Canyon Tales
Heaps Canyon
by Scott Holley & Steve Brezovec

• Prologue •

My first time through Heaps was in October 2001 with Bucky Glaubitz, Joe Lynds, and Scott Holley (who I had never met but I knew had been through). Bucky, Joe, and I had prepared for Heaps by doing Mystery, Pine Creek, and Keyhole as well as several Capitol Reef and Swell canyons together. There wasn’t much in the way of guidebooks out there but there was the black book which we combed through methodically, extracting as much information as we could out of every word. We must have read three or four different Heaps reports from there, all of which served to scare the hell out of us.

We had pre–canyon meetings as well as pre–canyon–pre–canyon meetings (we spent a Tuesday night practicing ascending, descending, setting anchors, rigging contingencies, and passing knots in preparation for our first descent of Kolob). We tested our drysuits in Pine and Kolob. We tooled down our kits to what we thought was the most bare–bones ultralight overnight gear. We read and re–read every tech tip we could find on the internet, particularly Tom’s Canyoneering Guide and Rich’s tech tips that he had posted on the ACA site at the time, as well as studying Mountaineering, Freedom of the Hills until we could recite it.

We read the time estimates that other groups had taken and foolishly thought we would do better. We scoffed at the idea that the final rappel sequence would take hours and at the possibility of ending up there in the dark, considering we were taking the first day to hike in and camp before the first narrows. Surely we’d make it to the final rappel with hours of light remaining.

We were in for a nice spanking. Heaps wasn’t in terribly low condition, I realized later, but, even in full condition, it really handed us our asses. All sorts of things went wrong. I tore my drysuit gasket on the hike in and spent the evening repairing it, the next day praying it would hold. Bucky threw a rope bag such that it got caught on a log 15’ above our heads. Joe stopped to take a leak on a break, unzipped his drysuit, and jumped in the next pothole without remembering to zip it up. We all realized that we were carrying way too much crap. Even the lightest overnight packs turn into unbearable pigs by the second narrows.

Needless to say, even with our early start the second day, we arrived at the final rap sequence as the sun was setting*. Despite our best efforts, it must have taken us three hours to get the entire group from the penultimate rappel to the Emerald Pools. I am still impressed by the incredible clusterfizzle we made at that little bird perch. Somehow Bucky had the presence of mind to run down and catch the last shuttle so he could retrieve the car while some of us were still up in the cubby. We arrived back at Salt Lake close to 4am Monday morning, tired, impressed, and humbled.

I’ve returned several times now and always find it beautiful and fulfilling, but I never, never take it lightly. Canyoneering isn’t an ‘extreme’ sport anymore than walking across a busy street or swimming, and Heaps is not Mount Everest (or perhaps even Mount Olympus) but I still show Heaps the same respect I would show a fast–moving car or a riptide. That thing is going to kill me if I don’t pay attention and prepare. It’s just waiting for the day I go in there cocky so it can slap me down. If I had my ‘first time’ to do over again, I’d do it exactly the same way. I don’t think we overprepared at all.

Stevee B
July 18, 2007

*As an aside, this is the first time I ‘met’ Steve Ramras. His group was pulling their rope just as we arrived at the perch. Ram saw us and screamed up, “YOU’RE FETCHED!” (only he didn’t say ‘fetched’).

Heaps Canyon Trip Report
October 20–21 2001

Route info:
Started from The Grotto
Entered canyon at Phantom Valley
Finished at Upper Emerald Pool

Saturday morning October 20, 2001, Steve Brezovec, Joe Lynds, M. Buck Strarr, and Scott Holley got their permit, geared up, and began hiking up the Angels Landing trail heading for Phantom Valley and then into Heaps Canyon. After leaving the Grotto around 10:30 AM, we hiked up past Angels Landing, continued along the West Rim trail and past West Rim Spring. We arrived at the area and left the trail.

There is a turn in the trail right next to Campsight 4 on the West Rim. I think that this is most likely the best place to leave the trail for this approach. Head southeast to a peninsula with a large ampitheater on the east side. There are several peninsulas, and even though Scott had been there before he still was unable to find it (this says more for how bad Scott is at routefinding than it does for how hard it is to locate this route). Once on the peninsula, we make our way towards the far end of it until we found a good–sized pine with roots going sideways into the rock next to it (there should be slings here) for about a 30–foot rap.

From here we made our way farther towards the peninsula and across a good–sized section of chossy rock. Right after the exposed section of chossy rock, there is a large pine tree. Rap the tree approximately 215 feet to the ground (there is a small ledge with a little bit of a scary downclimb from there) or rap about 100 feet but move toward the corner system to another pine, for another 80 feet or so to the ground, that is fairly easily downclimbed.

Now we were in Phantom Valley (and essentially Heaps Canyon at the bottom, yet it is not yet narrowed up at all). We made our way along the ridge for about ¾ of a mile and dropped into a sandy creekbed and setup camp next to a few potholes to pump water out (the spring at West Rim was not doing much flow at this time). While we were sitting around camp, Steve was doing a field repair on his drysuit, one of the ankle gaskets had two huge tears. He used Marine goop and glueless bicycle tube patches, and the suit luckily did not leak through the canyon.

Sunday we woke up to some threatening–looking clouds. Not sure of whether we would even make an attempt because of the weather, we took our time packing up camp and sizing up the situation. By about 9:00 we had decided we were going to go for it, packed everything up, and were on our way by 9:30 or so. From where we had camped, it was about a mile to where the canyon gets narrow and the drysuits were necessary even though we had already put them on our legs.

Right as the canyon narrowed, we hit our first pool, so we finished putting on our drysuits and went on our way. After a few downclimbs and wades, we came to the first rappel. It is a 15–foot drop to a pool, then a swim across, and another 10–foot drop into another pool. From here there is a bunch more wading, swimming, and 2 or 3 more raps until the canyon widens up a bit. In this section you will find some nice natural rappels and logs draped across the canyon. We found that if you throw a pack with loose straps towards these logs they can get stuck high off the canyon floor and make for good fun. I would recommend trying this.

There is a bunch more downclimbing and about 3 more rappels in this section. By the time we got to the end of this section, it was about 1:00 PM and we were ready for lunch. There was about 200 yards of canyon before the crossroads from where we stopped and ate. From here we decided that it would be much better if one of us got really cold and wet, so without zipping their drysuit, someone went through the first pool in order to entirely soak all of their dry clothes. After we got him into an assortment of other people’s extra clothes, we were once again on our way. After this really short section of narrows, we had about a quarter mile of walking on nice canyon floor.

Now on to the last section of narrows and the real business. As one of the others in the group put it, this section is really nice and slotted with a large amount of swimming, rappelling, downclimbing, beaching whales, and groping your partners butts.

There are some potholes that, in low water, could be a real challenge here—and were for us—right near the end of this. My advice is be really careful about jumping into pools, and make sure you can get out. A good bag toss was a pretty good solution for us, but it could have worked better with thinking. You will know you are at the end of this section by the large crevasse you would have to drop into to keep going down. This is a good place to remove the drysuit and any superfluous gear not needed for the final rappels.

Climb up the far right section of dirty rock (about 5.4) about 25 feet to a dirty ledge and a few small trees. From there is an easy but scary downclimb which you might want to belay or rap depending on your false level of confidence to a big pine tree (should have a bunch of slings on it) about 25 feet down. From there, it is about 50 feet to another large pine that should have slings on it too.

Here the fun begins.

The rest of the stances are pretty uncomfortable for more than two people, but we did it with 4 ... so do not say it can’t be done. Rap off this tree 160 feet to a 4–bolt station. I cannot emphasize enough the fact that you do not want to be knocking loose stuff off of here. It is straight down to the emerald pools, and a usually large number of tourons from here, so be careful. From the 4–bolt station it is 300 feet to the ground, if you got here, you should be able to get yourself to the ground on your own. If not, it is going to be a long time until someone will be able to help you.

Now the crux—hiking to the car was really hard, I was tired. For most it is a short mile to the lodge, we decided to take a more scenic 2–mile route and end up at the grotto so that we could hike to the lodge from there.

Scott Holley
October 24, 2001

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© 2001 & 2007 Scott Holley & Steve Brezovec