Fat Man's Joy 12-25-18


Feb 15, 2013
The noise began, right after what some in our group called "The debacle." The cry of "next year in Keyhole" echoed among the participants in last year's attempt to descend Heaps, on Christmas Day. An adventure that led us to edge of the precipice and back again and an escape back up to Crossroads, in Heaps, then up the south fork and over into Isaac Canyon. Then the descent of that canyon, sandwiching a bivouac, on Christmas night. Debacle? No say I!! A bit of an overreach? Well, quite a bit more than a bit of an overreach, but a fine effort, that tested our ability and judgment, to the hilt.

So I never acknowledged the "Keyhole" joking.....hoping it was joking. I still have a little gumption left in this failing body. There was talk of Behunin, with its snow covered slabby entry and the icy flow on the first rap sequence. Pictures were shared of a fabulous descent of Englestead and Orderville, several February's ago. It did not gain traction. Well Behunin did, when Tom expressed excitement about this possibility of a bland canyon, showing itself in its best clothes. A blanket of snow.

The light show from the Hoover driveway

The crew

But then the government closed. Members of the group did some advocating for the idea that the park did NOT implicitly say we could NOT do canyons, without a permit, during a closure. This bit of interpretive gymnastics, did not work for all of us.The discussion is briefly put on hold as the mountains above Springdale explode into orange, as the sun descends low in the sky. Pictures must be taken! Back to the negotiation and a movement arose for Fat Man's Misery. It is wet. There was snow on the ground. The forecast was mixed. It is rated an 11-12 hour canyon. With only 9 hours of functional light, that sounded just perfect!

Jonathan had to guide on Christmas, so he could not come. Sonny was in the Caribbean. Jenny jumped into the opening, her being a well seasoned winter canyoneer, who had never before been available on Christmas Day proper. She would be joining Tre-C, Tom and Tim and I. Five to go!! Next came the "negotiation" on wake up time. Me for earlier, Tom for later and several rooting for Tom. We decided on the later wake up. A causal 3:30 AM wake up (I wanted 3 AM). Hot drinks prepared, breakfast had, at the luxurious Hoover abode, hours before the first hint of day. Careful driving on those icy east side of Zion curves.

Snow was falling, more a graupel (https://www.thoughtco.com/graupel-a-mix-of-snow-and-hail-3443890), as we starting hiking at 5 AM, headlamps a blazing. Enough snow to make the little scrambles interesting. Then packed snow that had turned to icy slopes, just before Checkerboard Pass. I remember thinking..."this will be fun coming down tonight."

Night turned to the border of day, shrouded in gray and flurries came and went, in the subdued lighting. We cached water for the return. And magically we arrive at the start of the technical section just at first functional light. Tom was right. Perfect wake up time. On with the suits, dry and wet. Into the belly, with the hot drinks. Fat Man's Misery is over there....It's only a matter of going! The first rap is set and down we go. Some swimming, some wading. Enough wind that we don't dally. Some more flurries. The world is quiet, except for our presence. Pristine is the word that comes to mind. We stop, wet and in a breeze, at the confluence of the forks. I see it in people's posture and body language. Hunching against the cold, moving through personal maintenance, with purpose.

In the wonderful lower canyon, we partner assist often. Stop for pictures in lighting not quite good enough, without tripods. It is beautiful and people are smiling at each other, soaking in the magic. There is minor flow, increased as the warm springs adds itself to the stream. The smiling grins of before are now jaw stretching expressions of joy, with eyes sparkling. It is why we came. The water is warmer and pleasant. But this is a finite experience. Soon, we hear, then see and then immerse in the Parunaweap.

Jenny and Tre-C are floating in the river, which has ample water, their laughter echoing off the walls, competing with the sound of rushing water. It is a fantastical mood change. One great place, to another great place, so completely different in mood.

I have only done this canyon twice before and have read about how hot and long the exit is. Not today. Long yes, warm, no! Most leave our wet and dry suits on, for the initial steep climb, hoping to create body heat. The day's long exposure to cold, has started to impact our core temperature. Once on the initial pass, it is time to change. Naturally the snow turns to rain and intensifies. It seems that every Christmas Day adventure has a moment like this. Stupid, silly, cold, undressing. You gotta laugh, or you might cry. More hot drink and then up we go, navigating the steep slippery spots, with care. The rain is light, but steady, then it relents and the clouds come in and out, offering views, if ever so briefly. It is a long way home and we take it in good rhythm, not stopping and not charging forward. We get to the water cache and up toward the pass and it starts to snow. Then it snows harder. Then it is a blizzard. New snow covering, the old snow and ice. Daylight is fading and the new snow is making the canyon bottom extremely slippery. Everyone would fall at least once, some several times and fall hard. The snow falling on the slopes, on each side, above us, on warmer rock melts and small flows comes down in all directions, adding "wind chime" like sound, to the white canopy, as we navigate through a thick cloud. And then the cloud lifts. Then the cloud engulfs us again

Finally the ground levels out as we navigate the low angled snow covered slickrock. The road. And with streams of cars going by, we change out of the wet and into the dry, while a final snow squall mocks us. Down to the Hoover's we go for our traditional Christmas feast, that Susan has prepared for us. The Zambella's come over for desert, as does the Hoover's neighbor Micheal. We stay up way too late. A fine day in the wild. Tre-C starts her migration home and the rest of us stay the night. The next day, Tom heads home and Jenny and I start the trip toward FreezeFest. We pass through Zion and it is brilliant with yesterday's storm.

Thanks again to Tim and Susan for hosting this fine Christmas Day tradition, now 9 years old.


Mar 19, 2014
Wow. Could you provide a link to what you're wearing that allows you to stand in that cold water? Thank you.


Colorado Plateau is calling...
Feb 3, 2017
@ram proves once again to be in a class of brave-awesome above the rest of us, well, me at least. :)
Awesome as always.
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