Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Too long since canyoneering on the Mogollon Rim – Immaculate Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on August 22, 2016

Immaculate 08

Immaculate Canyon, 3BIII
Coconino National Forest, tributary of West Fork of Oak Creek
08/14/16

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It has been too long since experiencing this place between narrow walls. It was October 22, 2012, in fact, when Eric and I made a beautiful autumn descent of Barney Spring Canyon. This was the last time I descended a technical canyon on the Mogollon Rim. Over 8- years ago, in these sandstone slots hidden in this 200- mile long escarpment I fell in love with canyoneering. In 2012, around the same time that I last got on rope on the Mogollon Rim, Mark and Brian made a first descent of a canyon just next door to Barney Spring Canyon. They were in fact searching for a canyon posted by canyon guru Tom Jones called “Obfuscation Canyon”. It was posted with not much more than a few dramatic photos and a “Flagstaff, Arizona” location tag. Brian should have looked up the definition of obfuscation first, but he was on the hunt for canyons in the Flagstaff area. Instead of finding what he was looking for, he found and pioneered a first descent of a canyon that might just be better. Four years later Mark was back for the first time since that first descent, and I was back for my first time in too long in this magical place.

Immaculate 13

We begin the descent on a muggy, bug infested, Sunday morning. I am not feeling my best after a late night of too many Red Bull and vodkas while making an extended appearance at friend and fellow canyoneers, Chris Ngo’s party to christen his magnificent new pool. The party adding an hour’s drive was well worth it, but got us in late and starting the canyon a little off kilter as we negotiate thick vegetation making our way into the canyon. The dirty approach is short and the first drop comes in quick. As rope slides through my hands and device, my feet gingerly scamper down the vertical electric green moss covered walls. The magic of this place washes over me and the bugs, humidity and hangover disappear. Challenging rappel situations ensue requiring good technique to avoid sticking ropes and managing multi-pitch. “What a find!” I comment to Mark.

Immaculate 17

The canyon relents and we make use of a recently publicized sneak exit that allows us to escape from the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon complex just minutes from the last rappel. It will save us hours and miles not having to circumvent around the entire system. The sneak is dirty and steep. Signs of the 2014 Slide Fire are everywhere with charred trees lined like burnt matchsticks overlooking the rim in all directions. It is slow going but direct and in under an hour we top out on the rim. We move through the remains of trees that stand over a carpet of green growing out of the scorched earth. The burned over area ends and we are back into the shade of the untouched Ponderosa Pines. Hello my old friends. Good to see you again. It is not that I haven’t spent time in the last four years on the Mogollon Rim or in Arizona’s massive Ponderosa Pine forest. To the contrary I have done numerous hikes and camping trips in this magical place in the last four years. For some reason it feels a little different walking under these trees after completing a canyon descent in the hidden slots below these majestic sentinels. Like I said before, it has been too long.

– David

CLICK ON IMAGE BELOW TO BEGIN GALLERY.

 

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Published!

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on September 1, 2014

Published

 

As professional photographers Laura and I are both used to seeing our images published in print. From the pages of the New York Times to the Arizona Republic to USA Today our photojournalism and portraiture is printed on a regular basis. Our canyoneering photography has always been more of just a weekend warrior labor of love, so when we get these images published its kind of exciting. In the last four months we have had quite a few of these photographs published in various publications, including Arizona Highways, Red Bulletin magazine, Phoenix Magazine and the Arizona Republic. Check out the slideshow and in the captions you will be able to link to the trips these images came from.

One footnote, the story in the Arizona Republic was about the 50- year anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. Arizona alone has 90 wilderness areas at over 4.5 million acres. Arizona Republic reporter Ron Dungan and I explored what lead to the United States becoming perhaps the first nation to designate land to preserve it solely for its wild character. We also looked at the conundrums of wilderness today and why wilderness is important for future generations. To read Ron’s story, a video I produced on four perspectives of people deeply connected to wilderness and a slideshow of my images highlighting Arizona’s magnificent wilderness click here.

-David

Canyon tree frogs in Little LO & the nearby Slide Fire in the W. Fork of Oak Creek

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on June 2, 2014
Canyon frogs mate in Little LO Canyon.

Canyon frogs mate in Little LO Canyon.

Little LO Canyon, 3BIIIR
Coconino National Forest, tributary of Sycamore Canyon
05/26/13

 

It was just over a year ago on Memorial Day weekend. Tanner, Ron and I were donning wetsuits and harnesses at the start of the technical section of Little LO Canyon when we stumbled upon these two canyon tree frogs mating. Undoubtedly shortly thereafter hundreds of eggs were laid in the pools of Little LO. Two weeks later tadpoles probably hatched and sometime in August they metamorphosed into the next generation of canyon tree frogs. Ten months later a small number of these frogs are very likely alive and could be breeding right now in the intact and pristine habitat of Little LO. Between five and 15 miles away in similar canyons comprised of the same geology and vegetation the canyon tree frogs may not be as lucky.

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The Slide Fire burns near 89A in Oak Creek Canyon on Wednesday morning, May 21, 2014. (Photo by Tom Tingle/ The Arizona Republic)

The Slide Fire burns near 89A in Oak Creek Canyon on Wednesday morning, May 21, 2014. (Photo by Tom Tingle/ The Arizona Republic)

The Slide Fire began on May 20, 2014, near Slide Rock State Park north of Sedona. Southernly winds quickly moved it up into Oak Creek Canyon and then hikers, photographers, adventurers and outdoor lovers watched in horror as it moved into one of the gems of Arizona, the West Fork of Oak Creek. At the time of this post on June 1, 2014, the fire has burned over 21,000 acres and is 90% contained. Residents in Oak Creek Canyon that were forced to evacuate have been let back in their homes, so it appears the fire is very much under control. Firefighters have moved into the mop up phase.

Unlike the unimaginable tragedy of last year’s Yarnell Hill Fire that killed 19 firefighters and destroyed over 100 homes and structures, this fire has caused no major injuries or burned any structures. I do not wish to take away from the primary importance of the lack of human suffering in this event or from the hard work and bravery of our wildland fire firefighters that worked the Slide Fire, but I must say my heart aches to think that such a unique and pristine American habitat has undoubtedly been greatly affected, possibly for a very long time to come. Of course until boots are on the ground it is hard to say the extent of the damage to this habitat. I have heard some reports from firefighters who worked the Slide Fire that said much of the pristine quality of the W. Fork is still intact. They say in many areas the fire was kept at a low intensity preventing it from getting into the canopy of the trees. This is known as a crown fire and essentially obliterates the forest that it burns. If the fire did not crown then it is actually healthy for the habitat in the long run. Needless to say when you look at the map of the Slide Fire on the InciWeb site it doesn’t look promising. I think if you asked most Arizona canyoneers what area they would most not want to burn related to their favorite canyons, this is a worst case scenario. Illusions, Insomnia, Immaculate, Barney Spring, Flintstone, Casner Cabin, Crack Addict in addition to the West Fork and Sterling Canyons that they feed into, are all completely within the boundaries of the Slide Fire.

Flames and smoke rise from the Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon on May 23, 2014. (Photo by Patrick Breen/ The Arizona Republic)

Flames and smoke rise from the Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon on May 23, 2014. (Photo by Patrick Breen/ The Arizona Republic)

Conversations online from the canyoneering community were abundant as we watched the Slide Fire unfold. Remarks ranged from hope when early in the fire the line was being held at the eastern edge of Illusions Canyon to despair as people questioned if the canyons will ever be the same in our lifetime. Along the way were constant updates and various comments. I even saw one individual (I believe half jokingly) hint at forming a canyoneering hotshot crew whose mission would be to defend our beloved canyons. Others wondered how the area will also be impacted from flooding when the monsoons come and the debris that comes with flooding in fire stricken areas changes the canyons’ pristine character. Mostly people were just sad. A close friend of mine and fellow canyoneer said, “This is worse than breaking up with a girlfriend.”

I first experienced the West Fork shortly after moving to Arizona in 2006 and was amazed by its seductive quality. Since then I have been back over a dozen times, often on the hike out after completing a technical descent of one of the side canyons. There is no better way to finish out a day than a tranquil stroll through those soaring red and beige canyon walls as your feet slosh through crystal clear water. I have been in the West Fork during all four seasons. I have been there on assignment for work. I have been there with my parents, my sister, my dog, of course Laura. I have been there with my friends’ baby who at the time was six-months-old. Sadly, my son Wyatt, 3, who although has seen many other special places in Arizona’s backcountry has not experienced the West Fork himself. It could be years before the West Fork is reopened to the public for Wyatt to see for himself and when it does who knows what he will see of this place that I along with many others hold a special connection to.

W. Fork of Oak Creek

W. Fork of Oak Creek

Ultimately fire is part of nature; a raw, rugged and destructive aspect of it, but nature nonetheless. Although I can’t help but wonder how natural is it when fires are started often by man as was the case with the Slide Fire and burn with a greater intensity because of a number of reasons associated with human impact.

When will the area reopen and what will we see when we get there. Only time will tell but nature will continue one way or the other.  Back in Little LO Canyon a year ago, Ron, Tanner and I had a wonderfully pleasant and uneventful descent. I imagine our canyon tree frog friends having such a good time when we ran into them or at least their kin are doing fine in their perfectly suitable habitat; how quickly that can all change.

Below you will see some of my favorite photos of the W. Fork of Oak Creek Canyon system and the nearby Crack Addict Canyon/ Sterling Canyon. We will just have to wait to see what we see when we get back in there. Also check out a slideshow of the Arizona Republic photographers coverage of the Slide Fire by clicking here.

– David

No such thing as silence in Woodchuck & Woody Canyons

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on April 23, 2014

Chris, Brian and Mark cross the first pool in Woodchuck Canyon.

Woke early on day three and the weather has shifted. The Henrys are shrouded in clouds. The winds pick up. With it sand becomes airborne and is thrown everywhere. Not ideal conditions for canyoneering. Especially not on this day with part of our group planning a descent of Sandthrax, an X-rated high stemmer that many say has one of the hardest crux’s of the Colorado Plateau. Sandthrax is not for me but more on that coming in a post soon. With the inclement weather we scurry around, getting stuff together, watching for the clouds to clear and debating whether to re-think plans. The clouds open a little revealing the mountaintops. We give ourselves a green light, say good luck to our Sandthrax friends without really knowing if they are planning on making a run.

Mark rappels out of the narrows of Woodchuck Canyon as Chris looks on.

Woodchuck Canyon, 3BI
North Wash area (side drainage of Woodruff Canyon)
3/23/14

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As we set up this short shuttle I realize in the chaos of the sandblasted morning I have forgotten my helmet at camp. A careless mistake. Not willing to skip the descent and wait in the car for the others I venture into this sandstone without it. We quickly drop into Woodchuck Canyon, encounter a half dozen or so Valentine’s Day mylar balloons tangled in a prickly pear. I stuff them in my pack knowing I need good karma with no helmet. The canyon slots up. Some fun stemming and down climbing to warm us up on this still raw day. Then a pool. I go in first without a wetsuit. Only waist deep but Im cold again. More stemming and down climbs. Warm. Another wader. Cold. Repeat a few times and then we are spit out via a pretty rappel into the vegetated alcove below. Woodchuck providing a short but sweet appetizer to the main fare of Woody Canyon, where we are heading now.

Chris gets a hand from Brian out of a keeper.

Woody Canyon, 4BIIR
North Wash area (side drainage of Woodruff Canyon)
3/23/14

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More Valentines Day balloons are stuffed into my pack as we stroll up Woodruff Canyon. No doubt they got separated from the rest of the cluster a mile away above Woodchuck. We criss cross the slight flow picking our way through the path of least resistance through the vegetation. A short ways and then up into the domes to gain Woody Canyon. The sun is out in full force as we face the first problem, a last man at risk, partner assist. I provide the meat anchor and then Chris, Brian and Mark provide a capture as I down climb the obstacle. The team work continues from there. I think of Mike, Cody and Eric who are almost certainly off the deck in Sandthrax. They are a team of three and teamwork will come into play somewhat, but so much of their day will be silence, each of them alone on an island, up to 50- feet in the air for hours.  A dozen miles away as the crow flies, the wetsuits come on and we are deep in Woody Canyon, working half full keepers. No such thing as silence here. Communication a must as we problem solve and scheme our way past the obstacles. Alone on a deserted island could not be further from our experience as we crawl over, push and grab each other as a means to follow the path of water, if there were more of it. The four of us are isolated in a single bubble of reality. This is my favorite type of canyoneering. I want it to continue. But it ends too soon. Back in Woodruff canyon we move a herd of cattle over a mile up the now sandy wash, picking up a few more Valentine’s Day balloons. As we ride in the back of Brian’s pick-up to complete the car shuttle I am planning for a quick solo descent of a slot nearby camp. There is still ample light left in the day. I’ll just be sure to grab my helmet before heading out.

-David

Toxic, no. Fun, yes in Constrychnine & Slideanide Canyons

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on April 17, 2014

Brian raps into Constrychnine.

With more arrivals the previous night our group swells to nine. Today we split into separate groups. One party heads to the skinnies of Shenanigans and Middle Leprechaun, while the rest of us venture to the nearby steep and deep slots in the Poison Springs complex. I know little of these canyons, never before having set foot in these tributaries and barely exploring them online. I’m a blank canvas, with little to no expectations or pre-conceived ideas shaped from someone else’s TR and photos. Regardless, I know they will not disappoint. We are joined by Brian who drove in the previous night from nearby southwestern Colorado. Brian’s been through here before. He recommends we start with Constrychnine, so that’s where we go.

Brian raps in Constrychnine.

Constrychnine Canyon, 3AIIIR
North Wash area
3/22/14

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We walk across sandy hills and washes with no indication that we are so close to the edge of a major canyon system. Abruptly the canyon reveals itself plummeting intensely to its dark bowels between massive tapered walls. It’s scale and steepness is intimidating. We know this is where we are headed and the terrain tickles the nerves as we work our way around to a branch of Constrychnine. We are quickly met with a large rappel. I drop in first, followed by the others. This is followed by an even larger rappel that brings us properly into the tantalizing world below. Deep within this dark chamber are more magnificent rappels, sprinkled with fun and moderately challenging down climbs. Time vanishes in this underworld and we are spit out back into the light. Its name and intimidating first impression aside, Constrychnine is rather benign. The hike back to the rim is direct, exciting and quick while offering outstanding views of the Poison Springs complex at large.

Brian down climbs in Slideanide Canyon.

Slideanide Canyon, 3AIIIR
North Wash area
3/22/14

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The entry rappel is behind us and we encounter the first elevator down climb. I place my body into position and find the right amount of friction from some combination of hands, feet, forearms, elbows and knees and let gravity do the rest. This is almost immediately followed by a similar obstacle. They keep coming, some approaching nearly a 100- feet. Despite their intimidating profile they are negotiated with just a little difficulty here and there. The key is to have confidence in the technique. I think of Mark or who we fondly refer to as Uncle Mark, who by now is squeezing his way through somewhere in either nearby Shennanigans or Middle Lep. He would love this place. You can often hear him shout out to whomever is in front of him while descending a canyon, “Is it an elevator down climb? I love elevator down climbs!” as if in Mark’s mind the person in the lead has some control over the obstacles we encounter. In Slideanide it most certainly would be an elevator down climb. I think eventually Mark would stop asking because he would know. This canyon is his wet dream and I was thoroughly enjoying it too. Anchors are passed over and we down climb nearly everything. We reduce the final sequence to the shortest rappel possible before we are forced to draw out the rope.  We pop out to the relative open world of a canyon maybe 30- feet wide. We take a breather having moved rather aggressively during the entire descent and I place my hands on my derriere. I am amazed to feel an intact seat to my pants. I am, notorious for destroying pants while canyoneering and Slideanide is notorious for shredding seats even for the best of them. I am proud. I’ll be sure to let the others know around the fire. We move out and head back to camp; the toxicity of this place not amounting to much.

-David

‘Consumed by Wilderness’ in the South Fork of Alder Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on March 11, 2014

The crew (from left, Chris, Brian, Cody and David.

South Fork of Alder Canyon, 3B/CIV
Mazatzal Wilderness Area
12/29/13

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It is 4:30 AM as I type these first words. I was just woken from my phone ringing on my nightstand. I looked at who the call was from; a subject from a documentary project I am working on the Navajo reservation. Despite the hour, I had been waiting for his call for a few days so I answered. He could tell I sounded tired. “Oh shoot man I forgot you guys are an hour behind.” For the vast majority of the country the clocks had just changed for daylight savings time. Arizona does not observe daylight savings time, except on the Navajo Nation. So where Milton was calling from it was a much more reasonable 5:15 AM. Sheep herders, they start early.

Truth is I had been tossing and turning all night. No reason really, just one of those nights. I actually had just gone back to bed after spending an hour reading Craig Childs’ “Soul of Nowhere.” As I was slowly slipping back into sleep before my ringtone jolted me up permanently, I kept thinking back on a passage in his book. In it Childs describes how ever since he was young he dreamed of being completely consumed by wilderness. “As a child I often imagined jumping from an airplane with a parachute, aiming for the most delirious-looking place, an area that would swallow me.” He continues, “I stared at the plaster-textured ceiling of my bedroom and imagined the cluttered little shapes to be mountains wall to wall, thousands of miles of wilderness, and me on my way in, floating in my bed as I fell.” And this is the line that really stuck with me, “I somehow knew as a child that within isolation and ruggedness was a way of accessing the unexpected from the world.”

And so it was on a recent adventure through a little explored canyon in the Mazaztal Wilderness Area. Brian and I had discussed a descent of this canyon for years. We knew of only one previous descent and had little information. But with just three days left in 2013, schedules lined up and the right group of strong hikers coalesced. We were dirt bagging it the night before at the trailhead to get a pre-sunrise start on a day that we anticipated could be up to 14- hours.

Chris hikes on the approach.

It’s very dark. No moon and cold. We start hiking briskly, almost immediately up into these rugged mountains. Breath is visible but within minutes coldness is a thing of the past. Light behind the Sierra Anchas begins slowly but picks up speed. Headlamps go away and we are making progress. The sun is up now.  A few hours later we leave the trail and pick our way through a mix of small pines and chaparral on a steep slope. We gain the crest and head into a bowl blanketed in snow. This area was untouched by the Willow Fire of 2004 that devastated much of the area leaving behind a Ponderosa Pine forest I have never before seen in these mountains. The snow gets deeper. We posthole to above our ankles as we head towards the upper reaches of the South Fork of Alder Creek. Direct sun is hidden and still covered in sweat from the 3500 foot climb we are chilled to the bone as our feet crunch into the crusty snow. We cross the creek and head for sunlight in the south facing walls. As we slip into our wetsuits and fashion our harnesses we survey the canyon below. The walls are covered in deep snow. The creek is flowing under a thick crust of translucent ice. It looks cold and treacherous.

Drops present themselves. We examine. The ice looks precarious and fragile with large open holes to the churning water below. At this point the canyon has not completely closed in allowing us to bypass along the steep snow covered walls adjacent to the drainage proper. Not exactly providing warm fuzzies of safe passage, but the lesser of two evils. Nearly every step requires both hands to be thrusted into the snow. With nothing but thin garden gloves to protect my hands from rock and vegetation my hands quickly go numb, but not that numb that I don’t distinctly feel my palm as it is pierced by the end of an Agave plant hidden beneath the snow.

We continue to avoid the drops in the main watercourse. Brian coins it “bypassaneering”. The canyon levels. The snow and ice subside and we begin to wonder if this canyon will be a dud, as least as far as a technical descent is concerned. Either way I am still surrounded by seldom seen wilderness. Ultimately that is what I came for. We trudge on for awhile. We are presented with an uneventful 100- foot drop. Bypassaneering is not an option this time. Further down another more interesting drop. And then an unexpected sequence of two rappels, a swim and another rappel, all through exquisite geology. More trudging until we hit the confluence with the North Fork of Alder. We look upstream to another potential route. There is a major drop, although it does look like it can be bypassed. I am almost certain this is the mysterious drainage I descended when I got lost in 2007.

A long slog and we are out. Back to our vehicles well before darkness sets in. Despite finishing hours under the time we anticipated it was still a tremendous amount of work for little technical canyon (although parts of this technical canyon were among the most magnificent in the range). Back to Craig Childs in “Soul of Nowhere”, “It wasn’t heroism or glory that I hoped to find in these  places. Rather , it was the odor of rain, it was encountering an animal alone in heavy woods, or the moment in trackless country when I realize that I am utterly lost and suddenly there is no separation between me and the ground beneath me.” On this day I had this in full.

– David

Paddling down the Green River

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on November 18, 2013

Eric and Susan working lasagna in the Dutch Oven.

Labyrinth Canyon (Green River)
45 miles
10/05/13 – 10/08/13

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That indistinguishable reddish brown sand that fans out from my garden house is not only a reality of gear cleaned, but also serves as a reminder of another adventure in the books. This past time was no exception. Though this was a different kind of an adventure. It was not one of adrenaline, suffering and end of the day achey muscles. Though miles from any motorized vehicles and in wilderness as remote as it gets, this one involved multiple dutch ovens, coolers and even pirates.

Here’s how it broke down: 11 friends old and new, 4 aluminum canoes and a kayak, 3 nights and 4 days along 45- miles of stunning scenery through the  Green River’s Labyrinth Canyon. Government shutdowns couldn’t stop us from  tracing this route of Major John Wesley Powell.

The crisp air keeps us from getting to hot and the intense early Fall sun from being too cool as we paddle down the placid and in places shallow waters. A pair of deer take advantage and slowly cross from one bank 50- yards to the other. They are not swimming. Curve after curve, the sandstone walls becoming increasingly grander. We pass a homemade wooden raft, Huck Finn style. Their boatmen are dressed as pirates. They have water guns and are drinking rum. We stop fairly often. Mud is knee deep and abundant. Early we try to avoid it but it is futile. One most embrace it in this place.

In camp we pull out all the stops. Cooler after cooler, cold beer, rum and coke or whiskey if that is your thing. Steaks one night, Indian food and nan the next, and for a grand finale, Dutch Oven lasagna. Entertainment includes music, fires, stories, lots and lots of stories, a dance competition that never really went anywhere and a neon light show.

We follow mountain lion prints through the still wet sand up a meandering side canyon. Quick sand swallows Eric nearly to his waist.The sun gets lower in the sky and we turn around and head back to the river.

Back in our 18-foot aluminum vessels, Laura and I fall back a little. It is all quiet except for the faint sounds of tiny riffles of water hitting the boat and the dulled laughter of the rest of the party half a mile ahead. The scenery passes by ever so slowly. A sense of priorities or urgency couldn’t be further away. It is a nice feeling for a little.

– David

Tex’s Riverways out of Moab provided us with canoe rentals and transportation to and from the Green River. I would highly recommend them.

After Four Years Gone, Back to Zion in Kolob Canyon

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on July 12, 2013

Laura hip rappels into a beautiful room.

Kolob Canyon, (thru trip to Temple of Siniwava) 3CVR
Zion National Park
06/22/13 – 06/23/13

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David told tales of crows and condors. Of flowing water down tight technical sandstone passages. Of exquisite beauty and never ending narrows. Of an exit hike through much of the Virgin River Narrows. Ever since David got back from his trip down Kolob Canyon in 2009 it had been on my bucket list. At the same time we had been wanting to take our two-and-half-year-old son Wyatt for his first visit to Zion National Park. With David’s parents in Arizona for an extended visit, we loaded up the vehicles, rented a cabin at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort and headed up to the place I love so much that I hadn’t visited in nearly four years.

As Wyatt and I, and my in-laws, Marsha and Lee, settle into our cozy little cabin, David drives down to the visitor’s center to see if we can secure a permit for a descent down Kolob. Due to its location downstream of a dammed reservoir, where water releases can turn the canyon into a death trap, Kolob is one of a few canyons in Zion National Park where permits can not be secured in advance. This was only the second weekend that the park service had been issuing permits for Kolob for the season. That in conjunction with the perfect weather, could make it a popular weekend for the descent. With Brian, Cody and Adam joining us for the technical portion, we are unsure if we can get a permit for five, falling below the park’s daily quota. David returns to the cabin with a smile on his face and a permit in hand.

Early the next morning we unsuccessfully sneak out of the cabin without waking Wyatt up and rendeszvous with Brian, Cody and Adam at the trailhead. After a short hike through dense forest we hit Kolob Creek above the technical section to find the slightest of flow (probably just below 1CFS) despite the Washington County Water District’s scheduled release of 3CFS. Though the boys seem a little disappointed with the flow it makes no difference to me and we suit up above the first drop.

The canyon is as beautiful as David described: relentless obstacles of rappels, down climbs, slides and balancing over logs to negotiate minor drops, all through frigid water in narrows that only get deeper and deeper. I am very happy for my 3mm neoprene hooded vest and 1mm shirt in addition to my 4/3. The technical section ends all too quickly, but I know from what David has described that some of the best parts of this adventure are still to come.

David takes in the canyon walls shortly above the confluence with the Virgin River Narrows.

Shortly below the end of the technical section we reach a 400- foot waterfall from the rim above. At its base is a one-car-garage-sized ice block. The ice is mixed with sandstone sediment. From a low angle it blends in with sandstone walls hundreds of feet above. With Brian, Cody and Adam exiting out the MIA for a day trip and David and I hiking down through the Virgin River Narrows for an overnight, we say our goodbyes before the boys forge ahead.

Between several frigid swims, we pass a deer carcass rotting in the otherwise crystal clear water. The narrows are sustained for miles upon miles as midday moves into late afternoon. We begin to think about a place to camp for the night but we want to get past all those frigid swims so we are not faced with them first thing in the cooler morning. Just when we think we have passed all the swims we are faced with yet another one in a hauntingly dark hallway. The canyon opens a little and we see a flat sandy spot below a tree with plenty of places to hang our soaking gear for the night.  We throw in the towel hoping that last one was in fact the final swimmer.

After a restful night’s sleep where we actually sleep in a little, (at least by backcountry camping standards) we continue to make our way down Lower Kolob. The water has gone fully underground with us getting nothing more than our feet wet. After a few hours we reach the confluence with the Virgin River Narrows.

At Big Spring we stop to refill our water bottles and wonder how long that water has been underground. Has it been 500 years? We marvel to watch that moment as all of that water gushes out of the bottom of those thousands of feet of sandstone. We chuckle to ourselves as we watch a backpacker filter the water right as it comes out of the ground. We continue downstream past hidden gurgling springs, stopping to swim in a hole and hide from all the people in a shallow cave. We emerge and zig-zag past fellow hikers whose numbers grow and grow the closer we get to the Temple of Sinawava.

Lee, Wyatt and David hike in the Narrows.

Back at the cabin we hear all about Wyatt’s adventures with Marsha and Lee around the park. The following day we return to the Temple of Siniwava with Wyatt, Marsha and Lee for a hike a short ways up the Narrows. Wyatt starts in the baby back, but with a pole in hand ends of hiking much of the way himself. Perhaps the next time we descend Kolob Canyon Wyatt will be joining us.

-Laura

Cooler times in Quartz Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on June 11, 2013

Brittlebush.

Quartz Canyon via Peters Canyon , 3AIII
Tonto National Forest – Superstition Wilderness
04/01/13

 

Summertime in Phoenix is a combination of hibernating indoors, traveling to higher elevations for outdoor activities and lounging in our community pool like water buffalo. As I type these words temperatures outside are near 110 degrees. Sitting in front of my laptop in a dark room under a whizzing fan to the sounds of the hum of our air conditioner it is nice to look back several months to when our Sonoran Desert was not so roasting hot.

Spring time in the Superstition Mountain is a beautiful time. The drainages are often flowing, the rocky terrain covered in grass and the desert wildflowers blooming. All were present on this day for a descent of Quartz Canyon. It was a rather warm day. The desert letting us know that summer is just around the corner.

Laura and I are joined by Brian K. who I only just recently met through another friend. Brian has a great energy and passion for the wilderness and we are excited to be sharing the day with him. As we set foot on the trail we almost immediately encounter a plethora of varied wildflowers. 2013 shaped up to be a banner year for wildflowers and this trip gave us a great show. Tortilla Creek is flowing nicely as is Peters Canyon. A scenic narrow section in Peters reveals some nice swimming holes for the return trip. A brutal bushwhack out of Peters to gain the ridge above Quartz Canyon is far from pleasant but does afford some stunning views of the wilderness. We also encounter, for Laura and I the never before seen Desert Mariposa Lily, stunning.

Good and hot now we drop into Quartz Canyon. Not much to this canyon outside of two interesting enough rappels with a trickle of water to cool us down. After the second rappel we explore a nearby alcove cave. Firewood covered in what appears to be maybe decades worth of dust is piled inside the cave. We rejoin Peters Canyon. Taking advantage of those swimming holes we cool off during the hike out. This would be our last Sonoran Desert outing until cooler times return. With a new season it just means a different part of the Southwest landscape to explore and hopefully with the right mindset those cooler times will be here before we know it.

-David

Deep in the Big Ditch Day 4 – Floating down river & ascending 150-Mile Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on June 4, 2013

Mark floats down the Colorao River.

A different sort of day this one. For starters, it begins by water not land with a nearly five mile float down the Colorado River. After spending three days battling immense and uneven terrain slowly and tediously by foot, heavy loads on back, this portion of the trip represents the sweet reward for our toils. The mighty Colorado does the work as we sit back and seamlessly watch the world from 5000 feet below, sail by. So excited, I inflated my packraft the night before. Besides what would make a better pillow. In the morning I wake to discover my “pillow” is a third deflated. I am unable to locate the slow leak in the nearby pool at the bottom of the trickle waterfall at Olo Canyon. I can only hope the leak is so slow it will not too greatly effect the seaworthiness of my vessel. We walk across the beach, backpacks around one shoulder and packrafts and paddles held in the other hand. Life vests are strapped down and packrafts tempered to the 46 degree temperature of the water for maximum inflation. I clumsily board my little boat, my backpack on my lap, my lanky legs hanging out of the sides. I dig my “spatulas” into the water and sand and away we go.

Being so low in the water you feel every undulation, riffle, current and eddy. Its power remarkable. We keep the boats straight and true through the first set of riffles and the water calms. We can relax as the river takes us like a tracking shot on a camera mounted dolly through this magnificent scenery. A herd of maybe 10 big horn sheep run on the rocky slopes above the banks of the river along with us for nearly a mile.

It is not entirely a free ride even on the calm water. Currents can come out of nowhere and it would not take much to eject us from our tiny and flimsy boats. Taking a swim in the 45 degree water would be very serious. As we hear the approaching Matkatamiba rapid we move closer to the north shore. Just before the rapid (we decided earlier in the trip not to run it after scouting it) we dock in individual pockets between shoreline boulders. We exit our boats and portage around the rapid, reentering the river in the riffles just below. We float by a rafting party breaking camp at the Matkat Hotel. I want to say they look at us with perplexity, but they are too far away and I can’t see beyond their waves. Four and a half miles is over very quickly and we leave the marine world behind to return to that of feet on rock and dirt.

Eric in beautiful narrows and beautiful light.

150-Mile Canyon, 3BVI
Grand Canyon National Park
05/04/13

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A break in the cliffs allows us a layer several hundred feet above the shoreline. At times we use existing bighorn trails, at others we negotiate exposed, chossy and off-camber terrain as we negotiate down river to get into 150- Mile Canyon via a ledge above the Muav Narrows. The ledge is also somewhat precarious forcing us to our bellies in one place to negotiate the narrow ledge maybe a 100- feet above the canyon bottom. Once on solid ground in the bottom of 150- Mile Canyon we begin heading up-canyon for our ticket out of here. The drops that we rappelled on the way down will either be bypassed using shelves above the narrows or we will have to ascend using the rope we left behind.

After a long a bypass hundreds of feet above the narrows below we drop back down to the canyon bottom. At the next dryfall we reach the first set of cord left behind. Instead of leaving a rope at each of the drops, lighter parachute cord was left behind. We attach our rope to the cord and pull the rope into place so we can ascend the drops. To save weight we brought only two sets of ascending gear between the five of us. After the first jug we break into teams to tackle the next three ascents, all of them featuring awkward boulder chokestones at the top that are challenging to get above and around. The jugs are separated by beautiful narrows in shifting light that because of our direction of travel look entirely different than on the way down. The final obstacle out of the Redwall narrows features an exposed but not too difficult 100- foot climb. Shortly after topping out on the rim of the Redwall, I hear Mark who is ahead shout something. I can not make out the words. I then immediately see a Bighorn Sheep sprint right past me right on the edge of the cliff into the narrows.

David free climbs out of the Redwall.

The Bighorn close encounter was one last treat before the three hour, 2000 plus foot slog to the rim above, much of it in the full force of the afternoon sun. The accumulation of the last four days is being felt now. Nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other until you are there. Upon reaching our vehicles Brian, Cody and Mark make preparations to hit the road and try to make it to Kanab before all of the restaurants stop serving  dinner. Eric and I, on the other hand came prepared, having brought food and beer that remarkably is still ice cold in our coolers left behind. Our plans include eating mass quantities of food, washed down with a few brews and then sleeping. Driving can wait until tomorrow. With hugs goodbye, the team separates. Eric and I mosey over to a massive vista of the Grand Canyon landscape below. We marvel at its size. Though we just explored a considerable chunk of this wilderness it is a a mere drop in this truly grand bucket.

-David