Canyon Tales
Triple Digit Canyoneering
by Roylnn Serati

Imlay canyon had been on my mind for some time. Various plans had fallen through or gotten rained out over the past year. It seemed like this July the trip would finally gel. A sweet group had assembled, vacations were aligned, and spouses appeased. All we needed now was for the stubborn Virgin to subside (the river, not the deity). By luck, Dave Pitney happened to be staying with us in Colorado when the river dropped so he was drafted. The target date was July 30th.

Pitney, my son Anthony, and I went out to the park mid–week to get in some warm–up canyons. Boy, did we warm up! Temperatures in the triple digits had us up early and down Pine Creek in record time. Unfortunately, we decided to try to short–long–cut the exit and ended up in a comic cross–country bushwhack that made the standard exit seem like a stroll. Keyhole went much better the next day. The weather had cooled and there was high cloud cover. Anthony and I did a speed descent and wondered if a single permit would allow us to do laps on it?

Late that day Rob Heineman and Paul Schmidt arrived from SLC. The sky was dark and a light rain fell. The forecast for the next day was 30% morning showers increasing to 50% in the afternoon. In my mind, I’d already decided that I’d do the approach then bail. The remaining three members were strong enough and I’d be doing them a favor by carrying the rope up then not slowing them down in–canyon.

At 4:15 the next morning, Rob’s F–250 roared to life in the quiet campground and off to the Grotto we went. Anthony hiked up with us, hauling extra water and gear. He wanted desperately to do the canyon but I wouldn’t let him. Dawn came at Angels Landing, a somber light filtered through thick clouds. At the wooden bridge beyond Scout’s Lookout we rested and sent the boy down to enjoy a warm breakfast at the Zion Lodge. We began the overland trek to Imlay, following a fairly decent trail. I’d asked Pitney earlier if it was a bushwhack and he replied, “No, it’s not a bushwhack. Shorts are fine.”

After many scrapes and gouges we reached the top of the first pass. It was steep, loose and brushy; a classic ‘schwack. We were making pretty good time even though Rob was carrying a very heavy pack. He had all the hooking gear, bolt kit, and emergency equipment for the group. We tried half–heartedly to get him to share the load, but he hauled it like a train, never complaining.

We arrived at the alcove at 9:30 and began suiting up. The sky was clearing over Imlay’s headwaters but a dark sky loomed downcanyon. Paul, usually quiet and thoughtful, chirped out, “We’ve got this weather whipped! It’s gonna be fine!” Almost instantly everybody’s mood changed. He was right. No problem, let’s go! It felt like Paul’s energy alone dispersed the clouds. After that there were no more furtive looks at the sky, just four souls pouring smoothly downcanyon.

Imlay definitely delivered the goods. Raps and downclimbs were interspersed with beautiful sculpted narrows. The water was several feet below ‘full pool’ and twice Rob drew forth the hooks and aided out of keepers. We began calling the hook holes ‘Kay–holes’ in honor of the author. Lunchtime found us at the lush garden just before the terminal narrows. The sky had turned dazzling blue and the sun warmed us as we traded tales of the grossest thing we’d ever seen. Charming dinner conversation with the prize going to Rob for enlightening us on the proper disposal of corpse–gas (think: butane torch and a big fan).

The final narrows were a super interesting mix of techniques. A couple pack–toss climb–outs ended in guided rappels. Other problems yielded to partner assists, thigh–belays, beached whalin,’ and the occasional cannon–ball–into–pothole maneuver. The water was amazingly clean and warm and we lingered in the holes longer than usual, practicing synchronized swimming. Eventually we began to hear the rush of the Virgin ahead and knew the adventure was ending. While we all survived the final rap to the river, sadly, Pitney’s sweet 9mm semi–static line suffered twin core–shots and was pronounced DOA.

After offending several foreign tourists with a brazenly naked–Pitney (“Trust me, they WANT to see it!”) we blasted down the Virgin to camp. Off to the Bit and Spurned for big plates of enchiladas and bigger pitchers of beer. After dinner Rob tossed his keys to Anthony, the only one among us with a prayer of passing a field sobriety test. He had gotten his learner’s permit just two weeks earlier and was dying to try his hand at actual driving. It almost made up for me denying him the canyon.

The next morning we feasted on omelettes and champagne then split up. Rob and Paul went off to do Pine Creek while Pitney and I went to scope a new canyon that’s piqued his interest.

Discussing the pros and cons of Imlay amongst ourselves, the general consensus was that it was not what we expected. The narrow sections were not too physical, although we agreed that if the water were low they would be more difficult. There were many beautiful sections of open lush canyon and the light was amazing. We marveled that anyone would think a headlamp necessary. Also, as Paul noted, there were a number of places in canyon that one could climb to safety if need be. In the absence of beta, intentional on Rob and Paul’s part, we had assumed that it was going to be stark, carved, hard, and cold. Our experience was that it was challenging enough to be fun and beautiful to boot. Thanks guys!

August 1, 2005

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© 2005 Roylnn Serati