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.

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