Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

On edge in Englestead Hollow

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on July 30, 2009

Englestead Hollow/ Orderville Canyon, (thru trip to Temple of Siniwava) 4BIVR
8.5 miles
Zion National Park


A few nights before leaving for Zion I had a dream about the 300 foot- rappel in Engelstead. In that dream my sister Ellen was with us on the trip. (A note about Ellen; she is a marathon runner not an outdoorswoman. Her motto in life is “Maximum Comfort”. A day at the beach is too dirty for her. She has not and probably never will go canyoneering.) In the dream I was extremely worried about her. It would be her first time canyoneering and I kept telling her she did not have to rappel if she didn’t want to. She looked at me and told me she was confident in her skills, trusted the equipment and was ready for the challenge. I on the other hand was terrified and chose to stay in camp and clean up a picnic table. Waking up from the dream I knew my subconscious was playing two roles at once. I was both Ellen and myself. I was confident and scared; ready for a mental challenge and wishing I could just stay home.

It is no secret I have a slight fear of heights. The night before Engelstead after a long day of canyoneering through Das Boot and the Subway I was talking to Phoenix Eric and warned him the morning of the big rap he might see me cry. I was just kidding about crying but the truth is I knew I was going to be on edge the next morning, literally and figuratively.

After a late start and some trouble finding the head of the canyon we finally made it to the 300- footer. Chris rapped down first followed by a very eager Flagstaff Eric. I was third to go over the edge. While waiting my turn I laid down, closed my eyes and worked on my yoga breathing. With super high friction on my double eight I backed off the ledge. In the end my experience on the rappel turned out to be more of a physical challenge than a mental one. Rappelling with such high friction I was forced to push the rope through my devise the whole way down. I concentrated on my progress moving down the rope and the wall in front of me. I did not look up or down or take in the scenery. By the time I made it to the canyon floor I was sweating, tired, proud and safe.

With Phoenix Eric, Mike and David safely down the rappel all that was left to do was pull the rope. With all of our focus on descending safely we failed to perform a test pull to ensure we could successfully retrieve the rope. A BIG MISTAKE. Now the trouble began. The rope did not budge. We sent waves up the rope; we pulled from every direction and used jumars for advantage to no avail. All of our rope for completing the canyon was tied up and we needed it to continue the descent. As a last resort David volunteered to ascend the rope. It was a tense 45 minutes watching David ascend 300 feet. I was not interested in chatting with anyone. My eyes were glued to my husband creeping farther and farther off the ground. When David made it safely back up to the rim I let myself take a breath. When he safely rappelled back down with the rope recovered I felt an enormous sense of relief. Drenched in sweat David told us the pull rope was getting stuck in a small notch that was perpendicular to the canyon rim.

Attempt to pull the rope to no avail.

After the rope incident I was as emotionally worn, as David was physically tired. Talking to Mike we both agreed that it was hard to get back in the spirit of things. I had to force myself to stop and appreciate my surroundings, but once I was able to do that my canyoneering rhythm came back to life. Englestead proved to be a test with a few awkward rappels and difficult down climbs.

Nearing the end of the canyon our group experienced another heart stopper. While on top of one of the last rappels there was a thundering clap in the sky. We moved as quickly and safely as possible through the final narrows coming out in Orderville. The weather became a major concern. At this point our group split on what course of action should be taken. Several felt we should immediately go up Orderville, which would be the fastest way out of the canyon and would avoid the more narrow sections lower down in Orderville but leave us many miles from our car on the rim. Others felt we should seek high ground, wait to see what happens and then descend Orderville as planned. This is when our group got a little bit chaotic. Hastily we decided to go up canyon as the clouds got darker, the thunder continued and a few sprinkles could be felt. At one point several in our group investigated ascending a side gully to exit Orderville. This proved fruitless and as quickly as the bad weather rolled in, it subsided. With some opposition we decided to turn around and head down Orderville as planned. In retrospect, I feel the best course of action would have been to seek high ground and wait in which case we would have saved time and energy. However, in the moment of the inclement weather I feel both options held valued weight.

Lower Orderville was extraordinarily beautiful with tight narrows, elegant sandstone fins, an abundance of small springs, clear pools and vegetation. We reached the Narrows, the tourists, and the shuttle and then unfortunately the excruciating drive home to the “Dirty Bird.” It was 4:30 am by the time my head hit the pillow and I fell into a dreamless sleep.


(Props to Phoenix Eric and Chris for going back the next morning to the top of the 300- foot rappel to recover our 325- foot rope.)


3 Responses

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  1. Mike said, on August 5, 2009 at 6:51 am

    engelsteez is the best.

  2. […] UC Fullerton. In fact the last time I saw Chris was at the end of that crazy day when we descended Englestead Hollow. Anyhow, Chris was on spring break and instead of heading to Lake Havasu like he normally does, […]

  3. […] Rope gets stuck, leaving the party with no way down canyon. -Why? Rope works it’s way into crack at the top of the rappel and can’t be pulled down. […]

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