Canyon Tales
For Pothole
Puzzle Solvers

by Dave Black

Some food for thought for pothole puzzle solvers ...

After a near–death experience in a keeper hole in a swimmer Mae West slot on Powell a couple of years back, I worked on some ideas for a couple of problems. The first was finding a suitable tossed anchor that could be thrown into very high cracks and very narrow or twisted cracks that a tossed pack or even a throw bag would have trouble penetrating. The solution for this was a simple 5–ounce baseball (hardball). I drilled a hole straight through it and tied a loop through it, knotted behind a washer on one end. I got excellent penetration with it, and even with the round shape it manages to catch on something more often than not. With an 8mm line stacked on the ground I’ve been able to get an accurate 34–foot toss. I get over 50 feet when it’s tossed in a tight butterfly–style hand coil. A 7mm line and/or a heavier ball (maybe a lacrosse ball?) would probably get more distance. I can hang from and even hop on the baseball line, and it takes the weight without any distortion or damage.

I also resurrected an autohaul extraction system I had improvised for exiting bombbay squeeze–tube entrances in desert caves (it’s written up in one of the NSS journals in 1997†, sorry I can’t tell you which one). I pre–rigged the baseball with the autohaul using a 7mm line. Even with the weight of the tripled 7mm I can get a 25–foot toss into a high or narrow crack. Once the baseball is anchored, the autohaul is hooked to my harness and I can haul myself up a short, blank less–than–vertical pothole wall (a theoretical 2:1 hauling system. Actually it’s not anywhere near that efficient, but it’s quick and it’s much easier than just hand–over–hand.) The autohaul sucks on an overhang, though, but it would certainly be possible to use ascenders on a single line from the baseball.

It’s worked for me a few times, and I’d rather screw around with it than drill my way out.

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Oh, I might add that the idea came from an old ski lift evac technique ... it was how we would get a rope over the cable to set up a lower for stranded lift riders. It doesn’t sound like skiing, but it was part of the repertoire.

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I don’t carry the baseball unless I’m totally clueless about what I’m going to find—with one exception. For the last 7 months, I’ve been rock climbing on the broken mesas in the vicinity of Blanding. These are broken up in a fashion that they form dozens of mini–slots that are my only way to the rim to set up my long top ropes for ascender belays. Some of these mini–slots are incredibly complex and maze–like and very technical, and range up to 1200 feet in length. I’ve started to enjoy these little slots so much that I’m doing more of them than I am climbs. Anyway, I use the baseball on a regular basis (almost daily) in these slots as a sort of mobile top rope because their smooth vertical walls are choked with overhanging boulders and there’s some serious exposed bouldering going on to get through them.

I don’t know if you’ve heard the term ‘Mae West’ slot before. It’s probably jargon that isn’t in common use (I think Joe Wrona’s done a lot of these). I use the term to refer to those slots that are so narrow that they are virtually an eternal off–width crack/chimney. Where a slot ‘Mae Wests’, you can be doing some serious, exposed climbing ranging from tight body jams to horizontal body stems for several hundred yards and, in all that distance, your feet never touch the bottom of the canyon. In those kinds of slots, getting across a deep, crooked, bombay keeper pothole can be a nightmare that makes the keeper in Quandary Direct seem pretty whimpy. That’s the type situation I initially thought I could use the baseball in.

As for the autohaul, I just threw that in my e–mail for brain fodor. Attaching the autohaul to the ball pretty much stunts the effectiveness of the ball toss, and it can be a real pain to keep the mess from tangling up or jamming. The few times I’ve used the autohaul in a pothole I did so basically to prove it could be done if I really needed it, not because I was trapped.


llana kanka
May 19–21, 2001


Link to NSS News article alluded to in the above text (see pp. 331):
Return to the desert caves of Saudi Arabia • John Pint,
NSS News, November 1997, pp. 329–335



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© 2001 Dave Black