Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Deep in the Big Ditch Day 3 – Olo Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on May 29, 2013

Cody in the Temple Butte in Olo Canyon.

“What is that noise,” I wonder half  asleep. I begin to wake to full consciousness as the sound of a large animal walking on rocks gets louder. It takes me a few seconds to remember my surroundings and then I realize it is the resident wild burros that call this remote part of the Grand Canyon National Park home. I yell “Go Away.” It gallops away. I try to fall back to sleep to no avail.

We wake around sunrise, quickly break camp and continue to use the burro trail around another arm of the Matkat/ Panameta system. The mornings objective is to reach the Esplanade, the giant terrace above the Supai sandstone formation that spans much of the length of the Grand Canyon. It is several thousand feet above. After gaining the Esplanade we will drop into the next side canyon system to the East, Olo Canyon. In order to break through the fortress of cliff bands to the Esplanade we use the Sinyala Fault, a deep fracture that extends in a northeasterly direction over 17 miles. The fault makes passage possible but we are still forced to haul packs over spicy climbs to gain the sandstone terrace.

Eric raps down the 100- foot drop into the Redwall narrows into Olo Canyon.

Olo Canyon, 3BVI
Grand Canyon National Park


We stay with the fault down to the rim of the Redwall of the Olo Canyon system and around into the main fork. A large drop is our ticket from the sun baked world above to the cool shadows of the bottom of the Redwall Narrows. Excited to get down there we all want to be the next to rappel. It is finally my turn. The drop is a 100- feet, almost completely free hanging. The rope is a skinny, 8.0 mm. Our packs heavy, probably still close to 45 pounds, even after eating several days worth of rations. It is a formula for a fast rappel that if not rigged for enough friction can get away from you. A third of the way down I think to myself, “That leg loop was not enough, should have gone full z-rig.”  I find myself death gripping the rope with two hands like I never have before. I shout down to Brian below to give the rope a little tug to take a little pressure off my cramping hands. Maybe 30 seconds later and a few spins, ahhh, terra firma.

Eric, Mark and Cody traverse a ledge in the Temple Butte narrows.

The Redwall narrows end quickly. We rock hop in and out of the sun until we reach the Temple Butte Narrows and some fun ledge traverses over emerald green pools of fresh water. The canyon again widens and we find ourselves between a pair of California Condors. As we stop to observe the endangered species, the pair spread their massive near 10- foot wing spans like two sentinels of the canyon. With the naked eye we can see they are tagged. After investigating the photos we identify them as J3 and 49.

California Condor A9 in Olo.

Moving on we enter the spring fed Muav Narrows and its tricky down climb, several awkward rappels and a final sequence of a down climb into a tough traverse to stay dry to the final 45- foot drop to the beach along the Colorado River below. It took considerable time to find a suitable anchor. Mark eventually located an old climber’s piton hidden in a crack and we used that in combination with a nearby knot chock that Brian made as a back-up.

 Camp is set on the beach. We can hear a lovely combination of the trickle of water flowing down the final drop of Olo Canyon into the shallow beach pool and the roar of the Colorado only 100- feet away.  It is now apparent that our aggressive pace is going to allow us to finish the trip a full day early. With that we spend our evening gorging on extra rations. Excited for the float along the river in the morning I inflate my packraft as a plastic spork sticking out of a container of peanut butter is passed around like a bottle of whiskey.


The crow and the condor in Kolob Canyon

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on July 1, 2009

The Crow and the Condor in Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon, (thru trip to Temple Siniwava) 3CVR
16.5 miles
Zion National Park
06/28/09 – 06/29/09


I am a planning kind of person. I like to put my toe in the water before stepping in the pool. In canyoneering that is a good thing. For a canyon like Kolob, with the wild card of extremely cold swift water cascading down a deep gorge that drops 700 feet in a 1/3 of a mile planning is an especially good thing.

Canyoneering is a dynamic sport that allows participants to explore such extreme wilderness you can’t plan for everything. The unexpected is where I believe the true treasures exist. This could bring me to “Crow and the Condor” but about that later in the post.

Our journey began with nine hours of driving, including a two-hour traffic stand still on the edge of the megalopolis that seemed to not want us to escape. Reaching the outskirts of Zion our few hours of rest under the stars were marred by the roar of a semi’s diesel engine continuously running to allow its inhabitant a comfortable night of air conditioned sleep. The next morning entailed waiting in line at the permit office, a shuttle to the trailhead and a bit of cross- country navigation that finally brought us to the canyon.

The Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) said they would be releasing 3 CFS, (water released from the dam at the Kolob Reservoir is responsible for the near constant flow in the canyon) but after a crude test we determined that the actual CFS just above the technical section to be somewhere at a maximum of 2 CFS. WARNING – It absolutely cannot be assumed that there will be less CFS in the technical section of Kolob Canyon than that of what the WCWCD is releasing. It is just as likely that the opposite could be true. Needless to say conditions were going to be easier than what we were expecting. Easier, but still challenging with the constant pattern of rappel, wet disconnect, swim and pull over a series of 11 rappels. All too soon the technical section was over and we were stripping out of our 7mms and enjoying our lunch.

A short stroll down canyon brought us to the bottom of a 400- foot spring fed waterfall; a magical surprise that I had completely skimmed over during my research of the trip that had focused on the technical section.


After about an hour of boulder hopping, hand line assisted down climbs, wading and swimming I was in the lead hiking with my head down when I was completely startled by an enormous bird sitting on the canyon floor. As the bird grunted and hopped/ flew onto a shelf about 60 feet away, Chris who was right behind me said, “That is a California Condor.” According to the National Parks Conservation Association there are roughly 160 California Condors that exist in the wild. Stunned we stood and watched as the massive bird observed us, but the moment did not last long because suddenly a shower of small rocks began falling upon us from hundreds of feet above. We immediately began running back up canyon but not before watching one rock nearly clip the wing of the condor and another coming from what I estimate to be within 15 feet of hitting Eric. The shocking event was over as fast as it started but we were spooked. What aligned to allow us to witness two such rare sights of nature at the exact same time?

After waiting several minutes to ensure safe passage, we continued hiking. As we approached, the condor flew down canyon several hundred feet beyond view. Minutes later we were back in its presence but this time it was joined by a crow that cawed at the larger bird. We passed the pair but before not too long watched as the condor was chased by the ensuing crow through the slotted corridor 30 feet above. We were treated one more time at the confluence with Oak Creek Canyon, the crow still harassing the condor. As we headed down Lower Kolob Canyon the crow and the condor headed up Oak Creek Canyon out of sight.

We bivouacked that night near the MIA exit absorbing all that had occurred during the day. The following day included a number of cold swims, one hand line assisted drop into an icy cold pool and slogging challenges before reaching the confluence with the North Fork of the Virgin River, known as the Narrows. It is pretty amazing when the exit hike for your technical canyon descent includes the best part of one of most famous and utterly stunning hikes of the southwestern United States. We took in all the beauty; Big Spring, the deep dark narrows, Imlay boulder, Orderville junction and Mystery Falls before reaching the Temple Siniwava.

Chris later spoke with the Zion National Park wildlife manager who was very excited about our condor spot. The wildlife manager told Chris that there are a number of tagged condors in the park and believe the one we saw was a juvenile non-tagged condor that could very possibly be the offspring of two tagged condors; wonderful and exciting news for all.