After reading the HEAPS CANYON DECENT of 1982 at the visitors center, we (Gordon Worsfold and Lori Webb) knew we had to hike this canyon to find and Investigate the DEVILS PIT, which was described as being a place in the middle of a sandstone canyon drainage with no outlet, which is a geological impossibility. We checked in at the park service visitor center on Saturday, June 28, 1991, and was issued our permit. We left the parking lot early in the morning, and started up the angels landing trail, expecting to exit at the upper emerald pool in four days, the total weight of our two packs was 110 pounds.
The hike up refrigerator canyon to scouts lockout took us a little over an hour and was very pleasant, with the early morning temperatures. The trail turns to the west to reach the west rim trail. Another hour and a half found us hiking up the ridge to gain the rim. Looking down to our left, we could see the entrance into Behunin canyon, the first major drainage to the south. We reached the spring on the west rim trail after three hours from the parking lot. The temperature was around 90 degrees with no clouds. We set up our camp north of the spring, had some lunch, and went looking for an entrance into Heaps Canyon. The trail winds up the rim around Behunin Canyon, and then heads west. The next canyon on our left is Heaps, the one we've been looking for. The canyon looks very narrow from the rim trail, with steep nearly vertical walls at the entrance, we know we won't be hiking down. Continue east on trail until you come to a slight depression, where the trail crosses a small coular. Looking down to the left you will see a scree slope with a fallen tree across it, this is the entrance. Follow the scree slope to a bench, (about 100 yards) which is surrounded by cliffs about 15 feet high, but if you continue walking south, you'll find an easy slope to a brushy, slopey ledge. Follow this ledge left for about 100 yards and you'll be standing under an alcove, looking down the canyon. Here it becomes very steep and could be down climbed, but we will elect to start rappelling from here in the morning.
We returned to camp and proceeded to shake out our gear. Besides our regular camping gear, we had the following equipment;
1. 330 foot, 8 1/2 millimeter rope.
We cooked and ate dinner while sitting on the edge of the rim enjoying the beautiful surroundings. A deer was feeding only 40 feet away. Now and then it would raise it's head and look at us, then go back to feeding.
The next morning, we broke camp early and found ourselves at the first rappell point at 9:00. After 5 or 6 rappells, using trees, rocks and pre placed bolts, we were standing on the canyon floor. The hiking for the next 1/4 mile was very easy with a little rock hopping and scrambling here and there, until we came to a place where the stream bed turns right and cuts down through a smooth slick rock area for about 150 feet. This is where we first found water. The far side wall is vertical, and the near side is very slopey. We stemmed the cut with our hands against the wall and our feet on the slope, avoiding the water. This gets to be fairly strenuous with a 60 pound pack on your back, but we were soon standing in the sand again. The next obstacle was a pour off into a small pool of water. We avoided the water by traversing left around on a small loose ledge with 70 feet of exposure, and rappelling from a small pine tree. This had some fairly hairy moves just to avoid getting wet. After a short easy walk, the stream bed turns left through some wood debris, and pours off into another pool. Not wanting to get wet yet. We hiked up and over a large mound of dirt about 60 feet high on the right side, and exited through some brush back into the dry stream bed. Here the stream bed turns to the right, goes through some pools and drops 90 feet into a large pool. Across the steam bed there is a big crack about 4 feet wide that takes you out on a large slickrock area. The crack offered some very welcome shade, and by now it was 12:00, so we sat in the shade and had lunch.
After lunch, we walked out onto the slick rock and installed a bolt along side a questionable one that was already there, and rappelled 90 feet back into the stream bed. From here it's an easy hike to the confluence with one small 15 foot rappel on the way. Here at the confluence (three drainages come together to form one canyon) the canyon opens up and is quite enjoyable. There is plenty of water here, and an excellent camp site. It was only 1:00 in the afternoon, so we went exploring. We crossed the stream bed, and walked along the bench on the right side for about one hundred yards until we found an easy ramp through some small trees to the stream bed. Following the stream bed, we come immediately to the main drainage, which turns to the left, and 50 yards further is the first pour off with a deep pool of water. This can be bypassed by going-up on the right side and down climbing a 15 foot high crack. We elected to make this our first rappel in the morning. We walked back to the confluence and hiked up the canyon to the south for about 1/2 mile. This was pretty easy going with some scrambling here and there until we come to a scree slope. We didn't climb the slope but wondered if this could be another way out by exiting at the three patriarchs, possibly a future trip? We hiked back down the canyon to the confluence, and took the one coming from the east, the phantom valley drainage. We didn't get very far up this canyon before we came to a big pour off, with no easy way up, so we turned around and went back to our camp site. We saw numerous large and small cougar tracks in the stream beds, and some smaller tracks of either deer, sheep or goats, so we concluded there must be an easy way out of the confluence, possibly an overland route through the phantom valley. With these thoughts behind us, we made camp, filtered water, cooked and ate dinner. We lay there in our sleeping bags looking up into a star filled sky contemplating the events of the day, knowing we had done the easy section, wondering what lay ahead.
The next day after breakfast, we broke camp, and found 'ourselves at the first rappel spot at 9:00 an. There is a convenient tree on the right, and we were hiking again after a short 15 foot rappel. The stream bed turns right and we find more pour offs with pools. We by passed these by going left and climbing up a steep, loose 100 foot slope, traversing over to a tree, and rappelling 100 feet back into the stream bed. After this, the canyon and stream bed became one with the walls closing in to about 20 feet across with a nice sandy bottom. Another 1/4 mile hike down a straight line corridor and the stream bed turns sharply to the left through a cut in the sand stone wall. Looking down this almost cave like cut, we know the fun is over and reminded me of looking down a city sewage system, with stagnant pools of water and debris. We re arranged our packs, using plastic bags to keep things dry, putting the climbing equipment and food in the top for easier access. We put on our wet suits, blew up the float tube, had a snack, and started down the canyon. This is a series of stagnant pools with drops of 4 to 15 feet with debris piled up at the outlets, making it difficult to climb out of some of them. The water is very cold, very black, and the canyon is very narrow, about 4 or 5 feet in most places. Some of the drops are difficult to get down, after throwing down the float tube, I would let Lori down with the slings and webbing material, she would float to the other end of the pool, and then we would ferry the packs across, and then I would jump in, get in the tube, and float to the end of the pool, the water was always over my head. This system worked pretty well except for a couple of pools she could not climb out of. Fortunately we took a wall hammer with an adz, and the sand stone is extremely soft, making it fairly easy to aid your way out. This went on for a solid hour, the stream bed turned to the left and we come to a slot about a hundred feet long with a sandy bottom. The stream bed turned right and more of the same, lots of very cold and deep water, with small spots of sand once in a while. The sun does not reach the bottom of the canyon anywhere, and we were getting extremely cold to the point of uncontrollable shivering and chattering teeth. Lori was becoming dangerously cold, and there are no places in the canyon to warm up, so we decided to climb out. We found a spot on the left with a crack system and a chimney at the top. I took off the wet suit, put on my rock shoes, took a full rack, and started to climb. It went up 25 feet to a ledge, where I belayed Lori and the equipment to, and from there it was straight up for 100 feet with many 5.8 moves. This took us to another large sloping ledge where I set up the second belay, and then 25 feet of scrambling took us to the rim, and out into the warm welcome sun.
Our mental attitudes had deteriorated to the point that we debated on scrubbing the remainder of the canyon, and trying to find a way out overland. We hiked and scrambled up a large rock formation where we could see back to the confluence, and the climb became technical, there was no easy way back. It would be almost impossible to follow the canyon at this level, so the decision was made to go back down to where we left the packs, make camp that night, and rappell back into the sewer in the morning. We were out of drinking water, so I set up the rope on the rim and rappelled back Into the canyon and filtered 5 liters of water, and used the rope to aid my way back out. We found a very nice spot for the bivy sack, and made camp. Cooked dinner, and went to bed but sleep eluded me for a long time with my mind wondering what we would find tomorrow.
We woke up early, made breakfast, broke camp and was at the rappel spot before 9:00. With our wet suits on, and the float tube attached to my pack, we rappelled back into the cold dark abyss. The difficulty never let up, we were full of food and rested, and our mental attitudes were doing better than the previous day. We did some very long swims and climbed through lots of debris, where tree stumps, roots and logs were tangled in the gorge. We managed to find ways to get down overhanging pour offs. Using bolts in this part of the canyon became dangerous because the sandstone was to soft for the type of anchors I was carrying. Driftwood wedged into cracks and crevasses were found safer. The pools were becoming more stagnant with debris floating on the surface. After three hours we come to a spot where we dropped 10 feet down into a slot about 5 to 6 feet wide that ran perpendicular to the stream bed. It would be a fairly easy climb out the left side chimney. There was lots of driftwood here, and the first time we had seen the sun since we rappelled back into the canyon this morning. The sun was a small sliver against the north wall about 4 feet wide. We stood In this sliver and warmed up until it disappeared. After about another hour, the canyon started to open up, and we came out into the sun. This was confusing to us because we had not yet found the devils pit. Could we be nearing the end, or was there more bad news ahead. We were able to bypass the next two pools by going around the left and rappelling 60 to 70 feet back into the stream bed. The last rappel ended up in ankle deep water, and we found ourselves in a slot about 15 feet wide with a nice sandy bottom that ran straight for what looked like about 200 hundred yards. After walking about 100 yards, we could hear voices ahead. Looking ahead up on our right, we saw a great blank sandstone wall, and recognized it as the big wall that looks down on the upper emerald pool from the west, we were there, we were at the end of the canyon, but where was the devils pit that others have witnessed? At the end of the sandy bottom slot, the stream bed poured off down the left side into a sandstone slot about 5 feet wide, that ran about 40 feet to the edge where it poured off into the upper emerald pool. We laid our gear out on some large flat rocks in the sun to let the ropes dry out and prepare the packs for the big rappel. Eating our last meal in the canyon, we discussed where the devils pit may have been. A couple of hours ago, when we were standing in the shaft of sunlight to warm up, were we standing in the devils pit? The exit from this slot was a very narrow cut in the wall, we had to climb up and over some large trees and logs to proceed. With a heavy rain it could be possible for this narrow cut to catch lots of debris, and filling in with mud and sand. It could have formed a slow leaking wall. It had to be what had been described as the devils pit because it was the only spot that could be easily climbed out of. We'll never know for sure, that was one of the attractions we had come to see, and missing it produced some disappointment.
I climbed up a loose steep ramp on the right side for about 40 feet, and rappelled down 40 feet to a large pine tree on the edge of the cliff. From here I could see the upper emerald pool, and lots of visitors enjoying the cool water about 500 feet below. I returned to the canyon and we started setting up our gear for the last rappel. We went over the bulge on the right and set some slings on the large pine tree. I rapped down about 165 feet to a large crack in the wall, with a small tree growing from it. This rap was vertical but not overhanging, I was able to keep my feet against the wall to the crack.
There's plenty of room here for both of us, from here its totally overhanging, and a free rappel to the ground. We took out the parachute cord. Which took some tine untangling, and lowered both packs to the ground, keeping the cord tight so It would not get tangled with the rope. The three bolts we found in the wall were solid and we felt secure with the addition of another sling. I tied the parachute cord to the rope through a rope locking device that should cone down when we retrieve the rope. I ran the rope through six break bars, and lowered it out over the edge from the other end to keep it from tangling, and stepped out over the edge. It went free immediately, and was a pleasant trip down. I touched the ground on the talus slope about 40 feet from the pool. Lori rappelled down immediately after. The rope was retrieved with the parachute cord, and as planned, the rope locking device also fell to the ground. We both agreed the rappel was a beautiful experience climaxing Heaps Canyon. We gathered up our gear, and hiked back to our car.
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