Euphrates Canyon, Ticaboo Mesa, UT
Guest Rave by Cassy Brown. Photos by Rachel Ross and Tom Jones
December 31, 2017
On the final day of the year 2017, Rachel and I had the pleasure of playing through Euphrates canyon with Tom, Ram and Jenny. It’s always a treat to canyoneer with some of the sport’s beloved micro-celebrities.
Ram was on the first descent of this canyon a few years ago and warned of potential deep wades or swims, so we packed wetsuits in addition to other canyon essentials. Today’s canyon called for stemming, galumphing, elevatoring, pothole escaping, sandtrap rappelling, and leaving nothing behind.
From the parking spot an hour away from pavement, we walked off the cliff of Carmel limestone amalgamation to reach the head of our canyon in the Navajo sandstone layer below. Next, we clambered down into the top floor of the canyon where we “armored up” with elbow pads, knee pads, gloves, harnesses and helmets. Wetsuits in packs, we galumphed into the canyon as it curved right and the floor began to fall away. When the canyon trended right, it would hastily entrench itself into the sandstone. We came to a shoulder-wide elevator-downclimb for which we dangled our packs and slid carefully 20 feet to the canyon floor. When the canyon veered left, the walls flattened out to allow escape in a few spots. In these sections, the sun shone pleasantly and shallow potholes could be easily bypassed. The canyon bore right for the third or fourth time before dishing up potholes that were not galumphable or bypassable. Cue the teamwork; wetsuits on deck. The first pothole, bereft of water, was overcome with a knee to place a foot on and a handline from a tossed pack. Soon we encountered a fun, swooping elevator-downclimb. I watched Rachel slide down in front of me.
“That looks so fun,” I said to myself.
The downclimb fit a person perfectly, scooping the body comfortably toward the right. It offered convenient foot-features when necessary on the right and a smooth left wall to let the left hip and/or back slide easily down as the feet moved from feature to feature.
From behind me I heard a contemplative “Hmmmph,” from Ram. We cued up some more teamwork to escape the pothole at the bottom of the downclimb. No water yet. As we traveled through these spaces, Ram remarked that the canyon sported “good movement.” I considered the characteristics a canyon might have which constitute good movement. Is it the narrowness of the walls? The angle of them? The features the walls have embedded in them? Or the lack thereof? How about the way the walls bend around a corner? The way the body moves from one place along the walls to another? Or maybe the way a team of bodies overcomes an obstacle between the walls? Perhaps all of the above?
Euphrates’s walls sported an abundance of features which afforded us multiple placement options for our limbs and bodies in its narrow slots. Though the floor was up to 20 feet away at times, the walls had enough angle and were close enough together that the movement remained comfortable, fluid, and fun. Around the next corner we got our feet wet before a deep pothole gaped in front of us. I took a rope from Tom and handlined into the muddy, but otherwise dry, pothole. Rachel joined me in the pothole where I thought I could boost her out. No dice. Ram joined us in the pothole and tossed his pack over the edge to give Rachel something to pull against as we spotted her feet. Once Rachel was out, Tom rappelled off Jenny to get into the pothole; we partner-captured Jenny as she slid over the pothole edge. Rachel hauled me out, and we hauled our legendary friends out. The canyon opened up briefly as it rounded a corner in the sun. We lunched here. After, we galumphed in a shallow canyon as is trended back to the left. Eventually we got to fill up the sandtrap and rappel 20 feet past an overhanging garden.
Before arriving at the final rappel, we reached a 30-foot, slightly exposed downclimb via a corner where the watercourse created a small flute. Can we downclimb this? Tom went down first to answer this question. He handlined off me while I anchored the rope in a dry pothole and played audience to some of Ram’s famous bad jokes. Soon enough it’s Ram’s turn to go down to the pothole where we anchored the final rappel.
“Are you serious?” Ram spat in disbelief as he sized up the obstacle. “You guys downclimbed this?”
“What are you going to do here?” I asked.
“I’m rappelling,” Ram stated, half-way rigged onto the rope already. Down he went.
By the time I arrived in the pothole, Tom had already rappelled over the edge off Rachel while Jenny prepped the sandtrap. Ram went next, once we anchored the rope to the sandtrap for testing. We rappelled 150 feet past a couple beautiful hanging gardens of Rock Spirea. Watch your step!
We made quick work of pulling the sandtrap, stuffing ropes and packing up before we worked our way down the wash a little further before exiting up a system of ledges to a saddle on the right. From there we took a ramp up through a small drainage to regain the top of the Navajo sandstone. The higher we scrambled the more vast the vista behind us became. Within the vista we could see the glaucous waters of the Powell Reservoir and the peachy vermillion-colored cliffs on the other side of that body of water illuminated by the setting sun. At visibility’s edge Navajo Mountain rose above the foreground behind a haze of clouds.
We made it back to the cars around 3pm and took a family picture before jumping in and making our way back to the pavement. Final stop: Sandthrax Campground for some hot dinner, the traditional Freezefest New Year’s Eve celebration shenanigans, and prep for the Black Hole descent on the first day of 2018.