Ditch Fest: Grand Canyoneering in Marble Canyon
"Take me to the river"
February 6th, 2009
The Young Turks of Arizona invited Ram out to explore a few canyons around the north end of the Grand Canyon (the Marble Canyon area). This became 'Ditch Fest' and I somehow wrangled an invite for me.
The weather declined to cooperate, and we ratched back the ambition of our first trip. Good weather was predicted for the 6th, not so good for the 7th, worse after that. Rich and Todd had a slot they wanted to explore that was a two day - over to and down the slot the first day; down the river and climb out an exit on the second day. We figured we could do the float and climb out in the rain, if we had to, but HAD to get down the slot the first day, to camp on the beach.
Rich Rudow, munching n' lunching up at the top of the slot.
There was a bit of a hike to get to the slot... (no pictures)... then we started down the slot. Rich and Todd and taken two trips down here to find the route in, and to size up what the slot would require. So we knew about 10 raps up to a big one at the end, probably 200 feet. Pools. Wetsuits. Etc.
We found natural anchors for all the raps, combined a few, tied off some Tamarisks, and slowly made progress to the last rap.
My faith in the low-friction nature of polished limestone was not rewarded, as the rope stuck good just before the last rappel. We fiddled with it for awhile, but finally Rich climbed back up the rope to see what was sticking. Not much, really, a pigtail of twists had caught the blocking biner.
Aaron rapping in.
Finally, we got the final rappel set up. Ram was cold so we sent him down first. We did not KNOW how long it was, but the guess from Todd was pretty close to 200 feet. From the top, it kinda looked like about 200 feet.
Because the previous rope stuck and had a short anchor sling, I used the wait to extend the anchor for the final rap out to the edge, which seemed rather unnecessary with the polished, low-friction rock, but...
We could not see the bottom from the top. Ram started down and still could not see. 150' down, the rap passed a ledge and went free, and Ram could see the rope resting on a slopey ledge, 50 feet above the pool at the bottom. How slopey? Hard to say... down to it, Ram finds 5 extra feet of rope, and a 'reasonable' but not comfortable ledge... YIKES!
We soon were all down, thankful for our good luck. Another 10 feet and... trouble for sure. We made our way to the beach, set up camp, had a little dinner, and settled in for the night, expecting rain to show up at some point.
"Toss me in the water"
February 7th, 2009
We were surprised to wake to blue skies, puffy clouds. Better get on the river while it lasts! One last picture of the final rappel...
Last rap from camp.
The guys on the beach during a snack break.
These guys had found these Micro Rafts that were small and light enough to be carried down into the Big Ditch. Here's the crew, Todd Martin, Aaron Locander, Steve Ramras aka Ram and Rich Rudow - grabbing some sun at our lunch break. Kinda chilly on the river, being about 1" off the surface.
Todd had a “Giant” raft he was trying out, the Big Green Machine. Helped on the rescue.
Ram was a bit uncomfortable at the start, but hey, the man’s a natural, picked it up quick.
A couple hours of floating down a beautiful river… Aaron built his own little boat for this trip, and carried a real kayak paddle – good thing!
Well, I guess I should explain about the rescue...
These boats are neither manueverable nor particularly sea-worthy. We stopped to portage a riffle, and then had to deal with the eddy below the riffle to get back on the water-heading-downstream. The eddy resisted. I paddled more aggresively and made it into the edge of the rapid's runout, hoping to be taken downstream. Just as a realized that this area of water was dominated by upwellings, water domed to my right... and the boat fell right over, into it.
Not much of a wipeout, really, considering you start 1" above the water. I grabbed the raft and the pack floated away. Todd bore down on it in the Big Green Machine and took it to shore. Aaron rescued me, then we fought the eddy for a bit. That Kayak paddle came in handy, and we finally reached shore.
Rich informed me that I had the honor of their first Colorado River Wipeout, and successful rescue. Well, quite an honor, I would say...
Then we hiked up 3000 feet to the rim and Aaron's car. More than a couple-a miles of dirt road got us to the highway; an hour on the highway got us to camp. Aaron headed back to the big city. For the rest of us, it was cold and dark, a quick and delicious Ram-meal, then Rich and I went and fetched his car, a 3 hour endeavor.
In the morning, with an unfavorable forecast and very stiff knees, I headed back to Mt. Carmel for some R&R (rest and resuscitation)...
February 8th, 2009
Feb 8, 2009 Music for the Day: Tonton Macoute
Happiness is pancakes with genuine New Hampshire Maple Syrup!
Shouldn't They Be Hanging Their Heads in Shame?
Music for the Day: Happy the Man
Our man Obama had his first press conference. Obstructionist Republican Senators was the main topic of discussion. Obama was admirably restrained.
John Dickerson at Slate: The performance was systematic, commanding, at times belabored, and a test of a new kind of political communication. Obama hoped to use the press conference to keep the pressure on Congress to enact his stimulus bill. He talked of urgency, but there was nothing urgent about the evening. That's wonderful, in a way. We want people with low blood pressure in high-pressure jobs. But as a political act of theater—and that's what a press conference is, in part—the questions coming out of Obama's colloquium are whether he created the sense of urgency he was aiming for and whether he characterized his opponents as powerfully and acutely as necessary to reframe the debate on his terms. If the president's job is to persuade, can it be done through patient instruction with only a few hints of harangue?
MY opinion: Have the Republicans no shame? 8 years of atrociousness bordering on criminal (and, I'm not saying which side of the border, here) got us into this mess. Get the frak out of the way! Finally we have someone home in the White House - with the lights on. If nothing else, the Republicans demonstrated that incompetence CAN wreck the country - it's time for them to do their duty to the country and let Obama govern without their posturing and grandstanding. Adults—stay; Children—leave right now!
"There's A Blue Sky, Way Up Yonder"
February 10th, 2009
Music for the Day: Marillion
Using the quiet time at home to work on the Knot Book. Added a couple knots to the On-Line Draft of the Knot Book. Eating, regaining strength, staying warm and dry...
Pretty good looking day out. Sunny, melting, blue skies…
POLITICS Great piece today in Slate by Dahlia Lithwick on Obama's first potential big legal blunder:
See No Evil Why is the Obama administration clinging to an indefensible state-secrets doctrine? By Dahlia Lithwick
How then, is it possible that Obama's Justice Department chose to stay the course on one of the most embarrassing legal theories advanced by the Bush administration—the so-called state-secrets privilege? If you're going to cling to any aspect of the "war on terror," wouldn't it make sense to choose a power that could arguably forestall future terror attacks (like coercive interrogation) rather than the utterly bogus argument that courts are not fit to scrutinize government wrongdoing?
"Grand Canyon Fest Update"
February 11th, 2009
Okay, enough Politics. What about the Grand Canyon Fest?
The weather is looking not so hot on the Marble Canyon forecast.
Just like North Wash, interpretation is everything. Marble Canyon is down low, below the snow line, and out on a big, flat plain. The canyons dry quickly, though the roads a bit less so. These guys have it figured out, and there are plenty of reasonable adventures to do, even with inclement weather in the forecast. The narrows do not tend to be long and committing.
Yes, expect it to be somewhat cold and windy. Bring layers and rain clothing, and a wet suit, and other stuff like that. The last couple of days, there have only been brief, light showers. It has been windy from time to time, sometimes making cooking difficult, at least cooking outside the festive party tent. The expectation is that there will be fun canyons to do every day, conditions will be somewhat tough, and nights might end up being spent mostly in the party tent.
Word on the street is that the motel at Cliffdwellers is open, and amenable to packing people into rooms. They are 10 minutes from our camp, and they have a restaurant, where we might eat dinner if it seems wise. There are short canyons to do, very pretty, and longer canyons to do also, for which we have secured the required permits.
In other words - GAME ON! Come on out and suff... I mean, have a great time with all these amazing, tough and enjoyable people!
February 12th, 2009
Eventually, Ram enticed me back out into the wilds. Given our creaky knees, we choose a casual stroll with one rappel for a 'warm up' kinda thing.
(Compare the weather encountered to the weather predicted!)
Ram in the Festive Party Tent, morning of the 12th.
Starting out the day, across the highway to the canyon. Blue skies above.
Yup. Looks like bad weather, today — NOT!
The anchor as we found it – a huge length of neon webbing around this horn, ‘backing up’ (with plenty of slack) a single pretty good bolt, well back from the edge. Strange location choice.
Ram raps in 20-something canyon.
Here’s how we left the anchor – a tidy piece of black webbing, using the huge natural anchor alone. This used most of our 100′ rope for the rap.
Here’s an old bolt, now unused. Mysterious how the bolt-placers in this part of the world tend to place them far back from the edge. Weird, actually.
Hiked out to the river. For this canyon, the exit is a half-mile downcanyon where a breakdown allows climbing above the cliff layers. Ram hikes along the river.
Then back across the plain to the highway, a little squall hitting us before we reached the road.
Back at camp, Lori Curry from Las Vegas had arrived. We nest in the Festive Party Tent and do a little reading…
Storm cell moved in, blasting us with snow and wind, for a few minutes.
Clearing the storm, from our camp out on the flat, below the Vermillion Cliffs.
Starting out the day, across the highway to the canyon. Blue skies above.
Harbringers of Spring!
February 15th, 2009
No, no. Not me!!!
My first sign of spring, the last couple of years, is a FedEx box shows up with this CRAZY Cake inside, which is both garish and delicious.
I understand they will soon be offering remedial reading to FedEx Employees…
But, no harm done, the delicious cake and trinkets are intact and ready to be applied directly to my thighs!! (The cake, not the trinkets…)
Big thanks to Mike "Stuck-man" Putiak.