Monday, February 12, 2007

Canyoneering in... January?

Adventure Report: Adventure reporter Eric Godfrey gets more then he expected on a winter descent of some slot canyons in Southern Utah.

Four in the morning came much too quickly but my body swelled with excitement for what lay ahead. Our original group of seven had trimmed down to four and we were now on our way to canyon country for some winter slots. The four hour drive to North Wash, a wide desert canyon snaking its way to Lake Powell, went by quickly as some slept in the back of the vehicle and I entertained Reed, the driver, with conversation to make sure he stayed alert at such an early hour. Before long we were pulling into the trailhead for our first canyon of the day, Boss Hog, which we would soon find out was only a warm up for the adventure yet to come!

The temperatures in Salt Lake had been frigid so the highs in the upper thirties forecasted for the area we were now in sounded balmy compared to what we were dealing with back home. The outside temperature gauge in the X-terra, read eighteen degrees as the sun hid behind morning clouds. We stepped out to munch down some breakfast only to be greeted by a light breeze that chilled to the bones. We all looked at each other, hoping we made a wise decision to head down to Southern Utah in winter. I reassured myself that the weather will warm up and once we get moving our bodies will too.

After a quick breakfast we were off to the canyons head, magnificent views of miles and miles of desert were afforded us on the march in. Looking directly below us on our left a deep winding crack cut itself into the orange, solid sandstone. A feeling of excitement came over us at the thought of what lay ahead. A short cliff band separated the Carmel Formation we were walking on and the Navajo Sandstone containing the slot we wanted to descend. We soon found a break in the cliff and scrambled our way onto the rock of which we would become very intimate with for the next few hours.

The slot began as a shallow “V” in the rock, cut by accumulated rain water from the storms that reach the area, but soon started to deepen and head downward… steeply! The canyon consisted of constant downclimbing, (just like what rock climbers do, only we go down instead of up) squeezing, and stemming (placing your back on one wall and feet on the other then scooting sideways above the canyon bottom). It wasn’t long before we were scrambling through a beautifully crafted sculpture, carved by time and the raging waters that thunder through this slender space. A piece of webbing stuck out from under a rock used to anchor adventurous canyoneers using their ropes to assist them down this drop. The drop was short however and we felt we could use the foot and handholds on the way down to handle this drop without the rope. We assembled as a team offering outstretched hands for help from the top, and spots from the bottom to make sure everyone climbed down the drop safely. The dynamics of our group were extraordinary which would prove very useful later in the day.

The rest of the canyon was fantastic as it relentlessly dropped deeper and deeper through the sandstone. There were sections of slanted narrows where walking was… uncomfortable. There were extremely tight sections that we opted to stay high above, sometimes thirty or more feet from the bottom. The canyon was magnificent and the company, as good as anyone could ask for!

We exited the canyon to bursting sun rays and radiant blue skies, a big difference from the Hazy, frigid city we had come from. The canyon was challenging, but somewhat short so we still had plenty of time to climb the loose gulley back to the car, eat some lunch, and head to a second adventure.

As we congregated at our vehicle and fixed up our various lunches considering where to go next, the group looked to me to help decide how to maximize our time. I have done the most canyons in the area, and it was fairly new to the others so I had to make a decision. I offered a few suggestions and was asked what the best of the options were. Of our feasible options I offered up Trail Canyon as being the best… but we would probably run into a few unavoidable pools of water (remember this is January). The water was no more than about waist deep last time I descended the canyon, but you never know how full they could be this time.

Leaving rational thinking behind, we chose to do Trail Canyon. It was only a few miles from where we were and we decided to take our chances with the possible pools of water.

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