Mumbai Canyon: X Exploration
RAM • Folks ask me,
“How do you know an unexplored canyon is going to be good?”
Well, there are the obvious hints ... the right rock layers, the width, its shape on the map, the peeks from the next system over, when that is an option. Google Earth and topos help, but for me ... for me the answer is ... I just know. I smell it. Sense it. I feel it.
you say? Perhaps. Maybe that just means that just about all the canyons out there are ‘good to great.’ After 9 days of the trip, folks scattered to the winds. Eric and Brejcha headed home. Tom and Nomad Bill had just been in for the day. Jenny was still a few days short of her return to the desert. Stefan was headed off to join Bill Wolverton to cut down and burn Russian olive trees. Doc needed some alone time. That just left Aaron and me—a father and son run. We had two full days. But to where? Years ago, a squiggly line of a canyon was spied on the map, entering into Fiftymile Canyon and the lake. On an afternoon after a Clear Creek Canyon descent, we took the boat up to look at the bottom of this canyon and were stopped. A natural bridge spans the canyon under the waterline. It allows water to fill further up the drainage, but, when we investigated, we saw that the abandoned meander around the bridge was high and dry. This meant that the lake above that spot was without access to motorized travel. The canyon, miles up, would remain a mystery. Its secrets being denied to me only had the effect of having its status grow in my mind over the years. We considered rafts, canoes, and long swims to seek it out. But its location on the reservoir was far from the areas we were exploring so it was never convenient to go back and look. Maybe in the years with more water one could get up there. I hoped not. It was charming to imagine a stretch of lake that could not be visited by the masses. It gave it an ‘end of the earth’ quality. So, when a few days opened up, the thought of approaching from the land filtered in. The challenges were large—it was miles in. A cross jointed canyon, west of our objectives, blocked easy cross–country travel from the rim. The potential exits, up out of Fiftymile Canyon to the east of this joint, seemed a long shot—the canyon entrenched with high walls as it approached the lake. We would have to probe for access, get there, scout the rims and entries, enter the canyon if we can, descend if we can reverse, and make our way all the way back to camp ... then guess what to bring the next day, just the 2 of us, on our descent into the unknown. And, when and if we pull it off, we are presented with a swim that might be miles back toward camp, not to mention the hike out and drive to our waiting friends. We had told them not to be concerned until after 10:30 AM of a third day and not to act until that afternoon after 3 PM. Too many possibilities to even calculate. Yes, this attempt was a long shot. We accepted that we might not get to do the place this time—in fact, that seemed likely.
— May 16–17, 2010 —From a camp near the town of Escalante, we arose before 5 AM and slipped out quietly, leaving our sleeping friends, and ventured down 50 miles of dirt roads. We spread out our tarps in the early morning light and sorted gear. A friend recently said that life is just ‘one big sort’ and I think that person is onto something. Would the canyon have potholes? Better take the potshots and ascending gear. Would the canyon have blank sandy lips? Better take the Sandtrap. Would the canyon have raps and would anchors be close? Better take a football field long section of webbing. What if the canyon is a stemming one and we have all this heavy gear with us? Heaven help us then. Or Aaron help me, more likely. So, Aaron carries the Kolob pack as his daypack; I carry the leprechaun. It was not long ago that he passed me by in strength and skill. I need binoculars to spy the level he travels at now. We strap these packs onto our full packs and are walking in before 9 AM.
We hike for miles over the boulder–strewn wash. I had walked this way in the mid 90’s, enjoying probes up the nice side canyons we pass by now. Soon cottonwoods appear and, right after that, water and small riparian zones. We come to a large overhang with a northern exposure. It is warm and this seems like the place, with a deep pool of water just 75 yards away.
This is the 10th day of the trip and I know I must conserve my energy. Aaron, primed and fit, agrees to take the map and literally run downcanyon and explore potential escapes from the canyon, both before and beyond the troublesome cross joint canyon. He says he will be back in an hour. I tell him to take two.
Aaron is gone in a flash and it instantly seems to grow very silent. I find a reclining rock and slide in, form–fitting the rock and sand. The sweat dries and my mind wanders. Then I doze. How much time passed? The sun shadow line has traveled but not far. I feel a bit of chill. I stroll to the sun. First, I note how nice our water source is then find rocks that mimic the shape of lounge chairs. I slip in and ... and what? What am I doing? A whole life spent on the run, driven by activity and now I sit doing ... what? ... Nothing? Or something. But, if it’s something, what is it? I observe and realize that, mostly, I am listening. Before I thought it silent. Now? A sympathy of sound. I find it very pleasant. Who remembers those cassette tapes that they used to sell in ... was it the 70s? With nature sounds? I used to snidely laugh at the idea of people who never visited the wilds listening to such things. I, of course, was in the presence of the ‘real thing’ all the time ... but now I realize that I probably wasn’t REALLY listening and I did not value it. A volcano of energy back then, within me, was driving me here and there and drowning this sound and so many other things out.
Now I was really listening. Bullfrogs and crickets lay out a chorus and a back beat, but, while prevalent, they do not echo all the time. There are gaps. Birds are about. Such a variety of calls and they come from so many angles. It seems that I hear from one kind once and then no more. Or do the same birds have distinctly different commentary? It feels like an audition, each successive call trying to garner attention with a distinctness of sound. Then 2 ravens visit and caw. All else seems to go silent for a dozen seconds. Then they move on and the chorus takes up again. Even the raven doesn’t want to hog the stage. A second later, a hum I hear over my shoulder. It’s quite loud! It is above me, but only a few yards. I look but see nothing. But I know where they are, this large swarm of insects. They are behind, then above, and then past, their receding sound mimicking the sound of a passing train. I wonder how many times such sounds have been around me and I had not noticed them. Somehow those old nature cassettes from a different era don’t seem so silly anymore.
Then another animal is heard. I hear deep breathing and then the call ... “Ram!” I don’t reply. I can’t reply. It seems too intrusive. He will be here in seconds anyway, sweat glistening, eyes and face full of discovery bursting to be shared, and I see a variation of myself from a time long gone, from a youth gone. Its expression and memories still within me, slowly fading and leaving this person who now listens to sounds of other beings. I change channels and engage this man new to adulthood. There are partial answers to mysteries we are seeking. These will offer their own unique gifts.
AARON • There’s a Zen to it. It’s just something about running on varied terrain—so fluid, so rhythmic. There was an extra exuberance about each step. I could feel a distinct energy that only comes for me with exploration. The desire to know what’s around that next corner—these corners I’ve wondered about since 2003 when we first found this canyon on google earth. I danced through the streambed, scanning the left wall for any possible exit. Seven years of wondering are finally to be put to an end, if, and only if, we are smart and efficient. And this is the reason I am running. It is midday, and the canyon and its many secrets are still quite some distance away. I know that, if we are to pull the trigger on this one, we must be able to find a quick and easy way out the north side of the main canyon, cut cross–country over a pass to the slot, rim–walk the slot, find a way into the middle in order to thoroughly scout both the lower and upper sections, and retreat to camp with enough daylight to cook dinner and pack for the next day’s sunrise start. Quite the agenda, right? Big surprise coming from a pair of Rams.
The walls are tall and brilliantly sculpted, creating giant curving bends in the canyon, many housing giant alcoves which offer shelter even in the most violent of storms. On a couple of noses, the slabby Navajo sandstone at first gives the appearance of a potential exit; yet each time I came to the base of a promising ramp, I was greeted with a vertical unclimbable face at the base. These faces were rarely more than 15 vertical feet, but that was just enough to be a show–stopper for us poor pathetic climbers. After 20 minutes I reached a large cross joint coming in from the north. I wandered into the cross joint and scouted a winding intricate but nontechnical climb–out on the upcanyon side of the cross joint. This meant having to go all the way around to the head of the cross joint, then around a pair of domes to the head of our objective slot. Not ideal, but at least there is a way out from the towering sandstone walls of the main canyon.
The big walls and alcoves of 50 Mile
From here, I continue down the main canyon, darting from rock to rock through colorful streambed. As I reach high–water mark from Lake Powell, I see a steep nose leading up on the same side as our canyon! If this plays, our chances at doing the canyon are doubled, even tripled! A thick bushwhack through willows leads to the base of the climb. My first thought—it’s steep. Yikes! One can never really know if someting is doable if they do not at least go touch it. So to the base I went. Deep breath. I smear up and just as it gets too steep, I find a beautiful rounded pocket for my foot, then one just above that for my other foot. Moqui steps! I followed the steps as they wound around the left over an unforgiving drop. After 70 feet the steps disappear and the angle lessens. Exhale ... but not fully! The angle is still fairly steep for 100 feet more before it finally declines. I wandered 300 feet more to the bench, partly, to ensure that there was no stopping cliff feature but, mostly, to gear up mentally for one hell of a downclimb!
One hundred percent focus. No mistakes. The first hundred feet were face–out crab walking, staring directly at the death drop below. The climbing is 3rd/4th class, but the consequences and steepness are in your face. The sense of urgency has vanished as I creep downward at a painfully slow pace. As I reach the moqui steps, it becomes face–in down climbing for the next 70ft. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally set foot on the ground and exhaled fully. Hmmm, NOT a good down route. Back to Ram to give him the report. Over an hour has passed. Wow, he must be bored.
RAM • Aaron says he has found the way—the gateway to the canyon. I ask probing questions and he tells a tale of 3 ways, one a guess and two traveled. Traveled how far? “Far,” he says. We climb into the overhang and sort, food to the bag, sleep stuff to the bedroom, daypacks packed and off in a flash. He tells me which benches are good to take and when to stay in the wash. He says that the way up is just that—a way up only—and it cuts the corner we need. I am excited by the prospect that we are forced to take a longer and completely new way back to camp when the day is done.
Moqui step access route. Two steps visible center right. One on the top of the slab, one on the bulge a little left and up
He says the up route is mid–5th class. I know a belay is there if I want it. We get there. I’ll take that belay. I marvel that he found this line. I count 4 strategically positioned moki steps. Aaron belays me up 2 short pitches. As he coils and packs the rope, I jump–start up the hill toward the canyon—a place contemplated for 8 years but never seen. Over the hill and there it is. We aim for a weakness seen on the map, right in the middle bisecting the canyon into 2 potential sections. Around a corner, we see up into the upper section and it looks open, brushy, and uninteresting. I feel a pang of disappointment. Maybe the ... lower section comes into view ... here are the goods AND we can walk right in there and touch it at canyon midpoint.
We decide to walk the rim of the lower section. See what we can see as it approaches Powell. A good angle reveals ... a deep V shaped slot, with terraces and the glimpses into a frightening void below. We look at each other and smile. There is ‘business’ in there. I don’t speak of it, but my son knows my stomach is churning with nerves too. We continue on the rim and look back and forward. Is that a rappel, or is there a way under? Can’t see all the way down, but it looks like it gets taller, larger, and more serious the further you go. We are surprised to find that we can descend down to within 125 vertical feet of the water, but, try as we may, we can’t peek around the corner to the canyon’s transition into the lake. Its secret will be found out but one way, it seems—we will have to go there.
Powell from on the rim scout. The end of Mumbai just out of sight on the left
We eat a second lunch, and we head back to the entry mid–canyon, armor up, and proceed down. Our style is for me to go first until something I don’t like. That happens 20 feet in. Aaron downclimbs in and captures me and my balky knee. Then I’m back out front. Canyoning with Aaron is interesting. We come to two raps. I mean they are raps for 98% of the people. I rap off of him and tell him that he can downclimb it. He looks down and agrees. More importantly, we agree that he can upclimb the things too, for we are just scouting, not descending. Then the canyon narrows and I am 20 feet up. The potential rap, seen from the rim, proves to be suspended chockstones that one can scoot under. I bound around a few corners and then it ... it goes tight. It goes high. It does so with straight, vertical walls. It will take more effort than I am willing to expend. I retreat and take a seat and smile. Aaron comes up, spies me, and peeks around the corner. Turns and smiles again. Words are not necessary, but we review anyway. He will continue, I will wait.
Aaron is gone. The moves just beyond where I stop are hard climbs and a silo. I can only imagine what is beyond. I sit and wait. There is no buzz of life here. It is nearly silent, but for the occasional mosquito hum. They land. They die. I consider for the first time ... what if Aaron doesn’t return? What would I do? No option appeals. Now that he is a young man, I know he has that in mind and his choices, up there in the unknown, are guided by that and other considerations. After an hour and a half, the familiar sound of scuffling and shuffling along steep walls filters back. The labored breathe adds on. Finally he calls to me. For the 2nd time today, I remain silent until we can see each other.
AARON • That energy was back and much stronger than before. Now, we were seeing the goods, and the goods were getting real. Two quick silo crossings with slippery walls leads to comfortable stemming. I turn back and look at Ram and we share a moment of true concern.
High–stemming changes the game in a big way. All the sudden, we are stuck with all this gear for anchor problems, for swims, for keeper potholes. What are we really going to need? The only way to find out is for me to go far downcanyon on this scout trip, and I mean FAR! So I turn, and off I go. The stemming is safe, or as safe as high–stemming can get, but the moves are hard and the walls are chossy and slippery. Fifteen minutes drift by, and the game is still the same. I pick my rest spots in the distance and move from one to the next with a purpose. Finally, I’m greeted by a 3rd silo. Luckily a rock has fallen and wedged right in the middle of the silo, saving this one from being a real spicy meatball.
From this point it becomes quite apparent that the canyon is changing. For the first time I have a view down all the way to the ground, and it’s quite a ways down there. How did that happen?? UGHH! The silos start getting larger and the drops larger. “No mistakes!” I remind myself at each crossing. The first leads down to what appears to be the ground, but the canyon gives the appearance of shutting down just around the corner. That’s no good, right? More that it’s just not worth the effort to find out. Three more silos lead to the opening where the world up high releases you, leaving no obvious way down. All three silos look bombay at the bottom? But how can one know? GULP. Is this the bombay that offers no way down to the ground? Such a spot must be out there. I’ve certainly dreamt of it enough times for it to be real to me! Well, only one way to find out I guess ... so down into the silo I go.
The stemming is wide but ledgy and straightforward. I must scrutinize over each move for reversability. Uh oh! Twenty feet from the ground and both walls shoot outward into a wide bombay. Hmmm, up again and upcanyon to the next one. This silo is even wider, yet it lets one venture even closer to the ground. It looks more promising with every move, but, alas, this one too ends in a place unfriendly to the dimensions of the human body.
Only 1 option left. This one is narrower and allows easy passage down and in. Twenty feet from the ground ... then fifteen ... twelve ... It still looks good! Then, quite suddenly, the walls jut out, leaving a smaller version of the same bombay from the previous two silos. Hmmm. I press further until my legs dangle and my chest is wedged. So close, yet not quite static. I try desperately to find a foothold, some way to make it down without having to jump. My efforts are in vain. The move is simple. Elevator down as far as you can, then jump no more than two feet to the ground below. So simple and routine. The move is cake with a partner.
So there I sat, two feet away from getting that view into the lower section we so desperately need. How sure am I that I can reverse this? 95%. Maybe even 98%. ALMOST certain. But wait ... back up for a minute ... Ram is all alone having gone down 2 raps that he would have a hell of a time getting back up. If I get down and can’t get up again, I have no rope to get out the bottom. Ram has no way to get out the top. We would be two trapped rats. Hmmm ... 98% doesn’t seem so great anymore. Is this going to be what stops us from pulling the trigger? Is this two to three foot drop going to stop us from doing the canyon? Our two man team just doesn’t look so strong anymore. I must remind myself once again, the canyon will always be there. This rationalization is how one stays alive. Back up to Ram I go, pouring sweat as I race through the same stemming sections. Many hours have passed in the lower canyon, and there is still so much to do still. An upper section still exists that we have not even seen yet. The lower section has only been pushed halfway, maybe slightly more? The whole way back I struggled to shake that sinking feeling. This thing might just be too much for this overmatched Ramras team.
RAM • We retreat upcanyon. It remains unspoken, the cumulative body of unanswered questions. There will be time later to decide ... to be prudent? Bold? Measured? I move smoothly over the stems, thinking that I should be fine the next day in here. Then comes the drops that must be reversed. Aaron on belay. He is up after some acrobatics. Says it was 5.10 up top. I hope not. I can’t climb 5.10 anymore. I find an easier way. I’m pretty good at that.
Reversing the Rappel
A few minutes later, we are at the mid–canyon opening. We are tired, but we have our procedures to follow. We must walk up into the bottom of the upper part and, at least, confirm it is easy and uninteresting. Five minutes later, we go up a small dryfall and around the corner to the left and ... The place shuts down to a few feet wide 60 feet up! A cave continues into total darkness below the constrictions. More bombays!! A pattern is exerting itself. So much for it being easy!! I wrestle with this. The size of the lower section was manageable. Add a hard upper section? I am nervous now. We talk about doing a partial descent, just the lower. Or leaving it to do with the X canyoneers who are just a week away from joining us. But this is just the fear talking ... and smelling up the area. We look at each other and sigh. We will go check the rim on the upper part, but we know already. Short of horrors, we will enter at the top in a little more than 12 hours.
The upper canyon section. rated -X for silo and upclimb. On approach, on descent day.
Now, we see in from the rim. What we see does not inspire confidence. It is so obviously a high–stemming place, and it goes up a long way. We take the time to shuffle our tired bodies up to the top. Aaron walks the other rim and then returns to enter the canyon at the top. He says it gets real right away after a difficult entry downclimb.
Above the cross joint, looking south, late on the scouting day
I try to let these facts slip out of my mind as we start for camp in Fiftymile Canyon. It is easy to do— as the lighting has turned golden, the shadows grow and the place glistens. Aaron points to the cross joint and says that he has climbed up and down over there, and he will lead to that spot. I relax and mosey behind him, soaking in the beauty. He nails the route and we drop in, by some intensely colorful globemallows. Then walk the mile or so into camp. We arrive at 8:30 PM. We are hungry. We are massively dehydrated. We will each drink a gallon of water before morning.
It has been a cold trip so far, for a May trip, in particular, but that is not the case this evening. A warm, almost hot breeze filters through the overhanging camp. We are shirtless, hatless, and in shorts, and our warmer clothing only gets used as a pillow. We eat. We drink. We lie back and relax in last light. We fall asleep on top of our sleeping bags. I still wake up at midnight in a sweat. When I wake at 3 AM, it is just cool enough finally to slip my feet and legs into the bag. In what feels like an instant, I see the first hint of daylight. The clock says 5 AM. Time to go. The pack is already packed, the camp gear is cached. Another water bottle drank and refilled. We look into each others eyes.
I say, “Both sections, right?”
He replies, “Yup.”
We are out walking within 12 minutes of wake up, and we both know where to go from the previous days efforts. Aaron rushes ahead. When I get to the moki steps, I cache my poles and note that the rope is lying at the bottom of the cliff and Aaron is up there ready to belay. I use it like a hand line. Then we repeat the drill at the upper cliff band. I leave him again to coil the rope and head up the hill, for the top of the upper section, with a brief gear cache at the midpoint entry. We crest the hill, Aaron long ago having caught me. My stomach turns. Overnight I had hoped that this hard–looking canyon may have morphed into something friendlier? Alas, no. We both drift off to dig cat holes, for me now with more urgency.
I might be inclined to stall entry into such places, but it is already warm and getting warmer. The sooner, the cooler and I hesitantly follow the ‘rock dancer’ into the deep imposing crease in the Earth. The day before I had moved smoothly. Now I feel ‘heavier’ in my movements. The walls go vertical immediately. We are well off–the–deck in minutes. I spy the distance needed to the bombay drop. We have much ground to cover—a lot of distance. The walls are brittle and pieces flake off, doing nothing to build my confidence up. I hear Aaron say ahead. “Oh boy!” I turn the corner and sense the gap ahead. Plainly in view is the upclimb above what proves to be a wide silo. The canyon has gone X. I don’t hesitate. Heart thumping, legs spread, I waddle over the top and straight into the upclimb. On top, I feel oddly lightheaded and my heart is pounding out of my chest. But I feel OK, just letting the place ‘get to me’ a little bit. More steep walls and views down 60 feet to the narrow bottom. Aaron darts forward. I find him on the bottom at the bombays. I try and spy the right spot. The one wide enough not to trap me and not so wide as to spit me out. We are then on the ground and strolling to the cache.
Crossing the Silo
We drink. I tell Aaron that I am not at my best today. Maybe it was getting too depleted on water yesterday? Aaron offers to take more gear, but really ... he is already in a Kolob pack and me a Leprechaun. He assures me that aside from the spot just beyond where I stopped the day before, this stemming section is not terribly exposed. Sustained and physical, but all R–rated. I put on the wetsuit now, tired of the raw skinning I took in the upper section. While the extra protection is nice, the constriction of the suit is making me work harder and something is not right with me. My heart rate flies up high and yet no oxygen seems to be getting to my legs. And I experience waves of lightlightheadedness. This is not good in a high–stemming canyon. So I move 10 feet and rest 5 minutes. Do that again and again. I drink my water and give over more gear to Aaron. And he waits patently. It is getting worse. Shorter distances covered. Longer rests. I suddenly feel an intense lightheaded wave come over me. I purposefully slide into a constriction and the wave ripples over me, sweating profusely, mouth open, head swaying. It is minutes before I feel I can do the equivalent of standing again.
Tiny ledge, on a canyon turn- 60 feet off the ground
Now I am scared. Bad place for nearly passing out. I see the look of deep worry on Aaron’s face. Mine must reflect the same. Nothing to do but swallow the canyon with baby steps. Hours slip by, but we are progressing ... so slowly. I arrive at the big bombay section at last. Aaron calls from below and promises some flat ground. I angle in for the descent. Aaron has found a better way, deeper upcanyon, to solve this passage to the ground. He points to a spot. I take the elevator down halfway. He says, “Not there, over there,” pointing a few feet further downcanyon. But I am too low, a bombay-silo is in the way, and I lack the strength to climb back up and over the top of the silo. So, I wedge in the crack and whine about it. Aaron offers to climb up and belay me, but I can’t allow him to use that much energy. He is the only one who has it to spare and we must keep it in reserve. There is more canyon below and it would not surprise either of us if it were super hard. I drop into the bombay, arch a leg far downcanyon to a sloping ledge, lean with it, do the exposed moves, and make it to the ground.
Now in the lower section. The silo at the start of the scout from the day before and the bombay descent makes this section R rated
I am panting. I slide further downcanyon, take my pack off, and lie down. I am the wrong person, in the wrong place today. I have my picture taken to record the distress and consider ... hope it doesn’t go super hard. Perhaps the day of my being in such places should be over? OK, I’m like this infrequently, but, if I can be like this on a given day, I shouldn’t be on this type of exploration. My son and I have both been feeling how special it is for the two of us to have taken this project on—to share this discovery, the uncertainty, the risk, the rewards. I determine to let those feeling wash over me, for the window for such special things to happen—between the two of us—is clearly closing.
I rest for a spell. Not sure how long. It is a bit after 1 PM. We press on. The flat part ends. The canyon narrows. Sweeping curves hint that potholes are coming if it stays wide enough and silos if the canyon goes high. We stay middle ground on huge but undercut and fragile ledges, dancing from rim of pothole to rim of pothole. It is a strikingly beautiful section. A riot of full arching curves, with potholes down low and other potholes suspended mid-canyon, evidence of a day long ago when the canyon bottom was higher. I am doing better but not great. I stem around a corner and slip/slide down 2 feet and comfortably catch myself, annoyed with my carelessness. Only when I have stopped and the event is over, do I get to see that there was a bombay below me and a 20–foot fall was only a few feet below where my slide had halted. Funny, not knowing the danger and it being over before I did, I experienced no fright at all. Aaron above, with a full view of where I was, had his knees buckle with fear. Sorry kid. I’m alright! He tells me not to do that again.
Ledge hopping over gapers
Aaron comes to the edge of a 15–foot keeper pothole, its exit at a 90 degree angle from its entry. He does a delicate climb around its edge. He lands it and states that he can’t reverse that. I spy my options. I use my pack as an anchor and slide on my daisy chains, the 15 feet into the pot. The pack pulls easily. I love that method! A line is dropped to me and I war up to the narrow lip, get a knee in, and yard on Aaron’s ankle. We suddenly sense we are at the final drop? How big? Anchors?
AARON • Ram has done well to get here. He is drenched in sweat and laboring, but he is taking the passage in small bites and being careful. The necessary focus remains. As a kid, when the experience became difficult for me, he would playfully (sort of) bring out the mantra, “It’s a finite experience. Deal!” Once Ram is out of the pothole, I turn and do a couple more moves downcanyon. Two gapers are crossed leading to the obvious release point. I wander down the slabby groove leading down to a small stance before the final drop. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of anchors. All the sand is upcanyon a ways so this could be a problem.
Once I reached the final station, I peered over the edge and saw a steep 25–foot slab leading into a 25–ft blind drop into the lake. Maybe the last man could slide and jump? What an exciting concept! I turn back to look up at Ram, and I place my left hand blindly on the rock for balance. My fingers wrap around a sharp rounded flake. Whoaa an arch! Some knocking on the top makes it clear that the arch is bomber! Problem solved! The webbing is wrapped around the arch and Ram goes off first. The bottom is a full swim, making the slide and jump feasible. Maybe with a party of more than two people? Very cool! An old worn through carabiner is used since us Rams don’t carry those rapide thingies. The rap is stellar and I pull the rope from a swim, clip it into me, and begin the long journey up Fiftymile.
Final Rappel into the Reservoir
RAM • The rap was amazing!!! Too steep to downclimb the slab, its slope eased just before the drop. Would one stop if one tried sliding in? No matter. If you kept on going, you would slip over an overhang and plummet 25 feet into deep water. Knowing what we know now, with the lake at this level, we would take the slide and over the lip and in. FUN!! I tread water against the wall in sunshine and watch. Aaron is down the rap and into the water. He attaches the rope to himself and pulls the rope. It comes easily. There is no place without deep water, so nowhere for Aaron to coil or stuff the rope. He swims with 120 feet trawling somewhere underwater. Finally we get to some shore and climb out. The rope is coiled and packed. We sit for a moment with satisfaction. But not for long. How much swimming lies ahead of us? Still we feel safe, at last.
It would prove to be over half a mile to where we climbed out of the lake. Along the way, we had shoreline we could walk, alternating with the swimming. The water temperature was almost 60° F. The day was the trip’s hottest, probably into the 80°s. As I walked knee–deep toward the final shore, I chased several big bass ahead of me, they finally braving the sprint past my legs when they realized it was their only escape. Solid ground at last. We have not been on a lot of that since 8:30 AM. It is 4 PM now.
Lower 50 Mile Canyon
The lowest part of Fiftymile above the lake is a lovely narrows and we stroll it, in between the spots of quicksand. We take out the cameras. We had them away for the long swim, but here we snap away liberally. Above is a small falls and a slickrock slab. The wind has risen again. The sun bakes the spot. We decide that drying gear here will save weight on our full pack hike out later in the day. We take the hour and a half, passing it only in shorts and the hat when it isn’t being blown off our heads. Now we are feeling the joy. Looks like we are gonna pull it off. My illness in the canyons hard spots—takes a bit away from the elation but we had done it, including navigating that dangerous aspect with the patience.
Waterfall and drying spot
The hike to camp was uneventful. We drank much water again and lie down in the shade, waiting for a later and cooler hour to start our full pack out. We chatted and reflected with satisfaction. We are sure that the canyon has been visited before. Whether it had gotten a top to bottom descent, we don’t know and due to its remoteness, doubt it. We saw an animal track in the sand above the canyon, showing where animals, perhaps humans among them, headed the canyon. Ranger Bill had stood below the final drop when the lake was super low. When water was high, the canyon’s last rap was under water and some intrepid boaters surely probed a bit up the thing. Above the pothole? Above the bombay? Hard, but not impossible. I know a young man who could do it. Still we decide to name the canyon. We decide on Mumbai, to honor the canyon’s two critical bombay spots and the Indian’s reclaiming naming rights to their own cities. Is that obscure enough for you?
The sun is angling toward our reclining spot, and it sets a deadline for us. Packs packed and the walk out ... first, in low–angle sun then mostly shade. We speak in hushed tones. Partly a response to fatigue. Partly out respect for the magnitude of the adventure we had just finished taking on—the idea hatched 8 years earlier, now a reality. The obstacles to access finally solved. The many logistic challenges overcome. Together. Just us. I hope this one remains fresh for the former boy, now a man. This was a rare thing. We land at the car and pump out a fast dinner, unpack, and change into sweat–free clothing. A few 100 yards away, wood smoke wafts our way from a campsite of some people who were there when we arrived 36 hours earlier. They seem frozen in time to us. Only 36 hours? It seems so much longer than that to us. The balance of things between the son and the father moves in the same steady direction. He is stronger. I am weaker. He leads more. I follow. Upon return home, EKGs, stress tests, lab work awaited me. Must see if something else is at work besides aging. A friend has said that whatever the problem is, it needs to be identified. Once identified, one can find a way to skirt around it. Sound advice methinks. Ideas abound. More fitness? Vitamins? Better diet? Yes, I am ‘bargaining,’ hoping to sneak in more of this. Hang on for awhile longer ... this thing we just did together. It was priceless.
Aaron now leads the way
On the one hour drive toward our waiting and worried friends, day turns to night and the wind blows ... again. Our friends at last! We are greeted with such relief ... and warmth ... and plied for the details of our adventure. We reply in–depth but in subdued tones. We took on a lot. Everything had to play out right for it to work. We prepared well, but we know we were lucky too. You NEED to be lucky and all the time. The next day we hike in on a 5–day overnight. Aaron and I blended back into a group of 5, then 8. But we would steal looks at each other now and again and smile.
For a time, we were the only people in the world. Alone together
Aaron & Ram June 7–8, 2010