Fat Man's Misery - Summer Heat Canyoneering in Zion
It is hot out, this year. WAY hotter than normal, so how can Fat Man’s be made reasonable? With a somewhat unreasonable start time of 6:23 am, of course, though just barely. That may not SEEM all that early, but considering I signed on at 10 pm the night before, it certainly felt pretty early. TeamCanyon was Katie Duncan, Heidi Thorne, Amanda Jessop and me; all members of the ZAC Team. This was Katie’s first technical canyon.
In addition to a fine canyon and fine company, I was looking to update my Fat Man’s description for the website and upcoming 2nd edition of the guidebook. The current description is very skimpy. Perhaps this should be highlighted as a beginner-friendly canyon, which calls for a much more thorough description. Plus a bunch more pictures – check. And I really otta make it down to Labyrinth Falls so that can be in the book - check!
At this early hour, Zion is very pleasant, like a walk in the Park. We sauntered up toward Checkerboard pass in the cool of the shade. MANY social side-trails are available, and we succumbed to temptation. Most side-trails lead to unpleasant places; certainly most are entirely unnecessary. The only significant obstacle in the approach canyon is a short chimney easily bypassed by a short trail. I smell an American Canyoneers service project sometime in the fall…
Made it to the pass without too much pain, out the other side and eventually into the sun. Past the big white buttress, then climbed a rock ridge to the edge of Misery Canyon. Big slickrock downclimb to get to the bottom of the canyon just below the string-of-pearls potholes. We sauntered down to the first rappel, to find that old bolt I thought was suspect in Y2K with Brian Cabe was still there! WAS a tree with a sling around it up and right, but we chose to rig up a convenient rock as an anchor, rather than climb around to the tree.
A delightful canyon at a delightful pace. We weren't in a hurry, as we knew we would siesta at the East Fork until 5 pm, so we were able to enjoy the canyon at a very relaxed pace. Arches, little downclimbs, short rappels – Fat Man’s is just a FUN canyon with minimal angst and effort, except for the hike out. We replaced the ‘fixed rope’ at the swing-around room; tried to avoid cold water in a couple of places (no more than waist deep); and rebuilt a few not-so-secure anchors. Near the junction, we walked around what looked like a nice section, because it was just too darn hot to build anchors out there in the sun. Maybe if we had brought an etrier…
Another rap or two, a fun slide and we arrived at the coolest place, the final grotto, including a little downclimb into the two-arch room. Great light, we had at two p.m.
Pulled out the tripod for a couple of semi-posed shots in the East Fork, then found a nice place to chill out for a bit.
After a short nap, we traipsed down to the Powell Plaque and dumped our packs, near but not IN the poison ivy, and headed downstream for Labyrinth Falls. In the year 2000, Brian Cabe and I had not had time to go all the way to the falls, but this time, we had plenty. We downclimbed and waded downcanyon to where we could tell the falls was just around the corner. How to get there? There was a bit too much water to go down the watercourse or, at least, we KNEW we could not wade or swim back up. A bit of a traverse using gringo-chipped holds led us to some ledges that allow a view of the falls, pretty much. We explored around, but found no way to get down below the falls for pictures, without a rope…
Amanda was more adventurous. With us looking on, she downclimbed and downslid to the ledges right next to where the water plunges over the edge. Took a couple tries to find the right line to get back up – had us a tad concerned there for a moment!
We all immensely enjoyed the beauty of the East Fork. All too soon, the time to brave the heat above was at hand. We watered up, shouldered the packs and started up the exit, gasping at the oven-like heat in a few places. On and on it goes – cairns, signs of passage, short steep steps… 1600 feet of gain, but at least the sun is often at your back. What a grunt. I thought we moved pretty well, still 3-1/4 hours back to the car.
I had thought the story was that John Wesley Powell had descended this bit of canyon with MULES. One name on the Powell Plaque is “Pres. Joseph W. Young”, and we discussed who he could be, and why listed as “Pres.” for President, which seems odd as he was not President of the LDS Church – what President usually means in these parts. Which prompted me to try to sniff it out… In Powell’s book about his 1872 explorations, he mentions Young only in passing, but I did learn that for the trip through the canyon, the mules were sent around the canyon section with one of the locals.