Aardvark Canyon, UT
Kris invited me out for a little canyon adventure in a system he had been exploring. Kris's neighbor, Keith, is a pilot and was flying back from Arizona when he spotted this interesting-looking canyon system in a fairly unlikely spot, took some photos and got Kris and a few neighbors interested. They spent a weekend figuring out how to get up to it, then a weekend exploring the South Fork. On this trip, we descend the South Fork complete, then also descend the North Fork, thus completing the exploration. Since this canyon enjoys the "show-not-tell" status, I have used the obfuscating name "Aardvark Canyon." Pictures this Latest Rave: by all - a mix of pictures.
Note about helmets: Yeah, I could not believe these guys did not wear helmets. I raked them over the coals pretty good for it, don't worry.
Here’s the gang, Kris Nosack (left), Brian Moncur and Kieth Sorenson.
First problem – climbing up out of the exit canyon to get to the toplands and the start of the canyon.
(The story, from Kris's perspective:)
While I haven't been able to get out for much canyoneering, I was able to explore a canyon without beta this year. With tales of Sandthrax and the like haunting my memory, I was apprehensive, but excited by the prospect of facing the unknown and testing myself.
The first foray failed to find an approach route to the canyon. On the second trip we found a workable route. Since the approach had consumed a large part of the day, the decision was made to attempt only the lower 1/2 mile of the south fork. We walked down to the edge of the canyon and rapped in, leaving Kieth on top in case we had to retreat. The canyon quickly slotted up and as the group pushed ahead, people were left as relays (by voice or radio) back to the rap in spot. The lead two found an escape and signalled us relays to move down canyon as the exit seemed certain.
When considering this trip, 3 outcomes seemed logical: the canyon would be too narrow and result in Sandthrax-like misery, the canyon would be too wide and result in an unexciting walk down a wash, or the canyon would be just right and offer the fun canyoneers seek. I was happy to discover this canyon was just right. A good mix of slot punctuated by pools and open sections. The canyon was friendly and entertaining. The final drop was the icing on the cake.
The objective of the next trip was to descend the entire south fork. I walked to the head while the other 3 in our group scouted from the rim. I found a spicy walk-in route and headed down canyon.
Classic multi-butt shot!
Up on top, looking into the Wingate maze that holds our canyons.
Skirting some slabs to get around to the top of the canyon. They let me lead out across the desert, and I did a good job of finding the most difficult and strenuous way of getting there.
Kris downclimbing into the canyon.
Top of the canyon was a little brushy…
But then it narrowed up, and we had our first climbing problem. We went high, over the top.
While I would like to leave this report vague out of respect for those who prefer to go with as little beta as possible, allow me to relate one detailed glimpse: I encountered some tight slot sections and one that had me stumped for a while. It dropped and slotted at the same time with the slot at my feet starting at a sharp "V" and slowly widening downcanyon. My first attempt revealed that my pelvis is not as narrow as I thought it was. I retreated from the pelvic wedge and tried to worm my way out farther before dropping - still a wedgie. I didn't like the looks of stemming across, but it now seemed the best choice. Being alone added to my tentativeness. Taking the stem slowly, bit by bit it yielded. At an exit I was joined by Kieth's young son and we continued down. After a drop into a swimmer pool of organic soup, he took the next exit out leaving me alone again. It was nice to know I had support up on the rim, but it still felt odd and unnerving to be in a new canyon by myself. The canyon continued to entertain until I reached, what I call, Mario Slot.
On the previous trip I had walked up-canyon from our rap-in location to see what it looked like. Around a single bend I was confronted with a 30 foot wall with a thin, crooked cut down it's face and underneath a bombay into a pool. Peering into the dim crack I wondered if it was passable. Now here I was at the top of this threatening obstacle... I was about to write a detailed description of my experience here, but I've decided against it. I don't want to spoil the fun for those who prefer to go in sans beta. Suffice it to say that my solo descent of this section is in the top 5 of my canyoneering experiences. I joined the rest of the team and we continued down and out the previously explored lower canyon.
The final trip, just two weekends ago, was the final exploration of this canyon: the north fork. Tom Jones joined us making the group 4 - a bit skimpy for exploring an unknown canyon, but when has such trivial matters deterred real adventurers! Yes, a bit unwise, but the presence of the Emperor shored up our resolve.
The first day was a run through the south fork - everyone seemed to enjoy it.
And more short sections of narrows, dark narrows.
A few short swims were sprinkled in, just to keep things interesting.
Here’s Brian after a brief splash through a puddle.
Tom setting a rappel. The canyon yielded up natural anchors pretty easily. Several short rappels were made, often into little pools. Very nice.
And then, the Finale. A classic rappel into the land of the living. Kieth standing near the top…
But first – the final 100′ rap was guarded by a small ‘keeper’ pothole. Okay, not REALLY keeper, maybe ‘squirmer’.
We used the rope tossed over it to help squirm our way out.
And up through an awkward slot.
And down to the trees, the hanging garden, a beautiful oasis.
Next day, we climbed up AGAIN!
We decided the best way to get to the North Fork was to drop into the South Fork, and climb out the other side, at a place we had scouted the day before. Here’s looking down into the maze.
A couple of short drops… Some brush…
There were some interesting drops into pools. Some bats…
The second day we crossed the south fork on approach for the north and walked to the head. Again with my aim of not giving too much away, it started out quite brushy but became tolerable about 1/3 of the way down. Another good mix of narrow slot, pools, downclimbs but the north fork threw in a few more raps. I didn't recognize the confluence pool at first, but it became apparent after I looked it over more. Then the final drop and the north fork was done. A nice canyon with attributes similar to it's sibling to the south but with it's own unique flavor.
Yes, risk cuts both ways, but I genuinely enjoyed the added spice of exploring a canyon with no details of what it held. I've visited many canyons armed with beta and enjoyed the experience - each canyon has it's own charm that is revealed to the visitor. But for those who can tolerate some risk, and come prepared with contingencies, the sans beta style can be rewarding and a way to spice up your canyoneering. That said, we had gathered from maps that this canyon was unlikely to be a real trap—this was confirmed by our first trip to the canyon rim where we were able to survey it's general character. So we weren't reckless in our adventure.
Some readers may be wondering if this canyon has a name. Well, not on any map we saw. I think Tom has a name for it that will appear in his up-coming Rave.
Eventually the canyon deepened up and started to look serious. Here’s looking down a two-stage rap down into the mysterious black slot. Would it go? Would the slot be a high, dangerous Mae West?
I checked it out and gave the thumbs up, and the rest of the crew came down. Kris on rappel.
Downclimb into the slot..
And unfortunately, the slot had a swim!
Continuing on, we soon came to a final slot dropping down into the pool where the North and South Forks joined - then the 'squirmer' and the rappel to the land of the living.
A good time had by all. A nice canyon, new. Freshies!! We returned home, victorious.