Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Fun in Headless Hen, a different kind of fun in Raven

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on April 15, 2011

I was looking forward to Headless and Raven with great anticipation. Why? The challenges these canyons would present would be pushing new ground for the members of “Team Quatro”. Though we have dealt with numerous keepers  in the past and maybe some even more difficult, Headless Hen’s concentration of potholes was the likes of nothing we had seen. Sure we have tasted high stemming in previous descents but nothing in comparison to what we would face in Raven, spending several hours up to fifty feet off the canyon floor. We went in with a full toolkit and an attitude ready for new challenges and experiences.

Headless Hen and Raven are sister canyons but share only the faintest resemblance to each other. Because they are right next to each other requiring the exact same approach and exit and because each one only takes half a day to descend, it is possible to do both in one long day. A giant rock shaped like a hen sans head marked the entrance.

Headless Hen, 4BIIIR
approximately 2.5 miles
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
03/30/11


Before the canyon narrowed to the point of commitment, Chris and Eric Luth tested out the Imlay Canyon Gear SandTrap, a tarp like device that can be covered in sand and used as an anchor for rappels and then allows the user to pull the tarp down leaving no traces of the anchor behind. We were very pleased with the results. Quickly the walls came in and we were presented with one keeper pothole after another, some of which were in swimming conditions. We engaged the problems through a combination of buddy boosts and potshot tosses. Potshots, yet another canyoneering specific piece of equipment by Imlay Canyon Gear are small bags that can be filled with either sand or water and then tossed over the lip of a pothole and used as a counterweight to pull yourself up and over the lip of said pothole. The team really found a cohesive groove and we could not have been having more fun under the bright sun with stunning views across the valley to the Straight Cliffs. Some easy high stemming gave us a hint of what was to come later in the day. A fifteen foot jump into a deep pothole was the cherry on the top of this super sweet sundae.

Raven, 3BIIIR
approximately 2.5 miles
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
03/30/11


After swapping the necessary gear we would need for the different set of challenges we would face in Raven and stashing the gear we didn’t need at the confluence of these two canyons, we marched back up the slick rock to the head of Raven. After a short while Raven got tight and forced us high. Using opposing pressure with my back against one wall and my feet against the other I would work my way down canyon. Eons of wind and water have shaped these canyon walls and as can be expected they are not uniform; that is where things get tricky. At times the canyon walls would flair and undulate in silo shapes forcing you to either extend your body or go higher or lower to keep yourself positioned securely between the walls. A slip would be very costly as you would fall until you got jammed between the ever narrowing walls. We came up with word “crumpelstiltskin” to describe it. The teamwork necessary to descend a canyon like Choprock or Headless Hen is not as prevalent in this type of canyoneering. You are really on your own. That is not to say that my partners did not provide much mental support during the descent and on one occasion Mike provided me with a belay for a traverse across one of the aforementioned silos, 30 feet above the floor. Mike and Eric did an outstanding job taking turns leading the descent. For three hours we only touched the ground a handful of times. The intensity of the experience was thick requiring total concentration. The climbing moves though not extremely difficult were harder than I expected and any mistake had serious consequences. Fun never fully entered into the equation. When we emerged out of the final set of narrows the seat of my pants had disintegrated into the canyon walls and my sense of accomplishment was high.

Without pants I walked across the the wind swept plateau on the hike back to camp as the sun set. The rest of the team was several hundred yards behind me, giving me an opportunity to decompress and think about the past week, of Laura and my beautiful four month old son, Wyatt. Navajo Mountain loomed large in the distance becoming darker as night took over. Our time is so insignificant relative to that of this place. It makes you realize the importance of being a part of it, even for a little while.

-David

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3 Responses

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  1. Stephen Schwartz said, on April 15, 2011 at 11:27 am

    DAVID: Looks like lots of fun – and like it takes lots of muscle to stem your way through all those thin places. As always, I enjoy reading about it. The pictures are great – but then again, that’s what you do for a living.

  2. Tim Vollmer said, on April 25, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Wow. These pics really made me kick myself that I’ve had to cancel plans for a canyoning trip to the states this year. It is amazing how different sandstone canyons can be in different parts of the world.

  3. […] I would continue to descend these canyons to a moderately challenging level (R-Rating) such as Raven, Inferno, Limbo, Happy Dog, Stair, and the Hogs, but wasn’t interested in taking the risks […]


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