FreezeFest III: Not Mindbender, Robbers Roost, UT


The 6 AM wake up on January 2nd came quickly. 15 minutes later, we were on the road toward Robbers Roost. Gas in Hanksville, followed by first light on the dirt roads heading toward the day's goal. Tom picked a return engagement with Not Mindbender Fork of the North Fork of Robbers Roost. He had shown great enthusiasm in wanting to share this gem with me, as I had never been there. Payback for the ones I had shown him on this trip? As with many of you folks, Tom and I had shared, back and forth, for years. I was all for something new. It was 3 hours to the car spot, down ever-smaller roads, to what could only be called a track at the trailhead. Over the hill we go and are presented with a whole row of small, parallel drainages... but not all go where we wish to go, as they diverge and head into very distinct forks of the NF of RR, some for which we don't have enough rope to descend. Ummm, better get it right! Freed of the GPS, we were allowed to experience doubt, consider the terrain, and make our choice, senses fully alive.

Another morning in the Roost, under gloomy skies.

Up on the rim, as we decide to drop in, I feel a tad lightheaded. I tell Tom that I am going to have a quick snack. He takes off down the hill and I chow hard and fast, so as to not fall to far behind. Almost done, I bite down on a bar...and feel great pain shoot through my mouth. A gentle investigation. A tooth way looser than what is right. I am basically done eating for the rest of the trip. When I got home, an X-ray showed a vertical crack through the tooth. Could not be crowned. Out it went and the implant surgery is tomorrow. An inauspicious and painful start to the day. Swollen and sore, it would remind me of its presence, for the rest of the trip.

We dropped in and strolled into some Carmel layer narrows. Ledges abound and large quartz slabs do too. We follow fresh cow droppings down the narrows. I am reminded of the days when the cow was everywhere I roamed, in the desert. I am glad they have been restricted and wish them to be more restricted. I could, but wish not to get into an argument about the "traditional lifestyles" Vs "damage to the ecosystem" thing. I shall leave it at preferring not to follow a trail of poo. Soon we reach the Navajo layer and stop to suit up. Probably won't be too wet, but it is chilly and we will do more than a little tight work, so a thin wet suit works on several levels. The canyon is delightful. The narrows offer moderate and fun downclimbing. The canyon has that special thing, too. Its lines are eloquent. It is colorful and its curves swoop in ways pleasing to the eye. A good combo, with both the visual and the physical. It also gets progressively tighter. I turn to Tom and ask.."You were getting a bit nervous here, on that first time through, weren't ya? Wondered how tight it was gonna get, didn't ya?" He cracks a huge smile, with glowing eyes. Nods the affirmative. A nice downclimb, followed by a rap and a sculptured wall and the narrows relent. We stroll through big wall country, taking the time to scout some side canyons, both with fine grand finale rappels, that draws the eye to the slots above, with longing eyes and deep curiosity.

First rappel in Not Mindbender.

The canyon narrows again as we enter the final technical section. Tom walks the bench above a wet and intriguing narrows and prepares to rap off, to the set up spot, for the final rap for the bigger and final rap below. I make arrangements to descend the upper narrows. After all, I have the wet suit on, it looks great and why not? I tell Tom to let me know when the rap is set up, so I will not have to mill about wet and cold and can come straight through. I stroll, mind drifting to other places and times. Maybe not a great thing to do, when in such a place. Tom calls up and is hooking into the final rap. I stroll, stem, swim and glide down to the anchors and inspect ones that Tom would have had to get wet to really look over. One is marginal. One is pretty good. Neither the best. One is attached by a 6mm cord, the other 1 inch tubular. Both are quite long. 25 yards or so, to the lip. I tell him to "go gently into the night." Off he goes.

Now it is my turn. Was my mind not fully back from it's wanderings? Guess not. I had carried the rope. Tom the pull cord. I knew when we left the car that the grand finale was a single rope off of a biner block. Standing here, on the lip, I pull up both ends (both the full rope) and attach myself. The rap is 95 feet or so, the last 88 free. I slide over the edge and down to a tiny ledge, literally at lands end on the edge of the undercut and survey (a little late) and I note that one of the ends is joined to the pull cord 10 feet down. If I had continued or not noticed I would have gotten hung up on the knot and been suspended 80 feet in the air, far from any wall, with my prussick in my pack, on anchors barely better than marginal. Could I have dealt the situation? Yes. Would it take the correct side of my brain longer than the average fellow? Yes. Would I have pooed my pants? Probably. As it was, that strange sensation in my tummy was back. Grabbed both ends of the rope and hauled myself up the 7 feet back onto the ledge. I called down to Tom, that I was going to take a little time. The slight tremor in my hand may not have been noticeable. I knew. It originated inside my body, which was invisibly shaking. Damn! Damn! I walk on legs I can't feel, back to the anchors, to gander again. They're OK.

Ram making da big rappel.

After 5 minutes I return to the edge and do the rap correctly this time, with my composure outwardly calm. My insides knew better. So here we are 36 hours into the year and I have driven down the highway with my car hatch open, locked keys in my car, gotten hung up on a waterfall, broken a tooth and nearly rapped myself into trouble. And I'm wondering why my partners are leaving for home? Thank goodness I had slept 16 of those hours or imagine what other trouble I might have gotten myself into. Again, I was forced to learn, for the umpteenth time...Focus and vigilance is safety. Lucky again.

Walking out the North Fork

On the hike out.

Out of the suits, we continue down the canyon, to the exit. I have carried the weight today as Tom had volunteered for the lead on the exposed upclimb spot. Up the slab he goes, into and out the solution holes and up to the top. He mentions a couple of chopped holds, at the top. We haul the packs and I follow. There they are. Two new, small, 3 inch holds hacked into the cliff. I ask Tom if he knew who did this...You guessed it..."Probably The Author." The author refers to such vandalism as "enhancement." I would like to take this time out to thank him for improving on millions of years of erosion. Without him there, to make such a judgment, I don't know what the rest of us would do. Its inconceivable to me the level of arrogance one would have to have to "alter" permanently, a wilderness environment at one's whimsy. Who elected him? If I had met him then and there, I would have put that geo pick where the sun don't shine. Still makes me angry.

OK, up the hill, near 800 vertical, to the car. Then the shuttle and at this time, Tom confesses that his body has had enough of being Rammed. We hug and say our good-byes. I understand. But I wonder if he just wants out before I can come up with a new and creative way to lose gear, hurt or kill myself. Alas. I wrestle with camping and doing a fork of White Roost that I have wanted to do. The sky is very gray. May rain. Also could drive to Arches and do an Elephant Butte the next AM, before heading home. Great climb, but best shared with others. Something else nags at me. The family comes home the next day and I miss them.

I drive. I am in western Colorado before I know it. 50 miles in, there is a pull off, with an overhang. I pull out the bag, foam pads and cook kit. With headlamp blazin, I cook up some soup and feel the full scope of the good fortune that has become my life. A passion for adventure, decades old, that still feels fresh. A body that still says yes, when I ask it to rock and roll. A wife who answers some "friends" inquiries as to how she could allow me to go so often, with a "Why would I want to stop him?" Well adjusted kids (I did marry well) who have the same love of adventure as their mother and father. A very big collection of friends, with that sparkle in the eye. A life comfortable enough, with a ton of free time, to make it all possible. This evening I am in awe at how it has all worked out for me. In the AM, I will rush home and get my work done, so I can greet them the way they deserve, coming home from their own trip. But on the drive, my mind can't help but wander to and wonder about what to do on the March trip?

No trip to the Roost is complete without a visit to Ray’s Tavern.