Canyon Tales
Joining the
Shenanigans Club

by Ryan Cornia

This trip report starts at FreezeFest 2003/2004. Ram and company were going to do Shenanigans, and talked me into joining them for the first ⅔ of the canyon. At the time, I was 190 lbs, and 6′2′′. It was a great day! The narrows were good, the group was excellent, and, most importantly, the shortcut out before the final narrows provided me an easy escape.

Fast forward 23 months. In that time, I’d been taking better care of myself, exercising more, and down to a fairly slender 175 pounds. I let Ram know I’d be interested in joining him on another Shenanigans trip if he has one planned in the near future. November 19th, the day after my birthday, was chosen—what a birthday present!

A slight digression: Before meeting Ram, I didn’t have much narrow canyon experience. Because I’m a bigger size guy and a climber, I had preferred staying out of or going over really narrow slots. Ram enlightened me to the beauty, challenge, and mental tug of war that occurs in the spaces I barely fit through. I had offers to do Shenanigans with other groups but knew Ram was the person I needed to do it with. He could provide assistance, support, and mentoring like no other. Plus, he has about my build which is much more reassuring than going through narrows with a smurf sized–canyoneer.

November 19th dawns cold and clear. A group of eight start the journey, my stomach full of knots and butterflies. The upper sections are better than I had remembered. Narrow, sculpted, pretty, and fun. I begin to loosen up and enjoy the day. All too soon, however, we come to my previous exit spot. A rest here in the sun while the group collects together brings the anxiousness back. Will I fit down there? What if I don’t fit? My mind rolls the possibilities around. At this point, two members of the group decide to exit. I strongly consider taking the easy way out and leaving with them but, intrigued by what the experience ahead will hold for me, stay.

Into the last set of narrows we go! Magnificent! Everyone raps off me, and I make the grim crawl. Awkward, but I’m feeling good, relaxing and settling into a rhythm again. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I pictured? Then comes the tight section.

While Ram changes out of his wetsuit; the rest of the group continues. Being much smaller than Ram and I, they move relatively easily through and are soon out of earshot. Together, Ram and I start in. Being slightly lighter, I get the honor or curse of going first. Initially things seem OK. It’s tight, but I am able to move forward. As it gets tighter, however, I come to a spot that stumps me. I can’t fit through. Bend down nope still can’t fit through. Put the helmet on the ground and stand on it no luck. Desperation begins to set in; Ram reassures me. It seems like hours are passing as I’m fighting a primal panic and looking for a solution

Up ahead, I hear Penny coming back to see how we are doing. Being small, she has a very sizeable advantage, pun intended. She informs us that the others in the group had been forced down to a crawl in a few places. This escalates the tension. I know that if I get on the ground, it may be very difficult or impossible to get back up. With no other options, Penny takes my pack and down I go.

I won’t drag out the details, but it was one of the most intense 30 or 40 minutes of my life trying to squeeze, crawl, and push my way through. Much thanks and appreciation goes to Ram and Penny for reassurance getting me through. I ended up on the ground a few times but managed to wiggle back to the upright position every time. Phew!

When we finally get to the end of the slot, elation filled my soul. Ram was playing air drums and singing while waiting at the last rappel so I suspect he felt a similar elation. We had made it through Shenanigans!

Wow! What an experience. I’m sure being smaller, Penny’s experience was much different. I suspect the only time she saw the beast was in the eyes of others. I can’t say I’ll ever go back, but I also can’t say that I won’t. A small part of me has to wonder, would it be easier to do again? Now that I have an idea of what is faced in there? Or would the internal fear of getting stuck be as strong? I can say for certain the experience did not disappoint. My appetite for narrow has been satiated for now the rat has been fed. I have officially joined the Shenanigans Club.


November 28, 2005

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© 2005 Ryan Cornia