Category Archives: Canyoneering

Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass – UT (5.19.17)

Share
Wire Pass trialhead!

A saxophone blasted “Careless Whisper” by George Michael at 4:00 am AZ time . . . I’m up, I’m up!  My buddy Andrew silenced the saxophone on his phone just before my watch blasted off the wake up alarm. Man, looks like it’s time to move! That night the temp had dropped into the 30s and the other fellas in the tent (Andrew, Larry, and Eric) weren’t exactly ready that kind of chill. As we packed up the camp they complained about getting only four or so hours of sleep. I was alright, but didn’t want to just come out and say I slept like an angel! Soon after packing up camp, an older fella in his 60s pulled up to the Whitehouse Trailhead ready to pick us up for the shuttle to Wirepass trailhead down House Rock Road in southern Utah.

Up the sandy wash we go!

Out target for the day was Buckskin Gulch.  We aimed to complete the 21 mile trek from Wirepass back to Whitehouse trailhead via a 13.7 mile trek down a portion of the longest slot canyon in the world (Buckskin Gulch), finishing with a 7.1 mile trek along the Paria River to our base camp. We were dropped at the trailhead and hit the bathroom for one last stop before the long push.

The four of us trekked down the open sandy wash that lead to Wirepass, chatting about future trekking goals and fretting on the onset of the cold water and deep mud that was undoubtedly ahead.  Before we knew it the wash narrowed, squeezing into the first section of the close-walled canyon.  We shimmied our way down into the gap, surrounded by incredibly tall and beautiful sandstone walls shaped by water over thousands of years.  Soon we came to our first obstacle, a nice little 7-foot down climb.  I dropped down first and gave the other guys a hand one by one until we were all safely on the ground.

First little obstacle

We pressed on until finally opening up into a large confluence between Wirepass and the Buckskin Gulch…it was game time! On the right wall a collection of glyphs were etched into the rock, still bright, standing the test of time.  Knowing we didn’t have all day to hang around we pressed on down the gulch.

  • Bighorn Sheep Petroglyph
Looking upstream of buckskin
Downstream of Buckskin, further into the belly of the beast!

The huge walls rose higher and higher around us. The light touched the tops of the canyon, but only in certain places and at just the right time did it reach the canyon floor. We made our way through the muddy canyon floor, moving quick on anything dry and watching our steps on all the boulders so as not to twist an ankle. Before long we were to the cesspool, a one mile section of deep dark pools that hardly ever see light.  I watched Larry, who was leading, as he pushed in the nearest pool and the water went higher and higher around his legs. Whew man it looked cold! Soon after Larry, I plunged in as well.  Luckily my neoprene socks aided in warding off the chill of the 40 degree water temps.

  • Here comes the mud!

We exited the cesspool and found ourselves at the middle trail, signified by 2 bighorn sheep on the north wall at the base of the escape route. It was steep and sandy, not the kind of place you wanted slip on! I backed away to look high above for a hidden petroglyph panel that was supposed to be 100 ft off the deck. I climbed some cool moki steps on the south side of the gulch and finally found them. How cool! I still have no idea how they got that high to etch the symbols.

Two bighorn sheep petroglyphs at Middle Trail
Moki steps opposing middle trail
  • Looking up on the North face hidden above a ledge is a killer petroglyph panel

After checking out the area it was time to press on. From there the trail was relatively dry, no more pool wading and the mud was at a minimum. We couldn’t have prayed for better conditions!  The gulch opened wider in sections, and cottonwoods grew out at the edges on sand bars. After a large opening in the gulch it would constrict back down, twisting and turning the further we trekked.  Soon we reached the “Rockfall” which required decent by using a good fixed rope. One at a time we slid down and were soon safely on the bottom. I looked to the right and re-climbed some moki steps, just for fun!

  • Moki steps!
Larry gracefully down climbing the rockfall w a handline
Dont mind the Logs

From there we knew we weren’t far from the designated camping area at Wolf’s Knoll near the confluence.  Sure enough the canyon soon opened wide to two large vegetated dirt mounds on both sides which served as the campsites, high up and safe from flash floods. We took in the beautiful sights of the walls stretching up all around us and kept on pressing until finally finding the confluence of the Buckskin Gulch and Paria River. What a beautiful sight! The Paria was flowing gently, brown yet beautiful, through the gulch.

  • Eric pushes further on
Andrew trekking up the Paria

We turned upstream and finished pushing the 7.1 miles up towards the Whitehouse Rock trailhead. For the first few miles we were still constricted in a gulch, but then finally the walls opened up to wide views of the sandstone hills of the Utah upper desert. I searched for more petroglyphs along the way as we made our way back and forth across the river. Finally our trek ended where it started, everyone in pretty good spirits and ready for dinner. Another incredible day spent outside!

ADDITIONAL PICTURES:

  • Enter the Gulch! (Wire Pass)
  • Rockface @ confluence of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch

HIKE INFO:

Wire Pass through Buckskin Gulch to Paria River Confluence: http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=16112

Paria River Confluence to White House Campground: http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=391 (obviously we won’t be doing the whole Paria, just the section from the confluence of buckskin north to White House (right at UT/AZ boarder))

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi 60s, Low 40s, Sunny
  • Water: 3 liters
  • Food: 2 Protien Bars, 2 granola bars, 1 Cliff Bar, 1 apple, 1 bag of jerky, bag of salt and vinegar chips, PB&J (thanks for the bite Andrew), gummy worms
  • Time: 10 hours
  • Distance: 21 miles
  • Accumulated Gain: 500 feet

GEAR:

  • The Don Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)
  • SPOT Tracker
  • Neoprene Sox
  • Black Diamond trekking poles

CLOTHING:

  • Cotton Handkerchief
  • Icebreaker wool shirt
  • Patagonia pants
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough Medium Wool Sox
  • Arcteryx Atom hoody
Share

The Subway via Top Down – Zion UT (5.20.17)

Share

Woken once again by a Saxophone blasting “Careless Whisper” by George Michael Blasts at 4:00 am, I shifted in my bag. Déjà vu from the Buckskin trek the morning before? Nope! Now it was time to pack our things up and head into Zion to grab our permits for the top down canyoneering route called The Subway! Once again Andrew, Larry, Eric, and I woke, packed up, and got ready for the day to come.

Piling into the truck with Larry behind the wheel, we headed for Zion. The miles faded pretty quickly despite a rock fall on the east side reverting us to enter instead via Hurricane UT from the west side. We soon found ourselves at the visitor center, running in and grabbing our permits before driving to the lower left fork trailhead and dropping my bike off to complete the shuttle to the start at Wildcat Canyon trailhead. The plan was to start up top, push the 9.5 miles down the technical canyon and pop out at the trailhead where, to add insult to injury, I would ride back up on my bike and grab the truck to finish the loop.

We had our work cut out for us so we stepped out of the truck and gathered our packs together. With everything in order at about 11am we set out on the wide open pine-ridden prairie down Wildcat Trail to the southeast.  The bluebird skies only had a few clouds and the temps were perfect… couldn’t have picked a better day!

  • Lets get moving!

After a mile down trail, we met the Northgate Peaks Trail and turned right headed towards the lip of the dropoff. The blue sky shone through as we edged closer to the sign that was marked “The Subway Trailhead”. We were all excited and clambered on, down a cairned sandstone rock. We were spit onto a well-cairned and traveled foot trail that headed through the woods and down the slick rock. After many gorgeous open views, we found ourselves at the top of the final steep descent into the bottom of the Russel Gulch.

  • Slickrock action
  • Down down we go
Large pool at the bottom if Russel’s Gulch

We turned southwest into the Left Fork Creek, and right away we could see the water carved walls that were reminiscent of “The Subway” formation. The canyon was gorgeous, covered in lush green foliage, cool from the shade, and stunning rocks all around. We trekked down the creek until coming upon our first rappel off a Huge VW sized boulder. When we arrived, one group ahead of us was in the middle of rappelling and another was waiting so we took a break for lunch.

  • At the bottom finally

Larry, Andrew, and Eric had little rappelling experience but I walked them through the procedure.  Soon we were all down safely on the ground past the first 25’ section. We once again turned downstream and after just a hop skip and a jump, we were faced with a large pool . . . welp, no more holding off the wetsuits, it was time to dawn them! We all zipped ourselves up, looking like tadpoles getting ready for our first swim, and walked into the depths of the cool, shallow pool that was only stomach deep. Not but 30 yards later we overlooked a large chalkstone into a small waterfall and our first swimmer… we didn’t put these things on for nothing!

  • First swimmer

I was first to plunge in, and like a dog getting into a pool for the first time I paddled to the other side of the long slotted swimmer. Whew! Larry, then Andrew, and finally Eric all safely dropped in and were following close behind. We all laughed as we exited the pool, happy for the warm sun shining on us. It didn’t take long before we found our next obstacle, a double chalkstone drop each into swimmers. No need for a rope on these, we just slinked off the chalkstones into the cold dark water below. The second drop had a large log stuck under it which was a nice support for our feet as we got ready to plunge into the deepest, darkest pool of the day. Wheewwww if I wasn’t already awake, that pool sure did the trick! The cold swimmer began to pull my core temps down and I quickly looked for sun to snap pictures of the crew as they followed on.

  • Double chalkstone Obstacle ahead!
Just above the Keyhole Waterfall

We kept trekking through the beautiful canyon and soon found ourselves at the keyhole waterfall. The keyhole waterfall is signified by a large hole that had been drilled through the sandstone by water just to the left of the waterfall. This was supposed to be the next rap, however a large log had fallen below the drop creating an easy to walk ramp. We just used the rap bolts as an anchor for a hand line and walked down. Once at the bottom we walked through a small corridor shaped like a mini subway.  Logs and debris were all over the place, but they just added to the aesthetic.

  • Coming down the keyhole hallway

Finally we walked out into a nice open area with a vertical log wedged between the floor and the canyon wall.  This was the upper subway just before the final rap into the lower subway. How nice it was to see this famously photographed sight in person. We took a final break before the long slog out, basking in the sun like lizards still trying to shake off the chill from the double chalkstone swimmer earlier in the canyon.

Upper Subway – Famous vertical log!
Catching some sun before the final rap

It was time to get moving again as I stuffed the final crumbs of salt and vinegar chips I had into my mouth. After a turn or two we found the final rap on canyon right to the side of a waterfall into the lower subway. We could hear a large group of “bottom up” hikers below in the pools taking in the sights of famed formation. We set up our rope and rapped the final drop and were soon stripping wetsuits. It was nice not to need the suits any further. The rest of the hike was gorgeous… beautiful slick rock, cascading waterfalls, and lush green foliage everywhere complimenting the red rocks. After a few miles we finally reached the exit canyon right. I took the keys to the truck and took off up the Cliffside.

  • Pushing on
Final Rap into the Lower Subway
  • Looking downstream into the Lower Subway

I grabbed my bike from the trees where I stowed it and began to ride back to the upper trailhead. I had originally thought it was just a few hundred feet of gain in a few miles, but later research let me know that it was 7.5 mile ride with 1900 feet of gain.  Let’s just say when the quad burning, calf aching, sweat pouring, beautiful view having grind was over, I was pretty happy! I drove back down, grabbed the guys and we headed back to Springdale for much deserved pizza and beer. What an awesome day enjoying Zion national park!!!

  • Final push out of the canyon
  • Waterfall action

HIKE INFO:

The Subway: Top Down Technical Canyoneering:

 

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi 80s, Low 40s, Water in the 40s, Sunny
  • Water: 3 liters
  • Food: 2 Protien Bars, 2 granola bars, 1 Cliff Bar, 1 apple, 1 bag of jerky, bag of salt and vinegar chips, gummy worms
  • Time: 7 hours
  • Distance: 9.5 miles in canyon + 7.5 miles on bike
  • Accumulated Gain: 2,300 feet

GEAR:

  • The Don Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)
  • SPOT Tracker
  • Neoprene Sox
  • 3/4 Wet Suite
  • Black Diamond Helmet
  • Petzl Corax Climbing Harness
  • 2 Black Diamond screw carabiner
  • Black Diaimond ATC Guide
  • 60 feet 10.2mm Static rope
  • Webbing, personal anchor
  • 3 rap rings (not used)

CLOTHING:

  • Cotton Handkerchief
  • Icebreaker wool shirt
  • Nike running shorts
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough Medium Wool Sox
  • Arcteryx Atom hoody
Share

Royal “Pain In The” Arch (Day 1) – Grand Canyon – AZ (4.21.17-4.23.17)

Share

Eyes cracked open. It was cold, chilly. In a sleeping bag with a broken zipper. Alarm blasting from my phone, feeling tired after just 4.5 hrs of sleep, staring at the ceiling of a tent. Rubbing my eyes half exhausted half excited about the day to come . . . Looks like we are all set up for another sufferfest at the Grandest of Canyons! This trek brought Sam, Mark, and myself to the doorstep of the old Ranger Station above the drop-in to Royal Arch Creek via Point Huitzil. We planned to drop in, canyoneer all the way to the Colorado River at Elves Chasm, camp, traverse the Tonto trail to Bass Beach, camp, and finally hike out via Bass trail; finishing the trip off with a side trek to Mount Huethawali before closing out the loop with a nice road walk on the rim.

Old Ranger Station

I shivered in the morning, throwing all my gear in the pack, making sure all the food, water and rappelling equipment was accounted for before strapping up and standing, ready to roll. I knew that once we got moving I would warm, so I stubbornly refused to put a jacket on. We let out from the old ranger station headed on an old 4×4 “road” (more like a foot trail) in the northwest direction. After the “road” ended we found an old telegraph line which would lead us to the start of the wash that would eventually dump us into the canyon (according to research). We trekked on through a juniper speckled field which made it seem like we weren’t even hiking to the canyon. Finally the route dumped us into a wash and slowly we made our way to the edge of the rim and were blasted with a gorgeous grand view of the canyon.

Old 4×4 “road” walk
Hello there old friend! Dump into the canyon, just South of Huitzil Point

We started our way down the loose steep route, descending ledge after ledge looking for cairns as we went. The sandstone made our shoes stick like spiderman to the slanted ledges of the route. We found our first obstacle and quickly down climbed. I was fully extended in a hang when the tops of my toes landed on the stepping stone below. Whew! One down, only a ton to go! Sam and Mark quickly down climbed and we were off again. The route finding was tedious, we were skirting ledges with a beefy penalty for error. We walked toward a cairn that looked like it would lead us right off the end of a ledge. We looked right and tucked away was the crescent moon shaped rock that hid away the famous ladder climb. It was really cool, an old dead tree with branches cut for feet and handholds. I dropped down first, no issues, Sam and Mark soon followed. Just around the corner from the ladder, skirting north, we were treated with a huge panel of petroglyphs! How cool it was to be there and see something that had been there for hundreds of years!

  • Cairn leading right off the edge?

We kept trekking, descending ledges, and finally found the Moki steps on a sandstone slab. The natives cut small ledges into the sandstone making some nice steps for your feet to climb up and down the slope. A little butt skirting and de-packing got us down swiftly.  We continued to pick our way down the ledges and skirt across a number of exposed, but not too difficult obstacles, until finally exiting the face via an arm that dumped us into the top of the wash to Royal Arch Creek.

Moki steps (click to enlarge)
Downclimbing the Moki Steps (click to enlarge)

Let the boulder hopping begin! For the next few miles the sun went to work on us as we hopped, jumped, and scurried our way down the creek bed. Finally we came to a large pour-off (dry waterfall) which had 2 options, left to the “ledge of death”, right to the “rabbit hole” . . . “rabbit hole” just sounded too cutesy! We headed left all too curious about what this infamous obstacle had to offer. After a few minutes of skirting the side trail we finally came to the ledge. It had a nice 20 foot exposed traverse with some teared drops below that. What fun! I was first up and found that the grippy rock had some great holds and the feet weren’t that bad either! Keeping the packs on, we all traversed the obstacle with no issue! Just after the ledge, there were a few other small exposed traverses where we had to circumvent large boulders trying to push us into the canyon below. It wasn’t horrible, but deff warranted concentration with a 40lb pack on your back!

Enter the wash!
Left to “Ledge of Death” – Right to “Rabbit Hole” (click to enlarge)
  • Ahead is the "Ledge of Death"!

We continued downstream, boulder hopping once again until finally the dry creek bed was wet with a beautiful spring and a small ledgy down climb. The water looked so tasty and our parched mouths were ready for a break. As we pushed further, we turned a corner, and there, standing high above our heads was the Royal Arch. What a beautiful sight, it was enormous and demanded respect! We had a nice break in the shade under the arch, next to the creek running just below the massive rock. Just taking in the sights and replenishing our grumbling stomachs.

Beautiful cool spring pool
  • Time lapse - Ledge downclimb past the spring

Fed and ready for more, we walked downstream from the arch and peered over the huge cliff into the canyon below. What a drop! We were standing 170 feet above a tiered drop-off and the bed of a nice waterfall that trickled down just next to where we planned to rappel from. We found some good webbing and a quicklink that looked solid. I put up the biner block rappel setup using Sam’s 60 meter 9.8 mil rope to a carabiner with a constrictor knot. I backed it up with a figure 8 and tied on the 200 ft 6mm pulldown cord to the biner block. We were all set to go so I threw both ropes off the cliff and they fell to the second ledge. Time to go to work! I rapped first taking on the task of rope management as the small pulldown cord got quite tangled. I threw it from the first ledge down, then the next. To my relief the main rope reached the ground, and soon after, so did I! Whew, made it!

I stopped half way down the first rap to take a pic =)

Mark and Sam soon followed and we were all safely on the ground when I went to pull the pull cord I had set up. *Yank* nothing . . . *Yank* nothing . . . I started to get serious when I realized the rope could be stuck which would require me to either re-ascend the rope or we would be stuck in the canyon between two 100+ foot rappels. I reached high, grabbed a bite on the 6mm rope, tied an overhand knot,  and clipped it into my harness. I sat my full weight on the rope and once I did it finally budged. I quickly walked back away from the cliff pulling the rope as I did to make sure it didn’t get hung again. LUCKY!!!!! I was so relieved!

Timelapse of Mark rappelling down the 170 ft waterfall

Once we retrieved both ropes and recollected our wits we headed downstream to find the second of the big rappels, a 135 foot cliff. This time our anchor was a nice tree with 3 sets of webbing wrapped around it. Another nice anchor that we could use! This rap went much smoother and was almost completely free hanging. We each made our way down the rope and into the next section of the beautiful canyon. Waterfalls and lush green plants were abound. Frogs darted this way and that in the pools as we trekked through, it was truly a hidden paradise!

The 2nd rappel – 135 foot

Soon after the second rappel we found a nice 8-10 foot downclimb. We pulled our packs off and hurdled the obstacle before strapping up once again and letting out further down the canyon. We dodged boulders, down climbed ledges picked our way slowly down. I popped my head over a huge boulder, the only down climb led to water . . . “that can’t be right”, I thought. I poked left, poked right and finally found a small tree on canyon right with a small 20ft rap. In hindsight, we found that we were on the wrong side of the canyon and should have belly crawled a ledge on the the west side of the canyon . . . Oh well! After placing some new webbing and breaking our rope and harnesses out once again, we made the last rap of the day.

  • Donw the canyon we go!
Elves Chasm!! Jumped into the cool pools here, how refreshing and cold as hell!

We enjoyed the rest of the canyon as we trekked on. Down climbing, shimmying over boulders and down ledges, using cairns to guide our way, until we finally reached Elves Chasm. It was a tiered waterfall with a deep crystal clear pool at the bottom. We decided to strip down and jump in; after the long exhausting day we had, it seemed like the right thing to do! After jumping from the waterfall and pulling ourselves from the cold water we trekked the rest of the way to a permissible beach where we set up camp, grubbed down, and finally, under the star lite sky, crashed out in our flyless tents. What an epic day, man I love the Grand Canyon!

ADDITIONAL PICTURES:

  • Enter the petroglyph panel!
  • telegraph line insulator

HIKE INFO:

HIKE STATS:

  • Weather: Hi in mid 90s, Low in upper 40s, Sunny
  • Water: 5 Liters (including dinner)
  • Food: 1 Power Bar, 1 Kroger Protien bars, 1 Cliff Protien Bars, 1 granola bar, 1/2 bag of gummyworms, Apple, 1 Mountain House: Chicken and Mashed Potatoes, 1/2 bag of Salt and Veinagr Chips, 1/2 bag of Pizza Pringles, 1/2 bag of trailmix, 1/2 bag Boston baked beans, 1 PB&J sandwich, 1/2 bag of Quinoa.
  • Time: 12 hours
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Accumulated Gain: ~ Drop 4000 feet

GEAR:

  • 58 liter exos osprey backpack
  • Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent
  • Big Agnes QCORE SLX sleeping pad
  • Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
  • Jet Boil – Sol
  • Black Diamond trekking poles
  • SPOT Gen3 Tracker
  • Sawyer Squeeze – Water Filter
  • Black Diamond Helmet
  • Petzl Corax Climbing Harness
  • 2 Black Diamond screw carabiner
  • 4 Phantom DMM screw carabiner
  • Black Diaimond ATC Guide
  • 60 meter 9.8mm Mammut rope
  • Webbing, personal anchor
  • 200 ft 6mm pull cord
  • 4 rap rings

CLOTHING:

  • Wool T shirt – IceBreaker
  • Cotton hankerchief
  • Pearl Azumi arm coolers
  • Arc’teryx hoody
  • Nike running shorts
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough wool medium weight socks
  • Threadless hoody
Share