Before this year, I had never been canyoneering before. But, an awesome trip to Grand Canyon in May changed all that. Rich Rudow of Trimble Outdoors is a badass canyoneer. Most canyoneers cut their teeth in the well-known canyons of Southeast Utah and while Rich has done some of those, he wanted something different. Perhaps bigger. Perhaps cooler. Perhaps harder.
Rich always loved Grand Canyon and wanted to explore the slot canyons there. The access is challenging (as in 2-3 days of shitty, chossy hiking) and the slots are technically challenging (200-foot free-hanging rappels are common). But, Rich never turns down an adventure so he recruited a partner in Todd Martin and racked up numerous first descents of slots that no human had even been through before. Eventually photographer and film-maker Dan Ransom got on board and made a film about Rich’s exploits titled as Last of the Great Unknown.
Through some work that we do for Trimble Outdoors, we planned a media trip to Grand Canyon for May. It consisted of 5 days of hard hiking and the potential for a first descent of a slot. I was psyched but also had no idea what I was in for. After a quick flight to Las Vegas, a drive to the North Rim of Grand Canyon, and a quick night of sleep on the ground, we hit the trail by 6am. I was hoping for a civil start after some coffee and some breakfast but as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and unzipped my sleeping bag, Rich already had shouldered his pack and was ready to hit the trail. That was my first indication that this was going to be unlike any adventure I had ever been on.
After a long day of hiking on sketchy, exposed terrain, we reached the Colorado River and proceeded to cross it on pack rafts. Yep, small inflatable boats that we carried down to the river with us. After crossing, we made camp and turned in for the night. On Day 2 we checked the maps and set off for what is technically called the “north fork of the east arm of Matkatamiba in the East Sinyella Fault arm” but what we eventually would rename “dump truck” due to the effect that our diet of chili-lime cashews and pothole water had on our stomachs.
Several hours of hiking, including a blisteringly hot hour atop the red wall, earned us a view of the target slot. After some necessary chatter to calm the nerves of the less experienced in our party, we headed in. The slot was beautiful. It required several rappels, swimming through potholes, and a 200-foot free-hanging rappel to exit the canyon. If you’ve never rappelled 200 feet on a single strand of 8mm cord, you should. It’s exhilarating, but not for the faint of heart.
With a first descent in Grand Canyon as my introduction, I was hungry for more canyoneering, as was Doug Schnitzspahn. So after months of banter about our next objective, we put another trip on the books and headed to North Wash in Utah to do the Black Hole.
Now, this was a very different trip than Grand Canyon! Roadside access allowed a civilized 10am start and footprints in the mud ahead of us reminded us that we were certainly not the first to explore this canyon. In fact, it’s a desert classic so there was ample beta to help us along on the way. But, it turned out to be no less fun than dump truck with long, dark pools to swim through and sculpted channels to explore. At one point, we shimmied down into a narrow dark corridor and swam for several hundred yards, rummaging through sticks, pine needles and other organic debris as we went. Cameron Martindell was along on the trip as well and captured some video along the way, which he and Doug turned into a TV episode. You can see the evidence of what we swam through on Dan’s face in the film!
Needless to say that while still a rookie, I’m hooked on canyoneering and hope there’s many more canyons in my future! I don’t think it will be much of a stretch to convince Doug and Dan that the classics in Zion should be next on the list.
The area of Utah that we visited to venture through the Black hole is also in the spotlight this week as over 100 businesses are urging President Obama to declare the area a National Monument. This federal designation would protect the 1.4 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) land surrounding Canyonlands National Park from increasing pressure from rampant off-road vehicle abuse, proposed uranium, potash and tar sand mining, and oil and gas development. For more information, and to read the full letter from these businesses, click here.