Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Cold descent, warm people in Barnhardt Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on February 27, 2011

Barnhardt Canyon, 3CIII
6 miles
Mazatzal Wilderness Area


I would not say I was skeptical of a group of ten on a technical descent in a canyon with cold, swiftly flowing water, but I was definitely curious how it would all go down. Would there be bottlenecks at rappels resulting in canyoneers waiting around and getting cold on this winter day? I was more than willing to find out. I had not been out on a technical descent in over three months and I could barely sleep the night before the trip. As this crew, half of whom I had never met before rendezvoused at a fast food restaurant, I was bursting with excitement.

Into the canyon we entered and quickly encountered obstacles of which some in our group rappelled while others challenged their hands and feet in down climbs though a modest flow of near freezing water. Some of that water was in fact suspended in its solid form. Though we had hashed out a loose plan of keeping the group spread out with several ropes evenly distributed throughout, roles and placement shaped organically. Despite the cold air temps, even colder water, all under an overcast sky, a playful mood took over the day with lots of laughing, bantering and enjoying not just the art of the descent, but what existed between these canyon walls. We reached a pool that was frozen over with several inches of ice. We all took turns sliding across the ice and seeing how many of us it would take to break through. We did not succeed. We continued down canyon playing with ice and taking in the full spectrum of colors this canyon offered up. I cannot think of a better way to get to know the four people I had never met before.

We ended up moving through the canyon pretty quickly as a number of the drops were either down climbed by some or avoided all together. Reaching the near end of the canyon I would be lying if I did not say I was a little chilled, but not that cold that I did not enter a final section of optional narrows with a mandatory swim. Returning to our vehicles we changed into warm dry clothes and Susan surprised us all with a delicious cheesecake for Steve’s birthday. How nice is that!