Canyon Tales
Rescuer or Rescuee?
Edited by Tom Jones

I had lunch the other day with two people—let’s call them Jack and Jill—who had an interesting canyoneering trip in Heaps a couple–a years back. I’d heard the tale told from the other side, so I was curious to hear their take on it so here it is. All names used are fictitious, except mine.

TOM  •  So how did you guys end up in Heaps?

JILL  •  Our friend Bob had heard about Heaps 10 years before and really wanted to do it ’cause it sounded so cool. Bob is a ‘Big Adventure,’ jump in and figure it out, the more extreme the better kind of guy. He’s a pretty good rock climber and had done a few canyons including Kolob Canyon before this backpack trip.

We had done one other backpack canyon before this trip. We tried to do the Right Fork, but kind of got lost. We got into a section of potholes, sliding down a bunch of short drops and realized after a while we were not in the right place. Then we got to a big drop—longer than 100 feet—and KNEW we were not in the right place. Bob found a place to climb out, and belayed us up. Bob really wanted to find the right track and finish the canyon, but this is when he told us about not having a car–spot at the end of the canyon. We were pretty fed up and just hiked up Wildcat Canyon back to Lava Point.

TOM  •  How many were you on your Heaps trip?

JACK  •  There was Jill and I, and my brother Jake, who is really strong but not very experienced, Bob and Bob’s fiancé Janet, now his wife, who is also pretty small like Jill. We hiked up from the canyon floor, but it was July and hot out, and we had really big packs, so it took us all day to hike up. We climbed across that scary ridge and rappelled into Phantom Valley in the evening, and put up our tents right there.

It’s clear we had too much gear, but that’s kind of the way we did things. We didn’t really know what to expect, so we brought a lot of stuff. Lots of ropes, tents, sleeping bags, bolt kit, stuff like that. Jake and Bob and I are really strong, so it’s not usually a problem to carry plenty of stuff.

JILL  •  I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go on another Bob adventure. Most people just go on one. Bob kind of pushes it, and most people can’t really stick it out that far. I actually flipped a coin it came up heads, so I went. It was wrong I had no business being in there it was really bad.

JACK  •  Well I remember thinking when we camped in the canyon, that for me and Bob it was okay, but it was really bad to drag Jill and my brother Jake in there, and maybe Janet too. But she ended up marrying him, so ...

JILL  •  We got up early the next day and started out. It took a while to get down Phantom Valley, but we eventually got to the suit– up point. That’s where Mack and Will passed us. We were really surprised it was still real early but they had started hiking early in the morning and weren’t carrying much stuff, and obviously moved fast. They suited up and went ahead.

JACK  •  We had Farmer John wetsuits, which was obviously not enough. We started into the first pools and it was fine, but at the first rappel, we realized the packs were too big, and we were really slow, getting the packs down, and then us. We hiked down a bit, then ran back into Mack and Will. They were looking sheepish.

JILL  •  They explained they had lost one of their ropes, “Do you guys have an extra? Can we take it?” They wanted to just take one of our ropes and jet off again, but that did not sound like a good idea. We needed the ropes to get out. So we let them travel with us.

JACK  •  The canyon was really cool and we made steady progress. I really liked the sandy corridor, that was good. After that, the canyon got harder, and we got really tired and it became a death march. After a while, we no longer wore the packs on the rappels, but just chucked them in. A bit of that, and the packs were getting heavier and heavier.

TOM  •  Did you have any problems with potholes?

JACK  •  Not really. It had rained recently, so the canyon was pretty full.

JILL  •  One place, Janet and I had trouble getting out of a pothole. We swam around a corner, and the edge was about 3 feet up. I tossed the pack in thinking Janet could kind of climb on it to get out, but the packs were so heavy they almost sank. Then Jake came back and helped us out. He’s so strong he just reached down and grabbed Janet’s harness, and just sort of craned her out put her down on the side. Then he plucked me out.

We were all really cold. The packs were getting heavier and heavier it was just so endless. The canyon just went on and on. Rappel, downclimb, pool. We were getting exhausted. We did not really plan on spending a second night in the canyon, but then it started getting dark. We found a pretty reasonable place and set up camp. Everything was soaked, I think we had one dry sleeping back among all of us. Mac and Will had nothing they planned on just doing it in a day so we gave them a few extra things but we didn’t have much that was dry.

JACK  •  We pulled up on a sand bench above the slot and made camp. It was pretty narrow. The weather forecast had been for fully clear when we got our permit, but it had changed. Mac and Will said it was supposed to rain a little that made us nervous. It sprinkled a little during the night, and there were a few thunderclaps. I didn’t sleep much I was too worried about the weather, and wondering what would happen.

JILL  •  In the morning, we were all anxious to get up and get going. Mac and Will were really cold and really wanted to get moving. Jake was in a bad way. You’d expect the biggest guy to do the best in the cold, but he was still shivering bad, and we had to really push to get him up and moving. After a couple hours, we got to the end and were sooooooooo happy. We were going to live!

JACK  •  With the big rappels and the big packs, it took a while to set things up. Will managed things in the cubby hole and did a good job. We were happy to be getting down, and getting in the sun.

JILL  •  Uh, Will wasn’t that good. When I rappelled down to the cubby hole, and its waaay up there I’d never been that far off the ground before with that big pack hanging from my harness I came down there and he helped me get off rappel, but he didn’t clip me in! I was surprised and a little shocked there I was with that big pack balanced on a little root, and I wasn’t clipped in. I said hey, clip me in. And he did.

I had a hard time on the final rappel. I was using a Gri–gri on a thick rope, and had messed up my right hand on a rappel the day before. I slipped on a rappel and slammed my hand into a rock, and it was kind of stiff and not working so well. So I had a lot of trouble with making the Gri–gri slide smoothly, and it just took forever to get down. I let out a big whoop at the bottom. I was SO glad to be out of there.

When we were pulling the ropes, a ranger came up looking for Will and Mac, because they were overdue. Will gave him an animated tale of our adventures, though he seems to have forgotten the part about them losing the rope. He made it sound like they rescued us, rather than the other way around.

JACK  •  I guess it was good to have those guys along in the canyon, but we would have done okay without them. They helped move us along a little faster. But it seemed like they were the people in trouble, not having lost a rope.

I’d like to go back and do the canyon again ...

JILL  •  Really? Not me

JACK  • ... with someone who knows how to do it. Obviously we made a lot of mistakes, but we got through it. It wasn’t very fair to bring Jake and Jill, but it was a cool adventure. It would be nice to go back and be able to enjoy it.

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© 2005 Nolan Thomas Jones