Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Little Santa Anita Canyon

Little Santa Anita Canyon is lovely little stretch of rappelling goodness in the San Gabriel Mountains. Just hike 1.5 miles up the Mt. Wilson trail from a neighborhood in Sierra Madre (try not to suffer too many pangs of house envy there—the homes are spectacular) until you hit "First Water" and take a short spur trail down into the canyon. Thanks to the local drought, the canyon had a little bit of shin-deep water in its upper reaches, but dried out past the midway point. Too bad. There's a fun pothole at the end that, when filled with water, makes for a nice splash. Our little band of canyoneers have done this canyon at least four times and with the exception of one of us once dislocating a finger in a, let's just say, freak accident, the trips have always been relaxing and a respite from all that's urban and routine.

We had with us two irregulars, Kirk and Cammy, and at the first rappel, we met a couple—engaged to be married this summer—who were contemplating going back up canyon because Christina had never rappelled down a waterfall before and was intimidated by the notion of stepping over the edge. Her fiance, Steve, had just taken up the sport last year and thought it would be a great activity to share with his sweetie. Hmm. Good intentions but not such a great idea to do it alone. Either she had to go down first, doing something she had never done before with a dozen unknowns, or trust that she could hook up to the rope correctly and follow him down. (And if she lost her nerve and stayed at the top, he wouldn't be able to go back up.) Rich convinced them to tag along with us for that safety-in-numbers sort of thing, and she soon became at the very least more comfortable going down a rope. Our merry, nine-person group swooped through the canyon in just four hours.

One technical note: I've been experimenting with shooting the action using HDR (five exposures ranging from under-exposed to over-exposed shot in a quick burst) and blending the pictures together. This helps overcome the huge brightness differences you get in a canyon from deep shade to bright sun on nearly white granite. I started doing this on our Hades Canyon trip and refining it since. I took two of the pictures in this post using this technique and with any luck no one would be the wiser if I didn't say something first.

Rich gearing up in the upper canyon. He had just donned a wet suit, which became quickly unnecessary.
Christina on her first-ever rappel.
Steve on one of the wetter rappels.
Rich plunging down a water slide while Kirk waits to see if he survives.
A camouflaged frog, one of many there. I guess that's a sign of a healthy canyon.
Kirk working his way past an overhang with Rich acting as "meat anchor," a technique that's used when you can't find anything to anchor the rope and the last person down is able to safely down-climb the section. Rich is simply tied into the rope—a human anchor—and braced against the boulder.
Kevin helping Rich past the overhang.
Little Santa Anita Canyon does end with one slight indignity: one has to climb over a government fence at a flood control dam before walking through the neighborhood back to the car. I haven't heard of anyone getting impaled on the spikes, but, oh, would that hurt.

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