Friday, May 02, 2008


Psychological Damage

I still remember being a beginning newbie to canyoneering (I am now a semi-experienced newbie) and hearing stories of people pushing the envelope in canyons like Sandthrax, Egypt 4, and Psychological Damage. Stevie B posted a short video showing off the extreme silo crossings in Psycho-D and I still remember watching in amazement the things these guys were accomplishing. I made comments like “I’ll NEVER be into doing crazy stuff like that…” three years later and wouldn’t you know it, Psycho Damage is suddenly under my belt... what is wrong with me?

High stemming canyons to me feel like unprotected exposed low 5th class scrambles along knife edge ridges… every move is within my climbing ability (well… the few I’ve done so far at least) but there are spots here and there that you CAN NOT screw up or very bad things will happen. This kind of stuff is not for everyone but can be very fulfilling and very fun when kept within ones abilities. Most sections of high stemming canyons I’ve done are narrow enough below that if you slip you would easily be able to throw your arms and legs out to catch yourself before gaining much momentum, there are spots however (silos mainly) that open enough that one wrong move would mean falling straight to the canyon bottom. I hear tales of more sinister canyons that leave you exposed to long falls for much greater lengths however.

My body swelled with anticipation as we walked along the rim of the canyon making our way to the head. My good friend Benny had been in the canyon before early in his canyoneering career but backed out before the end. His description was a shallow slot that wasn’t really that scenic or worthwhile, this made my expectations for the beauty of the canyon low; however the canyon turned out to be very scenic for me. From the rim, Ram pointed out multiple escape routes between sections of slot putting my mind somewhat at ease that if I was too intimidated by the canyons difficulties, I could back out before the final really burly section.

The views of slickrock were fantastic as we neared the canyons head. Looking down in as we slid into our wetsuits revealed a deep and menacing slot. From the first silo crossing on the entry downclimb to the countless pools and low-level stemming I was enthralled at how beautiful and fun the canyon was already.

After the first section we wasted no time dropping into the second, this was shallower but still full of fun moves. Tom kept prodding me to find some pools to cool off in as everyone was feeling the heat of the day. No one wanted to remove their wetsuits because of the body armor but the added heat took more out of us. After some more hard work I finally found some pools to make Tom happy, everyone soaked in them for a few moments letting the wetsuits saturate with cool water before finishing the middle narrows. This section ended with two wide silo’s crossed on ledges with about 15 to 20 feet of exposure… mere warm-ups for what was to come.

After the second section, the third, deeper, darker narrows labeled “the burly section” was all that lie between us and the fantastic cathedral-like finale. Everyone fueled up on energy bars preparing their bodies for what was to come. Ram had been feeling off and was contemplating leaving us to fend for ourselves in the hardest section. He gave us a quick run through of what was ahead, first a section of up and downs, hard physical work to the first silo. It is wide but easier to cross than it looks at first glance. Next we would be doing more stemming to the second silo, followed by some middle ground stuff, then a downclimb to the third and final silo. After that it was some stemming out to the final pool and canyon release. Bucky was psyched and began rallying the group to put on their game faces and finish. Tom was in, I was in, Ram looked at us reluctantly, still unsure of himself, then grabbed his gear and off we went, into the darkness.

The burly section also turned out to be the beautiful section. Deep canyon cutting down to mere slivers at times that required a lot of huffing and puffing as we moved up and down over and over looking for the most human friendly widths to work our way through. On and on we trudged until we reached the first big silo. There were good ledges on both sides, but the exposure was very real. I leaned forward, took a deep breath, and calmly slid my feet outward over the gaping hole below me. My body flowed as I drew out in my brain where to move next, reaching for that next hand hold, swinging my body across to the next good foot and over to safety… well as safe as you are still thirty or so feet off the deck! At least here a slip would most likely only result in me catching myself five feet down, rather than plummeting straight to the ground like a fall over the silo would have ended, at least I keep telling myself that.

That wasn’t so bad… exposed but not hard, as long as nothing more difficult presents itself things should go smoothly. On we moved getting only momentary respites on the ground before being forced high off the deck again. One such respite took us past the “bivy flake” where Tom, Ram, and others spent the night during a flood the first time they attempted the canyon. WOW, what an incredibly awful spot to spend the night. On we went, over another deep menacing silo. More stemming, upclimbing, grunting, and cursing brought us near the third, final, and most difficult hole. This beast had been crossed from WAY up high (80 feet?) by past groups, quite a feat, but thanks to Little Ram (Aaron) we were going to be crossing it at middle ground, a much more scenic and “easy” way of crossing, although the exposure was still there. Bucky being in the lead dropped too low just before the silo and ran into a section too narrow to fit through… reversing the section just behind him proved to be extremely difficult. I hung back to give pointers and provide moral support but in the end he was able to get up it on his own, using his wedged pack to help him up the beginning of the upclimb. After Bucky was up safely, I continued on. This section required elevatoring to a tight forward facing stemming position then pushing forward where the canyon was barely wide enough to fit, it being too narrow above and below. Working hard to fit through this passage dropped you to the edge of the third and final silo. Looking high up Ram pointed out the spot others had crossed in the past… scary! Looking forward I could see another series of ledges and a long drop to the ground. I gained my composure again and worked out the moves in my head. The best ledge was far in front of me, requiring a long stretch across the gaping hole. My first idea on how to cross left me off balance and out of control. I backed into my wedged position and thought of another idea, if I twist my body so, face the other direction and turn… no, that won’t work either. I paused for a moment and looked at the puzzle in front of me again trying to imagine new ways to use my body to reach the ledges. With another twist and adjustment I found the right approach and everything felt right. My foot twisted and slipped right onto that far away ledge, my arms swinging to the right spot, maintaining balance and control throughout the moves, slowly reaching the safety of the other side, marveling at the beauty to be found in such a deep forbidding place. I stopped near the far edge and looked back as Bucky went through his own battle with the silo’s ledges. He too tried a couple different approaches before finding the one that got him across safely and comfortably, I quickly backed away making room for him to land on the other side and all that was left was the amazing downclimb into the cold swimming pool that led to an unbelievable cathedral of sand, water, and stone.

The hike back to the vehicles afforded more magnificent views of slickrock and sky. A sense of accomplishment and pride swelled in everyone, for me it was tackling the most difficult canyon I’ve done so far, and never feeling I was in over my head. For Ram it was seeing the improvement in his skills since his last time in. His last trip seemed to leave him intimidated, this trip seemed to leave him more confident but still respectful of such a trying canyon. Tom and Bucky I’m sure had their own personal triumphs that day and we all left with smiles on our faces as the trip was just beginning. This would prove to be a very special day and one I will remember for a long time to come.

*All photos by Steve Ramras.

sheesh kid, my heart is beating very fast right now. sounds like you did some crazy stuff, I'm glad your back safe and I'm sure mom is too. Pictures are cool!!
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