Riding the Midget Rattler - Canyoneering Escalante May 2013

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Midget Rattler Canyon – Burr Trail – May 25, 2013 Another Memorial Day Weekend, another visit to the Saddle in Boulder Utah for a social weekend. But, we were SUPPOSED to actually go out and do canyons too, AND get back in time for Pim’s hour, which might strike as early as 4 pm… what to do? There’s plenty of LONG stuff to do in the area, but shorter stuff is somewhat lacking. Thus - a QUEST to find short, appealing canyons close to Boulder.

Prepping for the trip, and watching the weather report say HOT HOT HOT, I looked around for something reasonable to do. Last year, Luke showed us his inspired route Strike Two, and there are some other interesting gatherings of contour lines on the map in the general area, but… Closer to Boulder, off the Burr Trail, I had been espying possibilities in the Wingate Sandstone flanking Long Canyon for several years. Perusing the map and Google Earth, a few canyons were promoted to “project”, with the big problem being how to get to the top of Rattlesnake Bench, to descend these things. They would not be an appealing, social, half-day canyon if they required a 4 hour approach!

I had a secret weapon in this quest. Pick any point in the Escalante/Cap Reef area, and mention you want to go there, and Bill the Wolverton will say something like: “yeah, I was out that way about 8 years ago and…”. In this case, when I mentioned my idea, he said: “Ya know, about ten years ago, I hiked in there and found a constructed cattle trail near the south end…” and while he could not tell me EXACTLY where it was, he gave us the general idea and assured us of a reasonable way up onto the mesa top. This was great – I had expected to spend an entire day by myself circumnavigating the Mesa looking for a way to the top. With this key bit of information, I could round up a few friends and do the closest canyon to where the cattle trail probably was… the next day.

Midget Rattler Map

Midget Rattler Map

Da gang for da trip!

Da gang for da trip!

So we did. The we being Laura and Wayne from Colorado, and Mr. Deeps from up Salt Lake way. We got a crack of 10:30 a.m. start, and wandered up The Gulch keeping a keen eye out on the right hand side. We saw a possible way up, but it was not easy like a second constructed cattle trail. We continued upcanyon, until we saw a likely spot. It took getting halfway up before it became clear that it was the constructed cattle trail Bill had talked about; and we were somewhat surprised to see it showed signs of regular use.

Up we went. It was hot. We crested a ridge and found a scruffy looking canyon on the other side. Down we went, hoping the canyon would produce shade fairly soon.

Hmmmm. Not soon. Not to say it did not try – it formed some short little narrows, but nothing longer than 100 feet. I was worrying that my ‘exploration’ would have one rap at the end and… then the bottom dropped out.

The old 3-rope Arch Trick

The old 3-rope Arch Trick

Unfortunately, it did not go into the shade before dropping out. We poked around the huge chockstone blocking the canyon looking for a FiddleStick-able feature. No such luck. I dumped down a bunch of tree debris and sixty pounds of sand and dirt. A conventional FiddleStick placement was not to be had, but… but, could treat the chockstone as an arch and do the 3X w/ ground anchor arch-solution… which we did.

Down in, we found a nice shady slot. Ah, coolness. Not much flow through here, so kinda dirty – what Ram would call an immature slot. Next drop, Deeps tried the downclimb, but it belled out viciously in the last 20 feet, so we ended up Fiddling a log positioned behind the chockstone.

Around the corner, we got a surprise. Yes, we were at the last drop, as expected. This is the short tall slot on the northwest side of Long Canyon, close to the end, known locally as Short Canyon. We were there, and the drop was not too long… but so was a CAT! Well, a cat WAS there, as shown by paw prints in the mud, and 3 piles of scat. Did she get trapped down in, then hang out for three days before deciding to do what? Jump the 130 foot rappel? Climb any of several 5th class chimneys? Hard to say, but she did something!

Laura on the last rap

Laura on the last rap

We found another surprise, too – a sling coming out of the sand! Darn, no first descent here. We pulled it up and rebuilt it, as is the ‘best practice’, then rapped down, took pictures, enjoyed the shade. A ¾ mile stroll to my car convinced us the shade was the place to be. The quick drive back to the Saddle found Mike just prepping up the Pim's bar...

A fun little 5 hour canyon, 20 minutes from the Saddle? – quest achieved! What’s next??