Monday, March 20, 2006

Canyoneering in March

Adventure Report: Eric Godfrey and friends find unexpected difficulties while descending some remote, deep, and menacing, but incredibly beautiful slot canyons in Northern Arizona.

The weather forecast for the first weekend of our trip to Northern Arizona was looking grim. The plan was to descend some infrequently descended technical (requiring ropes, and other specialized gear to descend) slot canyons in a very remote but breathtakingly beautiful location. We would hike in on Saturday, try to scout an exit from the canyon on Sunday, and then descend the canyon Monday. After that we would spend another day scouting exits from two more canyons and descend them also. Nat had been to the area before and was serving as a guide of sorts. Friday came and we watched the weather closely hoping for a change in the forecasted snow. Unfortunately nothing changed so after discussing options we decided to postpone the drive down by one day. This would make us lose one of our scouting days, but we felt like we had enough information to at least descend part of the canyons. The scouting was mainly just to allow us to travel further down canyon than what the information we had would allow.



Saturday came around and off we went. The weather in Salt Lake was ok, but as we got to about the middle of the state the snow started falling. As the road climbed up over a couple passes the snow got deeper and the driving slower. There was basically between one and four inches of snow on the road all the way to the Utah/Arizona border. We had had enough for tonight and opted to get a hotel then get up early and finish the rest of the drive the next day.

The next day we woke up to light snow and promising roads. Off we went, but as we got closer to our destination the snow started falling harder. At one point there were about eight inches of snow on the dirt road, luckily the terrain was fairly flat and our 4wd was handling the snow nicely. Finally the snow dropped to only about 4 inches on the roads, but now the road was getting rougher, with more and more ups and downs through washes and shallow canyons. After getting the 4-runner stuck twice and nearly slipping off the road, we thought it prudent to give up on making it all the way to the trailhead and pulled over about a mile short of the normal start point.

The hike in was an amazing trek across a snow covered winter wonderland. The trail was snowy but luckily easy to discern. The views of slickrock in the distance were amazing. Much of the distant slickrock was at just low enough of an elevation that it was not covered in snow, while the terrain we were walking on was. After dropping into a big canyon the snow started to fall harder. It was cold and blowing and all of us were starting to question our choice to come out here in such extreme conditions. Finally the sky cleared, the snow stopped, and we made it to the point where it was time to leave the trail.

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