Monday, July 9, 2007

Canyoneering Zion National Park - Imlay Canyon

Chris, my husband loves to Canyoneer in Zion National Park. He has taught himself everything he knows which to me is pretty darn impressive. For those that don't know a ton about Canyoneering check out this site. It will tell you more than you ever wanted to know and more. Here is my version:

Routes range from easy to difficult and they are all rated accordingly. Some take many hours and some take many days. Some are "wet" routes such as Imlay (pictured here) where you have to immerse yourself in pools of water one after the next all day long to get out and some are dryer routes (I prefer these!).

The one thing about Canyoneering is that once you drop in - you are in (occasionally there are "escape" routes but generally this is not the case). There is no changing your mind and getting back out and you had better hope that there are no storms or flash floods on the way as you would not live to see the next day. Kind of scary but a totally beautiful sport to check out.

The canyon walls can be 1000's of feet high above you and can get super narrow which makes it so incredible. Other canyons can have walls that are so conveluted there is very little light in there at all.

There are also these things called potholes of which I am NOT a huge fan of. Let's just say I like the dry canyons better. Most potholes are full of water and are god knows how deep in any given canyon. On a good day the potholes have fresh water trickling into them and /or there has just been a flash flood that has cleaned it out and it sits with semi fresh water BUT on a bad day these potholes can be full of dark, murky, stagnate, stinky, festering, carcass bearing, cold as heck water. This especially holds true if there has not been a flash flood lately which serves the same purpose as say.......a toilet which will flush out all the dead animals and debris. But then again, a flash flood MAY do just the opposite and bring IN debris and all. To make matters more interesting the deep potholes may only be 1/2 full making getting up and out of them a challenge with your heavy pack on. Think of it as jumping into a tall drinking glass that is only half full. Same diff.

Rappeling and hiking (and of course some swimming depending on the canyon) are all the primary modes of getting your bottom out safely before the rangers start looking for you and your wife goes insane wondering if/when you are going to call. Some rappels are 10 feet and others are 700 feet. Some are double raps, some are hanging raps. Aye yie yie.

Chris likes the problem solving of the canyons as the canyon itself changes with flash floods (ie. debris may fall into the canyon from way above and can damn up and fill a section up with water where you may have once been able to walk right through). Canyons have a tendency to change every year. And, not everything is perfectly laid out and easy to navigate although there are a few pre-existing bolts.

Below you will find a few pics (courtesy of Toms site) of his lastest and greatest adventure in Zions Imlay Canyon along with a bit of a trip description that he wrote up for other canyoneering buddies. Oh yah and the other problem solving skill you have to have is finding the darn canyon. Read on and see what I mean:

We caught the first bus out of the visitors center at5:45am and proceeded to do the right sneak route. Neither of us had been through Imlay Canyon before. Our chief concern was negotiating pothole escapes; so the day before,we went to a water hole and practiced hooking out of pools using 8mm rope andalso 6mm rope with Petzl ascenders. It should be noted that many ascenders are not rated for smaller diameter ropes. Look and test before you use.

Lessons learned...

#1 When attempting a long, unknown route to you - make sure you are well rested. I race mountain bikes, and made sure that I didn't do squat on a bike for two days before this adventure. I also carbo loaded for two days before. I'm sure this sounds like overkill to some of you, but after some of the stupid things that happened, I'm sure it worked in my favor, as our total trip time was about SIXTEEN hours.

#2 bring a friggin MAP and a compass... Route descritions are great, but when you want to be absoultely certain of where you're going and how to get there quickly, a map is indispensible. For Imlay - Tom's book is the bomb, and I would say worth about $10 per page when wandering around looking for the route.

Here's what happened to Scott and I...

Relying on Tom's internet description, we were looking for the Scout Lookout. When you're at the bootom of the Angel's Landing trail, there is a well markedsign saying "Angel's Landing 2 miles and Scout Lookout 2.5 mi" There is, however, no sign actually showing you HEY this IS Scout Lookout when you get there. So I'm looking at rocks and trying not to twist an ankle and we motor right past the unmarked, uncelebrated Scout Lookout, and then we got to the small bridge in the description.

At this point, I'm prettysure we've gone past the lookout, and I'm wondering if we have missed a turn orsomething, and maybe there is some small bridge out there. THEN it says to continue on the trail 15 minutes. At our pace, 15 minutes almost had us at the entrance to Behunin Canyon, where you can go from Telephone Canyon and pull off a double header. So we wandered into the slickrock looking for the route, and at his point I'm going to lose it. I KNOW where Telephone Canyon is, I've been through it a few times, and I am convinced that we have totally screwed this thing up. I would feel much better if we hada friggin MAP!

My friend Scott is aware of this as I ramble / think / search in a loud psychotic voice over and over again that always ends up with "......if we hada MAP!!!". My bad - I'm in charge of this trip, I guess. So we turn around and look for Scout Lookout, or someone with a map. I have never done the West Rim Trail in reverse, so when we get there, I'm bewildered, and feel like we're on a new trail.

We're almost at Angel's Landing again, when I notice two college aged looking kids. We pull over and talk to them, and HOLY CRAP THEY HAVE TOM'S BOOK!!! I think it's about 9am at this point. They are going to do Telephone Canyon,and so now I'm looking at the Imlay Canyon description. Without hesitation, I offerthem $20 for two pages of their book. They accept, I give them my email to arrange a payment, tear out two pages of the book, and we're off. You simply do not get better luck than this. I'm in the habit of picking up pieces of trash along trails, and attribute this piece of luck to Kharma. As it turns out, at our pace, the route was about four minutes from the small bridge. Tom's BOOK says five to ten minutes I think. Good call Tom. Before you know it - it's 1 pm and we' find Imlay.

Should we continue? It's mostly a question of energy at this point. The rest, the carbs, it's all going to be OK. But we're going to have to bust a move.

#3 You will not believe how cold it is until you experience it first hand. For me - Kolob Canyon is warm compared to Imlay.

So we suit up. I'm wearing a dry suit with thick fleece pants, and two polypro tops. Seal skinz socks, which were good in Kolob, and leather fingerless gloves. My friend Scott, who we will refer to as "Freakshow" or "Freaky" from here on is donning a 3 mm wetsuit with rental drysuit on top.

Let the games begin...Seven HOURS after we started. The water starts right away, one pool is kinda gross, the others just a stained, brown water. The common element of course, is that they are cold. Pool after pool after pool of cold water. With a group of two, it was possible to stay warmer on the lips ofthe pools, and out of the water, this would be difficult with larger groups, or you would want to run two sets of ropes, to spread people out and avoid crowding.

When we went through, there were three / maybe four major obstacles. We used hooks to get out of two of the pools, and I climbed over the Freakshow's shoulder on another while he assumed the "I'm being arrested against a cop car"position. Another, smaller hole that could have been a pain to get out of was bypassed by performing a two-handed superman dive to a handhold. Consequences for missing this one were minimal. There was one log jam section that had dried out. When Imlay fills with water again, it may be necessary to swim under it. No thanks.

#4 Rehearse exactly what you are going to do before you get to those potholes.

One pothole, with a difficult exit has a blind entrance. You don't KNOW that there might be an exit issue until you're swimming in cold water and see the exit. Here's what worked for me...When rapping into a pool with a questionable exit, I had an Ibis hook tied to our rope. It was then duct-taped to a seven foot tent pole. Freaky had the end of the rope in case I dropped the hook, andI folded one section of the tent pole around the rope to secure it somewhat. (If you drop the tent pole - you are screwed. Actually, we could have made it through without it, but we didn't know that, and when the water level drops more, you may NEED a 12 foot pole to get through. One of my fears was not having a long enough pole.

I rapped in using my right hand as a brake, and held the hook, rope, and pole in my left. I swam over to the exit, place the hook, pulled, climbed and pushed down on the top of the hook to a beached whale exit. This exit was pretty easy looking, and it was still difficult. We didn't need the ascenders. But you never know.

Where did I come up with this technique? I had a litle time to think about it when I was in a pool with a difficult exit, and none of my stuff was ready. It was the pool with the exit that you can't see when you enter it. I was actually fairly prepared. All the equipment was ready to go in good places in my pack. But takin off the pack, opening compartments, setting things up, and trying to tie a knot onto an ibis hook and then duct tape it to a tent pole with out dropping anything in the water while flotaing around in cold-ass water? You get the idea. Be prepared if you can't see the exit. And if you get cold, retreat up the ropes.

As an aside - who ever goes first needs to be able to backtrack / ascend up the rope to re-evaluate things. When you're in the pool, the clock is ticking. Even in my drysuit, my feet were shaking after maybe five minutes in the pool. Freakshow couldn't use his hands very well with his fingerless gloves. I thinkI had better luck because I kept my hands out of the water due to better flotation on my pack? Uncertain.

Imlay for me was not fun. It was an adventure. It was bad ass - but not fun. The next time I go through, I'm sure it will be fun. But not this time. At one point, Freakshow was taking a while, and then I saw flashes. He was taking pictures!!! I let him know that we did not have time for pictures - not today. At one point he wanted to thrash in a pool a bit to try an exit technique. I told him to grab my hand and get the hell out. We didn't know how much further we had to go, and it was not a good idea for him to get any colder. I think it's a good idea to shelter at least one person in the group, and keep them warm in case the shit hits the fan. That way, you have someone who isn't trashed and cold - and they can make good decisions.

We did the last rap on a single strand 8 mm rope blocked with a biner and one hell of a knot tied by the Freakshow. We pulled with our 6mm rope (which was the only rope we had used so far through the canyon) which was tied to another rope as our pull cord. There are a few options for setting up the rope, we blocked off a small rapide, knowing that the pull might be more difficult, but if we hung up the rope, we were already in The Narrows.

We hit The Narrows at 8:30pm and due to low water we flew down to the Temple in an hour, and were at the bus stop before 10:00pm. Oh - and we filtered water from Mystery Falls. An awesome trip.

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