Canyon Tales
The Ultra Right Fork
by Tom Wetherell

On Thursday night Chris Avery, his son Tanner, and I drove up to Mt. Carmel Junction and crashed on Tom J’s lawn. After 5 hours o’ sleep and then disorganized packing, we rammed everything into the suburban and headed off to meet up with Lin, Blake, and Pearl in Springdale. More packing and we were off for the West Rim Trailhead. We ended up starting the hike around noon in blazing hot sun. A 5–mile hike into Potato Hollow, then another mile up and over the ridge to the top of the ‘Hammerhead.’ There we roped up, dropped down, and began the actual canyoneering. 3 more rappels and we were into the ‘Right Fork Direct’ route. A bit of narrowness, and we finally find pumpable water in some potholes. Where we wash off layers of salt and grime accumulated on the day’s hike. We camp on narrow sandy benches away from voracious ants which had taken the really sandy spots.

Day 2 starts with immediate narrows and casual pothole problems. Most of the holes were nearly dry, except for a couple o’ short swimmers. After a bunch of rappels we are out of the tight section and the group splits up. Tom Jones, Blake, and I head off (up) what is the regular route into the Right Fork. This trail avoids the ‘direct’ section which we had just completed. Our goal was to find a route to the head of Stevenson Canyon which drains back into the Right Fork near our intended campsite: ‘The Great Alcove.’

After a long slog in the sun back up 800’ we find a way onto a steep ramp, then through a saddle, and down through a large forest of Manzanita—ouch. Stevenson presented itself with a large series of rappels to gain the canyon floor. First, we rappelled 40’ to a tree (to avoid a rope eating snag), then 150’ to another tree, then 220’ to a rubble filled gulley, then 65’ to the canyon floor proper—big air!

After we reached the ground we hiked a long, relatively level, sandy watercourse through a forest of trees and shrubs. The sandstone walls were immense, highly–colored and textured. Finally, we could see the wall which defined the Right Fork and began another sequence of rappels and downclimbs, including one particularly nice rappel through a bore–hole into a pool followed by a long hallway. We dropped into the Right Fork just 250 yards from the alcove.

The alcove was an incredible place to camp. A fresh spring emerges just upstream, and the huge overhang shelters the perfect sand benches on which we would sleep. There are seeping gardens, pools, small falls, etc. So nice! Again, refreshing to wash away the efforts of the day.

The next morning we headed off downcanyon for what we knew would be a grueling day hiking in full sun. We rappelled another 4 or 5 times down short waterfalls and hiked in the water most of the time, thankful for the ability to dunk ourselves at will.

A major disaster was barely averted when I took a scary fall while hiking a narrow section of trail around the last waterfall. I stepped on the outer part of the trail which gave way without warning. I immediately flipped over backwards, slid 8 feet down a 45° slope, then flipped again and fell ... through 15–18’ of air, landing on my backpack and left shoulder on another 45° slope. Although scratched, bruised, and with pretty significant pain in my shoulder I am miraculously intact. My sunglasses and my hat seem to have perished in the tumble.

Several more hours of hiking through last year’s burn and we are faced with the final steep climb through the basalt to the exit trailhead. Back in Springdale to refuel our bodies at the Noodle then back to AZ.

Even with playing crash test dummy, it was a fantastic trip with a stellar group of people.

tom (w)
July 18, 2007

Stevenson Canyon
by Tom Jones

TR — Zion National Park, Utah, July 14, 2007
Possible First Descent

Tom Wetherell (Tucson, AZ), Blake Gordon (friend of Lin Alder), Tom Jones (Mt Carmel, UT)

Stevenson Canyon is the canyon that drops into the Right Fork of North Creek just upstream from the Grand Alcove. The original explorers of ‘The Right Fork’ named the Grand Alcove “Stevenson Alcove” to honor Adlai Stevenson who had died a few days before the start of their trip. The name did not stick.

We were part of a larger 3–day trip to the Right Fork that also included Chris Avery, Tanner Avery, Lin Alder and Pearl. We got a crack–of–noon start at the West Rim Trailhead on July 13th, and proceeded down the West Rim trail to Potato Hollow. We followed the trail out the other side but soon split off, following the meadow west, then climbed over a pass to end up above the south end of the Hammerhead. We circled around to the north end and made our descent from there—the easiest entry to the Hammerhead I have made so far.

The Hammerhead went well, and we were in the Right Fork in the late afternoon. We wandered downcanyon trying to stay out of the sun, and eventually came to the start of the pothole section. Some scrambling took us by a few potholes, and when we found a pretty good tank of reasonable (pumpable) water, we decided to make camp scattered on flat ledges and wash bottom where we could find it. I considered it remarkable to find a good supply of water after such an extended dry period.

In the morning, we proceeded downcanyon, soon coming to a short rappel off an arch, then a few other rappels, and a long rappel off a ponderosa log. The canyon was wonderful in the morning light. With only one brief swim and a couple waist–deep wades, we soon found ourselves out of the potholes and into the ‘normal’ right fork.

At this point, Tom W., Blake, and I split off to do the new canyon while the rest meandered down the route normale. We climbed up the normal Right Fork bypass route to attain the charming slickrock valley/chute above, then continued north onto the ridge to close to its beginning. A buttress of rock and dirt lying against the mountainside allowed easy (3rd/4th class) access to the slickrock pass. We climbed in the full sun and wilting heat, taking a 45–minute siesta just short of the top of the pass under a tree.

Up and over the top, then down the other side, we followed watercourses to the dropoff into a very impressive canyon. Scouting the top, we saw a series of trees and ledges that would allow us down to the canyon floor. We chose a large tree at the top and rigged a rappel. I went first—30 feet down at a small ledge with large tree. It seemed like pulling the rope past this second tree was an opportunity for disaster, so I left a sling and ring for the others to set a rappel with and continued down. (This ledge was not really big enough for 3 people and was in the full sun—thus the decision to not re–rig immediately.) The rap continued past some ledges with sharp edges, and I continued 150 feet to a broken up area. The target ledge and tree were off to one side. After hauling up the rest of the 300–foot rope and restuffing in the bag, and having the boys at the top move the rope up 10 feet to change the wear point, I climbed up a bit and rappelled/downclimbed diagonally to attain the target tree and a nice ledge, thankfully just coming into the shade.

Tom W. and Blake then rapped to the intermediate tree, re–rigged the rappel, and rapped 150 feet to my ledge and tree. From there we rapped about 170 feet to the canyon floor, about half free–rappel, half vertical. The floor of the canyon was a rubble–choked couloir. 50 feet downcanyon, we rigged a pinch and made an 80–foot rappel down a dryfall.

From here, it was mostly pleasant walking down a sandy wash under giant ponderosas. Pretty nice, but not very exciting. Near the end, after making a turn to the southeast, the canyon slickrocked up and became pretty nice, with hoodoos, potholes, alcoves and interesting features. We rapped about 80 feet off a log to get down a level, then again about 120 feet down through a slot and past a pool around a corner (very nice rappel). A final 80–footish rappel put us in the canyon bottom of the Right Fork an unknown distance above the Stevenson Alcove where our friends may or may not have been waiting for us. Thankfully, the alcove was but a short distance downstream, and our friends had decided that it was a camping spot too good not to stay at. So we rehydrated and swam in the pools to recover from our long day in the heat.

The next day we walked out without incident—oh, except Tom W. falling off the bypass trail to Double Falls, 20 feet onto a steep slope (on his pack), then tumbling another 15 feet (we thought he was dead, or majorly hurt) and somehow managing to not get seriously hurt, though he did tear up something in his shoulder.

Tom Jones
July 25, 2007

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© 2007 Tom Wetherell & Nolan Thomas Jones