Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Snow falls in Choprock Canyon

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on October 6, 2015

Snow falls in the

Choprock Canyon (South Fork), 4BVR
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
4/16/15

 

Water and time. It is these two main ingredients that create the canyons of the Colorado Plateau. During those tens of thousands of years weather patterns have shifted. There have been drier and wetter times, warmer and cooler times. Throughout most of the world we are seeing unprecedented warming trends. Also the Western United States has entered its second decade of drought. Much of the scientific community pins the burning of fossil fuels as the primary contributor to climate change. Others feel this is just the pendulum swinging as it always has throughout time immemorial. Either way, what is indisputable, is that the combination of the drought and the warming trends is impacting our water supply in the Southwestern United States and other places throughout the world. I spent much of 2015 reporting on how these water shortages are playing out; traveling to Peru, Bolivia, Colorado and the Navajo Nation.

With all that traveling, moving into a new house and becoming a Dad to twins, there wasn’t a lot of time for canyoneering. When my friends started planning a canyoneering excursion in the Escalante and I noticed that the dates were lining up just before the start of a 10-day reporting trip in the Colorado Rockies, I seized on the opportunity to squeeze in a descent on the drive up to Colorado.

Pat squeezes through a narrow swimming hallway.

On 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 “Happy Section”. Upon entering the infamous “Grim Section” we find water levels slightly lower than the previous descent. Just low enough that we can squeeze under the crux logjams as opposed to climbing up and over like we did the last time. As we work our way deeper into the relentless “Grim Section”, snow flurries float down in the narrow dark slot. It is eerie and beautiful. The flakes fall intermittently for several hours until the final rappel bringing us back into the land of the living. On the long hike back to the Egypt Bench the snow comes down hard. It might actually be graupel at this point. As I trudge through minimal visibility in these winter conditions, I wonder if the white stuff is going to keep me prisoner of the Egypt Bench and prevent me from beginning my 10-day reporting trip on how the reduced snowpack in the Colorado Rockies is affecting the Colorado River. Work is supposed to begin tomorrow.

... and strengthens on the hike out (although this might actually be graupel).

The following morning I make my way out on the muddy roads, back to pavement and on to Colorado. Ironically the next three weeks would see unusually wet and cold conditions throughout the Colorado Plateau and Colorado Rockies, leaving much needed snow in the mountains. What was a dismally dry winter charged the Colorado River from this late season snow. It made my job as a visual journalist to document drought in this region, challenging. But that’s the thing with climate change, human caused or otherwise; it is about long term patterns not short term weather. Meanwhile our water supply gets ever more precarious and the canyons continue to change. Where will it all be 10,000 years from now?

Too see a video I produced from my reporting in Colorado click here.

Advertisements

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Mitch Stevens said, on October 7, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    great post! Choprock looks amazing.

    • canyoneering said, on October 8, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      Thanks Mitch.

  2. Steve S. said, on October 8, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    What’s “graupel”, some form of snow/hail/sleet? Great pictures, as always.

  3. Steve S. said, on October 8, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Just watched your video on the water issues in the mountains. Interesting. I never knew that dust was a part of the issue.

    • canyoneering said, on October 8, 2015 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks Steve. Graupel (German pronunciation: [ˈɡʁaʊpəl]; English /ˈɡraʊpəl/, also called soft hail, snow pellets or “‘sago”‘ is precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake, forming a 2–5 mm (0.079–0.197 in) ball of rime. The term graupel comes from the German language.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: