Getting a Clue: Aron Ralston and Ice in Pleiades Canyon, Moab


Poor choices will be punished. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Aron Ralston and I are in Pleiades Canyon. It is May 2012 and it is hot in Moab. This canyon is the perfect place to be, midday, to beat the heat. I will admit to being surprised that the canyon is so seriously ice-choked so late in the year. Many features I remember are buried under feet of ice. New anchor stations have sprung up, above the buried, standard ones. It is wonderful! Beautiful! Engaging! Pretty darn slippery too.


The rappels in Pleiades Canyon are all right next to each other and so I come up with the bright idea (yeah right!) that after the rope pull, just carry a rope end over 20 feet and thread through the next anchor. No reason to stuff the rope back in the bag, right? WRONG! You would think after countless alpine climbs in mixed conditions, I would understand the true nature of the "moat," that wonderful divide between snow/ice and rock. How the snow/ice will melt out and be separated from the rock, deep under the edge of the snow/ice. The perfect place for things to go behind and get caught. So rather than take the time to stuff the bag AND toss it well past such potential traps, I lower the rope, on the 4th rap, down around the blind corner from the anchor. Smart, real smart! I start my rap down and sure enough, there is copious amounts of rope hidden under the ice edge. Delicate business, getting it out. Yank and your screwed. Locking off, on rappel is easy enough. Staying upright on smooth, steep ice, while working the moat? Not so easy. And the rope enters at one place, and exits 10 feet lower.

So I pull much rope out from the top. It wedges here and there, but oh so gently, it comes unwedged... but then it is stuck. Yank! Much more stuck now. Ummmm, what to do? I unlock and rap 10 feet further and start to work the rope coming out from the bottom.. It wedges here and there, but oh so gently, it comes unwedged... until it is stuck again. Yank! Much more stuck now. Ummmm, what to do now?


Ice Capades

Getting back up to where the rope comes in, I tug again a bit and it seems the rope will come from the top now, but I am cramping. My hands are frozen. And it seems we are at a spot where we need two people, one working the top spot and one working the bottom. So I unclip and downclimb the rest of the rap, drop my pack, then climb back up, break off a huge chunk of ice so that I can stay in a stem, by the place where the rope is coming out the bottom. Aren't I a clever boy?


Rappelling down the Ice Flow in Pleiades Canyon

I fill in Aron, as best as I can over the flow and the echo of the ice chamber and he raps down to the spot where the rope enters the ice. He switches the biner block around and raps off the rope that would have been the pull side. He is able to get out some rope, from above and then it sticks. Then I am able to get out some rope, from below and it sticks. A few more cycles and it is almost all out... and then it sticks for good. Not much rope in there, but stuck it is, from top and bottom. I try to break off some ice, to access better, but it is like a brick. No-go on that idea. Suddenly an ice chunk breaks off from above. A bit smaller than a football. I see it coming. At the last moment, I move my head a foot and it flies by. Boy, this is getting more fun all the time!




So guess who has the knife? That's right, its Aron, the one armed guy, locked off on rappel, on steep ice, with a rope heading into a moat right below him. And where is the knife? In his pack, naturally. So I get to witness this talented fella, locked off, on rappel, on steep ice, take his pack off, find the knife, get his pack back on, open the knife, cut the stuck rope from the top, rap down a little, cut the rope coming from the bottom, tie the 2 ends together, so we have enough rope to pull the ropes and rap down. Piece a cake! Sigh! Lost about 15 feet on the ropes length and left about 4 feet of rope wedged deep in the moat, to wash out with the thaw.


Aron doing the rope work

Rope bags! Rope bags work in all kinds of places. Take the extra time. You think I would have a clue by now. And talking about Clue, if we were playing the game, it would have been: Aron... in the canyon... with the knife.