Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

History in Choprock

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on April 11, 2011

Choprock Canyon (South Fork), 4BVR
approximately 11 miles
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
03/28/11


This place has history. Several kinds. That related to geology dates back hundreds of millions of years. Fast forward until only 1500 years ago and the first humans settled the area. It was not until the late 19th century that the first white settlers set foot in this wilderness. Though they probably did not explore much if any of the side drainage of the Escalante River that would later be called Choprock Canyon, Jacob Hamblin did travel the entire length of the Escalante River in 1871. He was resupplying the second John Wesley Powell expedition along the Colorado River. They did not not even know where they were, thinking they were traveling the Dirty Devil River, which is further to the east.

Then, there is the ultra recent history of recreational adventurers. Using innovative techniques, ropes, wetsuits and other gear this group began exploring the numerous slots that slice up the desert plateaus. In the early 1980s the first known descent was made of the South Fork of Choprock Canyon. There was something special about the nature of Kaleidoscope Canyon as it was dubbed during those early descents. It’s relentless nature and its beauty. It would become a popular descent, but because of its difficultness, not too popular.  This recent history specific to this canyon would become tragic when in 2005, two young canyoneers died when probably in a hypothermic state from inadequate wetsuit protection these individuals were unable to deal with the obstacles the canyon presented. A few years after these unfortunate events I became interested in canyoneering and quickly became aware of Chopslot, yet another of its monikers.

Moving on to our own personal history, perhaps getting a little too late of a start in the morning, we exited the Escalante River bottom by way of a spicy slick rock scramble. Several hours of navigation across the martian landscape brought us to the bottom of the South Fork of Choprock Canyon. Along the way I diced up my hand on the jagged edges of a hunk of limestone. After suiting up in some serious neoprene the canyon did not take long to get going. A beauty of a rappel brought us into the “Riparian Ballroom” as it is called and the start of the “Riparian Section”. True to its name signs of vegetation were everywhere, but because of our early season descent the abundance of flora was still in its winter’s slumber. I was glad to not have to worry about the supposed plethora of poison ivy that makes this place home. The canyon got tighter, deeper and narrower and the winter’s bones of this jungle subsided where the appropriately termed “Happy Section” began. I say appropriate because if you looked at our faces, smiles were abound as we made our way through the spring fed golden corridor. We were faced with some tough swims and down climbs, but never too tough.

After a little over an hour of this happiness the canyon abruptly changed in character. It got dark and ominous and a difficult down climb through a very tight squeeze brought us to a nasty log jam. With that was the start of the “Grim Section” and I think all four members of our team would agree when I say the real fun began. With total communication and teamwork we worked the obstacles. When one member would get a little chilled after a hundred yard swim, another member would shed his extra 2mm neoprene jacket and pass it on to that member. This section was relentless with a barrage of obstacles.

We hit the crux, the infamous log jam where those two young men perished. Eric Luth lead the charge swimming under the first log jam disappearing into the darkness. (Above photo at left.) We could hear him shout, “We are going to have to go over this second log jam. I am going to need helping getting over this.” I jumped in. First we tried a buddy boost right at the jam. It was too skinny. We backed up where I was able to get Eric up into a position where he could secure himself in the canyon walls from a stemming position. From there Eric dropped an etrier and I squeezed and climbed the ladder like an awkward baboon putting intense pressure on his groin in the process. From there Chris and Eric Leifer swam to us and I dropped a second etrier to help distribute the weight when they climbed up to join us. (Above photo at right shot from atop one of the log jams we had to go over.) After creating a brigade of bodies we passed the packs down canyon as we stemmed up and over the remaining log jams. Following the crux, the canyon relented little with more high stems, swims so narrow your arm movement was limited and spicy elevator drops. Finally, with only an hour of light left in the day we reached the final rappel back to the land of the living.

– David

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7 Responses

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  1. […] Just beyond was the main event, the Golden Cathedral, which from above is completely unrecognizable to the stunning sculpture that it is. Giddy with excitement we rigged the rappel and one by one down we descended into the shimmering golden light that was quickly moving across this epic room. Shortly after all six of us got our turn, the light moved on leaving us in the bland and flat shadows of the canyon walls. If we were any later we would have missed this spectacle of light. In the lack of sun I was getting chilled so I hightailed it back to camp to get in some dry and comfy clothes. Next up Choprock. […]

  2. christopher.erwin@asu.edu said, on April 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

    It’s difficult to capture (in photo) the trying experience involved in descending this canyon. It was a wonderful team experience. We killed it, as far as I’m concerned- I’m looking forward to our next adventure. Let’s raise the bar a little bit further…

  3. Stephen Schwartz said, on April 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Looks very exciting. I’m hoping to try that one day – if I live long enough.

    So what’s an “etrier”? (Lots of other lingo you also use, but I think I’ve got most of it figured, e.g., “stem”.)

    • canyoneering said, on April 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm

      An etrier is a ladder made of webbing material. It can be folded up and placed in a backpack and then deployed off of one team member’s harness so other team members can climb it to get out of keeper potholes or in this case to help us get over the log jams.

      • Stephen Schwartz said, on April 11, 2011 at 7:54 pm

        DAVID: Thanks. Best to Laura.

  4. […] of the toughest canyons of the Colorado Plateau such as Kaleidoscope, more commonly referred to as Choprock Canyon and Poe […]

  5. […] a cold, overcast Spring day we begin the long approach to Choprock Canyon. I am thrilled to be revisiting this canyon, one of my favorite descents of the Colorado Plateau. The group moves fast and we quickly depose of the long approach, the “Riparian Section” and […]


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