Thursday, August 25, 2005


Heaps Canyon

Here is a slideshow and link to the pics from our Heaps Trip. They were taken with a disposable waterproof camera so needless to say, they turned out really crappy. Attached below the pictures is Ben's Trip Report from the Canyons/Canyoneer e-group.

Heaps was the most strenuous and adventurous of canyons I've done. The trip is definitely not for the faint of nerves. The fact that neither Eric nor I had done the canyon before, coupled with the fact that the current canyon conditions were virtually unknown (no party had descended it during the 3+ weeks before us) and the unpredictability of monsoon weather created a feeling of adventure that was absolutely incredible.

The forecast for the next day was 20% chance of thunderstorms in the late afternoon-- not ideal, but not bad enough to deter us. Leaving the VC around 3:30, we assumed we'd have just enough time to make it into Phantom Valley before dark. The shade made hiking up to the rim with full packs much more pleasant, although pleasant isn't a word I'd use to describe that approach in any conditions. The navigational insecurities that come with any unfamiliar route (is it this way or that way? this ridge or that? get out the map cost us the time that would have made the difference between getting into P.V. before dark and not. Starting down the ridge, we noted how both of us had neglected to bring an extra rappel device and joked seriously of having to do the final 500' rappel sequence on a munter hitch. Climbing down the exposed, crumbly ridge leading into Phantom Valley, I think to myself, "I really don't enjoy this kind of unroped exposure, I'm glad I won't have to do it again for a while." Just before dark, we get to the anchor tree to do the final long rappel into the Valley. I successfully--hurriedly--foolishly throw our 300 foot rope into a bush, and as I look for my ATC so I can head down the
line and untangle, I realize that I must have left it at the bottom of the first rappel on scary ridge. Night falls, Eric goes down to untangle the mess I've made, and I proceed to climb by headlamp back across and up that horrible, crumbling ridge to the base of the last rappel to retrieve my ATC and return. Most people only get to navigate that ridge once per trip-- I got to do it three times (twice by headlamp/moonlight). Rappel completed, ropes gathered, we traipse down the slickrock slopes toward the bottom of the valley, hoping to bivy near some water. The moon was full and bright, illuminating the various peaks and towers surrounding the phenomenally beautiful Phantom Valley and allowing us to hike without our lamps. Water found, we sleep in a small but nice sandy spot nearby. A 6 dollar fleece sleeping bag inside an emergency bivy bag kept me nice and cozy for the slightly cool evening.

We dawned our 4/3 + 2 wetsuits before leaving camp early Friday morning and were treated to a hard rain that lasted for 15 minutes as we walked by dawnlight toward the first slot section of the canyon. The feeling was somber, even a little ominous. We knew that we were still in no eminent flash-flood danger, but we did not know what lie ahead. The first section of narrows and keeper potholes was mostly full of water, as Eric noted. Pull-ups, walrus-flopping (ie beached-whale), and partner assists got us out of all but one of the potentially problematic keepers. In that one, we could stand in about shoulder deep water, and the rim was about 4 feet up with nothing to grab on to. Although unneccesary, we used a grappling-hook wedged in a crack to climb out of it in order to get some valuable experience before we might urgently need it down-canyon.

The rest of the canyon was a long blurry push consisting of cold swims, pull-ups out of potholes, climbing up and rappelling from massive logs and log jams, and downclimbing. Oh, and don't forget those heavy packs we were each lugging through. Thunder rumbled in the distance periodically, as if to say "Don't you dare feel at ease." The test of nerves escalated as we were setting up a rappel from a high ledge above the canyon floor. The thunder crashed loudly and repeatedly; flashes of lightning reflected off of the green canyon walls and the rain began to come down softly and thickly. "Should we wait it out on this ledge?" asked Eric. I mumbled something about how we'd find a high spot if the canyon started to flow and that we must be close to the end and the canyon still looks pretty open below us so I'm all for continuing on for a while but what do you think?. I follow Eric down the rappel and stuff the rope into the rope bag for
the umpteenth time. He jogs down canyon and I hear a yell, "I think we've made it!" I catch up to him and look down the narrow slot to the open valley a half-thousand feet below. Glad to be out of flash-flood danger, we wait for a half-hour as the rain get harder, then eases up, and finally dissipates.

Wet sand coats our wetsuits, packs, gear, and skin after grunting our way up the chimney and down the crack to the first of the final 500' rappel sequence. We rehash our plan and go over our whistle signals, and begin to work slowly and carefully. We estimate it took us about an hour and a half to finish from this point, but in such situations, time doesn't pass normally, so who really knows? On rappels 1 and 2, my job is to go down first, do a test pull, and make sure the pull and rappel strands remain separate. Eric's job is to set the rope length based on my commands, and then come down and keep the ropes from getting jammed in sticky places. The second rappel turns out to be around 150 feet, not 165 feet as reported in guide books, because both strands of my doubled 305' rope extend past the anchor. At the "birds nest" perch, we thread the 300' rope through the final anchor as we pull it from above. We then tie our 2 150' ropes to it as a pull line,
toss them, and Eric heads down. Once down, in order to assure
ourselves of an easy pull, he pulls the 150's until the knot joining them to our 300' rope is past the edge (over which someone has rigged a nice piece of carpet to help with rope-sticking/sheath-cutting problems) and ties off to himself. I look down and see some people below me, which was surprising since I'd yelled several times for everyone to stay clear. Turns out it was Bill Bees and Steve, coming up to stash their rope for their trip the next day and taking the opportuniy to introduce themselves and say howdy (nice to meet you, by the way). My feet hit the ground. Sitting there surrounded in a pile of 600 feet of rope, I take the sigh of relief that I hadn't been allowed for the last 24 hours or so.

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