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.