Canyon Tales
Neon Keeper Descended
by Mark Rosen

I left on my trip April 28th and didn’t get to read all the comments but here is my report.

—  May 3, 2008  —

On 3 May 2008, Jacen Wray, Randy Willis, Justin Peterson, and I went down to Neon. There is a sign at the register that says it is very dangerous and don’t do it. We had lots of time to think about things and had been warned in advance so I would say that we had a few advantages over the previous groups. It was a nice day to do Neon—not too cold not, too warm, and about a 4 mph breeze. I’d give you the whole trip report but I know that you are only interested in the pothole. I had done the canyon a couple of years ago and didn’t remember the pothole at all. I did see pictures that were posted on the web. Often the pothole sections are deep, dark, and cold. I was pleasantly surprised that this pothole was in a real happy section. We had spent some time exploring higher in the canyon and reached it with nice warm sunlight. Then it opens up below to a big open area with trees and plenty of sun. It is a great location to practice pothole escapes.

The first thing I noticed was the log above that people had used as an anchor. There were other anchors available so we moved that log into the pothole. Next we assembled the Rosen pothole escape device. A ridiculous device made of aluminum tubing in 2 foot sections overlapped 5 inches and held together with screws. It was 22 feet long and I attached an aider at the top and another at the about where that ended. Jacen and I rapped into the pool and Justin lowered the device to me. I swam over and stabilized it and Jacen climbed out. Jacen was in the water about 30 seconds. This device only needed to be about half as long as it was and leaving half of it at home would have been a lot easier on my back and shoulders. I had made it up years ago when Tom Jones asked Chris Raver and me to lead the Squeeze on a canyon fest. I had never been through the Squeeze but read about the potholes and so I made it up. We didn’t use it in the Squeeze; it was a pain to carry and I’ve never carried it in another canyon until now.

Now that we had established that we could exit any time, Jacen jumped back in and we used the log. He sat on the big end of the log and I stabilized it, and with that flotation Jacen climbed out again.

Randy Willis jumped in and he found that he could touch the bottom and have his nose above the water. Jacen jumped in again, I pushed, and Jacen climbed out. I will note that Jacen is small and in good shape and is an excellent climber and canyoneer. As I stood there pushing Jacen out, the soft sand or mud at the bottom gave way and my head went underwater. One can only continue to push for about 5 seconds in such a situation so the climber has to go fast. You may think that you can hold your breath for a minute but the water is cold, you are tired from doing the canyon, your wearing a wetsuit, you’ve been treading water, and you’re pushing as hard as you can. For me that comes down to one good 5–second push. The climber has to be quick and Jacen surely was.

We figured if one person could push then it ought to be easier with two people. So Jacen came back in the pool and Randy and I pushed him out. It was much easier with two pushers.

We did it four different ways. We took turns climbing out. Other ways we thought of were to take a boat like Dave Roberts in his article in Outside Magazine about 1996. A pair of stilts like the ones dry wallers use could come in handy.

• Things we learned •

1 – The water level changes daily due to evaporation, seepage, or new water. Be prepared for different conditions. The water was probably lower for us than for those who tried earlier. That made some things easier and others harder.

2 – On the afternoon of 3 May 08 from the top of the water to the rock that the pole came to rest on was approximately 77 inches.

3 – There was about 12 inches of soft sand or mud on top of the rock.

4 – From water to the lip was approximately 19 inches.

5 – One ought to establish a way into the pothole with the rope and a way out. Best to have a separate line with an aider or two attached so that one can climb out of the pothole the same way you went in easily. It is hard to tread water and set up a tibloc. I’ve done it. I know. It is a lot easier to climb up the aider and then set up your ascending system.

6 – We learned from those who went before. We would not have been nearly as prepared if we hadn’t been forewarned.

Things we did to improve it for those who follow before water changes everything again

1 – We pushed a lot of dirt and rocks in so that there may be something to stand on. That dirt could have already settled to lower in the pool.

2 – We pulled the log out and wedged it below the pool so that you could use it for a pack toss or with a happy hooker. That log may not be there when you do the canyon. You have been warned. I was going to tie some webbing around it for those who would follow, but the group decided that the next group needs to do some problem solving. So they will have to figure out how to use the log.

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I love potholes and thrive on this aspect of canyoneering. You may not. Please do not assume because our team did it on 3 May 08 that the conditions will be the same for you. We had good people, lots of experience, and a couple weeks to game plan. Jacen was the most important member of our team. You need some larger people for muscle and smaller ones to be pushed. Things change. Be prepared. Know your limits and don’t blame me if you misjudge.

I had a great team and it was a pleasure to work with them.

May 4, 2008

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© 2008 Mark Rosen