Egypt 4, Escalante, UT
10/31/08 Dear (Wyoming) Dave and Todd (Martin),
How are you guys doing? Todd, our timing was unfortunate this month, with my Arizona trip in early October, sandwiched smack between your two Grand Canyon explorations. It was a shame to miss you. Dave, it was great seeing you at Kings Mesa for four days. It is about the events of two days after you left that I am writing.
I think it is a little over two years since the three of us met for part of a wonderful trip down to Escalante. If I recall, part of the purpose was for Todd to try out his legs and head on harder canyons, in a safe (sorta) incremental way. It was a lot of fun. On our fourth day together, we attempted Egypt 4.
Wyo Dave smiling like usual
Spiderman AKA Steve Jackson was supposed to join us. None of us had met him yet, as you may recall. Just last week I got additional information on why he didn't make it: He was riding on an old familiar horse, with his 18 month old son in hand, when the horse bucked and then fell to the ground. While the horse was falling, taking the riders with him, Spidey threw his son, to his nearby cousin. Just launched the kid in the air. Better than letting him get crushed under a ton of animal, I guess... but I sure wouldn't want the pressure of that throw. Ain't no sandbag. Turns out the throw was good, the catch better, and the little tyke (David?) didn't even cry. Now Spidey... that's a different story. I understand no one can figure out why Spidey's lower body wasn't crushed under the full weight of the beasty, but lets just say, Steve was not out dancing that week. Some guys have all the luck.
Spidey and his son
As you recall, on the day we tried Egypt 4, the early potholes had lots of water and our feet got wet. It had rained a few days before and the walls were a bit sandy and in places damp. Ahhhh, the irony. Dave and I showing you, Todd, how to do a stemming canyon. You were the only one that day who moved with any skill and confidence, and I was the worst.
Ram resting before a physical upclimb
You got up to that high log, a 100 yards into the thing, with ease and grace. I tried to follow you, got my arms in a chicken wing position and flailed my way up... almost to you. And my chicken wing was not all that was chicken. I scared the poo out of myself. Thought I was gonna do a 30-foot ground fall. As soon as I got my arms into a mantle, I turned 180 degrees and flew back down to Dave, who had watched my dangerous and pitiful performance with much alarm. I was done! Toast. Cooked. Fried. Not only was my confidence meter reading zero, my (lack of) performance punctured Dave's confidence tank, albeit not as thoroughly as mine. What are friends for, right Dave? Pulled up the pics of the day that Todd took. We went up E3 that afternoon.
I saw the disappointment in your eyes, Todd. Sorry about that. As you know, the rest of the week more than made up for this.
I'm writing now to say... I got back there and descended Egypt 4 on October 19th. When Rick Green, a two-time E4 veteran, had the day open, I figured it was now or never.
Rick Green in the Egypt 4 Business
I tend to internalize scary moments and associate them with the exact place they happened. Only going back and doing the canyon well exorcises the demons, and Rick is the perfect partner for such things. He had a friend with him, and asked if he could bring him. As if he had to ask me? I asked if the fella had X canyon experience... "No, but he is a long time climber and yada yada yada...." I had heard THIS ONE before!! A great climber with no X canyon experience MAY, I say, MAY do well in there, but they are almost always slow, because they lack the experience micro-route finding in this venue. More and more, I need to move fast through these places. Fast means less time to think. It means less time in the exposure. Fast, but with reasonable breaks. If the breaks last too long, waiting for someone, I start to think too much. Soon I want to run and hide... or fly. Umm, not thrilled with someone new to the high stemming game, but we will see.
Stevee B and Jeff high off the ground in Egypt 4
The fella turns out to be a guy named Jeff. Rick has tipped him off that I have a bit of alpine light experience and he is quizzing me proficiently. He knows his stuff. His resume is two levels up from my own. I try to convince him that I am just a hack. He seems impressed with the few climbs I have managed to be dragged up by my partners. Worse yet, besides him being a really nice guy, he is 57 years old. Four years older than I and he doesn't appear to have an ounce of fat on him. Lovely... I can't even hide behind my usual "I'm the old guy and I'm frail, you carry this, and take care of me waaa waaa" rap. Turns out he has done some solo stemming, including up the easy bottom part of E4, many years back. He turns out to be quite proficient, moving concisely, if not overly quickly, and with great stamina. It turns out my concerns were for nothing. On a related note, Brian Cabe wrote me last week to say... he was climbing in Idaho with a guy who just did Egypt 4 with Rick and... some guy named Ram. Small world, for we who all move in this similar slipstream. I should ask Brian or Rick for his e-mail so he can see the pictures.
Working the walls, far off the ground
The last member of the team was the infamous Stevee B. He had been in for a couple of days... I think you overlapped with him for a short visit, right Dave? He had a wonderful 3 day run, doing the exploration of Frosted Flakes and then DDI before this canyon. He was just so relaxed. Had a smile plastered on his face the whole time. How anyone can smile while 50 feet off the deck, I have no clue, but it was a lovely group of folks and the weather was perfect. Oh, and an added bonus was Bucky and wife, Kiki, were Stevee's ride. Boy, they sure are fun to hang with. They were off hiking elsewhere today.
Stevee and Jeff working down to just have to go up again
Now to the canyon. As you may know, the canyon was accurately beta'd by Kelsey this time. None of the "I haven't been, but I hear" or "I peeked in and saw" type of stuff. I wondered if it being in the book would bring more traffic. Rick had a great approach from the top of Egypt 2. A winding, but quick route over great slickrock country. Once at the canyon, I begged for 20 minutes to stretch and boy did I need it. This was the 5th straight days of R and X canyons. My hamstrings were seizing up! When we started, there were two or 3 sets of footprints heading into the canyon. Quite fresh really. A week at the most. Pretty wild.
Rick Green making it look a LOT easier than it is!
Once in the early part, we passed the potholes that got our feet wet last time. They were bone dry. Why is bone considered so dry? Anyway, I was amazed at how easy it was there. Lack of water making options easier? No sandy walls. Dry shoes. Or two more years of experience? Don't know. Maybe a combo of things. Regardless, we are quickly to the spot that soiled my panties last time. Flew up it easily. When I arrived at the log that was Todd's far point, I was presented with quite a surprise. Up and to the left were a fresh series of moki steps cut in the wall by what appeared to be a G-pick. And in the middle of the staircase was a fresh bolt. The bolt was sunk in less than half way. I took a picture. Lets see... here it is. Magnify for closer looks at the holes within the gringo steps. HORRID!
G-picked steps and half sunk bolt
We surmise it was done by the folks with the prints we saw coming in as the prints only went down-canyon and when the route forced us to the ground later on, there were no further prints until nearly at the bottom of the canyon. I won't cast stones, but it was disappointing.
Jeff dealing a long silo series
Guys, pretty much just 10 minutes beyond where we turned around was a series of five straight silos. The canyon ran in a straight line. The route was up high. The moves easy to moderately difficult. The exposure big and high. I sucked the draft behind Rick, moving quickly through it. When I was done with the silos, I turned around and out came the camera... bbuutt I wwaass sshhaakkiinngg so badly the pictures were all blurred. In the past I have rationalized to others that I do this type of canyon because I am able to keep my cool just enough that I feel like I am on an adrenaline drip. That the steady release of small amounts of the stuff acts like a fountain of youth and I feel like I did 20 years ago. Not this time. Too much loss of control and fear. The byproduct was a bit more mental and muscle fatigue later, but not a particularly bad case of it.
Stevee dancing over the abyss
The canyon really goes in a straight line, forcing you up fairly high. In fact, you're 80% of the way out of the canyon. The canyon heads north to south, so the sun is on you the whole time. Not a ton of variation. Didn't find it to be a particularly interesting or pretty X canyon. As you guys know, the stiff canyons can be quite lovely... not here, in my opinion. The rock quality was reasonably good, and much of the movement was high in the air, with much air below you. A fair share of quick and blind corners were more interesting and pretty. We were able to drop down to the ground on half a dozen occasions.
Only one of ascent was particularly difficult... and it was very difficult. From the ground, a hard chimney corner started us on a 35-foot ascent. The corner was just a couple of inches wide and it flared on the way out, including a lot of flaring at normal-body-chimney-width. I did not like the potential ground fall under me here and was the only one to go in deeper in the crease and treat it like a squeeze chimney. I did it just like that spot in Sandthrax, before the chockstones, the site of the self-rescue in there. I would lean my upper body one direction and the opposite knee up 8 inches or so and rock over. Then the other way and repeat the drill. Gotten good enough at this that it doesn't use up the entire energy tank, but thank you very much for knee pads and neo shorts.
The lower part of the canyon is shallower, less sustained, with awkward movement in places... one of the walls goes a bit over vertical. I found this part largely tedious, but the company was very good and the whole affair took about 4 hours.
Hung out at Ricks in the afternoon. Emptied the shelves of more of the healthy dinners and snacks they now carry over there. Great day. Folks went their own way and I went 6 miles away to camp and cranked the Doors on the box, who I hadn't listened to in years. I waited for Wolf and Nick, my partners for the next phase of my trip. In retrospect, I erred in scheduling Egypt 4 that early in our trip. While the moves were reasonable, it had more exposure than I thought it did at the time. It belonged the day before or after Big Tony on our trip. So maybe my psychological collapses that day was for the best. I hope to see you both soon and safe passage. Todd, after holding back, those years ago, consider me available for a run through this canyon next time your in the neighborhood.