Thursday, April 28, 2016

First, First Descent

I can now add "canyon explorer" to my resume. I accompanied the great Scott Swaney (the real canyon explorer with more than 200 first descents of canyons to his name) and three other guys on the exploration of two canyons in the Nopah Range near Death Valley that had never been descended. Here are the shots from the first canyon we did, which Scott named Atlas Canyon. Midway down the canyon, we hit a 360' whopper rappel. Under any other circumstances, that would have been breathtaking, but because we were the first to go down the wall, we weren't certain how much rope we'd need. We had 370', which was just enough, although we didn't know that at the time. In fact, the only information we had on the rappel was Scott seeing it from a distance and estimating how long the drop was. The other exciting part of this—aside from the unnerving wind at the top of the rappel knocking each of us about as we stepped over the edge—was how we were the first to ever rappel such an amazing wall.

Scott's canyoneering gear minus the 370' rope he asked one of us to carry. Can't blame him.

Scott Swaney

Leaving camp at 5:15 a.m.

Hiking up an alluvial fan to the base of the mountains.

Starting the 3400' climb to the canyon drop-in point. By the way, barrel cacti dotted the landscape just about everywhere we went.

Jason climbing above the alluvial fan.

View of the Nopah Range from about midway up the climb.

Climbing into the sun. Fortunately, there was a cool wind that kept the heat down.

Rich topping a ridge with Nopah Peak ahead.

Scott checking out the best place to drop into the canyon. It turned out to be a little farther along the ridge.
Jason working his way over a down-climb.

Scott tossing a rope bag over the first rappel.

Jason tackling the first rappel while Scott had him pause for a picture.

The rock chock anchor Scott built for the first rappel.

Rich on the first rappel.

Rich down-climbing.

Scott looking for a place to set an anchor for the second rappel.

Alvin on the second rappel.

The group gathered atop the 360' rappel.

Building a cairn anchor for the big wall.

Jason tossing the 370' rope hoping it goes all the way down.

Scott doing a "soft start" on the 360' rappel, meaning he was trying to stay low and be gentle so as not to blow out the anchor which could happen if he jerked up on the rope.

The wind blows Rich about at the top of the 360' rappel.

It's takes three guys to pull a 370' rope tied together to two-200' ropes.

Down-climbing a rock slab.

Scott checking out the route before rappelling.

Rich on one of the shorter rappels.

Jason tossing the rope bag off the last rappel.

The final rappel.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Tale of Two Stuck Ropes in Erebus Canyon

I have to say that my friend, Rich, is now my hero. About midway through our trip in Death Valley's Erebus Canyon, we got a stuck rope, that is, we weren't able to pull it down from the anchor after finishing the rappel. Big problem. It was our longest rope and we still needed it for an even longer rappel down-canyon. Kevin and I tugged at it for about 10 minutes before Rich selflessly volunteered to clip his ascenders to the rope and scale back up the cliff more than 100 feet to fix the problem. Not the easiest thing in the world of canyoneering. After slowly working his way up the rope, he found the carabiner we used to secure the rope to the anchor had caught on some rocks. He removed it and rappelled back down using both sides of the rope. 

And then! We had another recalcitrant rope a couple of rappels later. And again, Rich ascended the rope and fixed the problem. What a guy.

As for the canyon, it was one of my favorites. It's full of twisted, sometimes colorful marble, great rappels, deep canyon sections and interesting (challenging) down-climbs. Even with the stuck-rope delays, we somehow got out of the canyon after 13 1/2 hours just before the last light shut down.

Early morning approach, starting from Dante's View.

Rich in the early morning light.

Kevin and Rich inputting GPS coordinates with Telescope Peak in the background.

Descending off the ridge top toward the drop-in point for the canyon, still a long way down. That's Badwater in the distance.

Left-overs from a miner's diggings.

A little POV on the first rappel. I stopped to take pictures of the marble wall I was descending.

Jerri on the second rappel.

Annette on the second rappel.

Hiking down-canyon.

Rich stepping down another rappel.

Canyon scene

Jerri traversing a down-climb right above a marble "wave."

Kevin working his way down another down-climb while in the background, Jerri uses a rope secured to "meat anchor" Rich to get down.

Jerri climbing down through a marble slot.

Yours truly on the left with Rich spotting Kevin on a difficult down-climb. We eventually just lowered him down. Thanks to Annette -- I handed her my camera and told her to blast away. She got some great shots.

Kevin straddling a down-climb.

Annette descending one of the longer rappels.

Rich helping Jerri with a painful blood blister on her big toe. The operation was successful.

Rich ascending the first of two stuck ropes.

Kevin on a medium rappel.

Kevin and Jerri reeling in a rope.

Kevin helping Rich over a short but difficult down-climb.

Another scene looking down-canyon.

At 5:00, we were still a long way from the car.