Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Toxic, no. Fun, yes in Constrychnine & Slideanide Canyons

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on April 17, 2014

Brian raps into Constrychnine.

With more arrivals the previous night our group swells to nine. Today we split into separate groups. One party heads to the skinnies of Shenanigans and Middle Leprechaun, while the rest of us venture to the nearby steep and deep slots in the Poison Springs complex. I know little of these canyons, never before having set foot in these tributaries and barely exploring them online. I’m a blank canvas, with little to no expectations or pre-conceived ideas shaped from someone else’s TR and photos. Regardless, I know they will not disappoint. We are joined by Brian who drove in the previous night from nearby southwestern Colorado. Brian’s been through here before. He recommends we start with Constrychnine, so that’s where we go.

Brian raps in Constrychnine.

Constrychnine Canyon, 3AIIIR
North Wash area


We walk across sandy hills and washes with no indication that we are so close to the edge of a major canyon system. Abruptly the canyon reveals itself plummeting intensely to its dark bowels between massive tapered walls. It’s scale and steepness is intimidating. We know this is where we are headed and the terrain tickles the nerves as we work our way around to a branch of Constrychnine. We are quickly met with a large rappel. I drop in first, followed by the others. This is followed by an even larger rappel that brings us properly into the tantalizing world below. Deep within this dark chamber are more magnificent rappels, sprinkled with fun and moderately challenging down climbs. Time vanishes in this underworld and we are spit out back into the light. Its name and intimidating first impression aside, Constrychnine is rather benign. The hike back to the rim is direct, exciting and quick while offering outstanding views of the Poison Springs complex at large.

Brian down climbs in Slideanide Canyon.

Slideanide Canyon, 3AIIIR
North Wash area


The entry rappel is behind us and we encounter the first elevator down climb. I place my body into position and find the right amount of friction from some combination of hands, feet, forearms, elbows and knees and let gravity do the rest. This is almost immediately followed by a similar obstacle. They keep coming, some approaching nearly a 100- feet. Despite their intimidating profile they are negotiated with just a little difficulty here and there. The key is to have confidence in the technique. I think of Mark or who we fondly refer to as Uncle Mark, who by now is squeezing his way through somewhere in either nearby Shennanigans or Middle Lep. He would love this place. You can often hear him shout out to whomever is in front of him while descending a canyon, “Is it an elevator down climb? I love elevator down climbs!” as if in Mark’s mind the person in the lead has some control over the obstacles we encounter. In Slideanide it most certainly would be an elevator down climb. I think eventually Mark would stop asking because he would know. This canyon is his wet dream and I was thoroughly enjoying it too. Anchors are passed over and we down climb nearly everything. We reduce the final sequence to the shortest rappel possible before we are forced to draw out the rope.  We pop out to the relative open world of a canyon maybe 30- feet wide. We take a breather having moved rather aggressively during the entire descent and I place my hands on my derriere. I am amazed to feel an intact seat to my pants. I am, notorious for destroying pants while canyoneering and Slideanide is notorious for shredding seats even for the best of them. I am proud. I’ll be sure to let the others know around the fire. We move out and head back to camp; the toxicity of this place not amounting to much.


Traditions becoming rituals & a Hogfest on Day 1

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on April 10, 2014

David works his way up a 5th class section to get out of the canyon bottom en route to Hog 2.

When does a tradition practiced year after year becoming a ritual experience? I certainly don’t have the answer and even as I type these words I’m not even sure I fully understand the question I pose, but it does bring up some ideas I wish to express. Our annual Spring canyoneering trip in Southern Utah has mostly certainly become a tradition. The question is through all that is within this tradition, all the sandstone beauty, comfort level pushing, sideways shuffling, abraded elbows, sand everywhere, drunken campfires, indulgent meals, loud conversing, ball busting, constant laughter and the feeling of aaahhhh, is there something more going on? Something even more meaningful?

Mark, (from left) Chris, Mike and Eric hike to the Hog Canyon system.

Hog 1, aka Boss Hog, 3AIIIR
North Wash


Day one begins with the Hog Canyons. There are four of them, Hogs 1, 2, 3 & 4, all adjacent to each other, meeting into one larger drainage at the bottom of these short, tight and intense slot sections above. Descending all four of them in a day is possible but requires an early start and good time management. We would see how much of it we could bite off but we aren’t exactly getting an early start. As one might expect we begin with Hog 1, aka Boss Hog. Named after the corrupt county commissioner, from the “Dukes of Hazard”, the first of the Hogs is far from an easy canyon and just like dealing with Jefferson Davis can get you into trouble, the other Boss Hog can also prove to upend the unprepared and unexpected. After ever present difficult down climbs and sideways shuffling and a sustained section of high stemming, we reach the end of the technical section with nothing more than a few sandstone scrapes on the elbows.

Eric rappels as Chris and David look on.

Hog 2,  3AIII
North Wash


After a quick break at the confluence of Hogs 1 & 2 and caching some water, we escape to the sandstone world above via a tough 5th class slab with spotty holds. Others say it goes as high as 5.7. A short but strenuous hike surrounded by Hog slots on both sides and we drop into the top of Hog 2. Boss Hog’s sister to the East has a definite mellower vibe and seems to feature more of an emphasis on rappels versus stemming and down climbing. The canyon does however, end on a challenging down climb into a dark hallway, where Chris lands awkwardly and injures his knee. Fortunately, he is able to walk with a fair amount of discomfort, but his day of canyoneering is over. Mike volunteers to accompany Chris as they walk down the main Hog drainage to the Hog Springs Recreation Area parking lot, easier than climbing back up to our vehicle above the system. Eric, Mark and I repeat the 5th class slab back to the head of Hog 3, aka Razorback.

Eric going high in Hog 3.

Hog 3, aka Razorback, 3AIIIR
North Wash


Before we drop into Razorback from a high vantage point I can look straight down the pike and see its confluence with the main Hog drainage. Clearly wind and water carved this slot in a nearly straight fashion. As I process this visual information I realize what this canyon will lack in duration it will make up for in intensity. Razorback also has the reputation for being the most challenging of the Hogs. During the planning of the trip at large it was the canyon I was most apprehensive of. On any given day you never know how you are going to respond to the challenges, particularly the down climb/ high stemming heavy canyons of Southern Utah. Some days you feel good. Other days, well… By the start of Hog 3 I know I am feeling good. The climbs and moves are all well within my ability. I am in tune with the rock and not getting bogged down in my own headspace, just reacting and feeling. Speaking of the devil, my back is feeling those textured rocks embedded in the walls that gives the canyon its namesake. Nevertheless connecting to the landscape and the challenges it poses, the canyon is over very quickly and we are fighting our way through the reeds of the main Hog Drainage before climbing  back up the fifth class one more time. Hog Four, aka Miss Piggy will have to wait for another day. Still a real Hogfest.

Eric and Mark work their way through the reeds in the main Hog drainage after completing Hog 3.

It is late in the afternoon by the the time we reach our vehicle. The Henries look beautiful in this light. My first pair of pants are already blown out, a few abrasions dot my the arms and sand already has invaded every crevice of my body. I’m buzzing from three wonderfully challenging and beautiful canyons just completed. I know the first night will be a wild one. Loud, probably. Delicious food and lots of drink, a certainty. It is such an aaahhhh moment that it is totally spiritual. A ritual? I don’t know, but I’ve felt this before and I know the series of actions to get back there.

- David


‘Consumed by Wilderness’ in the South Fork of Alder Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on March 11, 2014

The crew (from left, Chris, Brian, Cody and David.

South Fork of Alder Canyon, 3B/CIV
Mazatzal Wilderness Area


It is 4:30 AM as I type these first words. I was just woken from my phone ringing on my nightstand. I looked at who the call was from; a subject from a documentary project I am working on the Navajo reservation. Despite the hour, I had been waiting for his call for a few days so I answered. He could tell I sounded tired. “Oh shoot man I forgot you guys are an hour behind.” For the vast majority of the country the clocks had just changed for daylight savings time. Arizona does not observe daylight savings time, except on the Navajo Nation. So where Milton was calling from it was a much more reasonable 5:15 AM. Sheep herders, they start early.

Truth is I had been tossing and turning all night. No reason really, just one of those nights. I actually had just gone back to bed after spending an hour reading Craig Childs’ “Soul of Nowhere.” As I was slowly slipping back into sleep before my ringtone jolted me up permanently, I kept thinking back on a passage in his book. In it Childs describes how ever since he was young he dreamed of being completely consumed by wilderness. “As a child I often imagined jumping from an airplane with a parachute, aiming for the most delirious-looking place, an area that would swallow me.” He continues, “I stared at the plaster-textured ceiling of my bedroom and imagined the cluttered little shapes to be mountains wall to wall, thousands of miles of wilderness, and me on my way in, floating in my bed as I fell.” And this is the line that really stuck with me, “I somehow knew as a child that within isolation and ruggedness was a way of accessing the unexpected from the world.”

And so it was on a recent adventure through a little explored canyon in the Mazaztal Wilderness Area. Brian and I had discussed a descent of this canyon for years. We knew of only one previous descent and had little information. But with just three days left in 2013, schedules lined up and the right group of strong hikers coalesced. We were dirt bagging it the night before at the trailhead to get a pre-sunrise start on a day that we anticipated could be up to 14- hours.

Chris hikes on the approach.

It’s very dark. No moon and cold. We start hiking briskly, almost immediately up into these rugged mountains. Breath is visible but within minutes coldness is a thing of the past. Light behind the Sierra Anchas begins slowly but picks up speed. Headlamps go away and we are making progress. The sun is up now.  A few hours later we leave the trail and pick our way through a mix of small pines and chaparral on a steep slope. We gain the crest and head into a bowl blanketed in snow. This area was untouched by the Willow Fire of 2004 that devastated much of the area leaving behind a Ponderosa Pine forest I have never before seen in these mountains. The snow gets deeper. We posthole to above our ankles as we head towards the upper reaches of the South Fork of Alder Creek. Direct sun is hidden and still covered in sweat from the 3500 foot climb we are chilled to the bone as our feet crunch into the crusty snow. We cross the creek and head for sunlight in the south facing walls. As we slip into our wetsuits and fashion our harnesses we survey the canyon below. The walls are covered in deep snow. The creek is flowing under a thick crust of translucent ice. It looks cold and treacherous.

Drops present themselves. We examine. The ice looks precarious and fragile with large open holes to the churning water below. At this point the canyon has not completely closed in allowing us to bypass along the steep snow covered walls adjacent to the drainage proper. Not exactly providing warm fuzzies of safe passage, but the lesser of two evils. Nearly every step requires both hands to be thrusted into the snow. With nothing but thin garden gloves to protect my hands from rock and vegetation my hands quickly go numb, but not that numb that I don’t distinctly feel my palm as it is pierced by the end of an Agave plant hidden beneath the snow.

We continue to avoid the drops in the main watercourse. Brian coins it “bypassaneering”. The canyon levels. The snow and ice subside and we begin to wonder if this canyon will be a dud, as least as far as a technical descent is concerned. Either way I am still surrounded by seldom seen wilderness. Ultimately that is what I came for. We trudge on for awhile. We are presented with an uneventful 100- foot drop. Bypassaneering is not an option this time. Further down another more interesting drop. And then an unexpected sequence of two rappels, a swim and another rappel, all through exquisite geology. More trudging until we hit the confluence with the North Fork of Alder. We look upstream to another potential route. There is a major drop, although it does look like it can be bypassed. I am almost certain this is the mysterious drainage I descended when I got lost in 2007.

A long slog and we are out. Back to our vehicles well before darkness sets in. Despite finishing hours under the time we anticipated it was still a tremendous amount of work for little technical canyon (although parts of this technical canyon were among the most magnificent in the range). Back to Craig Childs in “Soul of Nowhere”, “It wasn’t heroism or glory that I hoped to find in these  places. Rather , it was the odor of rain, it was encountering an animal alone in heavy woods, or the moment in trackless country when I realize that I am utterly lost and suddenly there is no separation between me and the ground beneath me.” On this day I had this in full.

- David

Musings at large & recent descent down Big Kahuna Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on January 24, 2014

Brian rappels by a swirl of geology.

Big Kahuna Canyon, 3B/CIII
approximately 5 miles
Mazatzal Wilderness Area


Procrastination. I have been doing it a lot lately related to writing this blog post and others of recent trips. I often hear from those I share these wonderful adventures with that I take forever to share the photos. I can’t disagree. I tell them I should be getting that post and the pics up real soon. A month later and it still hasn’t been done.

 Sometimes a minor epic or mishap gives you a narrative to write about. Other times you are feeling inspired and the writing comes easy. Neither were or are present from this particular cold winter descent. This does not mean the experience was any less special; it’s just that much harder to write something special about. In such a case it seems easier to do the dishes or clean up my son’s toys then sit down and write. So why chronicle every or nearly every trip? (A few have in fact been left out over the years for various reasons).  I often ponder this, but always come back to the same conclusion. Life is short, but has the potential to be filled with the most amazing of experiences. For me those most special of experiences come from three main sources: family/ friends, my work and wilderness. I am extremely lucky to be blessed with health, an incredible family, a job I love and the ability to somewhat regularly venture into and experience wilderness.

We also live in a modern society where everything is recorded with 0s & 1s. They often are quickly shared and seen. From here this content resides many posts back in a Facebook account or on a hard drive literally collecting dust. Maybe actual photo albums are becoming a thing of the past, but for me this blog serves as an archive of these experiences. It is always there and not withstanding some sort of viral attack of the interweb, should always be there. Specifically, this wordpress blog allows me to organize these trips into various categories so they are logically searchable, such as features as the linkable canyon index. The blog allows me to feel close and connected to these adventures of the past. For this I will due my best to keep procrastination at bay and continue to committ to this personal archive, maybe just not in the most timely of fashion.

Cold enough and close enough to our vehicles we hightail on the trail without stripping out of our wetsuits.

A few quick notes on this recent frigid jaunt down Big Kahuna Canyon in the Mazatzal Mountains. Nearly two years earlier, Laura, Wyatt and I ventured out for the same trip. At the time Wyatt, just over a year old, rested on my back in a baby backpack as we joined Laura for the hike up the Barnhardt trail to the start of the technical canyon. We waved goodbye to Laura as she joined our friends for the canyoneering descent of Big Kahuna as Wyatt and I hiked back down to the trailhead. This time the roles were reversed. Wyatt, now over three and probably nearly 20 pounds heavier, himself said, “Goodbye.” and “They’re going canyoneering.” as we headed into the canyon and Laura and Wyatt hiked down the trail. Not much to mention about the smooth descent itself other than the gorgeous rappels through moderately flowing water, past swirls of unique geology. Great company too and we were back to our vehicles rather quickly. Just enough time for the winter desert sun to dry out the muddy road just a tad before heading home.


2013 Year in Photos

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim, Uncategorized by canyoneering on January 6, 2014

Eric, Mark and Cody traverse a ledge in the Temple Butte narrows in Olo Canyon.

Another year. Six years now actually that I’ve been lucky enough to partake in this sport and the amazing places that it allows one to witness and experience. Along the way some new partnerships and friendships have been forged. Highlights included: a multi-day trip into the tight slots of Ticaboo Mesa near Lake Powell. An overnight backpack with Laura and my son, Wyatt, in Aravaipa Canyon. An all business four day trek through some of the best technical slots of the Grand Canyon. Getting to share with Laura one of my favorite descents in Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park. And a 45- mile paddle filled with fun and relaxation down the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon. The year ended right with back to back cold, watery descents in the final two weekends of the year in the Mazatzal Mountains. Before leaving for the final trip, Wyatt, now three asked me, “You going canyoneering? I want to go too.” Another year. Here is a look back.


Tagged with:

Paddling down the Green River

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on November 18, 2013

Eric and Susan working lasagna in the Dutch Oven.

Labyrinth Canyon (Green River)
45 miles
10/05/13 – 10/08/13


That indistinguishable reddish brown sand that fans out from my garden house is not only a reality of gear cleaned, but also serves as a reminder of another adventure in the books. This past time was no exception. Though this was a different kind of an adventure. It was not one of adrenaline, suffering and end of the day achey muscles. Though miles from any motorized vehicles and in wilderness as remote as it gets, this one involved multiple dutch ovens, coolers and even pirates.

Here’s how it broke down: 11 friends old and new, 4 aluminum canoes and a kayak, 3 nights and 4 days along 45- miles of stunning scenery through the  Green River’s Labyrinth Canyon. Government shutdowns couldn’t stop us from  tracing this route of Major John Wesley Powell.

The crisp air keeps us from getting to hot and the intense early Fall sun from being too cool as we paddle down the placid and in places shallow waters. A pair of deer take advantage and slowly cross from one bank 50- yards to the other. They are not swimming. Curve after curve, the sandstone walls becoming increasingly grander. We pass a homemade wooden raft, Huck Finn style. Their boatmen are dressed as pirates. They have water guns and are drinking rum. We stop fairly often. Mud is knee deep and abundant. Early we try to avoid it but it is futile. One most embrace it in this place.

In camp we pull out all the stops. Cooler after cooler, cold beer, rum and coke or whiskey if that is your thing. Steaks one night, Indian food and nan the next, and for a grand finale, Dutch Oven lasagna. Entertainment includes music, fires, stories, lots and lots of stories, a dance competition that never really went anywhere and a neon light show.

We follow mountain lion prints through the still wet sand up a meandering side canyon. Quick sand swallows Eric nearly to his waist.The sun gets lower in the sky and we turn around and head back to the river.

Back in our 18-foot aluminum vessels, Laura and I fall back a little. It is all quiet except for the faint sounds of tiny riffles of water hitting the boat and the dulled laughter of the rest of the party half a mile ahead. The scenery passes by ever so slowly. A sense of priorities or urgency couldn’t be further away. It is a nice feeling for a little.

- David

Tex’s Riverways out of Moab provided us with canoe rentals and transportation to and from the Green River. I would highly recommend them.

After Four Years Gone, Back to Zion in Kolob Canyon

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on July 12, 2013

Laura hip rappels into a beautiful room.

Kolob Canyon, (thru trip to Temple of Siniwava) 3CVR
Zion National Park
06/22/13 – 06/23/13


David told tales of crows and condors. Of flowing water down tight technical sandstone passages. Of exquisite beauty and never ending narrows. Of an exit hike through much of the Virgin River Narrows. Ever since David got back from his trip down Kolob Canyon in 2009 it had been on my bucket list. At the same time we had been wanting to take our two-and-half-year-old son Wyatt for his first visit to Zion National Park. With David’s parents in Arizona for an extended visit, we loaded up the vehicles, rented a cabin at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort and headed up to the place I love so much that I hadn’t visited in nearly four years.

As Wyatt and I, and my in-laws, Marsha and Lee, settle into our cozy little cabin, David drives down to the visitor’s center to see if we can secure a permit for a descent down Kolob. Due to its location downstream of a dammed reservoir, where water releases can turn the canyon into a death trap, Kolob is one of a few canyons in Zion National Park where permits can not be secured in advance. This was only the second weekend that the park service had been issuing permits for Kolob for the season. That in conjunction with the perfect weather, could make it a popular weekend for the descent. With Brian, Cody and Adam joining us for the technical portion, we are unsure if we can get a permit for five, falling below the park’s daily quota. David returns to the cabin with a smile on his face and a permit in hand.

Early the next morning we unsuccessfully sneak out of the cabin without waking Wyatt up and rendeszvous with Brian, Cody and Adam at the trailhead. After a short hike through dense forest we hit Kolob Creek above the technical section to find the slightest of flow (probably just below 1CFS) despite the Washington County Water District’s scheduled release of 3CFS. Though the boys seem a little disappointed with the flow it makes no difference to me and we suit up above the first drop.

The canyon is as beautiful as David described: relentless obstacles of rappels, down climbs, slides and balancing over logs to negotiate minor drops, all through frigid water in narrows that only get deeper and deeper. I am very happy for my 3mm neoprene hooded vest and 1mm shirt in addition to my 4/3. The technical section ends all too quickly, but I know from what David has described that some of the best parts of this adventure are still to come.

David takes in the canyon walls shortly above the confluence with the Virgin River Narrows.

Shortly below the end of the technical section we reach a 400- foot waterfall from the rim above. At its base is a one-car-garage-sized ice block. The ice is mixed with sandstone sediment. From a low angle it blends in with sandstone walls hundreds of feet above. With Brian, Cody and Adam exiting out the MIA for a day trip and David and I hiking down through the Virgin River Narrows for an overnight, we say our goodbyes before the boys forge ahead.

Between several frigid swims, we pass a deer carcass rotting in the otherwise crystal clear water. The narrows are sustained for miles upon miles as midday moves into late afternoon. We begin to think about a place to camp for the night but we want to get past all those frigid swims so we are not faced with them first thing in the cooler morning. Just when we think we have passed all the swims we are faced with yet another one in a hauntingly dark hallway. The canyon opens a little and we see a flat sandy spot below a tree with plenty of places to hang our soaking gear for the night.  We throw in the towel hoping that last one was in fact the final swimmer.

After a restful night’s sleep where we actually sleep in a little, (at least by backcountry camping standards) we continue to make our way down Lower Kolob. The water has gone fully underground with us getting nothing more than our feet wet. After a few hours we reach the confluence with the Virgin River Narrows.

At Big Spring we stop to refill our water bottles and wonder how long that water has been underground. Has it been 500 years? We marvel to watch that moment as all of that water gushes out of the bottom of those thousands of feet of sandstone. We chuckle to ourselves as we watch a backpacker filter the water right as it comes out of the ground. We continue downstream past hidden gurgling springs, stopping to swim in a hole and hide from all the people in a shallow cave. We emerge and zig-zag past fellow hikers whose numbers grow and grow the closer we get to the Temple of Sinawava.

Lee, Wyatt and David hike in the Narrows.

Back at the cabin we hear all about Wyatt’s adventures with Marsha and Lee around the park. The following day we return to the Temple of Siniwava with Wyatt, Marsha and Lee for a hike a short ways up the Narrows. Wyatt starts in the baby back, but with a pole in hand ends of hiking much of the way himself. Perhaps the next time we descend Kolob Canyon Wyatt will be joining us.


Cooler times in Quartz Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on June 11, 2013


Quartz Canyon via Peters Canyon , 3AIII
Tonto National Forest – Superstition Wilderness


Summertime in Phoenix is a combination of hibernating indoors, traveling to higher elevations for outdoor activities and lounging in our community pool like water buffalo. As I type these words temperatures outside are near 110 degrees. Sitting in front of my laptop in a dark room under a whizzing fan to the sounds of the hum of our air conditioner it is nice to look back several months to when our Sonoran Desert was not so roasting hot.

Spring time in the Superstition Mountain is a beautiful time. The drainages are often flowing, the rocky terrain covered in grass and the desert wildflowers blooming. All were present on this day for a descent of Quartz Canyon. It was a rather warm day. The desert letting us know that summer is just around the corner.

Laura and I are joined by Brian K. who I only just recently met through another friend. Brian has a great energy and passion for the wilderness and we are excited to be sharing the day with him. As we set foot on the trail we almost immediately encounter a plethora of varied wildflowers. 2013 shaped up to be a banner year for wildflowers and this trip gave us a great show. Tortilla Creek is flowing nicely as is Peters Canyon. A scenic narrow section in Peters reveals some nice swimming holes for the return trip. A brutal bushwhack out of Peters to gain the ridge above Quartz Canyon is far from pleasant but does afford some stunning views of the wilderness. We also encounter, for Laura and I the never before seen Desert Mariposa Lily, stunning.

Good and hot now we drop into Quartz Canyon. Not much to this canyon outside of two interesting enough rappels with a trickle of water to cool us down. After the second rappel we explore a nearby alcove cave. Firewood covered in what appears to be maybe decades worth of dust is piled inside the cave. We rejoin Peters Canyon. Taking advantage of those swimming holes we cool off during the hike out. This would be our last Sonoran Desert outing until cooler times return. With a new season it just means a different part of the Southwest landscape to explore and hopefully with the right mindset those cooler times will be here before we know it.


Deep in the Big Ditch Day 4 – Floating down river & ascending 150-Mile Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on June 4, 2013

Mark floats down the Colorao River.

A different sort of day this one. For starters, it begins by water not land with a nearly five mile float down the Colorado River. After spending three days battling immense and uneven terrain slowly and tediously by foot, heavy loads on back, this portion of the trip represents the sweet reward for our toils. The mighty Colorado does the work as we sit back and seamlessly watch the world from 5000 feet below, sail by. So excited, I inflated my packraft the night before. Besides what would make a better pillow. In the morning I wake to discover my “pillow” is a third deflated. I am unable to locate the slow leak in the nearby pool at the bottom of the trickle waterfall at Olo Canyon. I can only hope the leak is so slow it will not too greatly effect the seaworthiness of my vessel. We walk across the beach, backpacks around one shoulder and packrafts and paddles held in the other hand. Life vests are strapped down and packrafts tempered to the 46 degree temperature of the water for maximum inflation. I clumsily board my little boat, my backpack on my lap, my lanky legs hanging out of the sides. I dig my “spatulas” into the water and sand and away we go.

Being so low in the water you feel every undulation, riffle, current and eddy. Its power remarkable. We keep the boats straight and true through the first set of riffles and the water calms. We can relax as the river takes us like a tracking shot on a camera mounted dolly through this magnificent scenery. A herd of maybe 10 big horn sheep run on the rocky slopes above the banks of the river along with us for nearly a mile.

It is not entirely a free ride even on the calm water. Currents can come out of nowhere and it would not take much to eject us from our tiny and flimsy boats. Taking a swim in the 45 degree water would be very serious. As we hear the approaching Matkatamiba rapid we move closer to the north shore. Just before the rapid (we decided earlier in the trip not to run it after scouting it) we dock in individual pockets between shoreline boulders. We exit our boats and portage around the rapid, reentering the river in the riffles just below. We float by a rafting party breaking camp at the Matkat Hotel. I want to say they look at us with perplexity, but they are too far away and I can’t see beyond their waves. Four and a half miles is over very quickly and we leave the marine world behind to return to that of feet on rock and dirt.

Eric in beautiful narrows and beautiful light.

150-Mile Canyon, 3BVI
Grand Canyon National Park


A break in the cliffs allows us a layer several hundred feet above the shoreline. At times we use existing bighorn trails, at others we negotiate exposed, chossy and off-camber terrain as we negotiate down river to get into 150- Mile Canyon via a ledge above the Muav Narrows. The ledge is also somewhat precarious forcing us to our bellies in one place to negotiate the narrow ledge maybe a 100- feet above the canyon bottom. Once on solid ground in the bottom of 150- Mile Canyon we begin heading up-canyon for our ticket out of here. The drops that we rappelled on the way down will either be bypassed using shelves above the narrows or we will have to ascend using the rope we left behind.

After a long a bypass hundreds of feet above the narrows below we drop back down to the canyon bottom. At the next dryfall we reach the first set of cord left behind. Instead of leaving a rope at each of the drops, lighter parachute cord was left behind. We attach our rope to the cord and pull the rope into place so we can ascend the drops. To save weight we brought only two sets of ascending gear between the five of us. After the first jug we break into teams to tackle the next three ascents, all of them featuring awkward boulder chokestones at the top that are challenging to get above and around. The jugs are separated by beautiful narrows in shifting light that because of our direction of travel look entirely different than on the way down. The final obstacle out of the Redwall narrows features an exposed but not too difficult 100- foot climb. Shortly after topping out on the rim of the Redwall, I hear Mark who is ahead shout something. I can not make out the words. I then immediately see a Bighorn Sheep sprint right past me right on the edge of the cliff into the narrows.

David free climbs out of the Redwall.

The Bighorn close encounter was one last treat before the three hour, 2000 plus foot slog to the rim above, much of it in the full force of the afternoon sun. The accumulation of the last four days is being felt now. Nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other until you are there. Upon reaching our vehicles Brian, Cody and Mark make preparations to hit the road and try to make it to Kanab before all of the restaurants stop serving  dinner. Eric and I, on the other hand came prepared, having brought food and beer that remarkably is still ice cold in our coolers left behind. Our plans include eating mass quantities of food, washed down with a few brews and then sleeping. Driving can wait until tomorrow. With hugs goodbye, the team separates. Eric and I mosey over to a massive vista of the Grand Canyon landscape below. We marvel at its size. Though we just explored a considerable chunk of this wilderness it is a a mere drop in this truly grand bucket.


Deep in the Big Ditch Day 3 – Olo Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on May 29, 2013

Cody in the Temple Butte in Olo Canyon.

“What is that noise,” I wonder half  asleep. I begin to wake to full consciousness as the sound of a large animal walking on rocks gets louder. It takes me a few seconds to remember my surroundings and then I realize it is the resident wild burros that call this remote part of the Grand Canyon National Park home. I yell “Go Away.” It gallops away. I try to fall back to sleep to no avail.

We wake around sunrise, quickly break camp and continue to use the burro trail around another arm of the Matkat/ Panameta system. The mornings objective is to reach the Esplanade, the giant terrace above the Supai sandstone formation that spans much of the length of the Grand Canyon. It is several thousand feet above. After gaining the Esplanade we will drop into the next side canyon system to the East, Olo Canyon. In order to break through the fortress of cliff bands to the Esplanade we use the Sinyala Fault, a deep fracture that extends in a northeasterly direction over 17 miles. The fault makes passage possible but we are still forced to haul packs over spicy climbs to gain the sandstone terrace.

Eric raps down the 100- foot drop into the Redwall narrows into Olo Canyon.

Olo Canyon, 3BVI
Grand Canyon National Park


We stay with the fault down to the rim of the Redwall of the Olo Canyon system and around into the main fork. A large drop is our ticket from the sun baked world above to the cool shadows of the bottom of the Redwall Narrows. Excited to get down there we all want to be the next to rappel. It is finally my turn. The drop is a 100- feet, almost completely free hanging. The rope is a skinny, 8.0 mm. Our packs heavy, probably still close to 45 pounds, even after eating several days worth of rations. It is a formula for a fast rappel that if not rigged for enough friction can get away from you. A third of the way down I think to myself, “That leg loop was not enough, should have gone full z-rig.”  I find myself death gripping the rope with two hands like I never have before. I shout down to Brian below to give the rope a little tug to take a little pressure off my cramping hands. Maybe 30 seconds later and a few spins, ahhh, terra firma.

Eric, Mark and Cody traverse a ledge in the Temple Butte narrows.

The Redwall narrows end quickly. We rock hop in and out of the sun until we reach the Temple Butte Narrows and some fun ledge traverses over emerald green pools of fresh water. The canyon again widens and we find ourselves between a pair of California Condors. As we stop to observe the endangered species, the pair spread their massive near 10- foot wing spans like two sentinels of the canyon. With the naked eye we can see they are tagged. After investigating the photos we identify them as J3 and 49.

California Condor A9 in Olo.

Moving on we enter the spring fed Muav Narrows and its tricky down climb, several awkward rappels and a final sequence of a down climb into a tough traverse to stay dry to the final 45- foot drop to the beach along the Colorado River below. It took considerable time to find a suitable anchor. Mark eventually located an old climber’s piton hidden in a crack and we used that in combination with a nearby knot chock that Brian made as a back-up.

 Camp is set on the beach. We can hear a lovely combination of the trickle of water flowing down the final drop of Olo Canyon into the shallow beach pool and the roar of the Colorado only 100- feet away.  It is now apparent that our aggressive pace is going to allow us to finish the trip a full day early. With that we spend our evening gorging on extra rations. Excited for the float along the river in the morning I inflate my packraft as a plastic spork sticking out of a container of peanut butter is passed around like a bottle of whiskey.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers