Thursday, March 6, 2014

San Juan Wonderland

By Brian Wrabley

A visit to San Juan County, Utah is a fantastic adventure to a land full of the most stunning collection of natural wonders I know of! Other regions to be sure have their own beauty, but I can’t think of one county, by itself, that has more to offer in outdoor recreation than San Juan! I've been aware of the area since I was a little kid, when I’d become enthralled by the landscape of Monument Valley. The western’s directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne had captured my imagination, and came to symbolize the West to me. For the next 30 years I had no idea that Monument Valley was just one small part of this vast and stunning county. I first made it to the area in 2007, and made my pilgrimage to Monument Valley, it was then that I learned about all the other treasures there were here!

In exploring what San Juan County had to offer, I came across a veritable wonderland of natural creations! Fantastically sculpted sandstone, deep canyons carved by a serpentine river, jaw dropping views comparable to any I've ever seen! On top of the natural wonders, there’s a deep, rich human history here as well, to be found in the most amazing locations! The ruins, and rock art of the ancient Puebloans adds texture to this land! The Navajo, Paiute, and Ute people who came later and still reside here, show how life can be sustained, and thrive in this beautiful, but harsh landscape! The Mormon settlers who overcame amazing hardships to settle and carve out a place to live, and practice their faith! All these elements are woven together to create this fabulous tapestry of natural and human history, it enriches anyone who comes into contact with it! It was the inspiration from places like this that lead me to start my own adventure tour company, Treks West Tours  I knew I wanted a tour to Monument Valley, but the 2007 visit made me understand how many other great places there were to offer on the tour!

The array of places to see and things to do can overwhelm you! It’s good that once you come here you’ll be hooked, so you’ll keep coming back again, and again to experience more of it! The tours I offer are active ones with plenty of hiking, horseback riding, and river rafting in them and San Juan County has all of that and much more! In addition to Monument Valley the list includes Canyonlands National  NP, Natural Bridges NM, Lake Powell/Glen Canyon NRA, Hovenweep NM, Grand Gulch Primitive Area, Valley of the Gods, Moki Dugway, Edge of Cedars State Park, Goosenecks State Park, Cedar Mesa, Manti La Sal National Forest, 3 of the west’s most iconic rivers, the San Juan, the Colorado, and the Green, scenic views like Muley Point, and the Needles Overlook! This isn't everything, I touched on a few, but there are innumerable BLM lands with ruins, and petroglyphs, some of the best in the world! The hiking is phenomenal, with all types of terrain! A horseback riding experience in Monument Valley has no equal on the planet in my opinion! The Colorado is the most renowned river in the west, and runs through many states, but the San Juan is the heart of this region! A rafting trip on the San Juan from one day to a week is a special adventure you’ll never forget! Deep canyons, peace and solitude, ruins, and wildlife along the shore it is a seminal event! In addition to all of this, there’s biking, climbing, ATV touring, fishing, 4x4/jeep tours, hot air ballooning, boating on Lake Powell, and much more!
It was on my visit to the area last Spring that I got to try a new experience that had been on my list for a while, canyoneering! I had a chance to try it up in Moab a few years before, but the trip got canceled do to weather, and I didn't get to make it up. In researching my recent trip I came across North Wash Outfitters, and Jared Hillhouse. My wife and I were going to give it a try, and after telling Jared our particulars, age, experience, fitness level, he decided Blarney Canyon would be the right place to have our first canyoneering experience. Blarney is located in Glen Canyon NRA and take a while to get to, but the drive on its own is stunning! After arriving, and getting our gear on we hike up a steep slick rock slope to the canyon rim, from the top you have amazing views of the Henry Mountains! The rappels on this outing are long in the 25-40 foot range, perfect for a beginner! Jared and crew ensure your safety every step of the way, and instill you with confidence as you try something so new. It’s an amazing experience between the rappelling, and the scrambling and scurrying down through the narrow slot canyons, some that don’t get any sunlight! It’s not easy but it’s invigorating as you prepare for the challenges that await you around every corner. Long story short, our canyoneering experience was awesome, one of the most thrilling of my life! Needless to say canyoneering is now a part of my Monument Valley tour, I can’t recommend it, and North Wash Outfitters enough! In my business I work with a lot of outfitters in a various fields, non are any better than North Wash!

The moral of this story is, if you’re looking for an awesome western experience and don’t want to have to drive hundreds of miles in between, look no further than San Juan County! There is so much to see and do you could spend a lifetime visiting and not do it all!   

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Arches New Canyoneering and Climbing Management Plan

The inevitable has happened now in Arches.  With the growth of Canyoneering we will undoubtedly continue to see other areas and land management agencies start following suite, most especially if there is a continued rise in the the accidents and rescue calls for these activities in the future.  Here is the statement from the NPS regarding the permit system along with some links to more information:

Officially starting Friday March 7, free day use permits, required for canyoneering in Arches, will be available outside the visitor center at an information/permit kiosk. With the exception of canyoneering in the Fiery Furnace, all canyoneers must fill out a permit, drop the copy of the permit in the box provided and attach original to their person when canyoneering in the park. Group sizes for canyoneering in the park are a maxium of 10 persons per group, except in Lost Spring Canyon (6 persons or less are required). There are no day use limits on permits.  A kiosk will be placed out near Lost Spring Canyon on BLM land for canyoneers to acquire permits for these routes without having to go to the VC in the near future.
For those canyoneering in the Fiery Furnace, groups sizes are required to be 6 persons or less, and must obtain their permit for a fee through the front desk and normal Fiery Furnace process. There is no change to the Fiery Furnace process except canyoneers must be in groups of 6 or less. The canyoneering permit for the park is different than the one required for the Fiery Furnace. 
Rock climbers are not required to obtain permits but we are encouraging these users to stop by the VC at the outside kiosk to check on updates to route closures, read the new regulations and to fill out a permit for safety reasons and to help the park obtain better visitor use data. Rock climbers are now required to be in groups of 5 persons or less.
A free online permit system will be up and running by the beginning of summer for both activities. We will let everyone know when this goes live too.
The park website has now been updated with both a Canyoneering page and Rock Climbing page, both under "Plan Your Visit/Things to Do". 
These pages list the new regulations, group size limits, permit process, established routes and new route establishment, updates on route closures and overall information on conducting these activities safely while practicing Leave No Trace ethics.
We are also compiling an email list of interested rock climbers and canyoneers to help the park review new route applications which require fixed gear. If you or someone you know would be interested in this process, please contact 435-719-2220. When the new route application process starts and applications are received by the park, I will post the applications online for your substantive comments. The park will then take these comments into consideration when completing the environmental analysis and approval process.

We appreciate your patience as we work through the phases and kinks of implementing these new requirements. If you have any questions please call 435-719-2220.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

"He who fails to plan is planning to fail"

Planning for the unknown is always, well, unknown.  When you head out into the back country we hope and anticipate for the adventure of a lifetime.  However, what do we do if that is not the case and the un-anticipated happens?  Were we too busy planning for the fun stuff to not want to think about the unthinkable?  Let’s face it, accidents happen.  This is why they are called accidents.  When we start putting our efforts in to create the ultimate trip, we should throw in some time to consider the plans and options available to us if something happens that would turn our world upside down.  

In Canyoneering and most back country excursions you are going to be miles from help and resources.  Heck, as hard as it may be to believe in this day and age, you will probably be out of cell phone range as well.  So what do you do now?

With each of our entry level Canyoneering courses we always touch on risk assessment and management, planning, first aid, and evacuation considerations.  These are all concerns that any back country explorer should contemplate in their trip planning process.  A couple years ago I wrote an article here on our blog with 10 steps/suggestions of things to consider when planning your trip.  Check it out for the full listing, I’m going to re-expound on a few of those items here.

As often times as it is overlooked, it is vitally important to let others know where you are going, when you plan to be back, and have a check in time/SAR call out deadline point.  Leave maps and GPS coordinates with your contacts as well as phone numbers to the authorities for the area you are travelling.  This will help to ensure that they can get help to you as fast as possible.  We have been in canyons where we were slower moving than we expected and getting out of the canyon was taking us longer than our check in time.  We had left a time we expected to get out of the canyon based on past trips, and had created a SAR buffer zone in there of 3 hours before the Posse’ was to be mobilized.  We pushed right up to the 3 hour mark and still hadn't quite made it out yet, but knew we had to check in.  Out comes the SPOT personal locator beacon to hit the home base and let them know we are still moving forward. 

Carry a PLB.  A Personal Locator Beacon costs a minimal amount and units like the SPOT come with an additional insurance plan for covering rescue costs.  A good PLB Unit will help ensure that rescuers can zero in on your exact location and get help to you faster. 
What if you do not need rescue, but just run out of daylight?  Plan for more time in there than what the route descriptions says.  Take extra food and water and have enough that you could go overnight if necessary.  Most Canyoneering routes are only day trips, so plan as if you may have to spend a night.  Carry an extra fleece jacket, an emergency bivvy sack or at least a space blanket.  For Christmas this year I gave all of our guys that work with us a headlamp, whistle, and fire starter set.  Two weeks later one of them ended up getting caught in a canyon with daylight weaning.   They ended up spending the night in there building a fire using brush they found and huddled up in an emergency blanket.  We located them at 3 am and communicated via whistles. We had located them by the GPS coordinates sent to us from their SPOT beacon.  Plan for the unexpected.

Know how to find your directions.  Know how to read a topographical map and carry one of the area with you.  You can print off maps on your computer and place these into your dry bag in case you need them.  Know how to use a GPS and understand the difference between Lat/Long and UTM coordinates.  Know how to use the GPS and Map in tandem to navigate into and out of a canyon environment.  Don’t forget to mark where you parked your car.  This will save some unwanted time wandering the area looking for your ride after you are tired and exhausted.

Planning for that unexpected then takes a turn into doing something when it does happen.  Are you prepared to be able to do something about your situation?  First thing to do is DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD!  Stay as calm as possible - sometimes easier said than done.  Take stock of the situation, your surroundings – be sure no one else is in danger, that the victim(s) are done being in danger, your gear – what do you have to work with, and then move forward from there with your plan.  You better darn well have, at a minimum, a personal first aid kit with you.  You can never carry enough supplies to plan for all emergencies, but you had better plan for some.  With any kit that you carry, make sure you know what is in it, and how to use what is there.  While a kit from the store shelf is a great convenience and a really good place to start, it won't do you any good to go buy it and throw it in your pack if you don’t know what is in it and how to use it.  Don't buy anything that is over your personal skill level.  When I started Canyoneering many years ago with Dave Black, his first aid kit consisted of a couple packs of Ibuprofen and Duct Tape.  He could handle many tasks with those two items, but his skill level and experience had brought him to that point.

Here are a couple of examples of the emergency material I carry with me: 
GPS, SPOT, Headlamp, First Aid Kit, Chap stick/lip balm, eye drops (sucks to get sand into your contacts), Whistle, hand warmers, rain poncho, space blanket, duct tape (in Zip lock bag), Toilet paper (in zip lock bag).

Breaking down the first aid kit:  Manual, magnifying glass, personal prescriptions, ibuprofen, Imodium tablets, allergy and decongestant tablets, Ace bandage wrap, whistle, Tums, different sized Band-Aids, anti-biotic ointment, fire tinder packs, flint and steel, water purification drops, blister treatment patches, liquid/spray on bandage (awesome if your in and out of water), ointment cream (used for chapped lips to cuts and scrapes, etc.)  All of it in a water proof container (make sure the lid seals tight).

For the waterproof container I have seen everything from this type pelican case to Nalgene bottles to just a dry bag or keg used for containing these types of items in them. 

It is naturally a beneficial idea to improve the knowledge skills that you do have.  If you are not comfortable with First Aid then look into taking a Wilderness First Responder or First Aid course.  Don’t use the excuse that “I always have someone more experienced with me, they can handle it.”  What if it is that person that gets injured, what is your plan then?

I hope that these ideas and thoughts have helped to spark your ideas and thinking for this upcoming season.  I hope that we can mitigate problems and emergencies in the back country.  Most of us aren't willing to admit we may need help in this department, but most of us do know people we feel need help.  Share this article with your friends and family that periodically head out there in the hopes that there will be less problems this year.  With a little vigilance and forethought we can make this season the safest one yet.  Also give us some insight into what you carry with you.  What does your first aid/emergency essentials kit look like.