Canyon Tales
Benign Canyon Exploration
by Lisa Jennings

My first exploratory canyon was a really nice minislot named Benign. I was with a great group of people and we’d done several canyons together over the last few days, building trust and confidence in our abilities to tackle this exploration. I was a little nervous at first about the unknown problems we might encounter. I am no canyoneering ‘expert;’ after about 15 canyons I would say I feel ‘comfortable’ with canyoneering. After we worked through a couple spots in the canyon my apprehension evaporated and I was filled with good feelings for my canyon partners and confidence that together, we would handle whatever comes.

It was a really curious feeling to look down at the first downclimb and no one had any idea how difficult it was or what we’d find at the bottom. In our group, there were several people who would dive into the new slots with enthusiasm. I was happy to let them go first and send up a report of what was down there. It was fascinating to see so many natural anchors being constructed, and to know I was one of the first to test the new anchors.

Early in the canyon, there was an awesome downclimb that reminded me of a big playground slide. The rappels and downclimbs were very sandy in this canyon since it was seldom visited, but I predict this canyon gets a lot of action once the beta is released. It’s a really good one.

One of the unique things about this canyon was the ability to escape along the beginning of the route. Some features may look malignant, but the ability to escape makes them more benign. When we got to some keeper potholes, we knew we could just walk around them on the slickrock above. But what fun is that?! As Dave contemplated the best way to navigate the first pothole, Dan became the first person to jump right over it! A small horn protruded from the left side of the pothole that served as a place for your foot, so you can jump the pothole in two big steps. Not for me! I went down into the pothole. Dave was able to climb out of the pothole with assistance, although it certainly didn’t look easy. He set up some ascenders for me and I went up second.

As I ascended from the keeper pothole, Erik pointed out an unfortunately placed hole in my pants. As I had slid down rocks earlier in the trip, a small hole had formed right in the middle of my bottom. As we crawled through Benign, the hole had enlarged and was now at least 4 inches long. Erik joked about pushing my ‘power boost’ button to hasten my climb and with that thought I scurried out of the pothole in a hurry. I vowed to put shoe goo and duct tape on my pants as soon as I returned to camp!

I crawled out to Dan and Dave on the other side. Dave chuckled and asked if that had been my first pothole? Yup. Prior to that first pothole, the exploratory nature of the canyon had me feeling a little apprehensive. After that, I felt like I could handle anything with this great group of people. It became exhilarating to see what was around the next bend, to know I would be one of the first to see it.

Toward the end of Benign, we did have to enter a slot and commit to staying in the canyon; we could no longer just climb around obstacles. After we passed that point we found the grand finale of Benign: a 20 foot downclimb in a skinny slot dropping into a pool. Our inner dialogues chattered ... how deep is it, really? Will it be a swimmer? How willing am I to get wet and cold? Do I wiggle into my wetsuit for just this one short wade/swim? Should I just forget about the wetsuit altogether?

Malia was the first to downclimb into the pool; she had not brought a wetsuit so there was no option to put it on or not. She eased into the pool and sent up a positive report—only waist deep! Yes!

Some of us still donned our wetsuits; I chose to go without and the water wasn’t too bad. It was a short wade. That last dazzling downclimb into the pool was an excellent end to Benign Canyon. We watched as everyone made their way down into the water. Our height differences became more apparent as some declared the water to be not ‘waist deep’ but ‘nipple deep.’ We bushwhacked for awhile, hiked up some slickrock and were back at the car before we knew it. We celebrated the successful descent of Benign with beers and snacks.

My first exploration of a new canyon will always be a treasured memory.


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© 2009 Lisa Jennings