Canyon Tales
by Joe Bugden

Did my first Californian Canyon yesterday ... t’was awesome.

• June 8, 2005 •
Ophidiophobia aka O–pho

Rob Cobb, Joe Budgen, Steve Brezovec, Greg Brown

After an early morning start on what promised to be a hot day and a pretty cruzie walk in, our decent started about 1000m above sea level and ended around 300m above sea level—so it was a big ass walk–out—similar in size to a Blue Mountains–style Kanangra exit and just as nasty! Though, instead of leeches, we had to deal with rattlesnakes, hornets, bees, mozzies, bears (thankfully we didn’t come across any of those) and a lovely little plant called poison oak.

The creek showed the scars of California Gold–Rush fever. Signs of yesteryear’s mining attempts, in the way of various metal objects scattered in random spots throughout the canyon, steel plates that are at the begining of a long journey toward the Pacific Ocean.

During the course of the day we found evidence of only one existing anchor, so although it showed signs of a limited ‘canyoneering history’ none of us were sure if it had been decended ‘in full.’ This kept things interesting for our group, as none of us knew what lay hidden around the next bend or beneath the next waterfall.

Our day started off nice and easy with a walk–in via old mining trails (dodging small patches of the poison oak along the way). Soon enough, we hit the creek and began wading down–stream. Almost immediatly we were confronted with a 20m rappel through a raging waterfall into a open V–shaped valley. For the first 20 mins the canyon remianed open and pleasant, giving no clues to the seriousness of terrain that lay ahead. Just when it was looking like it would be ‘a walk in the park’ the mellow creek tightened–up and plunged into a deep rock chasm with un–relenting waterfalls.

The chasm was carved out of solid (white) granite. The unforgiving white–water had carved long sections of canyon barely wide enough to swim through. And boulders created constant obstacles that tested our (or at least my) scrambling abilities.

We would drop through raging waterfalls and be confronted by either :

1. A tight swim through narrow corridors of towering rock walls to the next fall
2. Drop directly into hanging potholes, fight the current to the safety of a ledge where we would clamber out of the water before it plunged over yet another drop.

This process repeated itself throughout the day (there were about 10 major waterfalls (the biggest 60m) and several smaller ones, most requiring rope–work to negioate).

Due to the savage flash floods that pass through this canyon, the walls were polished ‘baby–butt’ smooth, with no signs of life—just un–living, un–feeling rock—rock, everywhere you looked. A big change from the lush green canyons I had experienced the previous week in the PNW (and my local canyons in Australia).

No trees for anchors here.

We carried a drill and bolts, fully expecting that at some stage we would be faced with no choice but to drill anchors into the canyon wall, a time consuming job (and not much fun for us or the canyon). However, with the aid of some inventive anchor construction—sometimes a choc–stone that we could wrap a sling directly around, other times a ‘custom–built’ anchor, made by stacking up a small mountain of rocks in the streambed and tying a sling around the base—the day passed without having to resort to ‘bolting.’ (So yes, we—and when I say we, I mean Rob—carried a heavy–ass drill and batteries through the canyon for nothing!). Though, I estimate Stevee donated about 100–200ft of webbing to this monster of a creek.

Snakes were the name of the game (hence the name Ophidiophobia, which I’m lead to believe means fear of snakes). We came across a massive rattler, drowned in a deep pothole, not to mention a whole bunch of other more friendly snakes that Rob tried to catch and show me. I, being terrified of most creatures, am happy to report that most of them were able to slither off, under rocks, etc. before Rob could wave them in my face.

“You’re Australian. You guys love snakes don’t ’cha?”

“Umm, NO. I think you have me confused with that guy who hunts crocodiles.”

Finally, just as I was thinking there was no end to this beast, 9 hrs after entering the water, our passage through the canyon was complete. We busted out into the valley floor. The sunlight (and heat—did I mention it was 40° C) was fading. Now all that was left was to pioneer a 700m ascent out of the gorge and back to the car. So began our uphill battle against gravity, poison oak, and clouds of mozzies. Our fearless leader displayed some fine scrub–bashing skills that would put the most seasoned Blue Mountains walker to shame. And, before we knew it, we were back on the old mining trails that skirt the rim of the canyon.

Looking back into the dark chasm we had just passed through, I couldn’t help but think, “I’m damn glad I didn’t walk down here and check it out beforehand. I don’t think I would have had the courage to go through it!” But I’m sure glad I did. Without a doubt it was some of the finest ‘canyoneering’ I’ve ever participated in.

To our surprise we arrived back at the car about a half hour before nightfall—guess I bought the head torch along for nothing as well—and promptly set off in search of the nearest Pizza joint. Yet another successful canyon adventure.

North America once again shows the humble tourist that it possesses some awesome adventure. I am truly amazed at the variety of canyons on offer. From the ultra–lush canyons in the Pacific Northwest to this polished granite beauty of Northern California, I can only dream of what gems are hidden amongst the Colorado Plateau.

Once again a big ‘Cheers’ goes out to all those involved.

Joe Bugden
August 8, 2005

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© 2005 Joe Bugden