Bolt Removal, Potholes, and New Anchors in Quandary Canyon, Direct, San Rafael Swell


A few years ago, I stuck some bolts in the difficult, central section of Quandary Canyon in the San Rafael Swell, thinking I was doing the world a service. Oy veh! I've caught a rash of excrement for this act, and it seemed like a nice fall weekend to go check out the situation, try an all-natural descent, and pull some of the offending bolts.

So I put out the call for a few burly canyoneers to join me. Unfortunately, none were available, so I had to make do with these guys – “Scooter” Holley; the Brezmeister, working on his Elvis costume; and the new chick, Jen. Here we rally the gear at the autos, in preparation for visiting Wild Horse Canyon and doing a few stunts.

Also joining us on this occasion is The Church Lady, sponsored by Black Diamond.

Elvis starts down the inside of the simul-rap of Skylight Arch. That’s the short, skinny Elvis.

And… on the outside of the Arch, Mr. Holly holding down his end of the rope.

Jen may be a beginner, but she really pulls her weight. With Scott and Elvis counter-weighting the other end of the rope, Jen starts over the lip.

And finally, we send the Church Lady last. Caught on screen by Steve – good job.

But on to Quandary. Bounce down the dirt road to Hidden Splendor. Throw some dinner together. Pop the tent out on the not-entirely-abandoned airstrip and grab some ZZZZs. Get up as early as you can, given the slow-rising sun and cool temps. Chug some coffee and pack the stuff in the car, drive to the "dead car" trailhead. Charge up the hillside to the start of Quandary Canyon. Yeah! Fall in the desert is pretty wonderful.

A little hiking and a little down-jumping and we arrive at the first real drop. Jen enjoys her first rappel off a Macrame Knot. “Now, explain again… why do I have to go first??”

We follow the canyon into a lovely glen wherin is found this very nice natural bridge. Here the minions desperately support the tottering stone for the Emperor’s crossing.

A little relaxation in the morning sun. Before “the business” begins.

The canyon narrows up and becomes sinuous, interesting, beautiful…

Let’s just say I’m not real fond of cold water, early in the morning.

Jen, a Triathlete, is pretty used to getting in the cold water early in the morning.

Rather than avoiding the first “keeper” pothole by bypassing right, we rapped down and in, did a short swim and exited a not-too-hard exit. Scott’s out in front with the “Happy Hooker.”

And finally, we get to the real "Business", where the Direct Route starts. This is where I placed a drilled angle 2 years ago, which some people think sucks unwary people into the Direct. The Mission was to descend the canyon using all natural anchors and pulling the superfluous bolts.

At this first, most important anchor, we searched fruitlessly for natural anchors in the immediate area. It might be possible to go drag some big rocks from upcanyon to these sand-filled potholes, but instead we utilized a new device I made called the Sandbag. Learn more about the sandbag.

I can't say we were entirely committed to removing all the bolts. The real concern was with the first one (that might suck people in) and the third one, which was quite loose. Therefore we descended to each drop and removed those two, and left two. The form of the rock is not particularly amenable to finding natural anchors (or, sans excuses, it was too much work to construct them from the scanty resources available). I must say, the canyon was much more complex, beautiful and fun than I had remembered.

We found the canyon quite dry. Easier or harder? Difficult to say. Given our good selection of tools and Scott’s and Steve’s good climbing skills, we enjoyed the modest challenge presented.

We left this bolt in, and set up a guided rappel so only Scott had to deal with the keeper pothole in-between.

This pic is an example of why you don’t give Steve the camera.

The big keeper pothole was dry. After downclimbing into it, Steve tried a pack toss a few times to surmount the 10' high lip. He could get the pack onto the lip, but not over the other side. "Why don't I just climb it?" OK, with a running start, Steve sends the dreaded "Big Keeper Dyno - V2" first try.

And we left this piton, the last one, even with 3 slings on it.

And here’s the rap off that last bolt. A short rap and we are out of the intense, middle pothole part of the canyon.

Here's one way to circumvent the last rappel bolt, clean.

A. Sequence half the team down (shown as yellow rope). (Sequencing is where a person rappels off of one or more people braced in the canyon. Sequencing assumes that the anchor people can brace themselves advantageously to resist the force of the first etc. people rappelling. It is called "sequencing" because the sequence you send people down is critical to success. In some circumstances, the last person is left to downclimb or jump).

B. First half of team takes the rope and climbs around to a point above the folks still in the canyon.

C. Second half of team is sequenced down off the people above (shown as blue rope).

One final, odd bolt allows rapping this slab, rather than a little circuitous 4th class downclimb. Hmmm, bolt proliferation… hmmmm. Probably should have yanked this one.

Hunt Draw is a charming, though desolate, hike along the face of the reef. There is an intriguing selection of sharply dipping sandstone layers lining both sides of the draw.

This is a wonderful time of year. After popping out of the difficult section, you can actually walk in the sun without being fried to a crisp. We descend the rest of Quandary to Hunt Draw, then turn left and head for the elusive Ramp Canyon.

The entrance to Ramp is not entirely obvious. Well, truthfully, it’s not very difficult either. Sure, it requires basic skills like reading a topo map. Or print this picture out, and hike up Hunt Draw until you find three people pointing into the air…

The ramp in Ramp Canyon. Hike along the base of it.

And finally, the difficult spot in Ramp Canyon, easily dispatched by The Boyz. I, for one, was glad to have a belay this time around. Back to the car. Malt beverages. Ray’s Tavern. Life is Good.