Canyon Tales
Styx and Coffin
by Lori Curry

Rick K, Damian T, Cigdem M, Luke and Lori C from Las Vegas, and Bill A from Salt Lake City joined up at Cactus Joe’s to head off for a canyoneering adventure in Death Valley—Styx and Coffin. Dinner at Panda Express in Pahrump turned into an hour of team building as knowledge was tested and shared, experience probed, and individual personalities emerged. Soon we stepped out of our cars into an amazing star show, and after ooohs and ahhhs, and some time around a nice campfire, we settled in for a good night’s sleep.

Having done Styx with Bruce’s group less than a month before, I was honored to be the day’s trip leader and lead my first canyon. Would I remember all the right things I’d learned from Bruce over the last 18 months? There were so many things to remember to teach the newcomers, Damian and Cigdem, without overwhelming them. It had been a year or so since I’d canyoned with Luke and nobody knew Bill. But luckily Rick and I knew each other’s strengths, so groundwork was laid. Reaching the first rap in upper Coffin Canyon, a vertical 100’ with a free–hanging finish, was an adventure in itself, and Damian and Cigdem soon showed their great skill and strength in downclimbing in the ‘loose.’ Luke as always was uncannily where he needed to be to lend a hand and Rick and Bill were reliable route finders.

Not till we reached 100’ of sudden air did we spend some time training and checking everyone out on use of the gear. It became evident that Bill was very competent technically, besides being such a laid back funny guy and an awesome example. So soon he was down and gradually everyone had the thrill. The newcomers were thrilled with it and the enthusiasm started to flow. One more rap, and a relatively short hike down the wash, and we broke for an early lunch at the saddle between Coffin and Styx and enjoyed the amazing view across the Badwater Valley to Telescope Peak.

We headed into the canyon and rapidly started the downclimb, rap, rap ... wash hike sequence. I was worried and feeling very, very responsible. When would the canyon get really, really good???? Would the group like it? Was it going to be as good as last time? Were we going to get out on time? Would Cigdem remember to hold her brake hand far enough back? Was Damian as calm and cool as he seemed? Would we stick a rope, would someone fall on a downclimb (most likely me!) ... thank God for all these talented people and their sense of humor and fun ... by the time we reached the amazing final rap and downclimb sequence everyone was getting on rappel quickly, we knew each other’s abilities and we relaxed into the flow.

We decided to split into two groups of three for the biggest part of the canyon since we were behind schedule by an hour. In a truly fun and fast feat of teamwork, where every skill, talent and ability was put to good use, everyone doing every job, we leap–frogged the raps, cleaning and throwing ropes ahead, just as I had the honor of being part of with some truly classic canyoneers in Zion the year before. Everyone was moving so fast, we lost any last nervousness and settled in for the fun! Well, we made up our hour and spent some time relaxing together at the top of the last rap before heading off into the sunset to set the next day’s car shuttle.

Oh, I didn’t mention the wind. We arrived back at camp to find the biggest walk–in size tent with about 500 pounds of gear had blown over in the gale force winds! It took a good hour to set things right in camp with the winds ‘helping’ while the others finished the car shuttle. The fun just never ended. We didn’t despair too much over not having a fire, as Luke cranked up the heater in his car and we sat in there giggling and finally downing a barley pop until the others returned. An early night—we were exhausted and Coffin Canyon and a windy night awaited us.

The morning dawned clear and the wind died down and, despite waiting for me to get over a short bout of stomach illness, we decided to go to Coffin Canyon. Luckily Bill was leading, because I was so shaky I could barely keep my feet on the ground. By the time we got to the second rap, I was feeling better, and woo–hooed off the second rappel in upper Coffin, and 12’ off the bottom put a knot into my Pirana. Ouch. Time killer. Bill and everyone mobilized, built another anchor, and Bill came down on rescue. It was awesome to watch all the things I had studied happening right before my very eyes. Bill was so calm and smooth. It was embarassing to have woo–hooed right into a humpfhgd ... LOL! All relieved, we headed down wash ... down wash ... down wash ... down wash ... miles of it. It was beautiful, awesome, large, and tiring. Finally, Bill called a stop where it looked like the canyon was narrowing and we all took a well–deserved lunch and blister repair break.

Then it was into a brand new canyon, new (more assisted) downclimbs, new raps, new anchors to check, new pulls to watch, new fun to be had. Some pretty awesome new downclimbing challenges and thankful again for the younger ‘meat’ anchors! Wow, those newcomers could downclimb! Now it was natural ... we loosely formed up the three person teams and kept up the flow we’d established the day before. Then we turned a corner and gulped ... there it was ... the most amazing view of the switchbacking canyon and the biggest air of our weekend. Big doe eyes on everyone as Bill carefully set it up and went first. It was truly awesome. Enormous. What a great finish. We ran ahead, laughing all the way to the last rap and, once down, hurried out and back to Damian’s well parked car.

We were exhausted but so pleased with ourselves. Group hugs all around. Great job, Bill.

And no ... no one got hurt, we made every downclimb, every rap, no ropes got stuck, and yes, everyone had fun! We hiked and downclimbed about two miles of elevation, and did about 21 raps not counting assists. A rescue, lots of funny stories, songs, jokes and too much to write about and plenty to remember.

What a wonderful trip. Thank you all. And Bruce, thank you for everything you taught me. I think you would be proud.

Lori C
March 12, 2008

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© 2008 Lori Curry