Canyons of My Dreams 3/19-20/08


Feb 15, 2013
Again an old story now integrated with pictures. Here is the the tale that led to this story. Might be good to read it first....or not....or not at all...Canyon of my Fears

Canyons of My Dreams
by Ram
I am an adherent to the theory: “If you can’t be good, bring lots of people who are.” That and the Powell Doctrine of ‘overwhelming force.’ It provides the illusion of safety. In hard canyons, you are on your own ... at least a wee bit anyway. I recruit rock stars. I toss available dates out. A little nip here, a little tuck there, a bit of flexibility by crew members ... and we have it ... March 20th is the date for a return to the Canyon of My Fears.

The canyon is called Sinusitis. Snotnose for you who prefer the more descriptive slang version. The guns? Escalante guide Rick Green. He has been a comfort before, at my side, on several highball X canyons. He exudes confidence and positive energy. Nat Smale, who has done more of the hard Colorado Plateau canyons than anyone I know in the last decade, he is coming too. Humble and cool under fire. Talents of the first order both. Then there is Ram ... No, not me. Little Ram. Except he is not little anymore. Aaron, aged 17 ... I no longer wrestle with the angst. Can he? Should he? Should I let him? These are not my prerogative anymore. Well, legally it is, but ... After doing Sandthrax twice as a 16 year old and styling it ... that and several other burly canyons, there is no doubt left. He is cool, he is calm, he is strong, he is very, very good. My better whenever, wherever. I lean on him. My spirit soars with pride knowing it’s true. My head wrestles with the potential consequences of the situation that I helped create. What have I done? Seemed like a good idea at the time. Then I see him as a man ... ready to cope and deal with ... any adversity. Seems the right thing to have done. Three to go!

Or is it four? Here my friends are once again ‘treated’ to the my own, all too public, personal wrestling match. Fear and desire spar. They will do battle until 5 minutes before the group dives in. It is noted by all, who is winning at any given moment. I refer to the ‘in canyon crew’ ... sometimes as ‘you or them’ when fear is winning and sometimes as ‘we and us,’ when desire is winning. As the stomach turns. Others are here for the festivities. Tom Wetherell, fresh from Arizona and now a Colorado boy, and Landon Micheals, former Spidey super scout group graduate and a FreezeFest vet this year. They have agreed to sit rim team for the run through. The table is set.

Aaron and I don huge packs, carrying a ton of gear. Nat and Rick accompany us over to the top of Snotnose. We send our rim team down the upper part of Pottymouth Canyon, trying to insure that they get as much ‘action’ as we can give them, with a rim station, in the sun, in their not too distant future. This part of the canyon is fairly shallow but a good workout. Low too but not on the ground. Aaron and I reach the canyon head of Snotty, we tear our packs apart, stashing gear and repacking the smaller packs we have carried for ‘in canyon’ work ahead. Nat and Rick are galvanized by their first views into Snotnose. They grab the long rope and take turns peering over the rim. They are impressed and properly respectful of what may lay in store, down there in the bowels.

Rick Green peeks into Sinusitis

Ah but we have appointments to keep. We head over toward the break in the middle of Pottymouth, where we meet Tom and Landon waiting for us. You see, one needs to go down to near the end, inside Pottymouth and set a drop, for one to return, after one finishes Snotnose, ah ... I mean Sinusitis. Your exit back to the land of the living is up lower Pottymouth. We could skip the next section of Potty ... but are we not canyoneers? Besides, the canyon is a delight. Physical, off–the–deck work, with the occasional wade and fluted drop. All are enjoying this very easy R- rated canyon. Soon we reach the end of the middle section, drop gear and head down to set the rope to make our exit possible from the neighboring canyon, Sinusitis.

Pottymouth canyon

Aaron with the camera. Rare pictures of moi

Nat Smale. Rick Green up front

Tom W. showing style

Back at the gear, we exit the canyon and rim walk lower Potty to reach our objective. Time to go soon. Time to poo or get off the pot. I contemplate while taking my fear based poo. I lean toward going. One thing bothers. My feet are not tight inside my shoes. A little bit of slipping around inside. Not good for hard places. I ask if anyone has a pair of socks to sacrifice. Tom literally takes the socks right off his feet and now my feet fill the shoes and I am out of excuses. I simply walk toward the head of the canyon, having my actions speak for me.

Rim walking lower Pottymouth, headed to the top of Sinusitis

In we go.

The place has much more water than I have seen before. I am last, hiding in the shadow of my betters, hoping to ‘grow’ into the day’s fare. Soon the 3 of them stem over a pothole. Nothing much. Just 10 feet up, but wide. I’m not ready for such things yet. I drop in, arm bar holding me to the last. Ker plunk. Chest deep. The suit loosens. I slide into the next moves, down grooves. The crew draws to a halt in front of me. I settle back and listen. Maybe its not the silo Rhett thought he saw. But it has got our attention. Sounds more like a rap into a keeper pothole with a steep, narrow and difficult escape. How deep the water? This matters. I am asked to find a rock the shape and size of a mini football. I climb back up and scour about. Aaron is tasked with the potshot bag toss, over the pothole. Success!! I find a rock that maybe, maybe could. Turns out to be better than other choices, but ... not big enough.

Nat has rapped off of Rick and is working the exit from the pot. Mostly waist, to chest deep right at the exit. He is a super climber. He finds the exit hard, but perseveres. I rap off of Rick, off of Aaron’s suggestion. He asks me if he is able to shallow jump it.

I look. It’s bit tricky, but ... “Yes you can,” I call up. Rick goes off of Aaron and into the pot.

He looks at me and says, “Jump that?”

I say, “The boy can play.”

We take his pack. He goes over the edge, then the overhang, hanging by his own arm bar. Relaxes and drops, flopping to his back. Baaavoosh! He just barely touches bottom with his shoulder. Nicely done.

Rich ready to go

This is the pothole Aaron jumped, shown on a later trip. He had a couple of feet more water

I have scoured the wall of mud, while waiting for the boys to come. Two strategic places. With a push from behind and a foot on cleaned wall, I am over the top, potshot just lifting a bit when fully weighted. The others are coming. Nat is packing cord. I ask to move forward. I get the OK. Out on point. Man, it was pretty. And easy. Soon the sounds of my partners are growing more distant. What a surprise this easy ground is! Then I am up on a log and look. Down, down, down. Is it the spot we could see, from the rim and thought a rappel? Yes indeed. And we have an anchor in the log. But is it a downclimb? Looks like it could be. The view from the rim led us to believe that it widened near the bottom and landed in a pothole. To check it out, I would have to get part way down an elevator and find if it goes bombay on me, potentially leaving me mid–cliff and hanging.

I wait.

Nat having climbed out of the keeper pothole

I wait

Down? Down!

Soon we are all there. Nat takes the lead on belayed downclimb ... and it goes. A truly great high quality downclimb and no pothole problem at the bottom. The groove that allows the elevator is just out of sight of the rim team. Nat goes forward. We all follow. It is easy again and it is clear we are nearing the end. It is beautiful. But it is not the challenge we expected or were prepared for. If anyone is disappointed—and I suspect everyone is a little—they mask it well with high spirits and smiles.

The wall of Pottymouth is close at hand. We are finally stemming. An easy, awkward angled affair. Aaron out front and he drops the nostril chute out of Snot and into Potty. We stem then stroll to the 385–foot drop. Move a rock blocking a pothole and start a waterfall. We are in the sun. We linger, happy in this magic spot. But we must soon go. Tough little upclimbs lead to the fixed rope. I try my best to screw up the jug. Eventually Aaron just climbs over the top. In 15 minutes, we are with the rim team Landon and Tom. Sinusitis is in the books. Kinda short, not too hard, very pretty, one pot, one elevator, one stem. I feel a tad sheepish about the build up and all the supposed horrors to be faced. Once again, going up and touching rock reveals possibilities.

Easy Stem in Snotnose

Exiting Snotnose

The big drop beyond

Up out of Lower Pottymouth

Rick has a long drive. He is hosting the ACA rendezvous. We say our goodbyes. It is only 3 PM.

To the rest of the crew I say,“You want to go see the canyon next door?”

“What’s it called?”

“Its working names? Pinkeye AKA Conjunctivitis ... Oh and if the canyon turns out to be super hard ... Glaucoma.”

Pinkeye or Glaucoma?

We had scouted Pinkeye 13 months earlier, before focusing on the other parts of the system first. The logistics of exiting out of the canyon were daunting and to tell the truth ... the place scared me. We had come down its far upper section, done a wet, lovely little middle section and had sat at the commitment spot. Then followed its left rim down to what is still the BEST echo spot I have ever been to. Try as we might, we couldn’t even get a peek into it and it was steep enough along the rim to leave no logical and safe place to anchor and lower someone. Without a huge spool of rope anyway. The place hid its secrets well.

Sometimes, little actions, leading to other actions, lead to full change of direction. If I hadn’t taken just that line toward Pinkeye; If I hadn’t said, “Lets take a peek over there;” If upon getting there and feeling a tad lazy, as I did, had I not overcome that malaise, to descend the steep 200 feet to what MIGHT show a bit more; Then we never stumble upon the view into the canyon and in a spot where one could safely rap in for a better look.

New plan! Down here! Who wants to go? I am thrilled that Tom wants in. Those folks who sit rim for your group? These are real friends and you want them to find the joy whenever they can. Aaron wants in to. No surprise here. Landon, Nat and I wait up high, after they rap in off of Nat.

Tom---Probing the 2nd canyon

Aaron points the camera down

Regular reports come up from below. It is good. Really, really good. Hard R rating. Sculpted and beautiful. They head up canyon. Sensible and safer. Almost always easier to come down than up. Tom, fighting off sickness that had made its way through his house, calls a halt and waits as Aaron pushes further up. He says it gets harder. Always seems that way when you are ‘alone.’ Is it really? He returns and he and Tom come to the jug out spot. Aaron wants to look down canyon. He reaches a spot that he doesn’t want to reverse, if he went down it. That’s saying something. Trust me!

Jugging out of the canyon

But, but, but just around the corner and out of sight he senses the place changing. To what? Oh how he wants to go. How he wants to know. And when will he be able to return, with school responsibilities? And the logistics of the lower canyon haven’t been solved. Go down there and there is no way back up unless you have a boat or can swim 10 miles or so. And from down there, is there any reasonable way back up, from anywhere close by? Perhaps, but probably not. Another day or two and better resources are needed for that secret to be revealed. Reluctantly ... and responsibly, he turns around and jugs out. Sooooo close. Back up the hill, we all go, under blustery skies, to an evening at camp. We review the successes of the day and contemplate the unknowns only partially revealed next door in the canyon we are now calling Glaucoma.

heading back to camp

‹› ‹› ‹›
We had other fare planned for the next day. WyoDave arrived. Rock, Kyrell were to come. A cow on the road derailed that plan. Nat had a childhood friend, one he sees not as much as he would like anymore, out bouldering in another part of the state. He would be leaving us. But before he left, I asked him what would excite him if he were to stay? He looked at me with a gleam in his eye. Glaucoma! He was right, of course. We still hadn’t seen the top half of the canyon, above Aaron’s high point, well above the jug out spot. Most of us hadn’t seen any of it. New. A freshy. Might be real hard. I do that thing ... going from one person to another, trying to find what works best for almost everyone, if not everyone, for the coming day. Tom is ill and volunteers for rim duty. WyoDave is off the couch and volunteers for the same. Landon, too polite to push himself on anyone, has shown me solid climbing skills in Pottymouth. He leaps at the invite into the canyon. We know where Aaron is gonna go. I decide to join them. After all, how hard can it be, this ½ mile down to the jug out spot? How hard indeed.

We get down to the canyon and decide rim logistics: left rim early, around the top, and right rim better down lower. Almost time to go. I mention that another great canyon is nearby, unexplored, to our knowledge. Potholes, then a big drop ... or so we surmise. Only 5 minutes away. All are interested, but someone accuses me of stalling. They are right, of course. After this short diversion, we all do the first drop, downclimbing on belay. A pothole is hard to exit, but after fooling around with the ‘how’ a bit, it succumbs to an arm jam. The canyon is pretty easy for a hundred yards ... then the bottom drops out!

canyon there!

heading in

Landon M.

In front of me is a 60–foot drop. No anchor, as we are already stemming some 15 feet up. Waaaaay too wide to stem. My pulse races. Pretty shallow groove below me. Can I stay in there, ride it down and not get spit out to my death? How, how, how is the hidden bottom part? Belay PLEASE!! Barely able to stay in the groove, I make it the first 40 feet and then the thing spills out into a near vertical chute! It’s got features, but they are 5 feet down from each other. I am gripped with terror. I’m OK personally. I’m on belay. But the last man is my son! I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. Can he? Should he? This type of exposed spot is a horror to me. Now, now, now I am charged with looking at it dispassionately and deciding for him. Is it safe for him and will he be OK with its airiness? This was hard. My own fears screaming NO! I force some removal. It is what it is. What is it? Yes he can. I call up that it goes and Aaron be careful! They must ask again for what I have said, for in spite of my efforts, I can barely find my voice. Of course, he dispenses with it with relative ease after absorbing the initial intimidation of the place. Gulp!

As has become our tradition, we state the obvious, “We are in it now!”

You stay high on the step over.

Knee in play

We were indeed. The system scared me because of steep drops. But here we were in the flattest part of the thing, and it was getting really hard. Right away we are forced up via rigorous squeeze chimneys. Huff and puff and then suddenly the old thrasher wet suit, which was nice in that pothole, starts to feel a bit toasty. Sure like the body armor at least. I remain out front. The exposure is real but moderate. Then a few fluted corners, followed by exposed ups, followed by big air, then not–too–wide silos.

I turn and look sternly at Aaron. “Gone X, wouldn’t you say?”

He smiles. “Yup!”

Aaron shows a peek at the consequences of a mistake


Sandy ledge dancing

Corkscrew 50 feet up

Some big up climbs in the canyon

Landon is in new territory for him, but he seems like he was born here. With his Cheshire smile and sparkling eyes, he is truly at ease and enjoying himself. My pack becomes wedged below me. Dang, there is practically nothing in there, but like that clever nut placement the 2nd curses when he tries to remove it, on a rock climb, there seems no way to loosen the pack. Landon crawls down to it, opens the pack and rearranges the contents. Presto! Free pack! Thanks Landon!

Landon rescues my pack

Up above, we chat occasionally with Dave and Tom. We even get the occasional line of sight on them. What a comfort to know they are there and listening to our every word. I have sat rim. It can be like watching paint dry, but when you can hear ... then it is quite interesting. Another drop looms ahead. A pattern has been established. Hard upclimbs, often body squirming wars, force you to fight up to where you can stretch out a tad. Then you cruise for 5 minutes. Maybe 10. Then you are forced down. Cross part way down by stemming a little while ... then you face another hard up. Repeat drill. I consider. So much hard up? I conserve energy where I can. More back and feet, less galumping. I arrive at the drop. Likely an easy elevator, it swings underneath, blocking me from a good look. I take an ‘in canyon’ belay again. This one is easy and my pals quickly follow.

I am relieved to be lower in the canyon now. Not so much big air. That does not last long. Ahead of me is a long exposed silo. The drop is 30 feet, but it is a bottom fall, for sure, if one were to err. The geometry of the place is like none I have ever seen before. It is a long rectangular room. If one were to drop in there, I can’t see how one would ever get out. Jail with no need for a jailer. A true mouse in the bucket, complete with walls too far apart to stem and a roof covering the ends of the room. Only the gaping hole in the middle invites one in for a view. To cross the top of it is quite wide. The walls are made of sugar and it seems to get wider. I feel a panic take hold. I back off without even looking past the bulge and let Aaron go look, as I cower in the corner.

The downclimb to the silo crossing

Cowering behind as Aaron probes the silo

The rare ledge to rest on

brave face. Tank heading toward empty

We talk about how we can protect this place and we come up empty. Aaron sighs, eyes the thing and then is across. Hip on the left wall and rotated down, right foot doing the tip toe dance on the right wall. Gulp. Damn, damn. Landon starts over. I close on him...and move just a foot or so behind him. His proximity gives me courage. And in 10 seconds it is passed. They stop to gather themselves and reflect. Not me!! I must regain the nerve I have lost, by ‘doing’ again. I flash up to the front. Nice, huh? Lead until it is hard, then get the kids to go first! Then grab the lead back.

We are soon met by hard up moves again ... and again ... and again. I grab some fast calories. All the ledges, big and small, are coated in an inch or more of sand. An unusually large amount for such a place. Have to twist my toe a tad, clearing sand, to find the actual shape of the ledges. Aaron says we are near the spot where he went up to. The rim team says we are near the spot where Aaron got up to ... but it doesn’t come quickly enough, in the world of a quarter mile an hour.

Another pair of silos, high but not too wide and the ledge ... the ledge has a foot print on it!! Aaron assures that there is no more X ... plenty of hard R, but no more ‘poo my pants’ chasms below my feet. Exhale! But only for a second. Hard up moves are at hand. We offer to hold feet and give shoulders, boosting away. Are these moves the hardest yet, or am I running out of gas? A little of both, I suspect. More varied features add beauty, replacing the starker, yet stunning look of an hour ago. The rim team switches sides and lets us know we are swallowing distance fast. And there it is. A single rope laying down the side of the cliff. A lifeline in the truest sense.

After we get to the foot prints. easier but going up here

Ah but Aaron has other plans. He has recruited Landon to accompany him to his low point from the day before.

“Landon, you stay here, I’ll be back,”

... and he is down the hard spot that he feared trying to reverse yesterday. Landon waits with the rope. I am out of sight, above at the exit. I strip down and am soaked in sweat. The sun is 30 feet above, its drying warmth mocks me. I suddenly feel light–headed and my toes and fingers are tingling. Too much oxygen? Too little? Too much carbon dioxide? I am not sure what to do. Breathe deeper, shallower, faster, slower? I realize I am beat from the day’s efforts. I chill and I wait. I am now cold and I wait. I sit in the little pocket, curl up in a ball, and allow my mind to drift. And I wait ...

It takes quite a while, but the boys return. The upclimb he feared, was in fact hard 5.10 and he was thrilled to have a belay. He reports wonders from the lower part of the canyon. Aaron claims to have descended nearly to the end. I am skeptical. This youth can stretch a tale a bit. But after we jug out, with me taking forever to get the system working, I gaze at the images on the camera. By jolly, he did get far! The canyon totally changes character, dropping down a steep gully/groove and does so in a grand setting. He made awesome time covering this easier and fast dropping section. Stopped by a drop of 15 feet, impossible to reverse, he describes a turn in the canyon that I have seen from below the final 20–foot drop, 4 years ago, on another trip.

The lower canyon, past the jug out spot

All the way to high water mark

heading back up the groove

Aaron on the way out

A stretch of canyon remains unseen, but it is not a large piece and it likely doesn’t offer any real challenges. Amazingly and unexpectantly, our group has seen most of the canyon!! Along with the final small in–canyon section, all that remains is doing it completely from the bottom, is to push a route through the bottom of the Navajo Sandstone, on approach. We are elated!!

There is Aaron!

The canyon was certainly the most physical one I have ever done. Also amongst the dozen scariest. I contemplate. I thought steep drops would be hard. Turns out the flat parts were. I thought the next door canyon would be hard. Turned out the other one was. So much for what I think!

Aaron from the Dante's later in the week

Thank you to the guys who sat rim and gave us a way out, Wyo Dave and Tom W. Landon was awesome in his first serious canyon. He gets to go whenever he wants to. And about Aaron: He carried the weight. He did the last–man–at–risk thing. He scouted the place the day before. He tackled the worst silo first. He offered the calming voice and reassurance. I knew it was coming. I worked and planned for it. It has arrived. I pass the torch. I now follow and am sucked along by his considerable skill. May I be fortunate enough to ride that wave for at least as long as he rode that same wave behind me.

So now the canyons of my fears are done ... they turned out to be the canyons of my dreams. The boy has become a man.

Truly the stuff of dreams.


Blake Merrell

Life Elevated - Rising Higher
Feb 25, 2013
That is some cool looking country. I think it is about time I get some time with the sandstone again :)
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