Canyon Tales
edited by Dave Pimental

Warning : This short TR may not be suitable for all audiences. No specific beta is dispensed. If you have an allergy, please avoid contact with this product. If ingested ... induce vomiting.

A little delegation, a little miscommunication, a little division of labor, and everyone with their own experience and take on it.

—  THE CREW  —
WyoDave, MoneyPenny, The Emperor,
Onk Moonman, Ram & (not so) Little Ram.

TOM  •  My memory is not the best, in fact, it may be the worst. But it was an interesting day, in both the canyon sense and in the group dynamic sense. We had a relatively big and competent group, but I don’t think many of us had canyoned together all that much, so there was going to be some sorting out of roles. Also, we had the sense that the canyon could be difficult, and many of us were nervous. Winter, short days, unknown, burly–looking canyon—these added up to a bit of anxiety.

PENNY  •  I have always enjoyed exploration, whether in the mountains or the deserts, on back roads or by foot. The lure of the unknown is exhilarating and leaves me in a state of peace and accomplishment. To have the opportunity to explore and go with the big boys was an offer not to be turned down. The end result was a great canyon on a wonderful day with awesome partners practicing advanced techniques and learning new skills. It was a perfect day as far as I am concerned.

TOM  •  The morning starts, etc. Canyon good, we come up on the first anchor. Dave has started to work on the anchor and has an anchor slung as a chockstone. I make some snide comment about it and ... well, Dave’s not into the snide comments. “You’re welcome to do it any way you want,” he says. Gets a meat anchor and raps, disappears downcanyon to forge the way ahead.

PENNY  •  Pretty quickly, we were building an anchor at the first rappel. Webbing was called for and I was sent forward to give up the appropriate gear. With much discussion about the proper anchor, it was decided Dave would ‘rap off meat’ and scout ahead to see if this was going to be a multi–stage rappel.

TOM  •  Oops. If you’ve ever wondered why they call me the Emperor, its because I can be, shall we say, Imperious. The group dynamics for the day were not going well.

RAM  •  The rappel, mid–canyon, was tricky. The anchor, a wedged rock, was marginal. The rap, a two–stage affair, with a pothole below. We are setting the canyon for reversibility.

TOM  •  So we start working on the anchor, rewrapping the rock and making it more solid. Then rig the rope. Of course, there was confusion as to whether we were fixing ropes or just going down the canyon; of which we were doing one, then the other, then back to the one. So I set up one rope, then we pulled that back and set the shorter rope so we could leave it, then at the end, Aaron decided he could climb up it, so we pulled the rope anyway.

This is the ‘A–Team?’

HANK  •  The rap rope had just been pulled ... a decision not made lightly, but with a high degree of confidence that mobile ascent machine Aaron and action suit Dave could reverse the slot if necessary. And I could climb a rope in my sleep (did I bring a headlamp?).

RAM  •  Penny and Dave were through and went ahead to spy the next section for challenges.

TOM  •  I like doing canyons WITH people. I can go by myself anytime, but this was a chance to canyon with my friends Dave and Steve and Hank and Penny and Aaron. I like it when the group more or less stays together, you know, does the canyon TOGETHER. Holding hands is optional, but especially in a non–beta canyon with uncertainties, I like to do the canyon as a group.

PENNY  •  Shortly, thereafter, I was given the order to “go.” With still much discussion about the anchor, Dave and I decided to scout ahead for the next rap or any other difficulties.

RAM  •  Tom and Hank were below, separated by a pothole, orchestrating the sequences. Aaron, the light one, still not of the age of consent, goes last. I stay between the stages of the rap, to catch him if necessary.

He looks at the whole drop and declares, “With a little help I can get back up this.”

“You sure?” I ask. It looks tough to me.

He says, “Yup.”

I have learned to trust him. We rap and pull the rope. Tom helps us out of the pothole. Tom and Hank stay back to clean up and pack away the ropes. I think to myself that we have pulled all the ropes and yes, everything is reversible, with help ... but not easy and there is an awful lot of other ‘not easy’ problems too. Aaron and I head off in pursuit of Dave and Penny.

PENNY  •  This brought us into the second section which was much tighter and very sculpted. Travel was mainly stemming and chimneying. Dave and I managed to stay fairly low, but my best guess is the bigger guys might have been working hard higher up off–the–deck. I don’t know how much time passed but eventually I found I was grunting more than moving forward and told Dave I needed a break with food and water. He found a great place to rest in the sun.

RAM  •  The canyon narrows. Soon we are up, dancing through at the 15–foot level. An awkward and exposed corner warns that harder fare could be just around the corner.

HANK  •  I was out of shape (mentaree and fizikaree) and grunted freely in the sinuous little slot. It wasn’t technically difficult, but my pack was overstuffed with ‘what if’ gear and the found bunny strap (webbing cleaned from yesterday’s slot) a bit too long. Soon I was far behind the group, their exclamations and scrapings growing fainter as a wide spot appears ahead.

RAM  •  But no, it stays reasonable ... and reasonably physical. Sweat pours, as Aaron and I get in a rhythm and flooooow through the place. We hear voices.

PENNY  •  Shortly after, old Ram and young Aaron, sweat dripping from their foreheads, caught up to us. Dave took off and a comment was made about someone being a ‘lead hog.’ It seemed to me a little competition was at hand and I took up the fourth position out of the foray. After a couple turns the canyon opened up and we found ourselves at a rappel and the intro to the third section.

HANK  •  The scoop crew quickly disappeared downcanyon, leaving Tom and I to play a slow game of catch–up.

TOM  •  Like my buddy says, “Death? Death you do alone. Life, you do with other people.”

RAM  •  Penny and Dave have stopped and waited. We meet and exchange greetings. We inform that no fixed lines adorn the canyon above. We decide to continue, to problem solve, rather than wait and regroup. We get to a 18–foot drop, in an area where the canyon changes character. No longer narrow, it widens to 30 yards wide, with streaked walls swooping skyward. There are no rocks or logs or anything. Just a sand filled pothole and slickrock.

DAVE  •  We come to the next drop and I start digging a hole in the sand for a deadman anchor. After a few minutes we decide to send Aaron and I down to send up some anchor rocks and to scout out the next obvious obstacle.

RAM  •  Dave goes down off of me. So does Aaron. We empty Penny’s backpack and send it down so the boys can insert some rocks. Penny and I haul them up.

PENNY  •  Dave rapped off Ram and found rocks lower in the canyon for us to use for a deadman. Aaron rapped off Ram, heading down with Dave to scout out this pothole section of the canyon. I started building the anchor with Ram looking over his shoulder saying supportive things like,

“Hurry, Tom is coming.”

“I hear his voice. ”

“He’s getting closer.”

“You don’t have that thing buried before he gets here, he is going to pick it apart.”

Needless to say, with that kind of support the anchor wasn’t even close to being done. I left it to Tom, he, of course, being the emperor at this kind of stuff. The guys rapped off the newly made anchor with me as backup.

RAM  •  With mutual agreement, Aaron and Dave head downcanyon.

DAVE  •  At a huge pothole Aaron and I hike out on the right bench and overlook the remaining canyon. It looks serious. There’s what looks to be a keeper and then a few little potholes before the final plunge. We go on around the corner on the bench to explore a possible exit back to the top.

RAM  •  I am feeling that the final drop is right around the corner. Penny takes the webbing and starts to wrap the most rectangular rock. The Emperor arrives.

“Tom, where is Hank?”

Tom says that Hank got his pack stuck and was working it out.

“Ohhh, OK.”

HANK  •  It turns out to be a small silo ... maybe 15 feet from my head to the bottom ... hope it’s not too hard. Up? Nah, looks like a grunt to get up there ... down? Oooh. Tight down there and looking tighter downcanyon. The obvious route was to pass straight through the flare, using a dodgy–looking flake on the left wall. Tom had just passed through here without notable grunting, but I did not see him do the moves. Looks like a snap.

Leaning out into the flare, the heart realizes before the brain that my body position is off. Poing! A little shot of adrenaline and I’m back up to the silo entry perch, trying to figure out how my left leg is gonna reach the dodgy flake.

I reconsider again. Do I trust that bit of crust or take the more secure/strenuous route above. I decide again on the flake and stretch ... stretch ... my left foot to touch the flake. It crumbles reassuringly but does not break. Hmm ... it’s a pretty slanty bunch of crumbs ... but there is enough room between flake and wall to get a solid toe jam.

Solid? N’uh–uh.

One toe test shows the flex factor to be too high for comfort. I’ll just take my chances on the slant (please don’t slip — or break ) and I’m past the silo (whew). Another silo appears, much smaller and easily passed. I swing my pack into the silo and start to angle downward to the canyon floor where it opens up at a sharp left turn. Reaching the floor, I realize my pack is about 8 feet behind me, still in the little silo. No prob ... I’ll just pull it over (yank) to me (hard tug). F—k! It’s stuck!

PENNY  •  Hank hadn’t arrived during all this time. When asked, Tom replied that Hank had gotten his pack stuck and was headed back up canyon to retrieve it. When last seen, he was expending a lot of energy but would be along later.

HANK  •  Ok, probably just have to squeeze back upcanyon a bit to get a hand on it ... but this was the super tight section I’d spied from the stretchy silo.Very tight and slanty ... I tried and failed twice to reach the pack. Now it was really wedged from many yanks on the bunny. Guess it’s time to grunt back up to the top of the small silo.

RAM  •  The day before, I had seen it with my own eyes. The Emperor doing slave work. He carried two rather large boulders, to an anchor point and now ... now ... to the wonder of Penny and me ... he ... he ... he drops to his knees and digs out the pothole, placing our wrapped rock snuggly as a deadman. We save the deadman for Hank to rap off. See what you get for being last? Once down, we are in a lovely slickrock room, with nice, perfectly positioned rocks, right on the border of sun and shade. I glance and think I see Dave and Aaron, just around the corner. I hear them. We stop for a bite. I assume they are stopped, relaxing in the sun.

HANK  •  After a brief rest, I pressed my way back up. The pack still wedged ... squirming around in the tight silo for the right pulling angle ... it finally comes free and I haul it up to my comfy little pod. With the pack resting on jammed knees, I take a long breather before climbing back down.

PENNY  •  He arrived at the rappel wanting lunch and we talked him into doing the rappel first and we would gather up for a break and lunch.

HANK  •  Just past the next tight spot I find Tom, Ram and Penny enjoying the freedom of a broad, flat section with good patches of sunlight. Ahhh ... time for a bar n’ gulp with my long–lost friends ...

TOM  •  We mosey on downcanyon. I’m a little bit tiffed that Dave and Aaron are far ahead, somewhere, having the fun of being on point. We find a nice place in the sun and have a bit to eat. What about Dave and Aaron? Eh, whatever!

DAVE  •  We get back to the pothole and the rest of the group still hasn’t come forward. We sit and wait a while after building a rappel anchor. I don’t have any idea what is taking so long but we can see everyone back there and there doesn’t look to be trouble.

PENNY  •  The forward team didn’t come back for lunch despite the invitation that had been extended. It turns out they were fully engaged in a series of potholes that would require some problem solving.

DAVE  •  I decide to go down and see if the keeper is a keeper.

RAM  •  We finish our snack and I saunter around a gentle left turn and see ... a whole series of potholes, going for over 200 yards! Potholes scare me. Their design can be insidious and not very user friendly. I look around me and see a talented team, but it is November and potholes take time. Sometimes a lot of time!

PENNY  •  After lunch, I took up a position behind Tom wanting to observe more of his technique. The trade off was to know nothing about what was going on ahead. All the problems were solved before I got there. I just followed suit when it was my turn. If I were going to guess I would say there were a dozen potholes in this section, each requiring differing skills to get through or around.

RAM  •  Then I peer over the edge of the first pothole ... Gulp! Dave is already down. He rapped and climbed around the lip. He called it 5.10 or so. Glad that wasn’t me AND I hope the following pots are not so bad.

DAVE  •  I can see a sand bar against the left wall but the exit water is too deep and murky to see into from that angle. As I begin to rappel over the edge with a contingency anchor, I see that it may be possible to climb around the pothole rather than going all the way in. I say so to Aaron but I’m not sure he entirely understands what I’m saying.

I rappel two thirds of the way down to a bulge in the wall which corresponds with the opposite rim of the pothole. I pull out a few feet of slack and switch to climbing. As I inch along, I pull a little more slack through my belay device. This is difficult, so I try climbing along and let the rope run out of my belay device. Climbing against the friction proves to be even tougher and I go back to pulling a foot of slack at a time. When I get near the end, I pull out a full four feet of slack and with great relief, launch myself to the level ground. I should have just climbed it with a belay from above or had Aaron pay out some slack rather than rappelling in. Don’t know what I was thinking.

Just beyond the keeper is another small, shallow pothole with a pile of rocks in it. Looking back up at Aaron, it seemed like the angles were good for a guided rappel. Using the description I had gotten from Tom while he discussed a guided rappel in Imlay and with Aaron’s help from above, I set up the rappel. I instructed Aaron which rope I wanted him to rappel on and which he would clip into as a guideline.

He hesitated saying, “You have me rappelling on the side with the biner block.”

As Ram came into view for the second time over Aaron’s shoulder, I replied, “Yes, I know. You’ll have to trust me on this. It’s anchored down here.” Stepping forward, Ram quickly got straight which ropes were which and rappelled without hesitation.

RAM  •  Guided raps are tricky to get right. Will I sink into the potentially bottomless pothole, or is the angle and tautness just right. Old birds know to let others go first, in certain situations, but alas, it is just my offspring there and so, as casual as I can make myself appear, I jump on. I peer back at newly arrived Tom and show him what I got. Set right? Daisy short enough? Any ‘Ram moments’ possible? I get the OK. A slight tug from Dave and I am out. Brilliant!!

TOM  •  A little more moseying and we come around the corner to see a lovely guided rappel set up over a gnarly looking pothole. No splash marks. Dave did a hairy traverse above the pothole to get to the other side, setting up the (difficult the first time) perfecto guided rappel so no one had to get wet.

DAVE  •  Gravity assisted the rappel in the first six feet or so but Ram soon reached the bottom of the vertical section and then needed to move horizontally across the pothole. He pulled himself along the guideline with what seemed to be very little effort and came to the rim of the pothole a little low. I gave him a hand out and, with his help, tightened the guide line.

PENNY  •  The most spectacular was a guided rappel set up perfectly by Dave. It was pure pleasure to slide across that rope. There were many photos taken and there would have been more except Tom’s camera batteries died. I was relieved at the time. I had had enough photos taken to last me the rest of the year. Later, when Hank showed me his shots, I regretted the lack of photos. They were all pretty spectacular.

TOM  •  “Okay Dave,” I thought, “You do good stuff like that and keep me from getting wet on a cold November day, you can hog the lead.”

RAM  •  The coming pots have their challenges, but nothing like this last one. Dave does a dyno dance around a pot that was hidden to him, avoiding the fall in. But alas, he will climb in that very pothole, in a more controlled fashion, to build the next and last anchor, coming out coated in mud. Made him cranky, for a second, but nothing keeps this group down for long.

PENNY  •  When I arrived at the last pothole, Dave was in the bottom of it building another anchor. ‘A mouse in a bucket’ I believe is the term. Tom, Hank, and Ram were giving advice while Aaron was finishing the rap and coiling rope. I must say, Aaron is truly impressive, quietly doing his part and, when he has something to contribute, speaking up with confidence.

The last rappel was accomplished in short order and the moderate hike back over the domes and up to the vehicles was started. People paired up in different combinations depending on speed and desire. All talked about the canyons of the last two days and of the canyons left to be explored in the area, a good end to a good day.

TOM  •  Was this this year? Or last? We did a canyon? Sandstone or Granite?

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© 2007 D. Pimental, P. Martens, N.T. Jones, H. Moon, & S. Ramras