Jim Akers, enjoying the sunset at our camp near Baptist Draw, San Rafael Swell, Utah.
(Click images to enlarge.)
Here's the quandary (more on Quandary Canyon later):
Canyoneering provides the chance to descend some of the most beautiful canyons in Utah with a bunch of good friends while executing a series of sometimes bizarre and interesting maneuvers to overcome obstacles along the way. All of this makes for heartbreaking photo opportunities, but at the same time, threatens to destroy your expensive camera gear with water, mud, sand, and high impacts with rock. And the light is difficult as well--deep dark canyons mixed with intensely bright spots of sunshine and slivers of sky mean that no camera can handle the dynamic range. You can expose for the darkness, where all the action is taking place, and the sky blows out. Or you can expose for the sky, but then the action is in blackness unless you somehow light it up with a bunch of flashes, which are also expensive, time consuming to set up, and targets of destruction for the same reasons I already talked about. Not only that, but your hands are full just trying to get yourself through whatever canyon you are in without taking forever to set up shots so that you aren't vulnerable to afternoon storms and the ire of your peers, who have to wait for you every time you stop.
My solution: take fairly crappy pictures with a less-expensive and smaller point-and-shoot camera than my big DSLR. I use a Nikon P7000, which I'm not that happy with for a number of reasons, but that at least it won't put me in debtor's prison if it gets destroyed. It takes pretty good pictures in good light, but doesn't do very well in darkness, and I can't see the screen on the back very well to compose images because I don't carry my reading glasses with me when I'm canyoneering. Sometimes it's just more important to have fun than to obsess over good photographs.
Last weekend I made a quick trip to the San Rafael Swell and dealt with all of these photographic problems, but had a great time. Larry Scritchfield, Don Reyes, and Jim Akers had already been there for a week when Scott Lehman and I arrived, so they were a little tired. We did Quandary Canyon on Friday (a future blog post), and then on Saturday Jim, Scott, and I did Baptist Draw to Upper Chute while Larry and Don started their long drives home to Tucson and Reno.
Baptist/Chute is a gorgeous loop, minimally difficult, with just a few rappels and some groveling under and over chockstones, followed by miles of undulating narrow canyon. Even the exit and hike back to camp is enjoyable--a long pretty walk up a little side canyon punctuated by easy slickrock steps around obstacles. As always, details are on Tom's Canyoneering website. This would be a nice trip for an adventurous family if the kids aren't afraid to get on a rope now and then and the parents aren't afraid to lower them off of cliffs.
Rappelling from Baptist into Chute.
Jim Akers. Upper Chute.
Jim and Scott enjoying some rare sunshine -- Upper Chute.
Jim and Scott. Upper Chute.
Jim, Upper Chute.
Jim, Upper Chute.