Canyon Tales
Not Mindbender
by Lisa Jennings

“It feels like we’ve been spying on you for years,” Erik said to Ram around a crackling fire at Robbers Roost. Ram smiled, glad the online canyoneering group had sparked our interest in this fun new sport. This was our first time hooking up with Ram and crew for some scraping and rapping, but we had been reading about their adventures for years.

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Last spring we tried canyoneering at North Wash in the East Fork of Leprechaun—5 newbies from Idaho with one experienced mountaineer to set the ropes. We had an unforgettable time and caught a huge adrenaline rush that made us want to do many more canyons soon, however we didn’t make it back to Utah again until just recently.

This spring, with plans to float the San Juan River for a week, Erik noticed a canyoneering gathering forming in the Robbers Roost area. Erik emailed Ram and Ram responded enthusiastically, telling us to come join in the fun. We were excited to meet these canyoneering legends!

We showed up at their camp Thursday evening after a looooong drive from Moscow in Northern Idaho, and the next morning rose with the sun to do Not Mindbender. Penny, Dave, Judy, Amy, Erik and I started off across the desert to Not Mindbender after a car shuttle and some ‘team navigation,’ where we realized Tom had dropped us at the alternate trailhead. We hiked a mile or so through the desert, and then started into the canyon, enjoying the beauty and warmth of this special place. It started off with just hiking for awhile. We came to the first downclimb, and Penny asked if I wanted to lead. I dove into the first slot and squirmed down under and over chockstones and into tight narrows, loving it, joking that my wide hips do have a use after all! I jammed them in the slots and enjoyed some nice gravity–assisted downclimbs. This canyon generously offered us many fun downclimbs in nice, confined slots.

We reached the first rappel, an easy one, about 30 feet down. It had been about a year since I rappelled, and then I had only rappelled in the East Fork of Leprechaun. It only took a couple seconds to remember the good feeling of just trusting the gear and putting one foot in front of the other. Of course, Dave and Penny’s assistance and never–ending supply of smiles and good energy didn’t hurt either. At the end of the rappel, I said well that’s the longest rappel I’ve ever done. Penny said, “Oh really?” since there was a free rappel of 100 feet coming downcanyon. I was excited about the long rappel and maybe a little nervous too, after all, I knew the basics of rappelling, so what’s another 70 feet? That’s what I told myself, anyway.

We came to a downclimb which was about 10 feet high, very wide with very few holds. So we lowered ourselves on some webbing while Dave stayed at the top. Then we all watched as Dave part downclimbed, part tobogganed right down the rock! He sure knows how to use gravity to his advantage. It looked like a pretty fun ride.

After that we enjoyed a lot more good downclimbs, nothing too tricky. At one slightly overhanging downclimb with pothole potential we rappelled down on webbing with Penny assisting. We found a couple of small wet areas with water and mud up to the shins, but Dave and Erik stemmed right over them. The rest of us got a foot sludged with mud.

We came across Almost Mindbender where Ram, Doc, Aaron, Jason, Big Ryan, and Tom were doing a first descent, so we stopped there for lunch. It looked like they were really enjoying it and were coming down the last part to join us in the main section of Not Mindbender canyon. We ate and they still weren’t done, so we continued onto the big rappel so we wouldn’t clog it up with 12 people at once.

We stood at the big rappel. A breathtaking 100–foot free rappel into a large cavern with hanging gardens clinging to its rounded walls, and a small spring at the bottom. Amy bounded up, saying, “Oh, fun!” Amy is 12 years old and an amazing young woman. Her joyful and confident approach to canyoneering is really delightful, and her zesty attitude makes her lots of fun to be around. Her mom, Judy, a lovely woman full of musical laughter, cracks a joke about how her daughter says, “It’ll be OK, Mom,” as she rappels off an 100–foot cliff.

There was a crazy jumble of different colors of webbing at the big rappel. We were grateful for Penny’s help rigging up. With Dave already at the bottom, Amy rappelled next. A couple feet over the ledge, Amy’s shirt got stuck in the rappel device, making for an exciting moment. Penny leaned over, tried to free Amy, but wasn’t able to from her precarious position reaching over the ledge. Erik then suggested Amy stand on the little rock ledge below the overhang, and this allowed Amy to take some weight off the rappel device and remove her shirt. Amy just calmly worked through the problem, then once the shirt was freed, she rappelled down.

Then it was my turn. I had decided it was probably best if I didn’t even look over the edge until it was my turn to go. I hooked up my gear with Penny and Erik’s help, feeling really excited. I lowered myself over the edge, and it is hard to describe that feeling of hanging in the air on my first big rappel, 10 stories off the ground. Exhilaration, a little adrenaline gushing, feeling like the rope had my full attention! Penny told me to take a look around, but I probably lowered myself 20 feet before daring to look around at the hanging gardens on the walls of the cavern. Beautiful. I couldn’t stop smiling. I got off rappel and said something like, “Wow, I have never done anything like THAT before!” For me, it was the best part of the day. Judy came down next, then Erik with a heavy pack containing ‘the pig’ that Ryan had so generously allowed him to carry.

We hiked downcanyon for a little while until we reached the Moki step climb out. A group of people were already there, so it took a little while for all of us to climb up. The other group dared each other to do it without a rope, and from the bottom it looks like an easy climb. Most of us preferred to be roped since there are a couple tricky little parts to the climb. Everyone got to the top without any incident. We rested a minute at the top before checking out a petroglyph nearby, climbing up some slickrock, then up a rocky slope to the car. It sure felt hot on the climb out compared to the 40° temps in Northern Idaho this time of year. We were grateful for a can of sparkling water at the top—thanks Judy! We hopped in the back of Penny’s truck for a ride back to camp.

We ate dinner, made some smores around the fire, and enjoyed the company of the canyoneering community. There was an abundance of diversity, warmth, and good energy around that campfire. A unity of different ages and backgrounds, brought together because of our love for canyons and exploring new places.

Not Mindbender was an exhilarating day of expanding comfort zones and great people. We’ll never forget it! Thanks everyone for allowing us to tag along.

March 28, 2007

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© 2007 Lisa Jennings