Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Canyoneering North Wash Area

 Some friends from Colorado (that I know from National Cave Rescue Commission activities) invited me to go canyoneering with them in the North Wash area south of Hanksville, Utah. It had been some time since I had gone canyoneering and I didn't have any plans for the weekend. My husband and kids were fine if I took off, so I gladly did so. The weather forecast was perfect, 0% chance of precipitation and temperatures in the 60s in the days and 40s at night.

I pulled into camp Friday night and met the rest of the group. They knew each other from being part of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, a volunteer organization that does mountain rescues near Boulder, Colorado. The next morning we separated into two groups, with two folks doing an ultra-hard canyon and the rest of us doing easier, more mellow canyons.

As we hiked to our canyon we enjoyed the beautiful red rock. Then, all of a sudden, the canyon appeared, a little crack in the earth. That's where we were headed! I was so excited. I felt like a kid again.

It had rained a couple days earlier, lots of rain, and even though our canyon was supposed to be dry, it had puddles.

So the challenge became staying out of the puddles. 

It made for some fun expressions.

 Andrew made all of it look easy.

It was fun trying some extra stemming when we didn't really have to. None of the water was over knee deep.

One of the things I like best about canyons is their light. The shadows are always changing, highlighting different parts of the rock. 

We had a few short rappels on this route through Leprechaun Left fork.

Another fun "avoid the water" problem.

The canyon had some long, skinny parts.

 Here are Becca and her brother, a herpetologist who was excited to see some lizards out sunning themselves.
 The canyon opened up a lot more at the bottom.

And an artsy shot, just for fun. When we finished the canyon, we went back to camp and had lunch. 

Then we took off for our second canyon, Blarney Left Fork. 

It had a fun entrance rappel.

 It was cool seeing the bands of cliffs.

Once again, we were diving into the crack. This one had a cave-like entrance, scooting under a big chockstone.

We all really enjoyed this canyon. It had some fun obstacles and was very pretty.

When we got back to camp, it was dark, and our friends in the extra-hard canyon weren't back. That wasn't good. They had told us that if they weren't back, we should come look for them. We ate dinner first, then took off with extra rope and rescue gear. We couldn't hear them when we yelled and whistled to them at the exit of the canyon, so we contacted the local sheriff's department with a Delorme Inreach (there wasn't any cell service). They said they couldn't come out until the next morning. So we continued searching by going up along the rim of the canyon. That wasn't easy at all, but fortunately Becca had the Road Trip Ryan app on her phone, which gave a track, and we could follow that. Eventually we heard their voices and sighed in relief when they said they weren't hurt, just stuck.

We found an anchor on the edge and Andrew went to the edge to check on them. Too far downstream, they couldn't get to that rope. So we found another anchor upstream and tried again. Too far upstream. Third time was the charm. We had brought 600 feet of rope, split into three sections, and we weren't sure if that was enough. We also had assorted gear to do hauls if needed, but what they wanted was mechanical ascenders so they could get out faster than with their prussiks. I was glad I had my frog system (an efficient rope-climbing system) and sent that down. While we waited for them to climb out, we enjoyed a magnificent dark sky, full of stars and the Milky Way. We heard coyotes howl, and echoes bounced off the canyon walls, sounding eerie. The wind came up and was cold, but we had brought layers and blankets.

The rescue group also had a couple radios, which helped us a bunch. We told the sheriff's office we had made contact and there were no injuries. They said don't attempt a vertical rescue, but we assured them that with a mountain rescue group and cave rescue experience, we were fine doing so. I was very glad of all the small party rescue techniques I had in my mind. Even though the two weren't hurt, I was going over options in my mind, playing the "What if" game. 

When the guys came out, they were very thirsty and hungry. It had taken them six hours to get to the crux of the canyon, and they spent two hours trying to get past it. It turned out that they were missing a critical piece of climbing gear and didn't want to risk their lives free climbing a very exposed chimney. So they hunkered down in a canyon that had no places to sit or stand. Instead, they were stemming across the canyon, with a 30-foot drop below them. They said that even though they knew their friends were going to come for them, they had plenty of time for scary thoughts to cross their minds, like what if they never got out of the canyon.
Andrew, the ever-smiling rescuer.
We made it back to camp at 2 am, about five hours after setting off. We stayed up for awhile, debriefing and joking and having a good time. Eventually it was time for me to get to sleep, although some of the others stayed up even longer. The wind had come up and was blowing 30mph, so it wasn't the best sleep, but it was something. We decided to skip our morning canyon and went out for a late breakfast (brunch) instead.

It was a fun and memorable weekend, and we all learned something from it. We were glad no one got hurt. And I guess one take-home message is that if you're going to get stuck in a canyon, it sure helps to have your own rescue team nearby!


iamtjc said...

WoW GREAT place

Carolyn James said...

I hope the 2 high level independent canyoneers have now had some serious thoughts about how they did things in the run-up to this situation.
It turned out OK, & even gave the rescuers more experience, But forgetting the important gear was not good.
& of course they will hear about it for the rest of their lives, and may even be told after they are gone.

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