Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
by Amy & Steve Ramras

First Amy’s take on the day, then mine.


You folks wanted another story ... well here it is.

My whole body was shaking like jiggly jell–O, as my brother announced that we were trapped by a log jam in the Black Hole!

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It was a beautiful winter day in Utah, and I was sitting motionless in the car, thinking hard about the stories and rules my dad had told us last night. They were about the Black Hole. Fear spread through out my body, and streams of tears came from my eyes. My dad noticed me in the car and asked what was wrong. I told him all my fears, worries, and concerns. He made me feel a lot better. He even offered to do another canyon, but I shook my head vigorously. I, at least, wanted to know if I had the potential to do it.

We packed up and left for the Black Hole. We plopped our backpacks on and stumbled down the rocky downclimb and through White canyon. We suited up near the entrance. I wore 3 wetsuits. I was trembling all over—there were a couple downclimbs. When I looked ahead I saw about 100 logs jammed, and ten feet below it was an open area where you could walk. Then there was a down climb with a curved log, but we made it down no problem.

My brother peeked ahead and there were logs.
My brother told my dad that we were stuck.

So my dad leapt into the little water area and started to dig at the logs. I clenched my mom’s hand because I was scared that the logs might collapse on my dad. But he managed to make a hole big enough for mom, Aaron, and me. Swimming took a lot out of me, and finally we found the second log jam. There was a rule for this one: Don’t go on any logs that were near anyone else. We carefully walked on the logs. Then my dad dug again, while we crammed food in our mouths.

After, we kept on walking, till we reached another log jam where, if you put your foot in the wrong place, you could fall six feet into water. There were a couple more swims, but we were mostly down the canyon. The only thing left was the hike out the high canyon wall.

Even though it was an extremely cold canyon, it was also the most beautiful canyon I have ever done. I felt really good about doing that canyon because I thought I couldn’t do it at first ... but now I know I can.

Amy Ramras


What WAS I thinking? And worse, what was I planning?

This 10–year old girl had tears streaming down her face. As she walked about, her eyes averted mine, shame and fear evident. Her shoulders and head, lurched up and down as she tried to suppress the volcano of emotion, screaming to loose itself. The family was preparing for the day’s canyon, having just awakened an hour earlier, and I knew I had created the agony ... for her and me.

The day before had dawned very cold and windy. It was mid March, after all. We had set up tarp shelters in the lee of the wind, behind a small knoll, facing the early morning sun. Felt snug and warm, until you moved a few yards away from our controlled environment. Back to the bags. It would be noon before we would start our day’s canyon. We did East Blarney—the lesser and more distant of the two Blarneys—and found it delightful. The day warmed, the wind quit, and a turn for the better, weather–wise, was at hand. Aaron and I would roll back up the hill and tag West Shillelagh in the late PM. I played the part of instructor, teaching him ‘the ropes.’ Talk about endangering children! What do they say? Those that can’t do, teach! I am smart enough not to overreach. The day brought us all closer and had a warm glow to it.

The weather stayed warm, as the evening approached. The Ram Family Canyoneers had one more day alone, before the canyoneering friends of the family would swell our ranks again. Tomorrow promised to be—aside from Day One’s Cheesebox—the trip’s warmest. What to do? Lots of places on the list ... but we keep coming back to the Black Hole. Bucky was coming in a few days. He wanted to do this gem. We would have liked to save it for him; but you must do the canyon that ‘fits’ the conditions, and so it is decided. The Hole it would be.

Aaron had done the Black Hole four years earlier, when he was 10, with Pitney and me, on a 4–day trip of Cheesebox. The Hole and a 5th class route on Longs Peak in Colorado. Judy had done the Hole on a cool April day, with only a shorty wet suit, back in 1986. My last 3 visits had all been on New Year’s Day. Amy had heard of the place for years and coveted the experience. But things had changed. A year and a half earlier, a series of monster flash floods had swept through the canyon, depositing huge log jams and laying logs, weighing tons about, like match sticks, easily dislodged with even a gentle push. But I had been through twice, the last time just 10 ½ weeks earlier and conditions had improved in the canyon, to such a degree that I felt, with the correct precautions, it would be safe for the Ram Clan.

Was this arrogance? Or recklessness? Or foolishness?

And so, after dinner and around the fire, the ‘night before,’ I laid out the rules of engagement: The most important thing to remember is that two people cannot be on the same log or the second person cannot even be next to log that someone else is on—we had seen logs roll with potential crushing force; one must stay in the channel—to go up onto benches, near the water course, puts you among big and unstable logs; when one is swimming and the water is full of logs—what has become known as log soup—we must, as a group, pass the logs back, person to person, to make room to swim forward; and finally, no one can refuse any food—finicky, youthful eaters be damned, full calories ahead!

After my presentation, the rules were agreed upon. Perhaps, if I had been watching more carefully, I would have seen that my dramatic approach, meant to drive home the importance of the rules, had cast doubt into my young one’s heart and mind. To bed we went and, when we awoke and started to make preparations, I came face to face with the tearful and fearful young lady, whose night’s sleep I had infected with reservations.

I played at ignoring her reaction, at first, but what I was really doing was thinking it through. Buying time. Could I bring her back on program and alleviate her fears? And should I? Finally, I asked Amy to have a seat in the car and I sat nearby. The volcano erupted as a lava flow of tears accompanied a strongly stated desire to GO HOME! I gently asked her to put words to her concerns. Let’s just say that the dangers, I had warned her of the night before, had grown in her mind to such an extent that doom was the only result she could foresee. At this point, we worked through each of the concerns, one at a time. Taking the big monster and slicing him into digestible parts, soon the confidence was born again. As she walked away, all smiles and enthusiasm again, I felt a weight and a doubt about what I had just done ... then I let it go.

Time to adventure.

We had come out in 2 cars—how utterly American—but what a relief not to be 4 people crammed into one car for 9 days. We spotted a car at the bottom and started our walk to the entry canyon. I hung out with Amy, as we chatted our way down the hill in full, windless sun. The canyon bottom was dry, and we made a left turn at White Canyon, full of enthusiasm, with stories flowing freely back and forth. Checked out the abundant petrified wood, talked about quicksand, and enjoyed a canyon whose beauty is often missed and underrated, due to the emphasis on the wet and cold of the Black Hole section proper.

Finally we came to the suit up spot. Out came the wetsuits and we crammed ourselves, sweating, into them. Amy had a full suit, a jacket and a shorty. All 2 mm. She looked like a mummy. Aaron and Judy had killer jackets to supplement their 3mm full suits. I was in a hole laced 3mm, with a shredded 2mm jacket, but hey, I love to suffer. We ate as much as we could stomach. The swimmer hole in front of us ... wasn’t. It had changed since January. Waist deep and on we went. The 1st swim was at the bottom of the ‘barrel’ section’s downclimb.

The first log jam, rising 40 feet up in the air, is an awing sight. I kept silent about it as we approached it, keeping an eye on everyone, waiting to see the look in their eyes and their exclamations when they first noticed it. Amy saw it first, with a WHOA! Aaron turned and looked at me slack jawed. Judy was all smiles. Good news ... the path under the jam is wide open, and I sit back taking silhouette photos of my children under a mountain of logs. We are entering the Hole proper now. Judy and Amy downclimb the chimney, and Aaron and I do the jump over. A couple of quick swims ensue. We arrive at the spot where the long swim starts—big logs jam and block the way, debris clogs the gaps. It would be a 12–foot climb up, an awkward pirouette, and then an over–hanging downclimb, into a swim. Too dangerous. I start to doubt the wisdom of being here for the first time, since we have entered the canyon. Retreat would be possible, but difficult. I check the debris piles and guess that the upper logs are independently wedged. I drop into a swimmer and start to tunnel, holding my breath, as my startled family looks on. I tear at logs big and small, pushing the debris behind me and a hole opens up and the big logs above remain stable. Into the gap we go, feet first and under the limbo stick. Swim ... the sounds of youthful joy echoing in our wet cavern.

It is working again.

I am in the rear and 15 minutes later I hear Aaron, out front, proclaim loudly, with certainty and anxiety. The way is blocked. We will have to go back, he declared. I try, with some effort to slip past folks and investigate. It is the same crux as last January, but conditions appear worse. Gulp. I carefully help the brood up onto a rock and break out the food barrel. EAT, I demand and they comply. I look at the problem. In January, all I had to do was slip down into the water and dig out some debris and a tunnel appeared, albeit filled with log soup. This time, a pile of logs 4 feet thick blocked the access to the tunnel, obscuring any view of the critical doorway to the lower canyon. While they focused on eating, I, with careful consideration, untangled the log jam, hoping to avoid the straw that could brake the Ram’s ... errr ... the camel’s back. Finally, I could descend to the water and was able to dig out the passageway. What I saw, inspired. No log soup, just a 25–foot long, dark tunnel of swimming, with light from down–canyon, reflecting off the water. It was so beautiful ... and relieving. I climbed back up, snacked quickly and helped them down, one by one. Each in turn let out a “WOW,” when they came into view of the tunnel.

The Hole section had some more swims and one difficult downclimb, but the mood lightened, as the worst was behind us. We walked smartly through shallow pools that reflected the hidden sunlight. The Minihole section, a wader in January, was a full and long swimmer now. We found our way to some dim sunlight, as the day had grayed up; off went the wet suits and huge amounts of snacks were consumed. Deep fatigue was present, but pride and joy ruled. Aaron’s jacket was so tight that his circulation was hindered, and he had useless hands for another half hour. A tad chilled, we moved briskly to the canyon’s end and the climb out. Finally warming on the upclimb, we arrive at the car, gather our cached change–of–clothes, and deposited a ton of wet neoprene on the desert floor. We packed it all up into large garbage bags, did the car shuttle and drove to Hite. Using the picnic table with the nearby building blocking the wind, we pumped out a chili dinner, to the delight of all ... except the clean up crew. A warm glow, gentle smiles, and satisfaction ruled the mood. We had pulled it off.

Back in the car, we drove hard back to the campsite, arriving 8 minutes late (6:08 PM) for our meeting with friends, who had traveled for a social evening. Ryan Cornia was back. Mike ‘the Skunkman’ Putiak and his friend Gary came down from Hanksville lodging to share a fire with us. When we arrived, we became a whirlwind of activity, hanging wet gear everywhere, gathering kindling for the fire and setting up the ‘circle.’ Gary having just met us, was dazzled by our frenzied focus. But 15 minutes later, our tasks done, we settled down and exhaled, in a way, for the first time all day. A magic night around the fire with friends, old and new. But we didn’t stay up too late. More canyons were on the docket, for the next day.

Conditions in the Hole continue to improve, but each flood brings more debris into the few remaining snags. As long as this condition exists, each passage will bring its own set of surprises. Big floods will shuffle the deck. I consider it safe enough for experienced canyoneers, as long as they follow the rules that the canyon spells out for you. Or write Amy and she can review them for you.

We knew it that very evening. And a week after the trip, it is confirmed in all our minds. The Ram Clan is in agreement. The Black Hole was the trip’s centerpiece. A thrilling, chilling day, laced with beauty, challenge, and uncertainty. It left a great taste in our mouths. But please ...

I beg you ...

Don’t tell Social Services!


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