Sunday, April 28, 2013

Canyoneering: Big Spring East and West Forks

Don Reyes advertises for Canyoneering USA, while threading the West Fork of Big Spring Canyon
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I just returned from the first of two canyoneering trips scheduled this season--this one to the High Roost of Utah.  We'll visit Zion for a week in June.  

Each canyoneering trip is different.  This one distinguished itself in two ways:  1) there were so many of us that we had to split into two groups after the first day, and 2) we rappelled from sand.  I'm not sure that twelve people is an ideal number for canyoneering, but it was a great group that grew from our small core  to friends and friends-of-friends.  More on that in another post, but it was great to meet some new people and to reunite with some old friends, even if we did have to split up to keep our descents manageable.  

The sand rappelling, surprisingly, is not as bad as it sounds, especially when it's an alternative to no anchor or to using a single small hook in a shallow hole in soft sandstone.  The ethic in many canyon descents is to pass with as little impact as possible ("ghosting"), so bolt anchors are rare.  The principle of a sandtrap is simple:  you pile a bunch of sand on a specially-constructed tarp that has webbing sewn into it for tying off rope.  The rappel rope is attached to the front of the tarp and a pull cord to the rear.  Everyone except the last person is backed up by a human clipped to the tarp while they rappel.  Then, after the last rappeller survives, a hearty pull on the rear rope dumps the sand off the tarp and retrieves it.  There's a photo below if you can't quite picture what I'm talking about.  We ended up using this technique several times on this trip and I'm convinced that I need to spend $100 to buy myself a sandtrap.    

The High Roost, if you haven't heard of it, is west of the Green River, about 60 miles of dirt road , some of it tediously rough,  from Utah Highway 24.  It occupies a large area east of Horseshoe Canyon, an isolated unit of Canyonlands National Park famous for big pictograph panels.  There are a handful of excellent canyons here that distinguish themselves by being especially beautiful and by requiring rappels from transitory anchors.  

Our first outing was through two forks of Big Spring Canyon--we descended the West Fork and ascended the East, the latter to avoid two trips up the ridge between the forks, which are typically both descended. Note to self:  ascending slot canyons is more strenuous than hiking ridges between them twice.  

These photos (many) are from our day in Big Spring... 

Steve Millard, studying the approach.

Dropping into the West Fork.

Collaborative human anchoring--a group effort.

Larry Scritchfield serving as a rappel anchor, and loving it.

A rare (single) bolt anchor.

Jim Akers on rappel from a single bolt anchor.  

Descending the West Fork.

Ken Sheldon in the West Fork.

Building a sand trap anchor.

The sandtrap.  

Into the darkness.


West Fork sandstone.

Larry Scritchfield, Don Reyes, Bret Ruckman, Steve Millard:  West Fork.

Bret Ruckman.

Jim Olson (Jaime) at the "triple bridge" in West Big Spring.

Steve Millard, ejecting from the Triple Bridge.

The end of the descent of the West Fork.

Jim Olson, Jim Akers, and Bret Ruckman contemplating an obstacle during our ascent of the East Fork.

Bret, climbing through an arch in the East Fork.

A trapped bird (fledgling) in the East Fork.  We couldn't really help it escape, but hope that it did.  

Jim Akers, Steve Millard, and Bret Ruckman at the top of the East Fork, ready for chips, salsa, and margaritas.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Road Canyon on Cedar Mesa, Utah

Fallen Roof Ruin, Road Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Utah.  March 2013.
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Sometimes I miss the most obvious photo opportunities.  I didn't think to re-photograph Bei at the Fallen Roof Ruin in Road Canyon, a place we visited in 2007 when she was five-years-old and returned to this March during our spring break.  Somehow I also returned to Laramie without a single picture of our friend Dave Fay with his bourbon collection, which he spread lovingly across the picnic table in our campsite every evening.  

Maybe it's because of Dave's bourbon collection that I never photographed Dave with his bourbon collection.  

I did get a photo of Dave and Amy's daughter, Eliza, at Fallen Roof.  She's a year older than Bei was in 2007.  It  feels like a long time ago that Bei was that age and that it has passed in an instant. 

Road Canyon, like most on Cedar Mesa, is peppered with ruins, and Fallen Roof is a favorite.  Named for the thin layer of sandstone that exfoliated and dropped onto the floor of the alcove sheltering the dwellings, the site is decorated with the hand prints of someone who once lived there, before there was even such a thing as a "road," at least in southern Utah (there's still no road in this canyon, and I don't know why it's named after one). 

What must it have been like to raise your children in this beautiful place, waking each day to look out on the canyon before hiking up to the rim to tend the corn. People lived here perhaps a thousand years ago and then disappeared.  When you stand in these ruins and look at their hand prints, that can seem like an instant.    

Bei at the Fallen Roof Ruin, March 2007.

Eliza Fay at Fallen Roof, March 2013.

Petroglyphs on an enormous boulder facing up towards the sky, Road Canyon.

Dave, Eliza, Sam, Bei, Ellen, and Amy, descending into Road Canyon.

Bei at age 11, scrambling into the canyon.

The Fallen Roof Ruin.

Fallen Roof Ruin, with ancient hand prints.

Dave and Sam hiking out a side canyon off the main trail in Road Canyon.