Monday, January 19, 2015

Inconceivable Canyon

It's amazing to me that there are canyons in Death Valley National Park that haven't been explored or are just being mapped out. The so-called Princess Bride area near Stovepipe Wells in the Panamint Mountains was only recently explored and described by a guy named Scott Swaney who is credited with the first descents of the canyons there. Thank you, Scott. With a whole lot of whimsy, he named the canyons after moments in the movie, Princess Bride. So you have canyons called Humperdink, Prepare to Die, Buttercup, Pit of Despair, Fire Swamp and Miracle Max. We descended Inconceivable (after the line, "It's inconceivable!") and it was a marvelous canyon, full of big rappels and challenging—but not too challenging—downclimbs. Loads of fun. So much amusement, in fact, that we barely got out of the place before dark, and even then, we had to use headlamps for the 2.5 mile hike back to the car. I suppose as proof of how much I enjoyed the trip, I took hundreds of pictures and could only pare them down to 23 finals.

Starting the semi-cold approach at 7:30 in the morning. Our destination is the steep slope to the right of the brown mountain (center).

The alluvial fan coming off the mountains.
Starting up the steep approach. Those rocks look pretty innocent but they were so rough, they were like needles. Plenty of cut fingers ensued.

Poor Annette felt too sick to continue, so she returned to the car, following the wash down. She's there at the bottom of the shot.

Rich unraveling the 300-foot rope.
Rich took a tumble.

Buttercup Canyon.
The dreaded "sticky bush" that clings to everything it touches like Velcro with needles that prick your fingers when you try to tear it off your clothes. Nasty stuff. Its real name is Death Valley stick ring plant.

Kevin and Jerri belaying Rich as he tries to find a route past the first major downclimb.

Kevin working his way around the downclimb.
Rich on the first rappel.

Kevin backing up the anchor for Rich.

Jerri on the first rappel.

Jerri rigging the rope to a rock cairn anchor. She's right near the edge but clipped into the anchor with a safety line.

Kevin descending the second half of the longest rappel of the day, a 280-footer.
Rich helping Jerri out of a muddy pothole.

Rich maneuvering over the edge of a rappel.

The last rappel just as the sun is setting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Helios Canyon

Three years ago, I learned that rappelling in the dark by headlight wasn't as scary as I thought it might be. I would recommend avoiding it whenever possible, but it's not so bad. Oh, sure, there's the part about looking over the edge at the top of a tall rappel and seeing only a black abyss below with no way of knowing if your rope hit the bottom. And certainly, the down-climbs are a little more exciting when the light from your headlight distorts how you evaluate handholds and footholds. And lastly, you see nothing of the canyon you came to explore except the rocks below your feet. But scary? Okay, it's a little scary, too.

The canyon I first discovered all this was Helios in Death Valley National Park. We had a little trouble finding the right approach, a steep mile long climb of some 1,100 feet elevation gain that took much longer than we expected. And by the time we hit the final two rappels, it was dark.

We returned to Helios Canyon with better insight for the approach and a determination to see what we missed by canyoneering at night. What we found was a nice little canyon.

This nondescript crack in the mountainside is the bottom portion of Helios Canyon.
Rich orienting us to the right spot with snow-capped Telescope Peak in the background.

The beginning of the climb made more thrilling by all the loose rock.

Rich and Annette working their way through a steep, slightly exposed traverse.

A pano taken near the top of the climb before we descended into the canyon which is to the right.
Yours truly climbing up the approach with the alluvial fan below. (photo by Rich Schmitt)

Rich took a spill over the sharp rocks. What would a canyon trip be without a little spilled blood?

Kevin about to go down the first rappel, a 60-footer with Rich backing up the cairn anchor.
Jerri going down the first rappel surrounded by lots of air and canyon walls.

A rare picture of me rappelling. (photo by Rich Schmitt)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Different Way to View a Rappel

Spent the weekend in two of Death Valley's many canyons. Our second adventure of the trip was Inconceivable Canyon which was in an area where all the canyons were named after something in the movie Princess Bride. Clever. ("It's inconceivable!" was a line from the film.) Here's a different approach to photographing someone on a rappel. This particular one was the longest of the canyon, 280 feet. I set up a tripod (yes, fool that I am, I lugged a tripod through the canyon) and shot a sequence of both Jerri and Kevin rappelling down the second half of the run, and then I combined them all in Photoshop.