Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

A multifaceted adventure in the Full Right Fork of North Creek

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on November 17, 2014

Chris rappels as David looks over Double Falls. It should be called Quadruple Falls.

Full Right Fork via the Hammerhead, 3BV
Zion National Park
10/4/14 –  10/5/14


I am rappelling down a 250-foot sandstone cliff at the headwall of a canyon. As I slowly make my way down I am scanning below for the next anchor. I know I will need another anchor to reach into the canyon bottom referred to as “The Hammerhead”. I am not seeing any webbing and am getting close to running out of rope. I am still almost a hundred feet above terra firma. I spot a massive pine tree that will work as an anchor but it is off the line of the rappel and will require a bit of effort to get to. I reach the tree growing out of the tiniest of platforms on the near vertical wall. There is no preexisting anchor around the tree and our webbing is inconveniently with Laura and Chris above. I take my personal anchor and wrap around a smaller tree (more of a bush really) just next to the large pine tree and clip back into the personal anchor to provide some security in this space. Laura gets on rope, rappels down and negotiates the features of the cliff face to reach me. She clips into my personal anchor before we set up the legitimate anchor around the tree. Every facet of life has completely faded away except this place, these challenges and these people.

Anytime Laura and I get out in a canyon together it is special. They are times when the stresses of life and our life together melt away and we just experience the canyon on it’s terms.  For this occasion I wanted to select a venue that has a special place in our hearts, one that has been there since we began canyoneering six years ago. That place is Zion National Park. The Right Fork of North Creek had been high on my “to do” list for a long time. I was really excited that we were both going to be experiencing the canyon for the first time together. Just a few days before we were about to embark on the trip, life almost got in the way but everything lined up and after a seven hour drive Laura, Chris and I, dirtbag it not far outside the park for a few hours of sleep before waking up early to get our permit at the Zion National Park Visitors Center. A pleasant morning hike along the West Rim trailhead and a short bushwack up and over a ridge brings us to the top of the headwall of the Hammerhead.

Laura rappels in the narrows.

Laura rappels in the narrows.

Laura and I are now clipped into a true anchor and Chris make his way to join our world. We pull our rope and re-rig our life line to the sweet shaded coolness of the canyon bottom below. The Hammerhead itself, an upper fork of our ultimate destination the Right Fork of North Creek is an exciting technical descent in itself with a handful or rappels and spicy down climbs through some tight sandstone narrows before reaching the Right Fork. After several hours of slogging in the Right Fork, the walls begin to move in and the vegetation subsides. At first down climbs and potholes can be avoided and then they can’t. This is where the real fun begins.

The canyon tightens to a subterranean world completely cut off from that above. It is already late in the day so little light penetrates down below. Continous pothole obstacles and down climbs ensue. Its relentless nature is reminiscent of the narrows of Imlay and Heaps, but on a much friendlier scale. After way longer than expected the narrows relent and the slogging continues. The clock is now ticking as it is getting later in the day and we are still not really sure how much further we have to the Grand Alcove and our destination for the night. Before that we know we must negotiate something referred to as the “Infamous Black Pool”. A thousand feet above I see the rim illuminated in a glow that only the just before sunset light can create. We hit the Black Pool and quickly swim and wade through the obstacle. Not long after that we hear the flow of fresh water and reach the Grand Alcove. Ten minutes later and it is pitch black. We make camp and bed down for the night.

David wades through a shallow section of the infamous Black Pool.

David wades through a shallow section of the infamous Black Pool.

We wake to a crisp morning, pack up our gear and debate whether or not to put on our wetsuits. We decide against it and suffer through a cold wade in the bottom of the Grand Alcove. We continue the hike down stream through a series of tiered waterfalls spread out over nearly a mile. A long slog seems to never end before we reach the Kolob Terrace Road in the heart of the scars of the 2006 Kolob Fire. Our only vehicle is 15 miles of road and 3000 feet above. A hitchhike is a must.  Chris lays down in the shade of a tree as Laura and I stick thumbs up on the shoulder of Kolob Terrace Road. A half dozen cars pass us during the course of 15 minutes. In one of them a women in the passenger seat mouths ‘I’m sorry” as the vehicle speeds by. I start having premature doubts, but Laura tells me to relax. Just then a pick-up stops and takes us to just within a mile and half of our vehicle. After a long drive home during which time we reflect on this multi-faceted adventure Laura and I return to the same stresses in our lives, but feeling recharged and fortunate to be able to have this time and experience together.