FreezeFest XI - The Black Hole for New Years!
Freezefest is an annual gathering of hearty (ie, foolish) canyoneers for canyoneering at the turn of the year. Camping out in single-digit temperatures may not seem like it would be fun, but with proper preparation, plus lots of firewood, fine spirits and good friends, it works out to be one of the funnest events of the year. Freezefest happens in central Utah, near Hanksville, in North Wash and the surrounding area, canyons within an hour's drive. North Wash has the best weather in Utah, tucked in the storm-shadow of the Henry Mountains, and has lots of nice, athletic, shortish canyons that work well in winter. The main event is the descent of the Black Hole of White Canyon on New Year's Day, which is a canyon with a whole lot of swimming. Ram and I chose it, 11 years ago, because it was the silliest thing we could think of to do in the middle of winter. The Bad Idea That Caught On.
The FIRST Freezefest started with the Black Hole, January 1st, 2003. Fests now END with the Black Hole, because really, one gets deeply cold during the Black Hole, and it is hard to psych up to stick around after that when one can go home and have a hot shower, warm food, and a comfortable room to hang out in, and not smell a dead racoon when you roll over in your sleeping bag.
I missed the last two Black Holes, being sick (2010-2011) and being broken (2011-2012), so I was psyched for this year, but found myself not really looking forward to being cold all that long, especially after a VERY cold Christmas descent of The Subway. I took 2-1/2 days to pack and rolled in to FreezeFest XI already in progress, on the night of the 29th, allowing me two days of canyons prior to the Hole... but that's a different Rave... this one is about the Black Hole.
First day of 2013, 10 am, all parties gathered at the parking lot, packed and repacked their gear, moved cars around, munched Twinkies (or, the generic equivalent) and mentally prepared for the challenges ahead. We had a few less people than last year - 20 was the final count - which seemed much more under-control than the last couple of years. We passed around some safety gear and headed out. Once off the top and into the canyon, it was pretty nice, in the sun. Perhaps less water than usual, shorter swims. But it was still plenty cold. A little splashing from people in front put a nice layer of ice on the rock, making it harder for us in the back. Fun was had breaking huge chunks of ice. Giggling occured, but not by me!
Once in the water, everyone has to keep moving, so groups form and break up as everyone progresses through the canyon at the speed that works for them. I hit the gear pretty well this year, so my hands and feet were fairly warm, but still... swimming in icewater sure makes you cold!
After all that swimming, we do get to walk and wade for a ways, and eventually found a few spots in the sun to warm up. Ninja Bear stationed the start of the exit climb to make sure no one got lost. And all too soon (not really) we were back at the road, drinking malt beverages with Santa Claus and changing into warm, dry clothes. Twenty people went in, and twenty-one came out - even BETTER than last year! Still haven't lost one, so we might have to do it again next year.