Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Speed in Sundance Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on June 10, 2009

Speed in Sundance Canyon

Sundance Canyon, 3BRII
Coconino National Forest – Tributary of West Clear Creek
1.5 miles
06/01/08, 06/09/09

Sundance Canyon, 3BIIR
1.5 miles
Coconino National Forest, tributary of West Clear Creek
06/01/08, 06/09/09

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As we update this blog with fresh posts from our collection of past adventures those that are further back in time are harder to chronicle with clarity and energy. With Sundance Canyon bursting with detail and emotion and my first descent of Sundance being over a year ago I knew I would have to descend the canyon again to do it justice through words and images.

A few days earlier I was able to convince Mike and Courtney to join me for a descent. It wasn’t hard as Mike is all about canyons that offer MAXIMUM technical BANG for a MINIMUM of physical exertion BUCK. With Sundance featuring an almost non-existent approach hike to the canyon, multiple rappels with the finale being a 180-foot rappel (most of which is free-hanging) and an easy exit hike, it almost seems that water and rock worked together to design this canyon just for Mike or those like Mike.

The tricky part of the day was that my morning began with a dentist appointment in Phoenix preventing anything remotely close to an early start. Mike and Courtney had to be back home in Phoenix in the early evening for another commitment. Time was of the issue.

We parked our car at the trailhead and began hiking by 11:30 am. We raced down the slope into the canyon and before not too long reached the first rappel. Mike found a way to down climb around the first rappel. We continued the march stopping once to put on double wetsuits before the first significant pool of frigid water. When we reached the second rappel we used a log to shimmy down into the pool below. We skipped the third rappel by down climbing/ sliding/ jumping into another pool. The keeper pothole out of this pool was filled with water and we easily undulated on our bellies to get out. Immediately following was another drop-off of about 20 feet into an even deeper pothole. I initially thought, “I guess now we will have to break out the rope,” but after studying it we determined to go sans rope. Down climbing/ sliding/ jumping in lieu of rappelling can be dangerous for multiple reasons but the three of us are all experienced climbers, particularly Mike. I also enjoy the mental challenge of figuring out a tough down climb. In this case, with long legs extended it was possible to stem until about 10 feet above the water where you had to push off the wall like a frog into the deep pool below.

After Mike and I passed the obstacle I began removing my camera from my dry bag to photograph Courtney tackling the drop off. During this time Courtney communicated to me that she was throwing down the rope bag to make the down climb easier. I affirmatively responded to her but was distracted by setting my aperture and shutter speed. I ignored the fact that our 200-foot rope necessary for the upcoming 180-foot rappel was quickly sinking in the inky black water of unknown depth. Our speed had gotten the better of us and I realized we might have a significant issue. I removed my helmet and dove into the center of the pothole. With arms extended vertically below me, I kicked until I hit the bottom of the pool. Completely blind I used my hands to search the bottom and quickly felt the rope bag. Grabbing it I returned to the surface with major brain freeze. Courtney said my feet were completely under the surface of the water for several seconds. I am 6’3”.

Just below this pool was another short down climb followed by the big rap. At this point we put on our squirrel suits jumped over the edge and sailed down 180 feet to the alcove below. JUST KIDDING. Mike set up the rope and we rappelled like normal people. Words and pictures do not express the magnificence of this rappel. Giant yellow sandstone walls stained with black and green vertical columns surround you on three sides and the gorgeous West Clear Creek completes the 360 degree view as you slowly descend with nothing but air below you. After stripping out of wetsuits and climbing the trail out of West Clear Creek we were back at our vehicle by 2:30 pm.

****Attention to speed should never be placed above attention to safety.****

-David

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