FreezeFest V: Hard Day Harvey in Wet Conditions, Ticaboo Mesa, UT
Photos by Tom and Bruce, Text by Ram.
“No Stefanos, you won’t need a wetsuit”
“Ram, are you sure?”
“Yeah, it is a dry canyon, except after real storms and there haven’t been any for awhile”
“I don’t mind carrying it”
Then Tom pipes in “But Ram is often wrong”
I pipe back ‘HEY! Only occasionally!”
The approach, looking out over Glen Canyon.
Ram pointing out landscape features.
Group shot: Bucky, Denise, Bruce, Michelle, Ramoo, Stefanos
Ram: OK, so I jug like crap. OK, so I terrorize myself. OK, so I sometimes have limited control over my bodily functions. I do give "good trip" and I do give it day after day. So when the day after Sandthrax was at hand, I wanted another classic, if not one so hard or scary. How about Hard Day Harvey? Tom Jones is back, healed up from an illness, and ready for a warm up before the Black Hole. Stefan, I have met once and e-mailed a 100 times. How about a canyon together, at long last? I owe Michelle a good canyon (long story) and am thrilled that pay back is imminent. Neesee...ah I mean Denise has followed me often and hasn't paid the price yet. Bruce has done this canyon with me and wants to measure his considerable progress against his last, "losing my shoe" run through. Besides, it's a great canyon.
But where are my Sandthrax partners? I understand how almost anything would be a let down, but my partners have scattered to the winds. Steve is back home with the family. Hank is taking the day off, to absorb his experience of the day before. Dave has a girlfriend, Dave has a girlfriend. Old reliable Aaron NEVER misses a day...but...but....but, he is headed home, courtesy of Rob, so he can visit Grandma, in Florida. That leaves Bucky...
"Buckaroo, its a great canyon" "I don't know Ram, I'm really pretty sore and my skin! My skin is raaaaaw." But, but, Bucky, you are only here for 3 days, gotta maximize!!" "I'll let you know after breakfast" "OK" I say, then I go off to Tom and Dave and sic them on Bucky, opening a new front and a pincer move on me old buddy! Soon he surrenders and is on board.
Post Trail and Sandthrax canyons, no one was in the mood to reorganize for the next day. There was a day, in the past I would have fought the mood and tried to get folks committed and prepared, but now I know better. There are other methods. I let them float on their good mood. Reviewing the coming day, in my mind....From campsite to campsite....Looking like 10-11 hours. With only a bit under 9 hours of daylight, it requires a predawn departure. Folks trying to get into carpools and pack at camp, in the dark the next morning? I don't think so. So we go California carpool, for the first 30 miles. Six vehicles for seven canyoneers. We regroup. Everyone is awake at the marina gas station. Their doors open to coffee and bathrooms, just as the sun comes up and then we organize in the outside, semi wind protected picnic area. Much better.
Obstacle in the canyon, passed using a “Sequence” or “Meat” anchor and a handline. Aaron goes last because: A. he’s light, therefore easy to spot; B. he’s young, probably thinks he is indestructible.
Stefanos coming down, Bucky spotting.
And into the infamous thigh belay.
Ram: After organizing, we slim down to 3 vehicles and take the rough, 1 hour, 4X4 ride into the trailhead. Skies are clear, the breeze is cool, the sun is warm and the shade is cold. Out to the Carmel nose we go spying distant features that cause us to wonder...good slots in there? On the slickrock slope descending to the canyon, we note an open pothole section....WAIT A MINUTE!!! What is all that water doing in there?? I review the recent past for a hint how........Ahhhhhh, that snow up high in Shenanigans three days earlier....but, but, but it barely rained down low....unless down here where it is lower......Uh oh.......Ummm, too late to go back and grab more gear. Not everyone has access to their stuff anyway, after the carpool. Might as well take a look.....Yes, the canyon has flowed. Not a lot. Not up the walls, but it is December 31st. Not great timing for unprotected swims
You never know, until you go. First we stem and keep dry, Michelle showing exceptional form. But I know there is just too much ground to cover, to try and stay dry. Not to mention how much more effort it would take trying to stem past all the water. We have a full day in front of us, without the delays. So I test the waters, hoping.....First some ankle high water. Yikes!! So confident was I...no neo socks.....Then it is calf deep. Then knee. Then thigh. We have gone nary a tenth of the canyon. DANGER! DANGER!! Real doubt is banging at the door. What have I done, saying no wetsuits?? I review the canyon ahead, in my mind. In 3 places, deep, normally dry potholes await. In another area, a crawl. What if the crawl is under water? Can be passed high, but not easily for everyone. It is the last day of the year and after the canyon, there is over a 3 hour slickrock trip back to the cars. What if we are wet and the wind blows? Not to mention that the Black Hole is scheduled the next day. Sure don't want to burn too many calories. What have I done?
Tom, Ram and Michelle, trying to make use of the sun, near the end of the canyon.
Ram: The marks on the walls show that the canyon did not flow higher than the pools that exist, and the water has stayed where harder rock coats the canyon bottom. Not a rowdy flow, by any means. I hold onto the idea that maybe it flowed only in the upper canyon and it will run out of energy, this flood. The lower canyon "might" be dry or drier. But often, the lower in the canyon, the wetter. We come to an opening, with the signature feature of the canyon. Cross joints. Cross joints that may offer escape. Tom and I eye each other. One of the last chances to bail out. We wrestle with it. We decide that discomfort is a distinct possibility, but hypothermia....may not be. We roll the dice and commit the group. What faith they show in us. I hope that the faith is not undermined by what lay ahead.
The first rap comes. Through a cave, down a slot, into a pothole and a tough climb out at 90 degrees right. The difficulties are coming one after the other and this is good. Initially, everyone trying to stay dry had us moving slowly. With partner assist, difficult terrain seems to get folks focused and we start to move with more verve.... The canyon jogs left and right, in and out of cross joints. When the canyon does a right turn, one is in for challenges. Some stem high, others crawl low and squeeze. Soon a pothole gets us wet up to our waist. Hope there aren't any more of those...or worse! The deepest potential holes await. But we remain warm, as the canyon is protected from the wind and we are working hard. More right turns dealt with. Another rappel. Old anchor material replaced. Suddenly we come to the potential deep hole......and it is dry. In fact, we have seen less and less water. A small flood from 3 days past, flowed, then ran out of energy and the waters sunk into the sands. We gambled and got lucky.
In the slot, doing the squeezing thing.
Another tricky corner, the one I consider the hardest, is passed, with a pair of shoulders provided as foot holds. The very lovely lower canyon is passed with a handline and some partner assist again. The final rap and we start the hike down to the exit. We find some sun. It does not carry any punch. Hike. The exit route is a lovely affair. Following a series of domes that form a weaving ridge line, it offers expansive views of Lake Powell and other treats from the Waterpocket Fold to Mancos Mesa. A bit of trundle at a 400 foot cliff and the challenge of the final capstone moves, up into the flat desert. Right as we stride to the cars, the sun sets. Part of the drive will be out in the dark. Back to the spotted cars and back into camp and dinner. See Stefanos...we didn't need a wetsuit!! Whew!! The fire blazing and awaiting us back at camp. Many will stay up past 2 AM. High spirits and good cheer abound. I give up the Ghost at 1:45 AM. Happy New Year everyone!!. My fifth straight, in North Wash. How silly is that? The start of the Black Hole Hike is only 8.5 hours away.
On to New Year's Eve!
’round the fire.
’round the fire.
Hangin’ ’round da ‘ire.
Hangin’ ’round the fire…