky.

The canyon became more ominous as it narrowed. I know this feeling. Kelsey wasn’t wrong. The big drop was coming up. A cool chimney into an unavoidable long narrow pothole. I finally got wet. Dang, style points erased.

Then boom, three full potholes to a drop. From the middle of the potholes, I could see over the 15 ft drop. My eyes followed the canyon down to more full potholes. Then my heart jumped. I could see downcanyon ... and there was nothing but air. I told Dave, “This looks like it could be bad.” Hard to stack rocks in full muddy potholes and know you got a good anchor. We swapped places. He thought he saw something manmade down there. Whew! Salavation.

How to get down the 15–foot drop? No rocks found in any of the three potholes. We saw rocks upcanyon but decided to save those for the big drop down below if needed. In the interest of time we rigged 3 tricams in huecos. Dave equalized them. I drop in to check out the situation. We could remove the tricams after we had the full picture.

“Where was that manmade thing, Dave?” I yelled.

“Right next to you,” he said.

I yell back, “Sorry, Dave, nothing. This looks really f#@#% bad.”

As I slosh around in the exit pothole, he yells back, “You were joking about leaving the drill kit behind, right?”

I slosh some more. I find no rocks of any size just like the potholes above. A flash flood must have flushed them or they’re buried under the muck. I batman up the rope and we start ferrying rock from above. It was really dicey moving the big rocks thru the upper potholes. Sliding in the muck using the bucket brigade approach was dangerous. We got 2 rocks down. Dave dropped down the rope to see if we could jam a rock into a big constriction to save us the work of moving more rocks. No go. Dave looks up in frustration. Daylight’s a burnin’. We’re borderline shivering from all the pothole work. I’ve never needed a wetsuit in the Roost before, at this time of year anyway. I tell Dave it’s 4:45 PM. He yells the expected response since we know sundown is 7:00 PM.

We are cold. It is getting late and we’re running out of options. We still have the unknown difficulty of the moki exit ahead of us. The other Roost moki exit I’ve done was hard and dangerous. We discuss our options, which are: 1) to continue moving rocks downcanyon. This will leave us with wet clothes in a cold bivy even if we get down the rap before dark. 2) use our existing tricam anchor and tie the 2nd rope to that rope and get the heck out of here. The ropes are old retired climbing ropes. One is probably beat–up enough to retire as a canyon rope. No big loss except for the tricams. We choose option 2. I’m really pissed about leaving trash in the canyon but a cold wet bivy is worse. The moki exit will have to GO because the next exit downcanyon is the Arch exit. By the time we get to that we’ll be lucky to find it in the dark and never be able to navigate the convoluted terrain back to the truck.

We rig and toss the 175’ rope. We listen for some kind of thwack indicating ground. Nothing. Dang. I look over but the bottom is obscured. Kelsey said 45m. It should be fine, right Dave? I don’t assume anything. I rig prussiks. There’s a small sloping ledge 30 ft down where I should be able to see. I rap. The ledge is at the edge of the rest of the free rap. I hang from the prussik, tie off, and shake the rope. It’s in a tree but I can’t tell if it touches down. I haul it back up and re-toss the coil. Yes! It hits the pool further out. I finish the rap and thank Lowe for the tricams! After Dave comes down I chop off the remaining rope. Never know when it’ll come in handy. (Next people down will sh!t since they won’t be able to tell if it touches down. Let ’em have some fun too, I say. Hee hee)

We hustle downcanyon. We see a possible exit if we could only get on the bench but no can do. Huge exposure with a traverse a few feet over a huge alcove. Can’t be it. We head further downcanyon. Getting dark now. I pull out the GPS. Dang, we passed it. We go back and check it out up close. From upcanyon, we see it again. Looks steep but maybe ... We’ll be benighted anyway if we do the Arch exit. From below it looks scary but possible. We scramble 40 ft up the slab and eye the possiblities of the remaining 20 ft. After IDing the only route, we hem and haw hoping the other will volunteer ... minutes tick ...

“Ok Dave, I’ll give it a first go. Then you can try it.”

I know this won’t happen though because we won’t have time. Halfway up I have to do a high step. Holds are decent but I’m worried about blowing out the holds as I pull through. I pull, mantle up and grope around on the friction above. A dike is a few inches higher. Adjust feet higher and go for the dike. Yikes! A sloper. Mantling (I like mantles) puts me in good position. I anchor a sling around an arch. Dave tosses up the rope. I pull up the packs and bring Dave up. We inch across the hugely exposed traverse and slab up hundreds of feet of slickrock before it levels off. Still tricky to gain the caprock above but we hear those beers a calling.

Once home, I tell my wife the story. After a kiss, she thwacks me with the sandy remnants of the rope. “You are a buffoon. Why didn’t you bring the drill kit? We always brought a drill kit on our girls trip. Thwack! You are a buffoon!” She said I really ought to go back and clean up my mess (like if I haven’t been thinking of that)

My usual accomplices are busy this weekend but this is the only weekend in the near future I can go. SO, ANYONE GAME? We’ll leave as little gear behind as we can to make it safe (and no bolts). Let me know.

Steve M
October 14, 2003

• Clean–Up •


About a month ago I described some fun I had in this canyon. Due to underestimating its complexities, my partner Dave and I left a couple ropes and tricams behind so we wouldn’t go hypothermic and have to bivy.

Last weekend, a couple friends (Bill and Chris) and I cleaned it up. A garden trowel was very handy to build a deep pit for a deadman anchor. We used the 50–lb rock that Dave and I ferried down in October for the deadman. Chris, the slabmaster, carried a 40–lb rock in a pack to a point above the deadman. We lowered it from there. We placed this on the completed deadman anchor. Bill, ever the ingenious one, slotted a webbing knot into a constriction and cammed a pebble next to it to hold the knot in place. This was the backup. The deadman was setup in the only dry area between the last two drops.

Tricams are good to setup for the back–and–forth over the second to last drop while getting things worked out for the last drop. A rap off a hook got the last person down the 2nd to last drop (after removing tricams).

Hopefully this info helps anyone in the future. Of course, the next flash flood will obliviate all or most of our work.

Steve M
November 18, 2003

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© 2003 Steve Mestdagh