Canyon Tales
Smiling Cricket
by Jason Pease

The only way to know is to go unless you can see all from the rim and have 100% certainty of obstacles. Unlike climbing a wall, it is not all spread out before me. It twists and turns and changes and is always a surprise. A knife edge between fear and excitement, one driving the other and vice versa. Sometimes during, all I want is out and ask “When does it end?” and “Crap. Why am I knocking myself out doing this?” But the ebb and flow of the senses is like a narcotic. Whether it’s some established betaed route or not, don’t matter. It’s the unknown and the act of self–discovery.


—  June 14, 2008  —

Wow.

For a number of reasons—physically and mentally taxing, beautiful, and lengthy. Closest comparison to its character I can make is Segers Hole. But Segers was brim full when I went. This was nearly empty and, after a while, this just became a job and I hate working.

We awoke in the morning and headed up the Waterpocket Fold on the north rim side to gain access and found a nice rap in just above the start of the main narrows. ≈ 180′ down a vertical wall to a top bench above the watercourse. Just above, there is a short slot section that gives one a mini mini mini taste of what they’re in for.

At our first rap (of ≈ 12′ or more, I guess), we saw a bolt to confirm this has seen other fools as well. I would love to talk to whoever did this for the first time. Their drawers had to have been unstainable once out.

So after our 1st canyon rap it was ≈ .75 miles of potholes. At least 20–30 I am sure (probably more like 40). And some BIG potholes. Almost all were a mix of large to small cobblestones and sand. And all but one or two were sloped slightly away from their bottom, those couple which overhang are by–passable. Some you have to rap or partner assist into, others are downclimbs. One had a cool arch in its bottom. 90% or more require partner–assist exits. Mostly we did a knee–to–shoulder stand. One required a potshot. Some we were able to avoid, most with little–to–no cause for alarm. More on that later. They start out mild enough but grow up fast. The nature of the upper canyon potholes are water inputs down a curving chute, swirls around and scours out, then output right beside its input.

The lower canyon the water poured over into the pothole and then just seems to slosh out the far side. The lower canyon potholes mostly had diameters about equal to their depth. And their diameter was usually ≈ 15′. The upper canyon potholes were a little shallower though. Also had an open section about halfway down where we bypassed a pothole section of five or six.

Going was sloooow. Just after a long straight section past the open section we knew we weren’t getting out that day and bivied. Climbed up a side drainage and slept on flat, soft sand for that night. Not much wood to burn, never mind we had no lighter, but we kept warm enough to not shiver.

Next morning it was back at it! More potholes. After more potholes. After yet more potholes. Oh my god why do they not end!?! I am only a fan of potholes when they are brim full and I can jump in and walk or flop out. These were bone–dry or knee–to–waist deep. God it was exhausting! And they keep getting bigger.

And, then, the belly drop. Crap! That is big. The crux of the canyon, a pothole ≈ 40′ diameter by 50′ deep measuring from the water level up. Many dirty words, a few bad thoughts, and then we see it. This is especially where I want to hug and kiss the pioneering party. Especially as for the lead it is an unprotected job. It was a bypass route. Chimney up 20′ to the first of a series of hook holes, then 10–15′ of aid climbing on talons and etriers to skinny unprotected ledges 10′ below and 10′ beside a glowingly beautiful bolt and hanger. Penalty points are high to move to it but it is not a hard move for those used to climbing. And me not being a practiced climber I found it nerve wracking, but once the move was made (w/ some ‘shits’ and ‘****s’ thrown in for good measure) it felt solid. Now clip in! *Whew.* Once clipped in, descend and traverse to another glowingly beautiful bolt and hanger ≈ 20′ over and 10′ below. Then a little pendulum action to swing over to the far lip. Yay! Then ferry the rest over. Or slowly peck hook holes and etrier out from the bottom.

After that it was just more big, exhausting, but very manageable potholes. Until ... Yep. ANOTHER belly drop. Not near as big though. A very skinny pothole, ≈ 20′ deep, 10′ diameter but with a nasty overhanging far lip. A potshot may have worked here as well—conditions looked favorable, I believe, but overhanging. But here there is an easy to gain bypass rap up on a ledge above. After that more of the same until we see ... trees! O’ glorious trees! We’ve reached the nasty bushwhack out. A 20′ skinny curving chute bought us to the final bolt for a 100′ drop to the bottom. O’ sweet liberty!

We missed a combo rap—just barely! But a miss is a miss. We couldn’t understand why a couple obvious rappels weren’t bolted where most others were. We also placed three bolts. One where there was a bolt before (2 bolts actually) so we reutilized a hole. Another just above the final rap, as that curving chute down to barely a ledge where the final bolt was placed was not visible to view from the top and had high penalty points for any error made, as well as night was approaching and hunting for a clean anchor was last on our list after two full days in this leviathan. And one bolt where we missed the combo rap. I was good with hooking, but my partner was none too keen on it so what do I care? Made him feel safer. The other two I was totally on board. Another error was dropping hangers and having to rap off the final bolt placed by girth hitching it not fully driven in. It was more than good enough to get the 20′ or so down the curvy chute to the original bolt placed. We weren’t 100% clean.

So to recap—this is a beautiful canyon, challenging to the max between time and sheer energy required and one particularly nasty pothole problem. That crux pothole is a puckerer, but the rest were readily overcome with some thought, effort, and teamwork. Someone better be a good climber with exposure tolerance for this. Rappels were all straightforward, a mix of bolted and built on the spot. Anchor material is pretty readily available throughout most of the canyon. It took us two full days but could be done a little faster knowing what is in store. Never would trying to do it in one day be viable in my mind UNLESS it were brim full. Even then it could be a long day. And if the water were too high to stand in bottoms but too low to flop out, then Houston, we have a problem, just like some other canyons out there. Brim full I would go do this in a heartbeat. Good luck knowing when that would be though! And that crux pothole, if it weren’t full that would still be a huge obstacle. We wondered if that canyon ever does get full from head to mouth all at once. It’ll take a lot of water.

My camera went swimming first thing day two, so no pics past the first drop of that day. Too bad too cause they were something to see. Especially the belly dropping crux. God, I hope to never ever ever ever never ever see one like that again. Not as an obstacle to have to pass anyway.

Jason

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© 2008 Jason Pease