Robbers Roost Canyon Festival: High Spur, Almost Mindbender, and Chambers Canyons
Spring. Usually a time of unstable weather. Ram planned two weeks out in the Roost with family and friends, and I planned to join them. The usual late-night drive brought me in to Granary Spring at 2 am. The boys had just left the fire and gone to sleep. We awoke in the morning and discussed objectives. The overall plan for the week was to 'clean up' in the Roost - picking off a bunch of the things we had not really gotten around to. First was an interesting canyon recently featured on Shane Burrows' website called High Spur which was billed as photogenic, like Antelope Canyon.
Story by Tom Jones, Photos by Dave Pimental
High Spur is out the road behind the Hans Flat ranger station, called The Spur. Quite a scenic drive getting out there, super nice views, a really remote corner of the world.
Traipsing out across the desert.
Cool rock formations on the way in.
A little downclimb to get into the canyon proper.
A rockfall, just above where we came in.
Sinuous wavy rock characterized the canyon.
Centava and Aaron in the canyon.
Wyoming Dave enjoying the narrows of the canyon.
Portrait: Aaron and Centava
Portrait: Aaron, Judy and Ryan “The Crane” Hull.
Portrait: Aaron, Wyoming Dave, and Steve Ram (lower three quarters).
Portrait: Amy and Tom.
Portrait: Wy Dave, Ram and Tom, with some alien stuck in his shirt!
We did find some nice lighting and narrows, just not very much.
Amy slinking through the narrows.
Amy and Dave at the top of the “big rappel”.
Big Ryan Hull, walking away from the last rappel.
A point that Dave found (and left) out there, somewhere.
Portrait: Camp at Granary Springs. Kinda cowed up.
The next day, we explore the North Fork of No Man's Canyon. Quite nice, better than expected.
The day after what to do...
Story by Steve Ramras, Photos by Tom Jones
We were coming off our wonderful day in No Mans system. We were going to do something in Sam's Mesa. We were going to do something in the south fork of No Man's. Or main fork Twin Corral. Wanted to get around to these, but we had family and friends and these days are long. Nice? Probably. Great? Nah. What to do?
We thought to rally to some old standbys. Alcatraz...or Larry....or Not Mindbender. But this person had done this one and that fella that one and she had done that one. How to get everyone into something new? It turns out that only Doc Rosen had done Not Mindbender (Tom and I don't count).. So I ask Tom..."Any potential explorations on your docket nearby?" He answers..."Well there is Almost Mindbender." I reply "Almost Mindbender, almost Mindbender, lets do Almost Mindbender. Where is Almost Mindbender?" He pull a map and points. "Oh, that little thing? Well if it isn't much, we can try and hike up Not Mindbender and join our family and friends." And so it is decided. The group splits in two and Doc, Aaron, Jason, Big Ryan, Tom and I are off on exploration.
Car shuttles are done and we start into and across Mindbender canyon. We hike the Carmel isthmus between Mind and Not Mind and out on Not Mindbenders south side, we head over to its western most fork. Yes, that little thing. I thrive on the navigation and we are there, but it disappoints. We can see down shallow wash for half the forks length. Open, easy country. As short as the fork is, it needed to slot up, right away, up high to deliver enough goods. Or so we thought. We wrestled with it. Do we lose the altitude to look at that little thing or do we head back, while there was still time and rally elsewhere.
Aaron down the first rappel, first time.
Well, we are here and we must know its secrets, this almost a canyon named Almost Mindbender. To the slot up spot we go. Everyone grabs a different angle to view it. Aaron at the drop..."A rap into a wet pothole." When Aaron says its a rap, its a rap. A ledge narrows on the rim right and Tom edges out. I am across the way and say "Turn the corner and it will work." From his perspective....errrr, not so sure, but around the corner it does go. Now we are everywhere. Lower rim, ledges here and there and views into the main Not Mindbender. Boy it looks good down there. But the main canyon we see below is only a 10 minute walk to the final rap. Not much of a day, we think. We discuss heading back up the hill and over into Mindbender proper. Only Tom has been. I suggest that they rap into the canyon and take a look, as long as we are here. Then come back up. We can always move fast later in the day to make back the time spent now. Notice, I suggest THEY rap in and more important jug out. I have jugged more this winter than any time previously. And to show for it I have no visable improvement in that skill. The perpetual beginner on this front.
Big Ryan and I lounge and listen and I stroll the rim and steal peeks as our hero's proceed down canyon. I hear excitement below. It is good and it is challenging. I here Doc say "I don't think I can get back up this." No one comments and they go forward, the pull of the place leading them. After a bit, Tom calls from the depths "Any anchors down canyon to send a rope down for a jug out mid canyon?" I sprint off to investigate. Umm, this should work. Will take some preparation, but.... I call down "Yes, buddy, we can do ya!" He says go set her up.
Big Ryan floating down a downclimb.
I sprint and rouse a near naked sunning Ryan and say "Work to be done." We break down the anchor, gather the gear and head to a large boulder on a good fall line. We place Ryan behind it and he is the anchor. Now I must move over 50 rocks big and small, from the fall line, so our friends below will avoid incoming missiles let loose by their jugging. I finish and toss the rope. Down 30 feet below them the rope goes. I hear a collective moan. Sorry boys, a fall line is a fall line and they must go to the rope. Aaron is up and out. Tom follows. When we meet up top, he has that look in his eye. "Ram, its really good!" I ask "Ya wanna go all the way then?" He nods with enthusiasm. It is decided. We present options to Doc and Jason, in the bowels of the canyon. They decide to stay where they are and the 4 of us up top, scramble to the canyon head, rerig the anchor and down the rope 30 feet we do go. Ryan helps to keep the rest of us only knee deep in the drink, in that first pothole.
The hesitation is gone. A stem up and an elevator down. Pothole lip to pothole lip. A fun dance. Then some steep downclimbs. Doc and Jason call from ahead. "Got rope?" No I say, big Ryan hauls the pig (220 ft). Great little moves. Steep steps. What fun. Then I am there. Mark on the rim, Jason below in the crack, with half the drop downclimbed, a bombay widening below him, giving him cause for pause. Finally the rope is on hand. The area is free of all anchor material....except that almost perfectly placed horn. Almost, but not. The horn pointed down. It didn't quite point in exacttly the right direction. When Tom, the proponent of the dubious anchor pauses, one has to wonder. Ah but other options are not easily at hand. The Doc likes the anchor. Well, he can go last then.
The rap is executed. A 60 footer down into a narrow corner. The test shaking of the rope had freed the sling and the rope. Should be a clean and easy retreival. Wrong! We discovered something new that can go wrong. When you flick a double rope up, over a minor lip, the rope can get twists above the lip that you can't see, making the pull....ahhh....challenging. We are hell bent on retreiving the sling. Clean is the canyon till here and we wish to keep it so. We do a test pull to make sure we can pull the rope. It works, then back to flicking the rope for the full retrieval. After awhile, we decide to leave the sling. It is not coming....but now there are so many twists above the little lip, the rope won't pull. We worked real hard to screw this one up. Got a little greedy. So you untwist once and test the pull...again and again. Finally Aaron is called back from down canyon and he climbs 25 of the 60 feet up and works the untwist from a better vantage point. Finally the rope pulls. A tad embarrassed, we head further down.
After some stemming, we arrive at the final drop. A 40 footer, with a narrow start, into an open and beautiful corridor. Soon our Not Mindbender friends peek in and see us and us them. They look great to us. We look great to them. Another beautiful Colorado Plateau Grand Finale rappel. Once down, I marvel at the final drop. Downclimbable? Perhaps at a high level. The spot is special. No wonder it was on Tom's tick list.
Last rappel in Almost. Almost downclimbable.
Rebuilt deadman anchor. Mark Rosen going over the edge.
Now in main Not Mindbender, we stop short of the final rap to allow our friends an experience unfettered by our opinions and presence. Once friends have cleared the rap area, Jason and I slide down the rope. Tom has decided to remove the rats nest of colorful webbing. It looks like a line of Buddhist prayer flags at this anchor. Tom lines up help and builds a deadman, all the while teaching my boy and others "the ropes." I grow cold and leave as I see Aaron farming 50 pound rocks from below, into a pack, for the haul up. Big Ryan is the man for the haul and the rocks fly up the drop pronto. I am not needed here and it is cool. I seek sun and a nap.
Another exit short of the Moki exit is examined and determined to be doable, but with consequences for any misstep. I take a rope on the Moki's, thank you very much and up the hill we go. Almost Mindbender was short, but boy was it good. 3A/B II-III 3 raps to 60 feet. Not quite an R, but others will sequence some of those downclimbs we did. Oh and you still have the 95 foot rap down Not Mindbender so it is really 4 raps to 95 feet. But you know how we are...the possibility of ascending Not Mindbender from the Almost Mindbender confluence was tossed about and considered for another day.
We Almost didn't go. We Almost turned back when we saw it. We Almost made the mistake of not finishing this fine canyon. Almost.
Mark Rosen, the big Not Mindbender rap, off a couple stone tucked down in the sand.
The big rap in Not Mindbender was, once a gain, a mess when we got there. A mediocre chockstone 40 feet back from the edge had TWO, not one, but TWO runs of 1″ tubular coming off it. The wedged in crack stone up and left had TWO pieces of 1″ tubular, plus a fairly good knot chock. All in all, about 120 feet of webbing were used.
We rebuilt the whole thing. First we excavated the pothole using a convenient digging stone, then hauled up rocks from below, tied off TWO of them and rebuilt the deadman. Such that it did not even budge when Ryan rappelled on it. Pseudo-equalized the two deadman stones, AND pseudo-equalized the knot-chock and the crack chock, then pseudo-equalized the two together, ending up with the rappel ring just over the edge. Sweet. We hauled out the extra 100 feet of 1" tubular.
Here's the story from the other perspective...
Story by Lisa Jennings, Photos by Dave Pimental
"It feels like we've been spying on you for years", Erik said to Ram around a crackling fire at Robbers Roost. Ram smiled, glad the online canyoneering group had sparked our interest in this fun new sport. This was our first time hooking up with Ram and crew for some scraping and rapping, but we had been reading about their adventures for years.
Last spring we tried canyoneering at North Wash in the E Fork of Leprechaun - 5 newbies from Idaho with one experienced mountaineer to set the ropes. We had an unforgettable time and caught a huge adrenaline rush that made us want to do many more canyons soon, however we didn't make it back to Utah again until just recently.
This spring, with plans to float the San Juan River for a week, Erik noticed a canyoneering gathering forming in the Robber's Roost area. Erik emailed Ram and Ram responded enthusiastically, telling us to come join in the fun. We were excited to meet these canyoneering legends!
We showed up at their camp Thursday evening after a looooong drive from Moscow in Northern Idaho, and the next morning rose with the sun to do Not Mindbender. Penny, Dave, Judy, Amy, Erik and I started off across the desert to Not Mindbender after a car shuttle and some "team navigation", where we realized Tom had dropped us at the alternate trailhead. We hiked a mile or so through the desert, and then started into the canyon, enjoying the beauty and warmth of this special place. It started off with just hiking for awhile. We came to the first downclimb, and Penny asked if I wanted to lead. I dove into the first slot and squirmed down under and over chockstones and into tight narrows, loving it, joking that my wide hips do have a use after all! I jammed them in the slots and enjoyed some nice gravity assisted downclimbs. This canyon generously offered us many fun downclimbs in nice confined slots.
Panorama of le campsite.
Getting started: navigating through the dirt gullies to get into the correct drainage.
A mischievious grin through the arch.
A little downclimb as the canyon gets started.
In the canyon – Amy as fashionista.
We reached the first rappel, an easy one, about 30 feet down. It had been about a year since I rappelled, and then I had only rappelled in the East Fork of Leprechaun. It only took a couple seconds to remember the good feeling of just trusting the gear and putting one foot in front of the other. Of course, Dave and Penny's assistance and neverending supply of smiles and good energy didn't hurt, either. At the end of the rappel, I said well that's the longest rappel I've ever done. Penny said "Oh really?" since there was a free rappel of 80 feet coming downcanyon. I was excited about the long rappel and maybe a little nervous too, after all, I knew the basics of rappelling, so what's another 50 feet? That's what I told myself, anyway.
We came to a downclimb which was about 10 feet high, very wide with very few holds, so we lowered ourselves on some webbing while Dave stayed at the top. Then we all watched as Dave part downclimbed, part tobogganed right down the rock! He sure knows how to use gravity to his advantage. It looked like a pretty fun ride.
After that we enjoyed a lot more good downclimbs, nothing too tricky. At one slightly overhanging downclimb with pothole potential we rappelled down on webbing with Penny assisting. We found a couple small wet areas with water and mud up to the shins, but Dave and Erik stemmed right over them. The rest of us got a foot sludged with mud.
Centava, St. Judy and Amy floating through the canyon.
The Money shot.
Dave, Judy, Amy and Lisa.
Dave takes the slide…
We came across Almost Mindbender where Ram, Doc, Aaron, Jason, Big Ryan and Tom were doing a first descent, so we stopped there for lunch. It looked like they were really enjoying it, and were coming down the last part to join us is the main section of Not Mindbender canyon. We ate, and they still weren't done, so we continued onto the big rappel so we wouldn't clog it up with 12 people at once.
We stood at the big rappel. A breathtaking 95 foot free rappel into a large cavern with hanging gardens clinging to its rounded walls, and a small spring at the bottom. Amy bounded up, saying "oh, fun!" Amy is 12 years old and an amazing young woman. Her joyful and confident approach to canyoneering is really delightful, and her zesty attitude makes her lots of fun to be around. Her mom, Judy, a lovely woman full of musical laughter, cracks a joke about how her daughter says "it'll be OK, mom", as she rappels off a 95 foot cliff.
There was a crazy jumble of different colors of webbing at the big rappel. We were grateful for Penny's help rigging up. With Dave already at the bottom, Amy rappelled next. A couple feet over the ledge, Amy's shirt got stuck in the rappel device, making for an exciting moment. Penny leaned over, tried to free Amy, but wasn't able to from her precarious position reaching over the ledge. Erik then suggested Amy stand on the little rock ledge above the overhang, and this allowed Amy to take some weight off the rappel device and remove her shirt. Amy just calmly worked through the problem, then once the shirt was freed, she rappelled down.
Then it was my turn. I had decided it was probably best if I didn't even look over the edge until it was my turn to go. I hooked up my gear with Penny and Erik's help, feeling really excited. I lowered myself over the edge, and it is hard to describe that feeling of hanging in the air on my first big rappel, 8 stories off the ground. Exhilaration, a little adrenaline gushing, feeling like the rope had my full attention! Penny told me to take a look around, but I probably lowered myself 20 feet before daring to look around at the hanging gardens on the walls of the cavern. Beautiful. I couldn't stop smiling. I got off rappel and said something like, "wow, I have never done anything like THAT before!" For me, it was the best part of the day. Judy came down next, then Erik with a heavy pack containing "the pig", that Ryan had so generously allowed him to carry.
Ram on rappel, Centava providing a bottom belay, with her helmet protecting very valuable items in her pack.
Quite a nice rappel, and quite a nice picture, Erik.
We hiked downcanyon for a little while until we reached the Moki step climb out. A group of people were already there, so it took a little while for all of us to climb up. The other group dared each other to do it without a rope, and from the bottom it looks like an easy climb. Most of us preferred to be roped, since there are a couple tricky little parts to the climb. Everyone got to the top without any incident. We rested a minute at the top before checking out a petroglyph nearby, climbing up some slickrock, then up a rocky slope to the car. It sure felt hot on the climb out compared to the 40 degree temps in Northern Idaho this time of year. We were grateful for a can of sparkling water at the top - thanks Judy! We hopped in the back of Penny's truck for a ride back to camp.
We ate dinner, made some smores around the fire, and enjoyed the company of the canyoneering community. There was an abundance of diversity, warmth and good energy around that campfire. A unity of different ages and backgrounds, brought together because of our love for canyons and exploring new places.
Not Mindbender was an exhilarating day of expanding comfort zones and great people. We'll never forget it! Thanks everyone for allowing us to tag along.
Climbing the moki-step exit.
Lisa cranking the moves on the bulge. Allez! Allez!
Rock art on the walk out.
Dave Pimental, Art Shot. Old farm equipment at Texas Hill.
Group shot at top. (L to R) Tom, Doc Rosen, Dave, Jason, Amy Ramras, Steve Ramras.
Story by Amy Ramras, Photos by Dave Pimental
It was one fine morning in Utah around Thanksgiving. I was wandering around the campsite watching people doing their morning activities in preparation for the day's canyon. We were doing an unexplored canyon. Suddenly my curiosity was aroused by a murmured conversation between Tom Jones and my dad (Ram). Not minding my own business, I wandered toward them and interrupted the conversation.
"Dad what are you talking about?" I asked. In reply my dad said "You." "Why?" I asked. "Because Tom does not think you should attend this canyon because we can't really help you in a tough spot, if the canyon gets very hard, for we will be too busy taking care of ourselves. Plus you are just a kid and you do tend to get your self in some sticky situations because of bad judgment sometimes."
The mutterings continued and I waited with baited breath for the final decision. Finally the final decision was made and much to my dismay my dad sided with Tom! So my dad and I went on the North Fork of Robber's Roost. I vowed that day that I would do the canyon that is now called Chambers and finally I got my chance.
March 17, 2007 we descended Chambers Canyon. The group members were Dave, Ram, Mark, Jason, and Tom. Aaron and Penny were ahead trying to go UP the canyon. Once we arrived at the canyon I was given a pep talk from my dad about the canyon because he had already done the canyon months before. Then the fun began!!
Down the slickrock towards Chambers. ph: Dave
The gang psyching up for dropping down into the canyon. ph: Dave
Amy slipping into a slot. ph: Dave
Amy looking up! ph: Dave
Ram slipping into a slot. ph: Dave
Amy slipping into a slot… ph: Tom
I (Tom) got stuck. Ram came back to help, in this narrow spot.
It slotted up right away. Dave and I, the skinniest, eased our way right through, while the others struggled a little bit more trying not to get stuck. The lights of the canyon were spectacular. Dim light reflected off the rock giving an eerie glow to it.
Chambers had no mercy. More and more narrow and then narrower, until we came to a nice subway shaped opening, right in the middle of the canyon. Just when we arrived we ran into Penny and Aaron. They had been struggling up the canyon with great difficulty. We took a pit stop and had some lunch. It was a delicious energy booster for me. Before he left, Aaron mentioned the fact that a hair barret still lay on the canyon floor where Denise had dropped it by accident, on the November trip. It appeared that no one who had gone through since could get low enough to the ground of the canyon for it was very narrow.
Inside one of the Chambers. ph: Dave
Coming out into the daylight at the half-way point. ph: Dave
The gang in the subway section, half-way point. ph: Dave
The tough upclimb, lower section. Jason (assisting), Doc (climbing), Ram (above). ph: Tom
Amy at the Bottom. ph: Dave
Down we went. It became intense. Finally we approached the big stemming part that my dad had mentioned so many times. I was going to go up, but Dave protested and said that I could go low. He taught me a helpful and painful heel and toe method. Toe on the front wall and heel on the opposite wall. So Dave and I went through the narrow section heel and toe all the way over and above the headband. At the end I decided to go low and to the canyon floor. Dave suggested I try to squeeze into the bottom and get the band. It was hard and I couldn't at first, but figured out a wider spot and I got it, to Dave's, my own and everyone's amazement. I began to drag the headband on the ground back to Dave. I did it! It was an amazing feeling. When I looked back, I thought never again will I fit. I showed the headband with pride to everyone, stuffed it in my backpack and continued.
This time it was much harder. I couldn't get started, so Dave, the amazing Dave, came over and let me use his feet as stair steps. I couldn't get up, as my gas tank was on E and I was slipping losing my composure. Luckily for me, I had Dave and my dad to drag me to the high part to stem the rest of the way. I slipped down to Dave, exited the canyon and collapsed in the sand. After everyone was out we did a group photo at the end of the canyon. The hike out was hot and dull all the way to the car. Then we were on our way home.
Amy at the Bottom, with a little photoshop work. photo: Dave. Shop: Tom
hiking out the canyon. ph: Dave
The end of Chambers, from above. ph: Dave
My goodness, what a day. All I can say is thank you Tom for not taking me on the exploration. I would have died. I learned that Tom is pretty smart when it comes to canyoneering. I wouldn't have made it out without Dave. He was Mr. Amazing. I used him as a human staircase. Oh and thank you to my dad for taking me, and also everyone else in the group. It was an experience of a lifetime. I hope to do it again!
Victory Shot at the end of Chambers. ph: Tom
Up close and personal. Thanks to all, a great day out. ph: Tom