Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Getting After Adventuring! 2016 Was The Real Deal

It's that time of year when the big adventures are starting to come to a close for a little while or at least it feels like they should be for a bit anyways.  This year has got to be the most intense of all adventuring years for me.  I went into this year with a pretty good stash of vacation days and a solid motivation to see some incredible places.  It was a success!  Many awesome friends joined in on some stellar adventures covering a whole lot of land.  Thank you to my many cool friends for the good times!

While these photos don't cover all of the places we went, it gives a pretty good representation.

To open up the season, a group of us headed out to Oreana in March to check out Hart Creek during the short window that it flows.  There are plenty of swimmers and even a cave like section where the creek goes under a giant boulder the size of a house.  It was a hit with the entire crew as it offered a lot of beautiful sites, some fun downclimbs in the creek and even a bit of stemming. 

Next up on the agenda was an April trip to Robber's Roost, the land of many amazing slot canyons and a rich history of outlaw hideouts.  The most notorious of those outlaws are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  It is also the area where Aron Ralston managed to get his arm stuck in a slot canyon, BlueJohn Canyon.  He eventually cut his arm off and escaped through a giant showing of will power.  You have probably heard about the movie they made out of this epic adventure gone wrong, 127 Hours.  Another bit of history that we got to experience were the four to eight thousand year old pictographs known as the Great Gallery done by the Ancient Ones, very cool!

The goal was to see canyons, but we also got to go see some older and newer history locations!

Here is the rock (in the middle) where Aron Ralston was trapped for five days.

Here is what remains of Butch Cassidy's hideout, the chimney.

Here is the best portion of the Great Gallery

The start of Alcatraz: rappel off of your vehicle into a 160ft deep toilet bowl (tough to capture the  entire shape in a photo).

An especially scenic section of Alcatraz Canyon

Elise is pretty small and she barely fit through sections of Alcatraz

There were sections that were dark enough to require headlamps.  This was taken as we were coming out of an especially dark section.

 Near the beginning of Little BlueJohn Canyon

A deep, dark section of BlueJohn

 The final rappel in BlueJohn Canyon, the full version.  This is the pool where Aron Ralston slurped up all the water near the end of the movie.

 A section of sideways slanting deep dark slot canyon in Larry Canyon

Dave using some fancy footwork to avoid some dirty water in Larry Canyon

Next up was an eleven day trip in May to Arizona to see a very big section of the state.  We started in the Secret Mountains in the Coconino National Forest in the Northern section of AZ.  The first canyon we did had been on my radar for a number of years after reading about a keeper pothole that three bears had found their way into looking for water only to drown.  Subsequent descents of the canyon meant that canyoneers had to swim in the nasty pool of death to complete the canyon.  A point had been brought up in one of the canyoneering forums about what would you do if you came upon this pothole while the bears were stuck and still alive?  That would be a bad day.  What I learned when I was there is that the pothole is directly at the bottom of a 100+ foot rappel of which you cannot see the bottom of when you start.  You would absolutely have to have ascending gear on your harness at that point or, at minimum, be able to lock off very proficiently and hang around for longer than one should ever sit in a harness.  Otherwise, you're bear fodder.  As we had hoped, the pothole was full of water and we swam across it knowing that the bones of three bears were 25 feet below us from a few years back.

The next day, we found fresh bear tracks at the end of Insomnia Canyon.  Shortly after, we discovered the remnants of a hunting camp that had been completely ransacked by bears.  There was shredded gear left and right.  That hunter had lost a good amount of gear and probably had one of the scarier days of his life.

These canyon have incredible names because they hold incredible places!  
Illusions and Insomnia Canyons:

Here is the start of the 320 foot rappel near the end of Insomnia Canyon

After finishing these two canyons, we took a day off to recover, see Sedona and move camp so that we could do another canyon a few miles away that involved hiking a long way down the West Fork of Oak Creek.  As it turned out, this creek is now the most beautiful place I've ever seen!  So spectacular is this place, I will unquestionably be back someday.

Next up in AZ was a transition to the Eastern section of the Coconino National Forest.  There was a fire burning in the area and the Forest Service had shut down many roads in the area.  One of those roads was our road to the start of both of the canyons we wanted to do.  We lucked out though.  The road one ridge over was still open which only added a half mile each way to the start of these canyons.  Bear and Sundance Canyons:

The final rappel in Sundance Canyon is absolutely spectacular!

From here, we moved South towards Roosevelt Lake.  Along the way, we got to see things like Devil's Bridge, Montezuma's Castle and Tonto Natural Bridge.  I was especially amazed by Tonto Natural Bridge!

The next two canyons were quite spectacular as well!  World famous canyon The Jug - Lower Salome Creek lived up to the hype.  I finally got to see saguaro cacti in person as well!
The Jug and Parker Canyons:

Exploring The Jug

Ken doing a 20+ foot jump in The Jug Canyon

Parker Canyon, full of red quartzite rock

Immediately after coming back from the long and wonderful trip to Arizona, planning began in earnest on the next trip.  A return to Moab had been on my agenda for quite a while.  Five days in June were open and we made it happen.  While we did complete a number of the things I had hopes for, an even larger number of things did not get done which warrants at least another trip back someday.   We got in some mountain biking on the well known Slick Rock Trail, a few canyons and some good times hanging around camp.  In Pleiades Canyon, we managed to get shut down by too much water.  When we reached the fifth rappel, it became clear that there was way too much water in the canyon to safely descend the rest of the way.  It was a good time checking out the sections we did, but the best part is at the end.  After further analysis, I've determined that it is best to do this canyon when Mill Creek is under 20 cfs (a live feed can be found on the internet).  Mill Creek and Brumley Creek (which Pleiades is part of) share the same head waters and will have similar rates of run off per their drainage areas. 

The final canyon we did, Granary, held quite the experience as well.  There are two sections to this canyon.  In the second half, we realized that there were now fresh footprints in front of us that were not there in the first half.  Then we came upon a fresh hole in the sand where it appeared a deadman anchor had been.  Upon looking over the edge, we saw a rock with new webbing around it at the bottom of about a 12 foot drop.  After finding a new anchor and rappelling down, we realized that whoever had taken this fall, fell into about two and a half feet of water and must have been okay enough to walk out or some serious rescue had occurred here very recently.  Maybe an hour later, we came to the giant pour off ending of Granary Canyon that overlooks the Colorado River; what a site!  As we sat, eating and taking in the view, a group of four came out of nowhere South of us.  The pour off is too big of a rappel for most groups to pack that long of a rope (at least 400 feet) so the final rappel was set up about a mile North of the large pour off.  The final rappel is also near the exit vehicles and keeps you above the road with much more beautiful views as well.  Anyways, it was clear to us that this group was lost.  They were searching for the final rappel to the South when it is to the North.  They were extremely low on water and didn't know where the end of the canyon was.  They would have been out there over night no doubt if they had not come upon our group.  Even with the waypoint of the final rappel anchor, it was still a bit challenging to find.  Once we did find it, we asked how long their rope was.  As it turned out, they only had a 180 foot rope and it was a 200 foot rappel.  Even if they had actually found the final anchor, they would have had a serious issue with those last 20 feet!  As we set up the final rappel, we got to talking about that deadman anchor that had pulled out of the sand earlier.  Little by little, they let on that it was actually the last guy in their group who had taken the fall.  They had meat anchored everyone else (meaning they rappelled off of the weight of another person in the group).  Ballsy to just hop on a deadman anchor without testing it at all beforehand!  Maybe that's why they're called deadman anchors....

Anyways, here are the photos:

Andrew on rappel in Granary

Jumping off a 20+ foot cliff into five feet of water in Mill Creek

As far as we made it in Pleiades Canyon

Lots of water!  Too much to finish the canyon!

Mountain biking Slick Rock Trail

By this time, the temps had risen enough that it was time to start hitting the mountains in Idaho.  Summers in Idaho are hard to beat when you consider that the high alpine lakes become available.  First off was a Forth of July loop around the Toxaway - Alice Lakes.  Weather was good and we got to see a lot of snow melt.  Next up was all new to me, the Bighorn Crags!  We spent four days and four nights in some incredibly beautiful mountains.  The first night in backpack mode was spent at Terrace Lakes followed by Ship Island Lake and then Big Clear Lake.  We also stopped in at Goldbug Hot Springs afterwards to relax our worn out legs after 42 miles of backpacking.  My beagle, Lucy, was so worn out that I had to pack her up to Goldbug.  That's a first for her. 

Ship Island Lake

Terrace Lakes

 Goldbug Hot Springs

After finishing up a couple good backpacking trips, it was time to get back on the canyoneering bandwagon.  August came around and it was time to mix things up.  Class C canyons of the Pacific Northwest were on the docket.  I had zero experience in this area or type of canyon.  My eye had been on a couple of these canyons for years, but they had eluded me.  Not this year!  A serious go-getter named Erik Bernhoft had quite a trip in the works.  He and I had been in contact a few times over the last year about various trips that we had done and wanted to do what the other had done.  Turns out, this guy is quite the adventurer and is friends with a lot of other people who are pretty dang good at what they do.  Still, I wanted to show up knowing at least enough about what we were doing to not come across as the guy who can't add to the trip.  Maps printed, beta read, group gear loaded and I left town with high hopes of being beneficial to the trip.  By the end, I'm pretty sure that I had accomplished said goal, but there was unquestionably a learning curve to be garnered from this trip.  Everyone on the trip were my kind of people.  They all had a major appreciation for these kinds of places.  Also, it was so incredibly nice to not have to lead a trip for once.  The canyons really stood out for me!  I will, for sure, be back.  In fact, two weeks later, I did repeat one of the canyons on the way to the coast with some friends.

Big rappel in Big Creek, my favorite canyon from the trip

A little jump in Big Creek

Coiling rope at the end of Big Creek

 Punchbowl Falls in Eagle Creek

Lost Creek

The final rappel / waterfall in Parkett Creek

A rappel in Parkett Creek

A couple weeks later, a few of us headed over to Portland, Astoria and Cannon Beach.  Along the way, we decided that we had time to go down Eagle Creek, which I had done a couple weeks previously.  We got to venture around Portland and get a feel for the culture, which is quite a bit different than Boise.  One goal I had had in mind for a long time finally got fulfilled: mixing the chocolate stout with the hazelnut brown to make a Snickers at a Rogue Brewery.  It was good, but did not compare to the amazing mix I had come across the night before at McMenamins, a combination of their Terminator Stout and the Sleepy Hollow Nut Brown.

A walk along the beach at Cannon Beach was both relaxing and beautiful.  This town has quite a lot going on for how little it is.  The whole trip ended up being quite the success!  Lots of fun packed into a three day weekend!

Cannon Beach

Nick overcame a fear of rock jumps and had a good ol' time!

Metlako Falls in Eagle Creek

As September came, the perfect time to venture into the Owyhees was also in the works.  One of the best places to go with the temperatures that September offers is Three Forks.  There are fantastic canyons and hot springs in the area.  It also is quite remote which is so nice to feel completely away from it all sometimes.  We hit up the Middle Fork and then soaked the hot springs and had an amazing weekend!

Three Forks Hot Springs with a good bunch of people

The Middle Fork

Reverse back to the May trip in Arizona, when we were first introduced to an incredibly competent canyoneer named Michelle.  We had agreed that we needed to plan a trip to some amazing canyons in California.  Late September / early October was decided upon and it got put on the calendar.  After putting in a little bit of homework on the canyons that were on the play list, I got super excited!  Not just a little excited either.  We're talking super jazzed!  So I packed up all my gear and hit the road for my first solo drive to California.  This was something that I had contemplated doing for years.  California is loaded with a whole lot of amazing wilderness that deserves exploration, even if it comes with the stigma (to Idahoans anyway) of being California.  The trip turned out to be absolutely spectacular!  It had everything!  Beautiful scenery, super technical sections, physically challenging canyons, big jumps, lots of swimming, hanging out on a one and a half foot ledge 200 feet down from the top of a cliff with 400 feet still to go, being attacked by hornets, finding bear track all over the place, and finishing a canyon in the dark by jumping 30 feet into a pool with very little visuals as to where I was supposedly landing.  This trip will not be forgotten.... ever!  It will, on the other hand, be repeated!

Ken taking the plunge on a big drop in Lower Jump Trip Canyon
 in the North Fork of Kings River

Prior to taking one big step, my nerves were on high guard

A rappel right through a big waterfall in Lower Jump Trip

 Another big jump!  Lower Jump Trip

A big stemming section in Lower Stevenson Creek

Waterfalls galore in Lower Stevenson Creek

A crazy rock block formation in Upper Jump Trip that
we rappelled right under and through the falls!

No sooner had I emptied my car out of the remnants of the awesome trip to California then did we come up with the idea to hit up the Owyhees one more time before the temps start dropping off.  It was a trip to the ill named Dickshooter Creek.  Permission to cross the land owners land was received and we began loading up two Jeep Wranglers to cover the five hour drive out there.  Two or three of those hours are along roads that are barely passable even with all the clearance of those Wranglers!

And there you have it, the adventures of 2016 thus far.  For now, I'm more than ready to take a break from trip planning. 

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