Heaps Canyon: Direct Finish Descent and Anchor Bolting
Heaps - the Big Kahuna! What a great canyon. I got the opportunity to do it three times this year - and this is the one where a bunch of pictures got taken. A mellow trip put together by Deeps, with Brian Olliver, Louis Johnson, Everett Boutillet and myself. Two days in the middle of the summer - LOTS of daylight. With the canyon full from recent thunderstorms, and a strong team... SHOULD be no problem. (Pictures this Rave from the whole team!)
An early start was called for given the heat of July. Pre-dawn. We camped at Lava Point to expedite that... then hiked the West Rim Trail... always good views in the early morning light. Packs were heavy, but not too heavy. Down the ridge, into Phantom Valley, down Phantom Valley to the suit up spot just as it was getting really hot. And into the cool water! For me, nice to do a Heaps without being in a hurry.
The addition of a lot of sand and a lot of water makes Heaps considerably easier than in past years. We did the thing. Rappels, swims, climbups, stuff the ropes, etc. etc. etc. We got to the Crossroads around 5 pm. Mellow. Chilled out, made some dinner, sacked out when it started getting dark.
Next morning, with the canyon full, the day begins with a short downclimb into the "snake pit" and a nice swim. At other water levels, this looks like a nasty keeper pothole. At this level - cake!
Second day, also mellow. Toward the end, where one usually cuts left up a ramp and does a 55 foot rappel back into the canyon (twice), we decided to continue in the watercourse. We moved a log around to make a sketchy anchor, which Louis backed up and carefully evaluated as the rest of us rapped. Looks good! Both 'new' sections were sweet.
Given plenty of daylight, energy and time, we took the opportunity to go for the Direct Finish. Been looking at it for a couple years, but it is really hard to see anything from above. The day before our trip, I stashed a 600 foot rope down at the bottom. I rapped down into the slot (looks like a swim, was a bit more than knee deep) and walked out to the edge. We were expecting to find some signs of previous passage - a comment from Turville led me to believe that someone had gone down that way previously. Rereading the passage after the trip, it was clear he did NOT say that, but... Looking down, I really could not see much. Someone came down and gave me a meat anchor and I went further down - almost a downclimb for a bit (but with 500 feet of exposure!!) - to see what I could see. I could see a ledge down a ways that would hold people.
Okay, guess we're in business! I climbed back up and brought some more talent down, and we drilled a bolt.
This particular slot has seen a LOT of water pass through it over the years! The sides of the slot are a deep black, with all the desert varnish in place. Which means that the rock is very, very, VERY hard. Which means, drilling with a lightweight hammer takes quite a while. It took us about an hour and a half to put in a single, 1/2" x 3-3/4". Whew!
We set up a rope and rapped down. A fair-sized ledge, quite flat. Unfortunately, no natural anchors apparent. While the SIDES of the slot are bullet hard, the bottom, the floor of the slot was friable grey rock breaking into bricks. Louis came down, then Deeps, and we started working on an anchor for the final rappel. From where we were, it seemed like it was almost vertical below us for about 100 feet, to where we could see it sent into air for another 300 feet to the ground.
Three and a half hours later, I called it. Yeah, we had not actually gotten the hole all the way in, but really. Both Louis and I were spent. Nice thing about the 1/2" bolts - they are quite strong so even sticking out maybe 1/2" would be fine. My intention was to put another bolt in further out along the wall - maybe another time. Deeps volunteered to go first - a lower and rappel kinda thing. Down he went. We used a fleece blanket we found in the canyon to pad the edge while lowering and for the rappel. Deeps found my 600'er and tied it on, we pulled it up and down we went. Moved it a few feet after each rap to change the rub point.
Speaking of points, what was the point? Well, I'd always wondered what was down there. The direct finish is actually a lot LESS scary than the bird perch route, and a lot less complicated. Assuming you can get someone to carry a 400 foot rope (uh, or so), it should be faster and easier. 60 foot rap, 80 foot rap, 400(+) rappel. It is a lot less scary because you are INSIDE a slot, rather than out in the open, so it has a lot LESS feel of being out there. On that 400'(+) rappel, the first rap is almost vertical, and inside the slot, to the level of the bird perch. From there, you are very close to the vertical wall on the right for another 50 feet, then it goes free. Down to the ground.
On the downside, whenever Heaps flows, a TON of water will come down this, and any slings on bolts will get wiped out. Both the second and third rappels could use another bolt on them, which will take a while to drill, though perhaps 3/8" bolts would be appropriate here. I don't THINK that the bolts will get messed up, but they could. Until we have some history here, going down there without a bolt kit would be a bad idea.
We packed up and hid the 600' rope among the poison ivy, and made the difficult trek to Oscars for a little post-canyon feeding frenzy. Great canyons guys!