Canyon Tales
by Dave Pimental

June 5, 2005   —  5:30 AM

It’s still dark but I’m ready to go. I can’t really tell what the weather is like. I can see a bunch of stars but, to be honest, I can’t really see much of the horizon. It was very nice the day before, so I guzzle a quart of sportsdrink and head off up the road towards the start of the canyon, munching on the remains of my breakfast.


I had been in the general area in the middle of May but that roadtrip had involved little in the area of hard hiking or canyon travel and I was hankering to get my first technical canyon. So I had a good idea of the general weather pattern (it was just getting really hot in southern Utah), but I didn’t know what the following week had in store.

I drove down on a glorious blue sky day and stayed the night in Green River. The cable weather channel didn’t show anything nasty on the horizon and I got an early start to the Swell the next morning. I drove first to the Hidden Splendor Mine to see what Muddy Creek was doing. It was very clear that there had been recent rains. Standing water in all the ditches from Temple mountain all the way in. I was thinking of doing Miners Hollow (aka Knotted Rope) and returning up the Muddy Gorge. NO chance of that. The Muddy was raging and kayakers were having a blast. I didn’t stand a chance of crossing safely even one time, let’s not even talk about a half dozen times!

Okay, plan B, no problem. That’s Quandary ...

I had told my emergency contact back home that I was doing Miners but Quandary is close enough. I drove back up the road towards the Quandary trailhead. After turning the first corner, I spied a wine bottle in the road. A good omen indeed! I picked up the road–weary bottle and continued on my way.

I drove to the Quandary trailhead and there was nobody around. Good. I like the solitude. I drove farther up the road to the Ramp Canyon trailhead and pitched my camp. There was a lot of mud and standing water around and I felt like that was reason enough to crack an ice cold Samuel Adams (beer). Good call ... It’s just what I needed.

I headed down Ramp Canyon to check out the crux move of the canyon. I’ll have to upclimb it, late the next day, if all goes well. Doesn’t look too hard ... but the canyon seems to be flowing. I don’t mean FLOWING, but there was a steady little trickle going down Ramp canyon. Well that sure indicates that I’ll be swimming through Quandary. No doubt, there should be some swimming.

I took a refreshing dip in the potholes at the head of Ramp Canyon and made my way back to camp intending to pack for the following day. While relieving myself in the fire pit (I never light a fire if I’m on my own), I see a paper placed conspicuously under a rock. It says:

Scott Rubin 5/30/05 10 AM, drove to Goblin Ranger Station to call for search + rescue. Scott (Colorado phone number).

Five days ago . ..

“Well, ” I think, “There’s not TOO much I can do about THAT, but I hope I don’t find any ‘floaters’ in the canyon.”

Clearly, the note trumps the bottle of wine, and I’m back to karma–ground–zero. After packing, I gorged on a hearty dinner and got to bed.


I made my way up to the head of the canyon to a spectacular bowl. The Miners Hollow route goes to the right but I’m heading straight ahead. It’s very clear where I am, but I stop to peel off some clothes and check the map. Plus, my wool socks are bunching up under my toes and I seem to have a hot–spot developing in my running shoes. As I’m pulling off my pack I see a 2” praying mantis in a gray color that I’ve never seen before. He won’t get off the little rock that I’ve decided is a good place to stop. I flick him gently away with a stick and heave my pack off my back. While I’m rooting around in my pack I see him dead, right there, back at his original spot. DANG! I HAD to stay right here, didn’t I? I couldn’t let the little critter BE? Karma points are definitely gonna be withdrawn for that!

Quandary doesn’t get started right away. It has a couple of little drops at the beginning and then opens up for a short section. One can escape on the right in this opening, so there’s no reason to fix ropes in this early section, even if you’re going solo. I came to the first drop and it seemed like nothing special. The MK guide that I was following said to loop a rock with the rope and rap down the little drop. Pretty straightforward but the guide had said Exit 129 off the Interstate and that wasn’t right! I can’t put too much faith in the guide. I looped one of my 10.2mm dynamic climbing ropes around the rock (it’s clear that others have done so) and rap down. The rope pulls fine and I’m quickly heading down canyon with the strong sun on my unadorned scalp. It’s gonna be in the 90s by noontime. Wish I brought a bit more water ...

The guidebook says there’s a mining timber to anchor the next drop, but it’s washed down. I can see it just a little bit down the canyon. No problem. In fact, I can’t see why anyone would have used the timber in the past. There’s a nice rock sticking up about ten feet back from the lip. I flip my rope over the anchor and rap off without a thought. When I tried to pull the rope it became a whole different story. Lots of drag. I go down canyon a bit more and really start hauling on the rope.

It’s stuck.

I consider my options . ..

    #1 — Cut the rope and continue down canyon. I think I have enough to do the bigger rap later on.

    #2 — Ascend the rope. After all I have these great new ascenders I could test out. I’ve never actually ascended, if you MUST know, but it looks pretty easy in the books I’ve read.

    #3 — Leave the rope for now and escape to the right to retrieve my stinkin’ rope. I don’t like this one. It reeks of failure. After all, it can’t be more than 9 AM, but I’m not really sure since I didn’t bring a clock (I never wear a watch).

In a fit of exasperation, I wrap my hand around the rope and jump way high up onto it. It releases without warning and I fall on my ass in the mud with a jolt. But I have my rope! And I’m sure glad I didn’t try to ascend!

This canyon is flowing too, and I quickly hit knee–deep and then chest–deep water. So after sloshing through a few deep spots, I finally decide to suit up. Can’t explain why I didn’t change out earlier, but now my dry clothes are a bit wet. I dry–bag them anyway, what can it hurt? The blisters between my toes don’t even register on my mind in the ice–cold water.

Now I’m into the business of the canyon and it’s FULL of water. I’m skidding down sculpted narrows into pools of mating frogs, and they don’t seem to care. Every stone–bottomed pothole has a few mating couples and at least one woeful male who won’t shut up. The sand–bottomed potholes are vacant and I postulate, on the spot, that they are too transient to sustain tadpoles. In any case, I keep my mouth shut while swimming from then on.

I didn’t do much stemming, although I can see that I could do so if I wanted. Instead I just bulled my way along the canyon bottom, often floating through very narrow spots with my feet getting stuck in the bottom. My pack kept hanging up on the narrow walls. It couldn’t be any more than 40 lbs but it seemed to be really weighing me down. The beached–whale maneuvers were tough and the swims were getting to be up to maybe 80 feet.

Then I got to the part where the guidebook said there may be some wading and possibly a swim. HA! What have I been doing for the last hour? The guidebook says I can climb out to the right and rap from an arch to bypass this section, but I can clearly see a small arch on my left with a sling attached to it. I make my way to it and rap off the stiff webbing into a small pond below. After a little thrashing in the pool, I’m able to release myself from the rope while treading water. The rope pulls without incident and I continue down canyon with the feeling that I’m going to make it.

Next I came to the Technical Pothole Section, which I fully intended to bypass. I climbed out and up to the left and carefully made my way down the boulder field. I reached the canyon bottom and quickly made my way to the springs at the canyon mouth. Sweet success! And horseflies too! Not to mention all the cow pies!

While taking in a little drink of water, I realized that I hadn’t brought my photocopy of Ramp Canyon (which was my return canyon). From constant arm–chair canyoneering throughout the preceding winter, I had memorized the route so I wasn’t worried. I knew that once I broke out of the Reef I should hang a left and bypass a couple of little false canyons to take the first major canyon back up through the Reef to my camp. No problem. But it’s kinda hot out here in the wastelands and the horseflies are killing me.

So I head outward towards the end of the Reef but it seems like an awfully long way. So I turn back and walk most of the way back to the riparian area at the mouth of the canyon. But I have second thoughts. Maybe I just didn’t go far enough to get out of the Reef. I turn back again and make my way South across the blazing wastelands. After an hour or so I reached the Muddy Creek and, once again, knew where I was. I looked at my Quandary map again and saw where it clearly showed that I should have hung a left as soon as I got out of the riparian area.


I slog my way back to the mouth of Quandary and finally make my way across the front of the Reef towards Ramp Canyon. It’s getting a bit late now. My water is running out. I’ve got a filter with me but I’m not desperate enough to pump the potholes. Yet. . .

I hiked up Ramp and it was no problem until I reached the 5.6 ramp which I started right up but quickly backed back down. The freakin’ mud on my feet is making this a lot harder than it is. And the pack doesn’t help. I tie a rope to my pack and climb the ramp, but I can already see that I can’t haul my pack without getting it stuck. I’m sick of this, so I haul the pack up with force until it’s firmly stuck and then rap down half way and retrieve it. I hand–over–hand up the rope and drag my sorry ass back to the truck ...

That’s it. I had made it.

Wyoming Dave

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© 2006 Dave Pimental