Canyon Tales
edited by Penny Martens

“Uh oh,” I said. “I’m stuck.” Penny swiveled her head to look back at me. That was the last thing she wanted to hear, deep in the tight slot of Shenanigans ...

What follows is a compilation of trip reports of Shenanigans from the CO Spring Fling. The participants were Carson Black, Larry Dunn, Al Beckman, Matt Brejcha, and I. Thanks to all for contributing. It was the same in the canyons and for the entire trip.

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AL  •  “I think Shenanigans could be a real coup for you guys,” says Penny on our return from South Maidenwater. Penny has agreed to introduce three Colorado old farts to the beauty and skills of technical canyoneering. Carson and Larry have some canyon experience; I am a rank beginner though all of us have backgrounds in mountaineering and climbing, and 22–year old Matt joins us as a talented and skilled adventurer.

MATT  •  We had done Maidenwater and Penny suggested Shenanigans. We all agreed it sounded fun, but we didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into or how fun it would be.

PENNY  •  I haven’t ever taken out a group of newbies who were capable of learning and adapting so quickly. It probably helped immensely that Al, Carson, and Larry are longtime adventurers and have known each other for a little less that 30 years. Matt was an unknown when he showed up at Sandthrax, having had his partner bail out just before the weekend. He quickly proved himself to be very skilled and affable, putting up with a woman old enough to be his mother and 3 gentlemen old enough to be, well, his grandfathers. These guys were all incredible.

AL  •  What I am about to learn is that canyoneering involves a new mindset and different skills, but the rewards are manifold if a bit abraded and wet at times. South Maidenwater was our intro, and Penny thinks we would enjoy Shenanigans with its four distinct sections and many flavors. And many–flavored it proves. I would often simply stick out my tongue to sample them.

CARSON  •  Shenanigans? I found it to be one of my favorites, and really concur that ‘Baskin Robins’ could be an apt description with its many flavors and all so pleasant and yet so different.

PENNY  •  Somehow these guys have forgotten that I offered the first three sections of Shenany with the fourth as optional depending on how things were going.

MATT  •  In the morning it was cloudy but the clouds didn’t look rain cloudish and there were places to escape in the canyon. So we went ahead with the plan, set up the shuttle, then headed for the trailhead! After about a 15–20 min approach we were at the drop–in point! The first rap was into a fun slot. We all rapped, regrouped, and headed downcanyon—let the fun begin! The first section of narrows had a lot of squeezing, squirming, downclimbing, and all sorts of, ahem, shenanigans. There is a great picture somewhere of Larry squeezing thru a hole backwards.

AL  •  I can barely remember the details except that all of my newly acquired skills were well exercised, my favorite being some really fun elevator moves. The canyon seems to hold one in a cradle (cocoon?) of beauty and intimate experience though I cannot imagine its first descent.

MATT  •  The second set of narrows was similar to the first. We took a short water break after the second narrows. I drank some water and, in the process, realized I had rubbed a hole thru my pack and the lid of my water! The group was looking at all the new holes in their packs when Penny suggested we put all the hard things on the inside and all the soft stuff on the outside. She also recommended duct tape elbow pads. Made sense.

PENNY  •  Those wizened outdoorsmen had brought plenty of duct tape. The roll Al had carried in his vehicle for more than a half dozen years was put to good use daily. Every afternoon Carson would be seen winding more duct tape onto his water bottle for use the next day.

MATT  •  After our break we headed to the third set of narrows. These were amazing! There was a right–leaning slot about a foot wide for a few hundred yards. I would look up and see a sliver of light at the top. All I could hear from the rest of the group was, “Holy Moley” and “Holy Crap, this is amazing!”

PENNY  •  The sounds I remember from that day are the gentle laughter of longtime friends poking fun at and encouraging each other, the endless sound of packs and clothing swooshing on the walls, and Matt somewhere downcanyon giggling at an unknown joke.

LARRY  •  As Matt had led us down the canyon, he would laugh as he encountered and surmounted each new obstacle with skill and grace. It seemed the laugh was in proportion to the difficulty.

MATT  •  I was grinning ear–to–ear and loving life. I couldn’t put my camera away and the pictures don’t do the canyon justice. The third narrows ended and we took our lunch break.

PENNY  •  As we broke for lunch, I sized up the group. The last section would be tough for some of them. It might slow us down, but with teamwork I was confident we would get everyone through. I left the decision to them.

While they ate their lunches, I broached the subject. “What d’you guys think? The next section is narrower with vertical walls and a flat sandy floor. We can exit here if you have had enough.” There was silence. They were considering their own situations. I waited. We are taught that in preschool—give everyone time to process. I waited some more.

Finally, Al spoke. In his tender and quiet voice, he summed it up for himself and his buddies. “I have invested too much testosterone to bail out now.” Ah, the T–word. I smiled to myself. This will be a day they remember well.

MATT  •  Apparently the next set of narrows was tighter so everything compressible was compressed. We continued on for maybe ten minutes when we came to the 2nd rappel. There was no anchor so Penny backed up from the edge and had us rappel off of her! When we were all cozy on the bottom, she did the ‘crawl of doom’ and a pretty impressive downclimb to join us.

AL  •  The last section of extreme narrows was most memorable along with our young companion Matt’s giggle as he led us down; the louder the giggle, the harder the upcoming section. At one point Matt turned his head and his helmet stuck in the crack. Fortunately Penny had advised us to unfasten our chinstraps, so Matt had only to walk out from under his helmet and retrieve it with his trailing hand.

MATT  •  We decided to get in our predetermined order for the tight slot—me, Al, Penny, Larry, and Carson. We set off and the narrows were incredible. They were dark too! I took a digger into a hole because it was so dark! We reached the narrow slot and began to shuffle through. I’m not a big guy, but there were still a couple spots where I was squeezing quite a bit. At one point I turned my head (or tried to) and my helmet stayed in the slot while I kept moving. We all fit and continued downcanyon.

AL  •  We only had to focus on making the moves and, if questions or doubts arose, Penny was there with the answer or suggestions.

LARRY  •  “Uh oh,” I said. “I’m stuck.” Penny swiveled her head to look back at me. That was the last thing she wanted to hear, deep in the tight slot of Shenanigans.

“Where are you stuck?” she said, a bit of anxiety in her voice. She probably hoped it was my belly and, if I waited a week or two, I could squeeze through.

PENNY  •  Larry is an internist. As I turned my head to look at him, I watched the cool controlled demeanor of a practicing professional take over.

LARRY  •  “Right here, mid–sternum,” I replied, thinking that my anatomically correct description would somehow help. It didn’t.

“I guess you’ll have to go up then,” she replied, doubtfully.

I thought about asking Carson, right behind me, for a helmet stand, but I decided he wouldn’t put his head down that low, even if he could. After all, you can only wedge your head so far, even for a buddy. So I shimmied up a bit and crabbed along, the slot just a bit wider there. I tried several times to drop down, each time feeling like a cork in a cheap bottle of Shiraz, the kind favored by my companions. Finally it was wide enough to drop down again and take a few steps. Then it was ‘Uh oh’ again and back up again.

PENNY  •  Larry really never gave me any reason to doubt his ability to negotiate the last narrows. It reminded me a lot of Trail with Scott Card and his Christmas goodie pouch. Their ‘I got myself in, I’ll get myself out’ attitude is quite reassuring—no panic or needless flailing, just calm economical movement.

LARRY  •  At last, the slot widened a bit and we had a brief respite. Matt started off, and soon his giggle echoed through the canyon. I knew what that meant—trouble ahead. Now he was cackling like a hyena.

Penny said, “I think some of you should go up here.” There were only three of us. She was looking at me. This means you, Fat Boy, I thought. Up I went and soon I was peering down through my legs at the thin ribbon of sand on the floor, twenty feet below.

PENNY  •  In the very last of the narrows before the final rap, Matt, Al and I went low. Most people go high here, but I don’t know that there is much need. Al, a beginner, who is tall with a medium build went through this section without any difficulty. Carson chose to stay high with his buddy.

LARRY  •  Al looked up, startled by the sound of cloth sliding on rock and the thud as my pack hit the ground. He was relieved and surprised to see me still above him. “Uh, say Al, would you mind getting my pack?” I said.

“Sure. No problem,” he responded with his usual laugh. He even went back to get it, an effort that was inconceivable to me in my then state of mind.

MATT  •  We reached the final rappel(s) and could see the wide canyon through the slot. I tried to downclimb to the final rap but chickened out half way thru. Penny fixed a rope and we rappelled. Then, once again, she downclimbed to join us.

AL  •  The final rappel into a plunge pool was magnificent and accomplished in various states of undress and grace.

LARRY  •  We worked our way down the slot and arrived at the final rappel. Penny suggested we keep some clothes dry, and most took off an outer shirt and socks. Carson, however, was soon stripped half–naked. We begged him to put on a shirt as the sight of his body covered with abrasions and duct tape and his leopard skin briefs was almost more than we could bear—but he ignored our entreaties.

MATT  •  I rigged the rap while Penny was downclimbing so she could rap once she got to the anchor.

PENNY  •  I was very impressed with Matt’s skills. I wasn’t sure what they were, but when I got to the anchor he had it biner blocked with the rope the right length for a wet disconnect. He also had the pull cord stacked and ready for use—very efficient and proper.

MATT  •  After squeezing by some dirty, stinky dudes, she rappelled into the pool and showed us how to not fall in.

PENNY  •  Squeezing by dirty stinky men? Done that. Slipping past half–naked men? Don’t care to make it a habit.

MATT  •  We zipped the packs across the pool and then Carson rappelled. He fell in and it looked coooolllllllldddd.

LARRY  •  The wisdom of his (Carson’s) strategy was soon apparent as he slipped off the underwater foothold and was immediately breast–stroking across the cold and murky plunge pool.

MATT  •  I went next and squeaked by on the traverse. Then Al and Larry went and cruised it. We took a short break, admiring one of the best looking places I’d ever been then headed downcanyon. It seemed to take a while to get back to the car, probably because I was tired but most likely because it was about four (?) miles. It wasn’t too terrible though, the canyon was gorgeous!

AL  •  The long walk out provided time to reflect on the skills, companionship, and trust the four of us had developed and the beauty we had all shared.

PENNY  •  I didn’t catch this until just now. Uh, Al, there were 5 in our group. With whom did you not bond?

MATT  •  We reached the truck and piled in. Me, Carson, and Larry drank beers at camp while Penny and Al ran shuttle. I was going to drive home that night but, the second I cracked a beer and sat down, I knew I wasn’t getting up!

CARSON  •   •  Certainly the ‘narrows’ is the most memorable, but the other segments, certainly, were well worth doing by themselves.

LARRY  •  It seems I remember few specifics about our six–hour passage through this remarkable canyon. But I do recall the soaring sandstone walls, the filtered reddish light in the sinuous slot, the remarkable final rappel, the dark red flowers of the claret cactuses, the trill of the canyon wren, and the comradeship born of shared adventure.

MATT  •  Thanks to Penny, Al, Carson, and Larry for letting me tag along, you guys were a blast and I wouldn’t have had such an incredible weekend without you.

PENNY  •  The parting shots pretty much sum up the best canyoneering has to offer; beauty, friendship, challenges, and a sense of living the good life.

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The guys wrote their trip reports separately without consulting each other. Nothing has been edited or deleted from their original reports. Nicely done guys. Lets go again.

May 24, 2007

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© 2008 Al Beckman, Carson Black,
Matt Brejcha, Larry Dunn & Penny Martens