Canyon Tales
Canyon Sans Beta
by Kris Nosack

While I haven’t been able to get out for much canyoneering, I was able to explore a canyon without beta this year. With tales of Sandthrax and the like haunting my memory, I was apprehensive but excited by the prospect of facing the unknown and testing myself.

The first foray failed to find an approach route to the canyon. On the second trip we found a workable route. Since the approach had consumed a large part of the day, the decision was made to attempt only the lower ½ mile of the south fork. We walked down to the edge of the canyon and rapped in, leaving Kieth on top in case we had to retreat. The canyon quickly slotted up and, as the group pushed ahead, people were left as relays (by voice or radio) back to the rap–in spot. The lead two found an escape and signaled us relays to move downcanyon as the exit seemed certain.

When considering this trip, three outcomes seemed logical: the canyon would be too narrow and result in Sandthrax–like misery, the canyon would be too wide and result in an unexciting walk down a wash, or the canyon would be just right and offer the fun canyoneers seek. I was happy to discover this canyon was just right. A good mix of slot punctuated by pools and open sections. The canyon was friendly and entertaining. The final drop was the icing on the cake.

The objective of the next trip was to descend the entire south fork. I walked to the head while the other three in our group scouted from the rim. I found a spicy walk-in route and headed downcanyon.

While I would like to leave this report vague out of respect for those who prefer to go with as little beta as possible, allow me to relate one detailed glimpse: I encountered some tight slot sections and one that had me stumped for a while. It dropped and slotted at the same time with the slot at my feet starting at a sharp ‘V’ and slowly widening downcanyon. My first attempt revealed that my pelvis is not as narrow as I thought it was. I retreated from the pelvic wedge and tried to worm my way out farther before dropping—still a wedgie.

I didn’t like the looks of stemming across, but it now seemed the best choice. Being alone added to my tentativeness. Taking the stem slowly, bit–by–bit, it yielded. At an exit, I was joined by Kieth’s young son and we continued down. After a drop into a swimmer pool of organic soup, he took the next exit out, leaving me alone again. It was nice to know I had support up on the rim, but it still felt odd and unnerving to be in a new canyon by myself. The canyon continued to entertain until I reached, what I call, Mario Slot.

On the previous trip I had walked upcanyon from our rap–in location to see what it looked like. Around a single bend, I was confronted with a 30–foot wall with a thin, crooked cut down its face, and underneath a bombay into a pool. Peering into the dim crack, I wondered if it was passable. Now here I was at the top of this threatening obstacle ... I was about to write a detailed description of my experience here, but I’ve decided against it. I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who prefer to go in sans beta. Suffice it to say that my solo descent of this section is in the top 5 of my canyoneering experiences. I joined the rest of the team and we continued down and out the previously explored lower canyon.

The final trip, just two weekends ago, was the final exploration of this canyon: the north fork. Tom Jones joined us making the group 4—a bit skimpy for exploring an unknown canyon but when has such trivial matters deterred real adventurers?! Yes, a bit unwise, but the presence of the Emperor shored up our resolve.

The first day was a run through the south fork—everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The second day we crossed the south fork on approach for the north and walked to the head. Again with my aim of not giving too much away, it started out quite brushy but became tolerable about 1/3 of the way down. Another good mix of narrow slot, pools, and downclimbs, but the north fork threw in a few more raps. I didn’t recognize the confluence pool at first, but it became apparent after I looked it over more. Then the final drop and the north fork was done—a nice canyon with attributes similar to its sibling to the south but with is own unique flavor.

Yes, risk cuts both ways, but I genuinely enjoyed the added spice of exploring a canyon with no details of what it held. I’ve visited many canyons armed with beta and enjoyed the experience—each canyon has its own charm that is revealed to the visitor. But for those who can tolerate some risk and come prepared with contingencies, the sans beta style can be rewarding and a way to spice up your canyoneering. That said, we had gathered from maps that this canyon was unlikely to be a real trap—this was confirmed by our first trip to the canyon rim where we were able to survey it’s general character. So we weren’t reckless in our adventure.

Some readers may be wondering if this canyon has a name. Well, not on any map we saw. I think Tom has a name for it that will appear in his upcoming Rave.

October 24, 2005

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© 2005 Kris Nosack