Canyon Tales
FREEZEFEST I — 2002–2003
Escape from Canyon X
by Tom Jones

Ram is my hero.

“Wanna go Canyoneering?”

“Ram—it’s January. It’s cold out.”


•  January 2003  •

So, plans were made—a Black Hole on New Year’s Day, a Shimrock, some other things in the area. Six days. Ram would travel from Colorado with whatever victims he could round up, I would drop down from Salt Lake. We’d take it careful and have a good time.

Black Hole went well, as did Shimrock. We think Ryan is the biggest guy to ever get down Shimrock, a record that I suggest others not try to break. Pools were low and unfrozen. The weather was sunny and pleasant, and the days were short, the nights long. Camping involved many hours of watching the campfire, warmed by a little scotch, followed by a long restful sleep.

As usual, Ram came equipped with a stellar crew. Mitch being short, wiry, energetic, cheery and a very competent climber. Ryan being big, strong, energetic, cheery and a quite competent climber, even though he had no technical climbing experience. I thought Ryan was going to be a big problem in the tiny little canyons on the list, but his climbing skills allowed him to climb around the tight spots in Shimrock, putting out 10 times the effort us ‘normal size’ guys were expending. The sweat poured off his forehead while the rest of us were a little chilled.

Ram had dropped some weight and was looking buff. The idea was to do Shimrock, and if things went well, try a rematch with Shenanigans. As is turns out, Ram will never get through Shenanigans—even at fighting weight he will not fit through. This we found out by the vast difference between his size and my size in Shimrock.

What was next? Ram had some sketchy beta on a canyon up the way, so we analyzed the map, drove over and scouted the mouth, and had a look. Interesting, maybe serious. We loaded up too much gear and headed out early the next morning. Hiked around to the head, scrambled into the canyon, did a few raps and found some nice hiking. The canyon yielded itself easily—no wading more than waist deep, quite a few short rappels, some fun but not scary downclimbing. We used no slings for rappels, instead using the omni–sling and draping the rope across chockstones in a couple of places. And getting the rope stuck once—thank you Mitch for climbing the rope back up and getting it.

We were back at the car before dark. Not bad.

What’s next?

The next canyon west looked enticing. A slightly smaller drainage, but otherwise very similar on the map, though less deep. Morning found us hiking up the slickrock on the side, with a more relaxed start and an overconfident attitude. We bopped around in the sun and enjoyed the slickrock and nice views. Was near noon when we actually started into the canyon.

The upper part was snowy, shaded from the sun, and required downclimbing, but no rappels. As we escaped the snow, the canyon dropped precipitously, and we moved some rocks to make a cairn to rappel off. Ryan gets to go first, with the rest of us sitting on the cairn. Mitch gets to go last.

The canyon gets more interesting, but still at a moderate standard. A few sections of short narrows, some squeezes, a couple of waist deep pools. Then it finds a big expanse of sun and we hang out and warm up. It looks like the canyon finishes up fairly soon, and we’ll be back at the car within the hour. A nice canyon but nothing special. We’re already talking about how it would make a nice outing with the kids ...

We follow the canyon below the sunspot, and it turns a corner. Uh huh. Narrows up, drops, turns into a slot. All that stuff in our packs now becomes a problem, as we chimney along above the canyon floor. A couple sections of this and I’m starting to get concerned. We can’t be more than a mile from the mouth, but these sections go extremely slowly. We chimney across to chockstones before a short drop into a pool. Now in wetsuits, we drybag our stuff while perched in chimney position. A careful downclimb and sploosh - into the pool and a short swim.

Brrrrrrrr. It IS January.

I’m really concerned, probably has something to do with being cold. Below the pool, there is a short section wide enough to run, and we do so, trying to generate heat. Then a squeeze and chimney section. A wet wetsuit does not warm up very well, and I’m getting a chill. We have not seen a climbing route out of the canyon for some time, but have seen a few possibilities.

We come to a smooth, 10–foot drop into a pothole with a pool. The canyon wall on the right is only 30 feet tall, and ahead the canyon can be seen to drop and close tight. There’s a big turn to the left ahead—these have tended to be where the hard parts are in this canyon.

Ryan anchors the rope and Mitch drops into and across the pool. Then we start talking.

“Hmmmm, it’s getting late.”

“I’m cold.”

“Can we escape here?”

“We must be close to the end.”

Fifteen minutes of discussion told us we were not thinking well, and we might be really, really fucked. Finally, we decide Ram and Mitch will scout ahead, while Ryan and I hold the fort above the pothole, ready to pull them back up. Ram and Mitch disappear downcanyon.

After 5 minutes of standing around freezing, I dig out my down jacket, and run 100 yards up canyon and back. A little better. I start examining the proposed ‘climbing exit’ near the pothole. I boulder up onto holds four feet off the canyon floor. On super sticky Joshua Tree granite, this would be 5.11ish; on licheny sandstone, it is 5–impossible.

I check further upcanyon.

Surprisingly, 40 feet upcanyon is a shallow line of moki steps leading to a flake. The moki steps are shallow and weathered, as if they are original, true moki steps from the 13th century. I try them and they are not very secure. Ryan comes over and stabilizes my feet, allowing me to ascend to a reasonable stance about eight feet off the canyon floor. From here I can reach a flake that makes a reasonable hand hold, and can see another flake ten feet higher and five feet to the left, that leads to the top. If I can get to that flake, I can get us out of there, at least up onto the slickrock flanks of the canyon, and probably up out of the canyon itself.

I jump back down to the canyon floor and pull out the Happy Hooker. The Hooker is a large steel hook bolted to the end of an avalanche probe pole. With the extension, it is 16–feet tall. From the canyon floor, with the extension, I can just barely reach the higher flake, and, with a little fiddling, I set the hook on what I hope is a secure part of the flake. I had attached a string of slings to the top of it, and now I hang from the slings with all my weight, setting the hook solidly behind the flake and testing it for when I go up there.

It had been almost an hour since Ram and Mitch had headed downcanyon, and we were concerned about them. Seemed like a good idea to climb out my hook thing, and go see if I could see them downcanyon, and to see if we could escape this way. Ryan helps me climb to my previous high point. Carefully weighting the sling as little as possible, I slab climb over and up to the higher flake, then five feet higher onto the flat slickrock above it. A small tree grows there, and I tie the rope to it.

“Going Exploring,” I call down to Ryan.

I climb up and left on the slickrock to a viewpoint overlooking the canyon. I cannot see my comrades, but can see the canyon is pretty serious for quite away.

I climb back down then work my way straight up. A hundred feet above the canyon, the weakness I am following ends at the bottom of a cliff. I back down part way and try traversing right. Pushing past a tree and walking a narrow ledge leads to a big shallow V that leads easily to the cliff–band at the top. I power–hike up the slickrock, being plenty warm by now, and get to the cliff–band. It is only five feet tall, and I find a place to climb through it easily. I’m at the top, hurrah.

I hear calls from below—Ram and Mitch are back with a report. I climb back down, not very psyched to complete the canyon, very psyched to exit the canyon and get out of there. I traverse back over to my perch 30’ off the canyon floor, the small tree offering a dubious anchor.

Ram and Mitch had descended about 20 minutes, and the canyon was a lot of work. It would need quite a bit of stemming and shimmying well off the canyon floor, plus swimming a few potholes. They had taken Ram’s pack down with them, and it had been a whole lot of work to get his reasonably small pack through the canyon. It had taken them an hour and a quarter to return to us. They were not too psyched to continue downcanyon, though they felt it was obvious we COULD force our way through, but it would take till after dark and ...

OK, we have an exit, let’s use it. I belay Mitch up using the tree and a pretty good sitting stance. Mitch uses the Happy Hooker and the slings, avoids weighting the rope. He reinforces my belay, and we bring Ram up. With the three of us stacked, we bring up Ryan. Pack all the gear, and powerhike up the slabs to the skyline. A pleasant walk down slickrock ridges takes us to the car just as the sun sets.

‹›   ‹›   ‹›

So we escaped to canyon another day. January is not a good time to go adventuring. The short days plus a reluctance to plunge into pools increase the seriousness of the venture. Does the canyon go? Sure, while we saw no signs of other canyoneers, the canyon is too obvious to not have been done. We’ll come back in March and give it a go. Maybe we’ll even walk up from the bottom and see what the exit from the narrow part looks like. Yeah baby.


Tales of FreezeFest:
Perfect Beginning • Ram
Escape from Canyon X • Tom Jones
FreezeFest II • Ram
Logjams in the Black Hole • Ram
Fixed Ropes in the Black Hole • Dave Black
Joining the Shenanigans Club • Ryan Cornia
FreezeFest III • Ram
Cheese on Ice • Ram
FreezeFest IX (short film) • Dan Ransom  
Crystal Kaleidoscope • Ram
Christmas in Imlay • Ram
A Left Fork Christmas • Ram
Call of the Wild • Ram
Mysterious Christmas • Ram
Holy Water • Ram
A Christmas Heaps • Tom Jones

 tales  ‹›  new 

© 2003 Nolan Thomas Jones