Freeze Fest IX, North Wash, Tom’s View (part 1)

FFIX My Book

FFIX My Book

Dec 15- I was way stoked, packing for Freeze Fest, thinking about all the canyon possibilities – a good chance for me to explore Dave’s Mini-Slots, and revisit old favorites. Seems like North Wash trips had fallen by the wayside, the last couple of years. As of Dec 15th, the weather had been mild, and I was looking forward to a pleasant, easy Freeze Fest, after two or three or four bitterly cold ones.

Dec 17 – After two furious days shipping catalogs, I drove north to meet with Doc Rosen (diagnosis: “You are no longer young”), get a Cortizone shot in the elbow, then enjoy an afternoon, empty-theater showing of 127 Hours at the Broadway. Partied down with the Salt Lakers at the annual Holiday Party – old friends and new. Next day, visited Roger and Jane, hung out with Alicia and Jenny, saw another movie – before flying to Sacramento to spend time with my Sister and Dad for Christmas.

Dec 19-26:  Visited with Dad, fretted about the flooding at home in Zion, but mostly spent the time feverish and coughing, working through my annual Christmas cold, reading books and, well, sleeping.  Back to Salt Lake on the 26th, then drove home for a final packing.

Dec 27-28-29: A phone call from the front said good weather, fun times, canyons getting done, but with a front moving in. I begged off an early arrival in favor of sleeping in a warm bed and continuous coughing at home; but finally finished packing and drove out to North Wash. The goal was to arrive before the storm hit, so I could set up my tent on dry ground and get inside before getting soaked.

Arrival – Tom: 2:10 am. Storm: 3:00 am.

FFIX My tent

My tent after the snow.

Dan Ransom click for larger image

Dan Ransom holding court in the Festive Party Tent

Dec 29: It rained. All day. Forty degrees and raining – perfect hypothermia weather – I passed on doing a canyon, while folks went out and did a few in the rain.  Got the Festive Party Tent up during a lull in the storm. Read my book (thanks Randi). Shot some video inside the tent – gotta learn to be more careful with the focus!

Dec 30: After 24 hours of rain, it turned to snow about 3:00 am.  We woke up to a winter-wonderland. Everything froze. For the day, I alternated between the Festive Party Tent and the Festive Party Pathfinder.  The book was good. Heat in the Pathfinder was also good.

‘Bout 3 pm, Aaron wandered by, bored out of his gourd. “We should go do something” he said.  OK, can’t sit around ALL day (like, say, yesterday)… so I threw on a wetsuit for some canyon snow-wading, grabbed a few things, and we meandered over to Leprechaun, expecting to meet the big group coming down from the top.  First obstacle was the little upclimb – non-trivial with snow and ice on it.  With some support from below, Aaron did an inspired dynamic bellyflop to a dubious hold, and managed to worm his way up.  I followed, batmanning up the rope.

FFIX Leprechaun looking up toward the Subway section

Leprechaun, looking up toward the Subway section

We proceeded upward, no sign of the gang coming down.  It was snowy up to the intersection with the East Fork, where we dropped camera, extra gear, packs and clothing in anticipation of the struggle ahead.  Into Belfast Boulevard and shimmeying up through the rocks – ahhhh – what I remembered from last year – once in the canyon, snow-free, wind-free, pleasant and fun.

We wormed upward – an old friend – between the two of us, we figured we might have been through this section 60 times! Some new rockfall at the top of Belfast Boulevard made it a bit more interesting. Just plain fun canyon climbing up to the intersection with the West Fork.  Hmmm, no sign of the gang – not a good sign.  4 p.m. – time for them to show up.  It was snowy in the open area at the intersection.  We wrote “RAM” in the snow and headed back down.  I spent some time finding a new way through the rocks, then, in Belfast, we hear voices – coming from the East Fork!

Aaron Ramras in Leprechaun

Aaron in Leprechaun, base of Belfast Boulevard


Conditions up top had been grim.  Snowy conditions led to bad judgment, dropping Victor 10 feet into the snow when the anchor pulled; on the entry rap to the Middle Fork, which is usually downclimbed. They bailed on the Middle Fork and chose the easier East Fork.  Easier, yes, but also more open to the sky, so it was cold and snowy all the way.

Aaron and I hung out as they played the last rap in East, then slid down the exit to where we were. By then we were cold, and everyone hightailed it back to camp: hot drinks, dry clothes, cold beer, dinner, warm cars – with the promise of a major drop in temperature overnight. My hour of mild exertion worked me pretty good – confirmation of my status on the disabled list.  Talk was of setting ropes the next day for exiting the Black Hole.

I said “Have a good time”.


About Tom Jones

Tom is the progenitor of Tom's Utah Canyoneering Guide, Utah's premier canyoneering information resource, and Imlay Canyon Gear, America's #1 maker of canyoneering-specific gear. If he's not canyoneering, he's probably snuggled up with a good book.
Posted on Jan 6th, 2011 Canyoneering, Freeze Fest, North Wash, Tom Jones, Trip Report

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