Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Making Responsible Choices in the Outdoors


We get outdoors and we recreate, but sometimes it is only at the whim of Mother Nature. When she chooses to throw you a curve ball, well, you better be ready to duck, and DUCK we did!

If you spend any amount of time studying outdoor activities you understand that rain can hamper most of them. Canyoneering is no different and often times even deadly if you don't pay attention and are ready to jump out of the way. Flash flooding can be a serious threat in a slot canyon and with the Monsoon season that the area is known for you have to play your cards just right. You can choose canyons that have less Flash Flood potential than others or canyons that are shorter and easier to get in and out of before the afternoon monsoon storms kick up.  We did neither of that in our decision to choose the Black Hole.

Pioneer Day in Utah falls on July 24th. It is a state holiday commemorating the day that the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake valley in 1847 after their long trek from the east. Many people died during the trek and it was a huge undertaking. While this date is not the date that Utah obtained Statehood, nor is it the date that Utah was first inhabited, it has become a state holiday commemorating this occasion and it is a paid holiday for everyone to take work off. Yup, a paid holiday- sucka's.

With most of us having flexible work schedules already, Tammy had the holiday off and the Black Hole had been calling us all season and we had yet to find the right moment to get into it.  We thought this was going to be it. We were wrong.  After Jeff, Tammy and Lisa drove from Moab and picked me up in Blanding we headed out to the trail head where we met Matt who had left Richfield early in the morning. He had by far the longer drive of this one and so we scheduled a 9 am meet time to accommodate. After sorting our gear and packing what we needed and dropping car shuttles the hike was on. We began with the obligatory photo in front of the warning sign.  We then hiked into the canyon and found what was one of the most devastating sights we have encountered in a canyon in a long time - Water. Not just any water waiting for us to jump in, but flowing water from rain storms.  A harsh blow to what was anticipated to be a fun hike.

Yes, while we were prepared with Wet suits and dry bags, there is no way we can hike through this canyon safely and efficiently with flowing water in there. The chocolate brown soupy water would have made each step treacherous and questionable. I have been in this canyon on two other occasions in similar conditions. First time we hiked it for an hour before turning around due to unsafe conditions and every step being a gamble. Second occasion was on Search and Rescue after being called in to rescue a group who entered it under these conditions and found it overwhelming. They ledged up and was spent almost 24 hrs on the call. I hiked several of their party out from the mid point and it was rough and miserable going.   We made the call to bail on this canyon this day. 

Canyons will always be there to do another time, the only way that we will be able to go back and do them again is we are safe and sound to do so. We tucked out tails between our legs and took off back up the trail to head to another canyon and scrape together what we could for the day.

Always be safe out there and watch your back and your partners back. You have more responsibility to come out alive than just for your self.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Life Doesn't Always Play Out the Way We Expect


What I mean by the title is that the expectations one has of a canyon day, may not turn out to be the reality of what was / is going to happen.

I've tackled Adobe Swale on a couple of other occasions and been with groups much less competent than this group was on this particular April 2019 day.  I've been wanting to get my current group of Canyoneering partners into this canyon for a long time. We have a good solid team and we all work well together.  This was our annual weekend where we camp in the North Wash for several days and Dan and his family from Denver come out to join us. We should have had a premonition early on when Dan started his trip and had problems with his truck pulling his camp trailer and then shows up with one daughter only instead of the whole family. This was starting to turn out to be a terrible week already.  Jeff and Tammy and I had done Constrychnine canyon the day before this one and we were able to stay dry and warm enough despite the wind and cold front that was present.

Jeff, Tammy, Dan, Lizzy and I embarked on Adobe Swale this day with positive enthusiasm for a day I have been waiting for for a long time - Adobe Swale with my friends.  Due to the lack of getting wet the day prior and unbeknownst to any of us, Jeff opted out of bringing any neoprene. Tammy and Lizzy changed into wetsuits before leaving the car (Smartest ones there).  I wore a 1.5 mm bottom and a 2mm top. Dan brought a wetsuit and decided that he'd wait to put it on til after swimming through two of the potholes we encountered.

Right off Jeff and I began to get cold after we were dunked in the first two holes. We became even more cold standing around waiting for Dan to finally put his suit on. Tammy and Lizzy were looking for sun just to stay comfortable.  The wind was howling and this brought the air temps down and even though the sun was out and no clouds in the sky, the cold front wasn't letting the heat penetrate. The wind brought our core temps down as we muddled through the stress of trying to stay focused and get through the technical rigging and rappelling.

We hit the crux potholes in the canyon and ended up spending over an hour there while Dan and Tammy worked through the triple pothole problems and cleared the path for us to come down. I asked for the rope length to be set up so Jeff and I could rappel off the end and not get stuck in the water. I was told this was done - it wasn't. This day just turned into one big Charlie Foxtrot after another and it continued to compound the fact that Jeff and I were starting to feel the effects of the onset of Hypothermia. Yeah, it wasn't looking good, but we weren't about to give up and let the cold take us out.  We trudged on and through it all we made it out that day. We fought the cold and we fought the negativity and we fought the urge to push the S.O.S. button on our SPOT locator beacon and to get rescued out of there. Truth be told too, we got ourselves out of there faster than Search and Rescue could have even mobilized and made an attempt to get to us.

Take aways from this you ask? Always be prepared. But most importantly I feel.... Training. Without the proper training and knowledge and experience to be in the canyon in the first place, we probably would have just thrown our hands in the air and given up not being able to think and function clearly. Having the proper Canyoneering training and experience we were able to talk each other through the issues and the pain and cold and make appropriate decisions to get us and our team out. Next would be the team. If I'd been in there with a group of newbies who didn't have the experience and training either it could have gone a lot worse. A lot of directions that could have gone. They may have freaked out and given up. We had a good solid team that was able to stick with us and help us function and work through the hypothermia and cold pains that we all began feeling.

Before you go out on your next Canyoneering adventure, watch this. Understand that often times things can go wrong and it's not because of anything you did. Mother Nature can be a relentless Bitch sometimes and you and you alone are the only one that can fight her on your own terms.  I hope that this video helps prevent any injuries or rescues for someone else out there.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Beating the Heat, and the Freakin Biting Gnats!!!

As much as I love being in the Slot Canyons, there comes a point in ones Canyoneering life that the total nature of the desert becomes a bit too much. On this such a day, we had spent the day prior in Capital Reef National Park running some short slot canyons. The canyons were great, the hikes in were a bit more obnoxious and by the end of the day Jeff and I were hammered. Jeff more so and we decided to take a rest day on day 2 instead of hiking. Well, I love the canyons and I love Fishing just as much so we decided that day 2's canyon will be Glen Canyon, Lake Powell to be precise. Keeping some fishing poles in the car for just such an occasion we packed up camp in Capital Reef and loaded up the Hoe (Tahoe) and heading to Bullfrog Marina. Making a stop in Hanksville to top off tanks, drinking water, Fishing Licenses, Red Bulls, and Bait, we hit the lake in style.

#NotSponsored




The wind was pretty rough and we decided to run down to Stanton Creek / Red Canyon area where we had stopped and fished at before and where I've done some decent shore fishing at a couple years ago. We parked on the North Side of the cove and quickly discovered that the wind was hitting us directly in the face and it wasn't playing nice - Well, Ok, it was somewhat nice, but still brutal enough that we had a hard time casting the anchovies into the wind. We were targeting Stripers as we just wanted to make it as easy on us as we could.  Stripers are not a very hard fish to catch (and neither are Catfish). So we loaded up the hooks with Anchovie and lobbed them out just enough for the wind to throw it back in our faces.  It took a little bit to get it dialed in and we ended up putting 1/2 oz. weights on the lines just to get it to land in the water. One fantastic thing about the lake though, is No BUGS!!!  Ok, I did find a spider on my leg at one point, but no biting gnats out there. I've never seen an issue with annoying bugs at all out there. I figure the fish keep the larvae in check and the insects don't get to hatch in that water. Plus the wind on this day would have made the gnats non commital anyway.  It was fantastic.


Once Jeff figured out the right weight to get the bait out into the lake and the right spot to cast to, he started catching some fish. Catfish at first as is expected when bait fishing on the bottom, then a Striper.








We continued to battle the wind here for a couple hrs trying to get it dialed in. I didn't catch anything here. The wind continued to get me hung up in rocks and every time I'd set a hook, they get hung up and break off at either the hook or the weight. We probably lost about 10-15 hooks at this location (Warning anyone going swimming there in the future).   We packed it up and headed to the Marina where we could face the opposite direction, hoped to have a little reprieve from the wind and where I know there is more gravel than rocks at this location.  Problem was.... We had to start all over chumming the water for the Striper to get active. We only had a little less than 1/2 a bag of anchovies left after all our prior issues and they were getting warm and soft.  They didn't want to stay on the hooks now.  Jeff figured out the right spots to hook the anchovies on at to catch some bone and hold better. I lost a few in the process, but hey, chum!

After about an hour of sitting in this spot Jeff pulled in another Catfish:

The wind, well yeah, it wasn't any better here. Somehow it had figured out how to blow in the opposite direction here as it was in our previous location just so that it could blow back in our face again. However, without the rocks and such to get caught on we were feeling a bit more confident and it worked in my favor. After Jeff's catfish, I pulled in 2 Stripers and a Small Mouth that surprised the heck out of me. Jeff asked me earlier if a Small Mouth would eat an Anchovie, I told him no, but I guess if they are hungry, or annoyed enough they will.  The hook was almost bigger than the mouth on this guy.

All total for the Day:
Jeff: 3 Catfish                    1  Striper
Jared: 2 Striper                    1 Small Mouth













We beat the Gnats and our soreness and had a fun day out in a different type of canyon. Some would say that we gave up the canyons and opted for the easy way out, Some would say we just took a different approach to enjoying the canyons in another way.

Living in the South East desert of Utah affords us the opportunity to enjoy nature in so many different ways. From Hiking Slot Canyons, to Fishing Lake Powell or ATV riding through Elk Ridge and High Altitude mountains, there is lots to see and do and enjoy in this area. We aren't done with Slot canyons for the year, but man, the Gnats are out in force now and the lake is calling for now.  We might be on the water a bit more over the next couple months now.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Totem Block Anchor Really Is The Smartest Way to Rig a Canyoneering Anchor


Often times teaching how to rig anchors becomes a bit confusing. There are many different ways that anchors can be rigged and even after taking classes and being taught how you should rig an anchor and what the safest method for rigging a canyoneerng anchor is, you forget, go back to your old habits and move on. Well, this is what I did for a while as well.  When I was first starting out canyoneering, the Totem didn't exist. When it came about I was set in my ways and had a hard time understanding why I should change what I was currently rigging.  Well, I finally sat down (really just stood there, but you get the point) and decided to practice using the Totem until it was ingrained in my head. It really does make the anchor rigging of a contingency anchor that much easier and safer.

Why use a contingency anchor you ask? Why not just drop double strand all the time and keep the rigging simple?  Well, one word - SAFETY!  By pre-rigging your rappel for safety in mind, you set yourself up for a winning combination if you ever find you or your group in a bind.

What can go wrong on a rappel and why would I need a contingency anchor?
Contingency means just that. It's a setup in preparation of something possibly going bad. Will it go bad? It may not. But wouldn't it be better for you to be ready to fix it if it does?  Have I had to use the contingeny anchor in an emergency situation?  Yes I have!!  Do I have to do it often? No I don't. In the years that I have been Canyoneering and guiding I have only had to deploy (lower) someone on a contingency anchor less than a handful of times, but I was sure glad that I had rigged for it instead of having to scramble to figure something out.

Ok, sorry for the long tangent, back to the question, what can go wrong?
Rappel length can be too short - if you can't see the bottom you may not know if the rope reaches all the way. What's that? You say just deploy all the rope in the bag and then re-adjust once someone is down. Can be done - if the canyon is dry. It does take some extra time. If the canyon is wet and you are rappelling into a pool of water or the canyon is flowing, you don't want a mess of rope in the pool below you as you are trying to swim and disconnect from the rappel and getting your feet tangled in a spaghetti mess of rope.
Items get stuck on the Rappel Device - This is one of the most common. Hair, T-shirts, Pack straps get sucked into the rappel device if the rappeller is not paying attention and can jam them up. Also if an Auto block type device is being used as a back up for a first man down, it could get jammed up if things don't go well and then they either have to self rescue or the contingency anchor gets deployed to lower them down.
Knot in the rope - Either a knot ends up in the rope, or it is intentionally put there to either tie out a bad section or tie two ropes together. A contingency can be used as a safety margin to lower someone when a knot appears, but can be pre-planned if a knot is placed in the rope and a lower can be used in order to help someone avoid having to pass a knot.

These are three of the most common reasons you may encounter in order to need a Contingency anchor. It's not a harm to put one in and not need it, but can be detrimental to not put one in and then need it.

This video is something I created for students who get home and forget how to tie the simple Totem Block Contingency anchor for Canyoneering and rappelling in general. What other uses can you think of for needing a contingency anchor?  What are some situations you have found yourself in where you wish you had had one, or glad you did have one?  Let me know.

If you are interested in picking up a Totem Click the link here to be directed to our store:
https://www.mkt.com/NorthWashOutfitters/item/the-totem?t=modal-tw

What Canyoneering Gear Should I First Invest In?



I often get asked this simple yet so complex question. What should be my first gear purschases when getting into Canyoneering?

Sometimes "Newbs" can get a bit overwhelmed by the different types of gear and the amount of gear out there, which is to be a bit understated, because the world of Canyoneering is still so new that there isn't a lot of gear for the sport like there is for other sports. If you get into climbing or camping or backpacking there are many more manufactures and gear sources for these, Canyoneering is still up and coming in the gear sector and companies are forming to fill the niche, but it's still gonna be a while. This is good, because you only have to look in a few places to find the proper gear, but there still is some confusing things to consider.

In this video I talk a little about the most essential gear that you should start with. These items are what you absolutely need in order to travel through a Technical Slot Canyon. Everything else on top of this is more for comfort and ease of travel. Sometime Newbs will buy the non-essential gear first because it's less confusing.

So, to break down what you really need:
Rope - a Static Canyoneering Rope (Canyoneering ropes are made specifically to repel water and have a tighter weave to resist abrasion from the canyon environment)  Don't try canyoneering with your climbing rope - it SUCKS! If you do, don't EVER use your climbing rope for climbing again.
Harness - Climbing harnesses work just fine - Don't EVER use your climbing harness for climbing again if used for Canyoneering. There are Canyoneering specific harnesses that have a little different tie in point and some seat protection built in. You can also buy add on seat protectors to put onto some types of climbing harnesses.
Carabiner(s) - A Screw Gate locking carabiner. Don't use Autolocking carabiners. Sand jams the mechanisms and make them unsafe.
Rappel Device - Any rappel / Belay device will work, but there are canyoneering specific devices that work better on the canyoneering ropes and single strand rappels.
Quick Links - Also called Rapide's (French) these will be left behind on the anchors and you will need enough for each rappel in the canyon.
1" Tubular Webbing - This to will be left behind on the anchors that are build and or replaced from worn out stuff in the canyon. Use dull colors that won't attract too much attention (Black, Tan, Rust). You will need enough webbing to replace all the anchors in the canyon. Some canyoneer's carry up to 50' at a time with them.
Helmet - Any climbing helmet will work.

This will get you started into the canyoneering world. Other items will follow as you get more involved and decide that the sport is for you and you want to stick with it. If you have a good experienced group that you are starting to go out with, you might be able to get away with not buying a rope immediately if others in the group have ropes that will be used and you are tagging along with.  My next purchase after these items would be a good Canyoneering Specific Back pack and Shoes.  But more on that later, or hit me up with questions in the comments if you'd like to explore more items.

Pool Arch Canyoneering Route in Moab Utah



Whether you call it Rock of Ages or Pool Arch Canyon, this Canyoneering route is a fun one. With some spectacular views and rappels it's a fantastic hike to knock off a day with.  Generally it's gonna have some water in the canyon, not as much on hotter days, or days where there has been no rain fall for a while.  Rock of Ages canyon is a spectacular route to mess around in.

This route is located in the South West quadrant of Moab and is accessed from the trail head just off of Kane Creek right a long side the Colorado River. There is lots of camping and parking in the area, but be careful, most of it is on Private Property and there are fee stations (Posts and boxes) asking for parking fees. It is on the honor system I believe and not really patrolled as far as we noticed. There is a huge parking pull out where we stopped and a sign post for a $10 parking fee. The canyon is worth it, and there really isn't much of anywhere else to park in that area without adding additional hiking time and distances. The canyon makes a loop and you end up hiking back down the canyon afterward ending back at this parking spot.

Once parked and ready to go, you hike up Pritchett Canyon along the dirt road for about 10-15 min. Be careful to pay attention to traffic. This is a popular Jeep/UTV road and trail up into Pritchett Canyon and you may encounter vehicles on this road that you will need to move off the road way for. Most people that we encountered were courteous and aware of hikers. We did have bandanna's and "Buffs" with us that we put over our nose and mouth to cut down on the dust we were breathing in when they passed by us.

After the short hike up the road you will see a narrow looking drainage coming in from your left. This is your exit location from the road and the beginning of the climb up to the rim where you will encounter Pool Arch. Be aware on the hike up that there is another arch you will hike underneath on your right hand side. Sometimes it's not easy to see until after you have passed by it and stop to look back. This route once on top is becoming more and more worn and it shouldn't be too hard to stay on the path and staying in the right direction towards Pool Arch.  This hike up through the canyon does come with some exposed climbs and scrambles. It's a high class 4 in a couple of locations so you need to be sure of your footing and grappling skills. A handline might be needed for some, be sure to put your helmet on for safety.

Once at Pool Arch the fun begins. You can bypass the initial rappel into the Arch Chamber if you want with a hike down on the side of the arch,  but why would you pass up this spectacular rappel. Lisa had done this canyon a number of times and this was her first time doing this rappel (refer to video as we discuss this).

Be prepared on the third / final rappel. It catches a lot of people a little off guard if your not expecting it. There is some exposure to it and some major penalty points. You have to lean out from the edge of the great abyss in order to rig it. We simply tied a hard line to the hand line anchor on top and used this as a safety point for the rigger to be tied into. Also consider using a safety tether off of your harness to connect to the main anchor while rigging it or helping others to rig in. With the tie in, we didn't feel this was necessary, however if Jeff had slipped or been knocked over the edge, it would have taken him a bit of work to get back up over the lip with out having the safety tether attached.  We really should have done it and you should too.

After dropping the third and final rappel, you can follow the social trail out of this little split off and you end up back on the Pritchett Canyon road. It's about a 30 min walk from here back down the same road you started on and to your car.

This canyoneering route really isn't a Slot Canyon as Moab doesn't have many of those. Like most of the other routes in the area it's a route through and between sandstone fins giving the impression of a slot canyon. It's still a gorgeous route and a fun trip and one that should be on your bucket list if looking for a canyoneering route in Moab to do.

If you are interested in seeing the whole un-edited video that we shot on this trip, you can check out our Patreon Page for further information on gaining access to that full video:
https://www.patreon.com/NorthWashOutdoors

Lost and Found Slot Canyon in Arches National Park



When one thinks of Slot Canyons, Moab Utah is really not the place to look towards to find them, especially not in Arches National Park. You visit this park to see the Arches that Mother Nature has sculpted and worn away and marvel at the beauty left behind from wind erosion, not water erosion of canyons.  I'm going to let you in on a little secret that no Guide Company in Moab will divulge: "There really are no Slot Canyons in Moab." Really, even though most guide companies in Moab offer Canyoneering trips now, with the impression of going through slot canyons, these trips consist mainly of hiking through routes developed for the adventure seekers visiting the area. They aren't true slot canyons in the sense of North Wash, The Swell, The Roost, or Zion National Park. But I digress, if your just looking for an adventure, there are plenty to be had in the Moab area.  

Now, on the other hand, Lost and Found Canyon (a.k.a. Undercover Canyon) is one of only a few actual true slot canyons in the Moab region, and actually lies with in Arches National Park boundaries. However, it won't be found on any tourist info for the park as it takes some skills to find it and get through it.

To access this canyon you have to go in through the back door of the park and come off of I-70 North of Moab and towards the Colorado State Line and then wind your way through a maze of back roads to come back to the park boundary.  Once there, you then have to hike on an un designated route to reach the canyon rim. Don't worry, getting back to your car doesn't get any easier, this was the easy part. It's not a canyon for the average tourist to the park, but it's actually one that is well worth the trip. 

Great rappels and nice little slot sections. The canyon section if moving efficiently will only take you a couple of hrs. The hiking out is the longest part of the day giving the most concern with the exit climb up out of the canyon. A lot of people have had issues mentally with the "Climbers Exit", some have actually fallen and taken some serious injuries from it. On this trip, it was Tammy's 4th time through the canyon and I've seen her tackle slopes and sections of canyons that are worse than this climbers exit with out batting an eye. However, because of the nature of this climbers exit and past trauma on this section of the canyon, Tammy has struggled with it each time she has done the canyon. I had to make a bet with her, one that I knew she would want to win and because she is stubborn I knew she would not want to admit defeat to. Check out the video and see how Tammy conquers this fear and what it cost me.

If you want to watch the entire un-edited trip through this canyon check out our Patreon Page for information on how you can sign up and have access to this:
https://www.patreon.com/NorthWashOutdoors

ATV Trip Out To Visit Tower Ruin




My dad is so afraid of heights its almost laughable - sometimes. Now I know that sounds horrific to say and not very nice, but I'm not sure how I ended up OK at heights where he is terrified. We never did anything as kids growing up at heights, because he wouldn't allow it. I learned at a young age to be able to make repairs to the swamp cooler on the roof because he wouldn't get up there to do it. One time I couldn't figure something out on the cooler so he climbed the ladder in an attempt to help me and as soon as his foot hit the roof he went spread eagle flat faced down trembling and wouldn't move. We had to drag him back wards towards the ladder and guide him off roof. (I think we then had to hire someone to make that repair later).
Why am I telling you this story, well, there is no way I'm going to ever get me dad to rappel into a slot canyon and join in on one of those adventures. I did grow up loving the outdoors because of him. We spent a lot of time on the mountain camping and fishing and even attempted hunting a couple of times (that a story for another time.)
My dad has really gotten a lot of enjoyment these past few years from riding his ATV. After all the kids moved out and he had money to burn now, he bought himself and ATV and he and mom have been riding trails all over Utah. Living in San Juan County there are lots of places to ride and we have talked about him coming down and riding some trails int he area. Finally we were able to make that happen. This video is a short compilation of the ride we took out to Tower Ruin. It's not a rough ride and can be actually accomplished with a decent clearance on a vehicle, but the concept of being able to jump on your ATV / UTV and leave from your home and go visit some of these locations is fantastic. Check out the video of my dad's first ride in San Juan County and go check out his You Tube channel: Utah ATV Adventures. He is starting out new sharing his riding experiences and the trails he has visited.