Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

A rainy, night time jug in Hog Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on October 28, 2010

Hog Canyon, 3AI
1.2 miles
Tonto National Forest – Sierra Ancha Wilderness


After an eight hour wilderness first aid class underneath a ramada at Roosevelt Lake, several students and myself thought we could burn off some steam by checking out a nearby canyon. Hog Canyon which drains the Sierra Anchas into Roosevelt Lake seemed like a good candidate. Less than an hour before sunset we parked the car and headed into the drainage. There wasn’t much to this canyon other than the few impressive hoodoos that stood like sentinels above and a short section of quartzite narrows, that were quite interesting in context with the late day light and fast moving clouds. Though there is probably a way to descend the canyon and then escape to the rim and back to your car in a loop, we simply fixed  ropes at the three drops to do an about face and ascend our ropes. As the last of the light disappeared we turned around and headed up canyon. At the first jug we were met with light rain. At the largest drop of about 80 feet, my headlamp stopped working halfway up the ascent. At first it was a little disorienting. This was compounded by the now heavier rain, but the truth is you have a rope to guide you; just slide those ascenders and step up. Nearly out of the canyon I sat on a cholla cactus, my ass only to be saved by the PVC seat in my Petzl Canyon harness. With just a few spines in my butt we drove back down to the lake.


24- hours in Wilderness First Aid

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on October 18, 2010

Several years ago I took a basic first aid class that lasted three hours at a public library. I figured with all of the time that I spend in the outdoors it would be good to have at least a little bit of training in first aid. As could be expected the class did not delve that deep and I did not leave feeling that I would be prepared to deal with the myriad of situations that could arise during the course of my adventuring in the wilds. On a recent canyoneering trip, my buddy, Clint, talked about how he was trying to organize a wilderness first aid class to be taught by the Wilderness Medicine Outfitters.

In late September the class was held over three very hot day days at Roosevelt Lake. Our instructor, Marc McDonald, was excellent during the intense 24- hour course. Just some of the topics we covered were anatomy and physiology, patient assessments, bleeding control and bandaging, splinting, hypothermia, spinal immobilization, bites and stings, legal issues, extrication and what to have in your first aid kit. One of my favorite things about the class were the number of scenarios we enacted and dealt with as if they were real life situations. It was also great that all of the students in the class and our instructor, Marc, are all technical canyoneers, so much of the course was geared towards what we could face. I highly recommend this class, particularly to those of you are out there playing hard in some remote places. Check out Wilderness Medicine Outfitters’ website.


Into new territory in Shinumo Wash

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on October 4, 2010

Shinumo Wash, 3BVR
approximately 11 miles
Navajo Nation/ Grand Canyon National Park, tributary Marble Canyon
09/18/10 – 09/19/10


The moon had yet to rise as we headed west on a dusty Navajo dirt road in a maze of roads, some nothing more than two tire tread marks through the desert scrub. Well over an hour after leaving pavement and only because we had a GPS, we arrived at our trail head right at the edge of Shinumo Wash, a deep and wide side canyon of the mighty Grand. As we laid down for the night the moon rose giving us a better sense of the vast country that surrounded us.

We woke with the sun, the heat following just behind. As we organized the last of our gear we knew it would not be long for the heat to completely catch up. We headed down the old Bureau of Reclamation Trail from the 1950s used to transport gear and personnel for a proposed dam site down at the Colorado River. For a side canyon, Shinumo was wide, vast and deep. The trail zig zagged down the steep canyon walls in the blazing sun to the sandy bottom strewn with boulders.

After hours of slogging down the not particularly pleasant canyon bottom surrounded by massive sandstone walls we approached a new layer of rock. As the drainage entered into this limestone layer the canyon narrowed into a beautiful slot and the real fun began. A pattern of either clean fluted rappels or slides of giddy excitement down polished limestone chutes into deep pothole pools of temperate water was the modus operandi of descent for the technical section. In these conditions the potholes were full and easily escapable and each one laid in the bottom of its own individual room before the next drop would take you into an entirely new chamber. Direct sun did not penetrate into the canyon bottom and despite the warm air and relatively warm water I was left with a slight chill through my body as we continuously submerged into and exited pools. Despite the slight shiver we took our time enjoying the rappels, the slides and the enormous insects who made this place home. The silver chambers of the slot had a campfire glow of light reflected from the sandstone walls towering over a thousand feet above us. Another rappel brought us to yet another room and we noticed dozens of footprints in the dried mud. This is the famous “Silver Grotto” a popular side hike from the Colorado River that rafters come up to from the river during their several week long trips through the Grand Canyon. Above this room where we came from, the rafters are stopped dead in their tracks from the drop we had just rappelled down. By now the roar of the river was easily heard and before not too long we reached the banks of the Colorado.

This part of the Grand Canyon like most of it, does not allow an exit up the fortress walls nor does it allow dry passage along its banks. The solution was to use small inflatable boats that we carried in our packs to float down to a section of the canyon where escape was possible. After inflating our pack rafts we launched into the swift current. Riffles splashed water over the boat that placed me only inches above the undulating surface of the river and entirely too soon we reached our camp for the night along a magnificent beach. The sounds of the river was the perfect background noise to a relaxing and enjoyable night of camping.

Despite several hours of unpleasant approach hiking, the previous day was full of beauty, fun, excitement, exploration and relaxation and we had barely paid much of a price for admission. What was the catch? On the exit hike back to our vehicle we found out. A real suffer fest; 5- hours, 2500 feet of elevation gain in complete exposure to the sun with temperatures hovering around 100- degrees. Truth be told I like to suffer a little. I find it cleansing. So for that ride I’ll pay the ticket price every time.