Mystery Canyon: A Downclimbing Challenge! Zion National Park, UT
Mystery Canyon. Oh my heck my favorite canyon in Zion... well, sorta. I have many favorites. Kinda strange, this weekend in February, to do my two almost-most-recently done canyons, Mystery and Obs Pt. That is the canyons that fit the agenda, and such are the curve balls that life throws one's way. Last trip through Mystery, all of seven weeks ago, Amanda had mentioned that she and Chad had downclimbed almost every rappel during the previous summer. Conditions then, meaning in December (a bit colder and snowier), did not allow exploration of this possibility, but the downclimbing challenge was thrown out there - and now was my opportunity to check it out. Lynn Bufka from Arizona, and Tom McCabe Jr and Tovan Adams from the City of Salt were down for a casual stroll through Mystery, and were willing to indulge my desire to see how much I could downclimb. Awesome!
Mystery is particularly well set-up for downclimbing. The bolted anchors at each rappel provide a straightforward top-rope anchor, provided a person who can belay is along on the trip. Most of the raps have the hard move at the top, getting settled under the chockstone, and many of these are quite high - as in, high enough to kill or maim you, so doing these without a belay would be inadvisable. How embarrassing would it be to die in Mystery Canyon because one forgoes the easily-available belay?
Many of the down-climbs are intimidating, and look really hard, but are not. The last pre-rock-narrows rap was pretty straightforward and not hard, but I would not do it without a belay. Got psyched up for the first rock narrows downclimb - which was not bad at all. The second one was not bad to get under the chockstone, but lower down the chimney got really wide and... well, truthfully, I gave up early. With a LOT more psyche, I would have tried some strenuous bridging which might have worked, but on this day, I basically chimneyed until it got too wide, then fell. I knew it wouldn't work, but did it anyway. Coulda tried harder.
The rest in the rock narrows were pretty easy, until the last one. This is the low angle slab. There's some holds to opposition off of until about 20 feet from the bottom, then... ??? With climbing shoes, might be able to downclimb the low angle crack. Almost short enough to just slide down the slab... when young. Those with some years on us, not so much. Not sure how to succeed on this one.
Onto the middle part of the canyon. Tip toe past the 'lake', which was thankfully almost dry. Up the sandpile, down the other side. The 'frying pan' rappel was not too hard. Yada yada... thence to Mystery Springs.
Since we rappel Mystery Springs from the side, I had not really looked at the downclimbing possibilities before. Yowza! From the top, a few casual ledges offer an easy descent about 15 feet, then it looks like it turns vertical for 80 feet into Mystery Spring, the pool behind the big chockstone. And it did! Steep, somewhat slimy, tenuous, challenging - with interesting moves. Quite an amazing downclimb, among the most difficult I have ever done. Adrenaline spikes kept me on! Good work Amanda and Chad! Leads to a log that extends into the pool - waist deep water and across.
The second part is somewhat different. There is an anchor available under the chockstone (off another chockstone), and I briefly considered asking Tovan to come down and belay there, but... I did not. The lower part is much shorter, way slimier (since it is fed by the spring above) and quite tenuous, at least down to the release point. Like an earlier downclimb, the features to counter-pressure with end well before the bottom, in this case about 15 feet above the pool. I worked it for what I could get, which was not much, and not enough to keep me on. Plink! The belay from far away under the chockstone was not tight. I slid down and stopped, my knees in the water. No problemo. My conclusion is, one would go to that point, and then take the splash-down into the pool. A 15-foot jump into 8 feet of water - not bad.
Once down, the others set up the rap as usual, and came on down themselves. They celebrated, me wise enough to not tempt the gods. We hiked to the last rap, and rapped that (no downclimbing here!)I got to do my best Amanda imitation and butt-slid the thing - super fun. Bit and Spur! Beer and Food! Good stuff, a fine day in a fine canyon, with new possibilities introduced. Mind blown! Can't WAIT to go back!!