Fence, Neon and Ringtail Canyons, Escalante, UT


A bit of that fall nip in the air, we headed down to the Escalante to try our hand at Neon. Oft targeted, not so oft succeeded on, Neon requires some good weather to do the moderately long approach and exit, and have enough prime time to enjoy the canyon. We headed down with these guys, Kurt and Melody Bellock for a weekend in the Escalante.

Kurt and Melody Bellock

Friday 2 pm – the heat of the afternoon – found us on the rim, throwing on the heavy packs and ready to descend to the river. Now which way was that? Thankfully, a distinctive dome near the mouth of Neon makes navigation EZ.

Alicia basks in the cool shadows of a slot section

Nice narrows, well worth an hour’s diversion.

An hour on the slickrock of Egypt in the hot sun almost did us in. We dropped into the watercourse in Fence just past some narrows, and thankfully dumped the big packs in the dirt. Scrambling upcanyon, we found some delightful (and shady) narrows. Alicia and I climbed until full swimming was required. Uh, yeah, it's getting late, that's right...

How to get there? Head for this rounded dome near the mouth of Neon, then down the sandy slope across from the mouth that offers EZ access to the river.

After a pleasant night listening to the burbling stream, we headed down Neon, then up the canyon wall on an obvious trail to the east, gaining access to the bench above the slot. Back about a mile, here is the usual entrance down into Neon.

But we didn’t go in here, we continued up the bench another mile or so, then hunted around and found a side canyon coming it that allowed a 4th class descent into the slot. And a nice slot it is – starting out dry and twisty, it soon started getting wetter and wetter, eventually getting to shoulder deep. Probably should have put our dry or wet suits on before that point, but that’s what hind-sight is for, right?

Deeper and deeper…

Kurt and Melody before getting to the wet part.

Nice Neon narrows.

After a bit of wading and a few swims, we arrive at the ‘usual’ access point. Kurty tests the tiny chockstone to make sure it’s strong enough to wrap from.

A few short rappels and a few long, interesting swims brings us to the famous Golden Cathedral Rappel. This is a somewhat controversial point - some believing that a long sling that maintains the bolt-free (sic) nature of the canyon is the preferred alternative, and others believing that a few small metal chunks is a more aesthetic choice. Shall we discuss?

First drop in Neon is off a chockstone. We found slings on two chockstones, and cleaned the one further back. Here’s the single good bolt at the second drop, plus a couple blown out holes. Nice to see plenty of slings! We cleaned the slings and left a single Rapide.

But… the rappel could also be done off chockstones in the streambed, or off the debris clog slightly downcanyon.

Here’s the final drop. The large chockstone is tied off with a sling (backed up with a length of 7mm perlon) leading to a sling, to a sling, to a double sling, to double rappel ‘death’ rings. The chockstone looked pretty solid.

And here’s 3 studs with the hangers removed, right at the launch point of the drop.

Here’s some debris gathered by a miscellaneous piece of webbing down under the chockstone. The long sling will get hammered in the next flash flood and need replacing. People doing Neon should be prepared to rig a 40′ long sling if they are unlucky enough to need it. Alicia was very happy to carry out the 10 lbs of webbing we cleaned from the canyon, as her contribution to the cleanliness of the Escalante-Dominguez.

With the bolt hangers pulled, we partially re-rigged the 40′ sling system to eliminate the worn parts. Here Kurty helps me melt the ends of cut webbing to prevent them from fraying.

And finally, the big rappel through the roof. Bootiful, bootiful, bootiful. Back to camp for some chicken Marsala and another night of star-gazing.

Morning found us wading down the Escalante to the next canyon down, Ringtail!

The entrance to the dark mysteries of Ringtail. We were lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse of the Ringtail Cat that resides in the area.

Ringtail is one of the deepest, darkest slots in the Escalante. Be sure to bring headlamps. We squeezed and climbed into the slot, wading up to waist deep and finding a very chilly pygmy rattlesnake at one of the climbs.

Clambering upward, we made good use of the headlamps. Here Melody executes a perfect reverse beached-whale move to climb up a short drop

Alicia consults the map, and we discuss how far we think this slot can go.

Kurt climbing up to the same little drop.

And then we only have the delightful 2200 climb out from the river, late in the afternoon, in the full sun. Everyone thought this was the best part of the weekend!