Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Adventures in the Swell – Quandry Canyon Direct

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on October 14, 2011

Quandry Canyon Direct,  4BIIIR
approximately 6 miles
San Rafael Swell


My body was a little sore as we headed up the old mining road through a dynamited pass, up over the reef into the drainage that is Quandry Canyon. Native Americans were the first to mine uranium ore in the area using it to make bright colored pastes that they applied to themselves as war paints. Serious prospecting did not begin in the area until the mid twentieth century. Many roads and an air strip were developed and evidence of those mining days are scattered all over the place, including a mid 20th century vehicle we passed on the approach. Mining in the Swell nearly all but ended in the 1960s as the area yielded little marketable uranium ore.

By the time the walls of Quandry narrowed up and the technical section began the soreness had dissipated and I was warmed up and ready to go. The canyon is south facing so we enjoyed the sun nearly the entire day as we jumped in and out of potholes. We continued where we left off with the Squeeze, moving at an aggressive pace. A number of interesting and fun problems presented themselves including a rappel into a deep keeper pothole with a narrow ledge for a lip, right into a second rappel. The lip was so narrow that while standing on top of it you had to lock off on rappel while assisting your partner to get out of the keeper, so to not risk falling down the other side of the pothole. Finding the right balance of too much or too little slack before locking off on rappel took a little trial and error. The Quandry Direct route merged back with the regular route and after taking a lunch break in a sliver of shade we began the hike under a blistering sun towards Ramp Canyon, our route home.

Ramp Canyon was a beautiful technical canyon in its own right and we were challenged with the task of ascending the canyon to regain the reef. After the drainage took many horseshoe turns we bypassed an unclimbable dry fall by climbing up and out of the canyon and then returning to bottom by way of a  chossy 80- foot rappel. The canyon than presented us with a beautiful set of narrows with many magnificent features in the polished sandstone for climbing the drops. The crux was an awkward 5.6 climb/ traverse up and around a chokestone. Mike free soloed the short climb and then provided a belay to the rest of our party. The canyon relented shortly thereafter. From the top of Ramp Canyon an easy walk back to the car provided time to reflect on the last few days of this exciting, challenging and memorable trip.

Check out the video from the entire trip at the bottom of this post.


Adventures in the Swell – Lower Squeeze Canyon

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on October 3, 2011

Lower Squeeze Canyon, aka North Fork Seger’s Hole Canyon,  4BIVR
approximately 9 miles
San Rafael Swell


I knew little of what to expect of the canyons and the wilderness we would face in the San Rafael Swell. It was new territory for all the members of our party. I am not sure if it was by design or because I was so darn busy, but I had read virtually no beta or trip reports of the canyons we would face.

We made our way north of Hanksville, past the swell of rock to the west that rises like an impending tsunami about to crash over the plain. It was exciting to see new country. Off of the interstate and into the heart of the San Rafael Swell, I began to get a sense of how big, rugged and remote this place is. Despite the desolate character of this wilderness there was no shortage of people as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) was having their annual round-up in the same area of where we were setting up our base of operations. Finding a suitable campsite was challenging but after some searching and backtracking we found a place to call home.

The following morning began with a pleasant walk down Muddy Creek as we hiked in and and out of the shadows, crossing back and forth across the shallow waters until a well defined use trail lead us out of the canyon and up the Moroni Slope under a scorching sun. After gaining the saddle, some creative route finding was required down through cliff bands and across sandstone fins to reach the canyon bottom somewhere between the middle and lower sections of Squeeze Canyon, also known as the North Fork of Seger’s Hole.

The canyon got going quickly and as we moved at an aggressive pace we could hear voices ahead bouncing off the walls. Looking down a small drop into a pothole we could see two fellow canyoneers, one of whom was writhing around nearly waist deep in quicksand the likes of which I have never seen. It was an interesting way to see a person for the first time that you have never met before. Before long, Eric, from our own group was in the same position as this gentleman, who we would soon learn to be Ken, also known by his online handle, SpineSnaper. Learning from their predicaments, I sprinted across the quicksand so to not give it a chance to take hold of me. Once everybody was on solid ground we made our introductions and some small chit chat before passing Ken and his partner, Jasper.

Evidence throughout the Squueze suggested that the canyon had flashed very recently. The potholes were not tip-top but near full. We moved quickly through the canyon avoiding many rappels by either down climbing, sliding or jumping into the pools below. On most of these drops we would send someone down first on rappel via a meat anchor to check that the pool below was safe for jumping. We ended up completing the entire canyon with just five actual rappels despite reports of up two dozen. Of course we had the conditions of the canyon to thank for this statistic. The potholes may not have been in full “keeper” status but they did require some buddy boosting, beached whale maneuvers and lots of physical exertion to get through. With all of the mud and quicksand we were exhausted by the time we got back to Muddy Creek for the pleasant stroll back to camp.