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.
Into the darkness.
West Fork sandstone.
Larry Scritchfield, Don Reyes, Bret Ruckman, Steve Millard: West Fork.
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.