Table of Contents

Editorial ---

Features ---
The Grim Swim

Hole Sweet Hole

Alternative Anchoring

Wet Canyons
of Colorado

Gear ---
Beyond Helmets
and Harnesses

Technique ---
Double Coil

Book Reviews ---
Kelsey Plateau, 4th ed.

Van Tilburg & Annerino

History ---
The Black Book


News and Safety




Water World at 10,000 feet
by Charly Oliver

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Shivering in the cold light of dawn, cup of coffee steaming in my hands, I anxiously watch the ridgeline to the east, waiting for the sun's rays to break through the trees. My friend Mark Day is busy cooking breakfast on the Coleman two-burner, burning the eggs I think. The distracting sounds of dishes clanking and Mark swearing pull me from my reverie.

There is a pile of gear strewn over the ground at my feet. "Look at all this crap" I think as I stand there dumbly staring at the pile. "Let's see, what I can leave behind". Wet suit, harness, rope, hardware. Hmmm… The immortal words of alpinist John Bouchard echo through my head. "If light is right, then lighter must be righter".

Mark and I have been scouting potential canyons in the mountains of Colorado for the past four days. Our usual agenda would have us looking for crags to climb. Instead, we've been ferreting out tight, steep drainages. Hopefully, with numerous waterfalls to rappel.

I've been exploring the desert canyons of the Colorado Plateau almost as long as I've been climbing. This itch that I must scratch comes from a childhood desire to explore combined with an adult exposure to the surreal Daliesque landscape of the Utah desert. As a climber, I became interested in using my climbing skills to descend the more difficult of these canyons; negotiating steep slickrock slabs and pourovers smooth as a baby's butt.

It has been some fifteen years since my first exposure to canyoning, the European version of what we call canyoneering. Back then I couldn't figure it out. It looked like these idiots were rappelling right down waterfalls! Not even staying out of the water but rapping right down the middle of the falls. Cold water hammering down on your head. Slippery rock. What was the point? At the time it looked stupid to me. I just didn't get it.

Then, last spring, Mark and I attended an American Canyoneering Association guides course in Phoenix, Arizona. Rich Carlson, a CEC certified canyoneering guide, was offering the first European affiliated guide certification training here in the U.S. I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet a few cool people and explore some new terrain. But I didn't think I would really learn anything useful - after all, I'm a climber. Boy was I wrong.

Over the course of that week, I was exposed to a completely new set of techniques that allows me to embrace moving water as part of the adventure and experience. Most Utah canyons have water, but the stuff just sits still. It can be cold, filthy, smelly and quite a challenge to get past, but it ain't moving.

Learning techniques to deal with the moving water element inspired Mark and I to start looking for canyon descents more in the European model. What we found is a wealth of these canyons, all over Colorado. Steep drops with fast moving water, narrows and wild water swimming. All the adventure you could want in a spectacular mountain setting.

Mark Day tiptoeing through the pine trees, 3rd waterfall, Upper Wolf CreekAn hour and a half after wolfing down a huge breakfast burrito, I was peering down from a fourth class traverse, above a raging torrent. In the shady narrows fifteen feet below me was Mark, struggling his way through a jam of downed pine trees that had washed into the canyon and completely choked the narrows we were attempting to negotiate. The jam was perched precariously, right above a noisy waterfall. One slip and Mark would be history. If the jam were to unexpectedly break free he would be washed over the drop into God knows what. He couldn't even see through the trees to tell what lay below.

A combination of judicious pruning and brute force allowed Mark to reach a safe stance on the other side of the narrows. From there he was able to poke his head through the jumble of vegetation to see what lay below. A white water boil at the bottom of the twenty foot falls led into a narrows a mere fifteen feet wide. It was clear the water was cold and the current strong. This was no place to screw up. Mark turned toward me exposing a huge grin from ear to ear. "Yeah boy!" was all he had to say.

After sneaking my way across the slick, fourth class traverse, I managed to make it to the safety of Mark's stance. Peering down into the stygian gloom I gulped and tugged at the crotch of my wet suit. Seems I had a lot less room in there five minutes ago. I turned to Mark and managed to say with a totally straight face. "This one's yours, right?" After all, he was wearing the single PFD we had brought along to "share" if needed. In typical fashion, Mark rigged the anchor, tied in and stepped to the edge.

I lowered Mark into the boil, remembering his strict instructions: "Give me lots of slack once I hit the water". He needed to be able to swim out of the boil unrestricted by the pull of the rope. The noise of the waterfall in this tight, confined space was nothing short of deafening! There was no way I would be able to hear Mark yell for anything if he needed it. I would just have to watch, wait, and hope that nothing would go wrong. As luck would have it, nothing did.

Mark hit the water and started stroking powerfully downstream. Bobbing like a cork in the fast current he swam down the narrows and disappeared around the corner. After a short wait, he came into view standing in knee deep water looking up at me. His mouth was moving but there was no way I could tell what he was saying. I just saw that huge grin again and knew it was my turn.

Mark rapping into the tempest, 2nd waterfall, Upper Wolf Creek

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