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UT: Zion 1st Descent & Ghosting of Emerald Behunin (Behunin Direct) via the Headwall

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Jake Freimanis, Sep 18, 2018.

  1. Jake Freimanis

    Jake Freimanis Ours is a quiet fear

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    About a year ago we did what is currently known as Behunin Canyon (Referenced in Tom Jones' book Zion Canyoneering). Around that time my wife and I started to really jump into canyoneering. I started to spend countless hours pouring over Google Earth, planning new routes, and virtually revisting canyons we had already done. When looking at Behunin on Google Earth I noticed there seemed to be another gigantic canyon between Behunin and Mount Majestic. One email and several map references later I found out that this large canyon is actually Behunin and what is currently called Behunin is actually a shorter route into Behunin via the third fin of the canyon. Looking into other peoples trip reports it seemed I was not alone in this observation but it seemed no one else had descended it.
    Without much more research I planned a route up to and down a section of the headwall at the back of Behunin canyon. It was around this time that I started planning on doing this for certain. I enlisted the help of my wife, an avid climber/canyoneer, Ben Chesebrough, a canyoneer who spent the last year cutting his teeth in hot chossy New Mexico canyons, Kevin Childress, a competent climber and problem solver, and a last minute addition of Gabriel King who just got out of OCS and generally joins us on our many outdoor adventures.
    During the planning phase, Ben and I discovered trip reports of Tom and others doing Hook Canyon and other shenanigans on top Mt Majestic. This made us realize a full ascent on top of Mt Majestic was not as difficult as I had previously thought, and opened the possibility of a convenient escape route that Ben will likely detail in his own trip report.

    We wanted to make sure we could get all the way down the headwall and partway down canyon before cutting off any means of escape. So we decided to bring 1660 ft of rope. Also unsure of water availability via Cabin Springs and how long it would take to descend the canyon, we decided to pack in 90lbs of water and almost enough food. This seemed like a good idea at the time but resulted in every member of the party averaging a 60-70lb pack. These packs brutalized us the entire trip.
    unhappy.
    We ended up doing the canyon right before the recent closure. The day of trip we picked up Gabe in St. George at midnight, and started hiking in from Lava point at 4am. Early on we split into 2 groups, the higher elevation, faster moving, members of myself, Bekah and Ben, and the low elevation, slightly slower moving members, Gabe and Kevin. We made decent time to Cabin springs, where we rested, had a lunch of 3 cliff bars, and took a short nap. Ben and I went on ahead to try and setup a shorter route to the top of the headwall on Mt Majestic by fixing ropes such that nobody had to hike to the first rap of Behunin, then climb the ridge then backtrack that same distance to get to the base of the ramp that leads up to Mount Majestic. Ben and I slung a loop of rope around a bush at the base of the slope and with Ben as a meat anchor I was able to jug up the first 10 feet to the start of a sketchy climb up the slickrock. I was able to climb up the steep wall by wrapping the rope around a bush I passed on my way up until I reached 2 pine trees where the slope became positive enough for unroped travel. The pictured climb was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and I would not do it again.
    5.PNG
    climb.
    I fixed ropes up the route I had just climbed, and as the low elevation crew and Bekah caught up to Ben and I, we shuttled heavy packs up the slope to the base of the ramp. I cannot overstate how horrible this was. Everything we did on this trip was made horrific and exhausting and unnecessarily difficult by our heavy packs. I’m an eagle scout, I’ve hiked almost 1000 miles with a pack, but this was just another level. Having regrouped at the base of the slope leading to Mount Majestic we slogged on upwards hating every minute. Halfway up to Mount Majestic and at the top of the wall we planned on descending tomorrow, we left 950 feet of rope and half of the party’s technical gear lying on a log. We continued up to summit mount Majestic by 10:30pm and were asleep by 11:30 PM for a 19.5 hour long day with heavy loads (ugh). In the morning we got a late start and went our separate ways, the Headwall crew of myself, Bekah and Kevin, and the Escape Route crew of Ben and Gabe (Ben will likely make his own TR about using the escape route to descend the canyon). We began the technical descent, just upslope of the saddle we had left our ropes and gear at, rapping off a large oak tree.
    There may be other, better routes down the headwall, but after a long time staring at google earth and messing with the historical imagery slider, this is what I came up with and it seemed pretty good to me.
    1.PNG
    Rap 1: Down a crappy slope (I’m gonna be using this phrase a lot in this report) full of pullcord-knotting bushes and loose dirt to a tree beside the first vertical rap. This rap required a good sized traverse to get to the tree. It was at this tree that we threw a walking stick that Ben forgot off the 800ft precipice to the canyon bottom. It was decided that, since everyone except Ben liked the walking stick, that if it survived the fall it would have proved itself worthy and would be allowed on future on trips (It survived with hardly any discernible damage).
    Rap 2: Rap down 90 foot cliff South-Southeast of the tree then continue rappelling down a crappy gulley until you hit another, slightly larger tree.
    2.PNG
    Rap 3: Traverse South-Southeast again to the edge of a much larger cliff. Rap down an exposed wall 120 feet to a crappy gulley, continue rappelling another 70 feet and your rope will run out almost exactly even with a large bush. This bush is your next anchor. It is important to note that the starts to rap 2 and 3 both seem to naturally guide you down the slightly more positive slope to the Northeast. Fight this trend and keep descending South/Southeast.
    3.PNG
    Rap 4: The start to this rap was a bit unstable on loose dirt in a steep gulley. This would likely improve as the canyon gets repeated more often and the dirt is scrubbed away to expose more grippy rock. From the bush, rap 190 feet down beautiful, exposed, sandstone with amazing views of the canyon you are about to descend. At the 190 foot mark you will see a set of small ledges on rappelers right. One of these ledges has a small, pine tree on it. Angle towards that tree and rappel/downclimb until you reach it. A 75m rope will be needed to reach this tree. A 200 foot rope WILL NOT REACH, it must be 75m. When we descended this canyon, we used a 200 foot (60m), and ended up needing to attach another rope mid rappel and pass a knot to get to this last tree. It wasn’t a big deal but we’ve noticed a lot of trepidation concerning knot passing in the canyoneering community. If knot passing isn’t your thing make sure your rope is long enough. If it’s not a big deal, you could likely use a standard 200 foot rope and bring a short 40 foot section to use just for this rappel.
    4.PNG
    adding a rope.
    Rap 5: The start off this pine tree was super awkward. (Pic below is of Bekah at said rap station) You had to rig your rappel on the pine tree which has grown into a very small ledge with room for barely 2 people, then swing down, koala style from the tree before you can begin rappelling. We used the rope to rig a temporary loop around the tree for people to clip into while setting up their rappel. This last rap was easy, down a short, 90 foot slab. You have now reached the canyon floor.
    small tree 1.
    If you prefer to scramble and hike more, and rappel less then give a look at Ben’s escape route. A full ascent of mount majestic is required to do this, but fewer raps are needed and certainly no knot passing is required.
    We fiddle’d every single rap down the headwall and in the main canyon. If you prefer 'biner blocking or Occam anchor or use webbing then subtract 10 feet of rope from what I’ve listed as required for each rappel. We just really wanted to ghost this canyon on the first descent so we didn’t have a huge number of options. I hope many people do choose to FiddleStick if they repeat our exact route because double roping or ‘biner/knot blocking could easily damage the trees we need as anchors.

    We only had about an hourish left of sunlight so I jugged up and pulled the last 3 raps off the headwall (the earlier raps pulled by Kevin once we had confirmation that Ben had completed the escape route), and the rest of the group started to descend the canyon itself. Gabe and Bekah went ahead to start scouting the upcoming series of 5 small rappels, while Kevin and Ben began filtering water from a puddle in canyon (we went through so much more water the first day than we had planned, we each had 1 more liter for the rest of the trip). At Bekah's suggestion they dug a small hole next to the puddle and let it fill before filtering to have the sand get rid of lots of the debris for them. Bekah and Gabe found a nice wide sandy spot 2 raps in and we all set up for the night.

    We started early the next morning for day 3. We attempted to use all the ropes pulled from the headwall before taking down the escape route. I lead the canyon early in the morning with the rest of the party strung in even intervals behind me. Once I finished the technical section I yelled up to pull the escape ropes and the message was communicated to Ben and Gabe who began to scramble up the crappy slope to pull ropes from the rim of Mount Majestic. We got 2 raps into the main canyon before camping for the night but I’m gonna start back at 1 for clarity’s sake.

    Rap 1: 50 feet down a slot off of a thin tree. Stay RDC to get to the tree, didn’t see any good anchor opportunities of the left side of the tree. Ankle deep water can be easily avoided, we used this water to replenish our depleted stores.
    Rap 2: 25 feet off a large boulder. This leads down to a nice wide sandy passage that makes for a great bivy that I suspect is unnecessary if you move more quickly than we did with our heavy packs.
    Rap 3: Actually a series of 5 crappy and awkward, overhung, back to back raps ranging from 10-25 feet. When anchored from the top, a single 200 foot rope can be used to descend the entire series. We had trouble making a fiddlestick work off the first of these so we downclimbed the first rap and used an anchor I constructed out of a piece of driftwood and a rock. These 5 can all be meat-anchored then downclimbed by a competent climber, and this was the method that Bekah and Gabe used when scouting this area in the dying light the previous day. We weren’t able to downclimb when laden with our heavy packs so rappelling it was.
    After these 5, navigate around 3 disconcertingly large boulders that have fallen out from the cliff and arrive at your last rap of the technical section. Downclimb from one large chockstone to another.
    Rap 4: Rap 100 feet off a large chockstone. In keeping with the character of this canyon it’s an awkward start and the rappel keeps wanting to pull you deeper into the slot while you keep trying to stay out of it.
    This concludes the main technical section of the canyon. Bushwack and downclimb for what feels like forever through recurring patches of thick vegetation. This canyon is beautiful for the amazing contrast between the red sandstone and surprising amount of greenery. You can judge your progress by the size of the shrinking fin on your right as you head down canyon. Once that fin has shrunk to nothing, Behunin has met up with what is currently called Behunin.
    This canyon has a small watershed and doesn’t seem to get wet as often as normal Behunin but seems to be able to store quite a bit more water. This made for a refreshing change in pace during our hot, midday hike out. After encountering 2 medium length, narrow passages full of hip to ankle deep water you arrive at a small deep lake. This lake goes wall to wall and seems roughly circular with a diameter of 50 feet. We didn’t have enough dry bags to keep all our stuff from getting soaked, so after having made a fool of myself bumbling through, the smart crew used one of the abundant logs as a ferry and loaded packs on top of the "shuttle" and the kept the log upright while swimming across the lake to keep all our crap dry.
    graceful.
    After this lake you encounter one more easily avoidable pool of water, at the end of this pool of water is a logjam that when we travelled through seemed solid until we put weight onto it. We then found out that every other step would punch through. An extremely irritating problem with a heavy backpacking pack on. After this annoyance you encounter your last rap before meeting up with normal Behunin.
    Rap 5: Short, 15 foot rap into another narrow slot full of shin deep water. Anchor off of a tree and rap over the chockstone at the top of the rappel.

    This last rap brings you to a beautiful narrow corridor with soaring walls that had a fun spot of quicksand at its head. I stumbled unexpectedly into the quicksand and ended up thigh deep and was terrified. It was only a small section that I was able to easily step back out of. After leaving a message in the sand for the rest of my party I later learned that they all had fun playing in it and it never got more than knee deep for the rest of ‘em. The quicksand patch marked the confluence with what is currently called Behunin. It meets up just after Rap 6 of Tom’s guide to Behunin Canyon. After this descend the last 3 raps of normal Behunin and you’re finished.
    group.
    (Left to Right: Jake (Myself), Bekah (My Wife), Gabe, Kevin, Ben (All photo credit to the insane ginger who lugged his giant DSLR through everything inside of a pelican case))
    This is really a beautiful canyon. I’m aware I gave a less than glowing review and used the word “crappy” a lot but that’s mainly because our party was unnecessarily burdened by large packs. This canyon could be completed with one 75 meter rope and a pullcord. Bringing 2 ropes and a pullcord into this canyon would make packs light and progress fast. This really does feel like an upgraded version of what is currently called Behunin. It’s a good deal longer, a good deal more fun, more total raps, holds more water, and oh my goodness was it ever bright green.
    The video below was filmed mostly by Ben and Bekah. Due to camera problems we have very little footage of our descent of the headwall.

    A word on naming:
    I’m aware that technically this canyon already has a name. It’s listed as Behunin on the Topo maps. But the descent via the 3rd fin is what we canyoneers have been calling Behunin. I’m not sure if this is allowed, but to keep the nomenclature clear in our circles am I allowed to pick a pretentious unofficial name for this section? Because if so I’d like it to be called Emerald Behunin. The greenery contrasting with the red walls was just really striking, especially looking down from Mount Majestic. (I'm also aware this may not actually be the first descent, we just assumed so because we couldn't find anyone else saying they'd done it. If we're not the first please let us know so I can eat my feet)
    One last thing:
    One reason some of the rappels were so awkward is because the 1st, 3rd, and 4th in-canyon rappels had a delicate feeling moss growing on the sides of the walls. It was inconvenient to rappel in such a way as to avoid hurting it all. But it was worth it to preserve the beauty of the mini hanging gardens. I hope all future canyoneers take the same care.


    Edit: 2 people had trouble understanding which route we did. Here are 2 overview photos that will hopefully eliminate confusion.
    Route Overview.PNG
    Route Overview Topo.PNG
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2018
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  2. Kip Marshall

    Kip Marshall Bshwakr

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    Having a hard time with which route you actually did. Could you send a route topo of your tracks? It appears you rapped the headwall with a huge rope near the initial slope. I'm not sure why you would take this route when there is an east fork of main that can get you down with a much shorter rope.

    You might also want to use 'exploration' of the Main Fork rather than 'First Descent'.
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  3. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Ditto that...trace it on a map? I can't figure it out either.
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  4. Kevin from ABQ

    Kevin from ABQ

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    We didn't use any ropes longer than 70m. The secondary group of Ben and Gabe did go down the east side. What they found is that the best option on that side requires two rappels with a traverse across a section of loose dirt, rock, and gravel with a steep grade towards a sheer drop. When asked, they said they would not do it again if they had a choice between the two routes because of the exposure and loose footing.

    Here's a crudely drawn map of our route.
    temp.JPG
  5. Jake Freimanis

    Jake Freimanis Ours is a quiet fear

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    I see how that was confusing, I think it would have been nearly impossible to use one rope to get down the 800 feet to the canyon floor. The rope weight alone would be around 50 pounds :vomit: We got down to the canyon floor with 5 separately rigged rappels. The only reason we used the east side at all was because it enabled us to pull all the ropes off the headwall and use them in the canyon without cutting off a means of escape - we could still ascend back up the route that Ben and Gabe had gone down if we needed to (shown in blue below).
    Route Overview.PNG
    From the back of the main canyon it's about a mile until you meet up with what is currently called Behunin. For about half of that distance you are hiking with a slowly diminishing fin on your right side that separates you from what is currently being called Behunin.
    Route Overview Topo.PNG
  6. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Wow...how cool is that!

    Really, you just followed the main Behunin Canyon to its very headwaters and went down that. Awesome!

    Didn't look like much "canyon" descent per se, but...pretty neat.

    Instead of "real" I'd probably be more inclined to refer to it as "complete". Possibly good to have done, but, not one folks would que up for as a "classic".

    Kinda reminds me of Tom and I's descent of that mega classic Mountain of Mystery canyon. Looked good on paper! Ha ha.

    Great adventuring!
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  7. Jake Freimanis

    Jake Freimanis Ours is a quiet fear

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    Yes that's exactly what we did. = ) I'm new here and am unsure about exactly what you're trying to communicate by "not much "canyon" descent per se." Just saying that 5 is overall a relatively small number of in-canyon raps for a canyon in Zion?

    I actually got the "Real" nomenclature from Tom. Sent him an email asking what he thought about this canyon and he said that's what he'd been calling it. I'd been calling it "Full" up until then .

    I agree, it was a pretty long slog to get there considering how much additional time you would need to complete it once you arrive. And if you're gonna do an overnight you could definitely have more fun in Imlay or Heaps. But if someone were already planning on doing Hook, Spearhead or just a plain ascent of Mount majestic I think this would be a fun route out, especially considering the novelty of working your way down the 800 foot wall to the base of the canyon.
  8. Kip Marshall

    Kip Marshall Bshwakr

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    The 'Real' was based on a conversation I had with him last year about the route.
  9. Kevin from ABQ

    Kevin from ABQ

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    I kind of like the sound of Main Fork.

    I doubt people are going to be lining up to do this one because of the long and steep hike up to the first rappel (similarly to Lodge, probably worse), but the canyon is gorgeous once you get down. What it lacks in narrowness, it makes up for in size. The walls on either side seem to stretch up forever. Once you've tackled the headwall, there's still plenty of fun to go. There were several rappels, tons of climbing and stemming, a few water crossings, and even a touch of quicksand. So it's doesn't have the best fun/suffer ratio, but it is rewarding if you can tough it out.

    One of our biggest problems was water. We packed a crazy amount of water and it still wasn't enough. We would not have been able to carry any more in water weight. If we were to do that again, we would need to cut down our time considerably and find ways to use less water on the ascent. The amount of time spent roasting in the sun surprised all of us. Probably do that while not in the sun and obviously, less weight. Might even go so far as to bring a small filter to refill. We would have had a really bad time had we not packed one.
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  10. Kip Marshall

    Kip Marshall Bshwakr

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    Thanks for the clarification on your route. What was your thinking in approaching it from the top? Did you get a two-night permit? You could have done this (not easy) in a day if you had used the AL trail and traditional approach to Majestic - no having to ascend a rope either.
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  11. Jake Freimanis

    Jake Freimanis Ours is a quiet fear

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    It was a tough decision we needed to make, but our thought was that with our stupid heavy 60-70lb packs, that getting an earlier start (4am) and walking primarily downhill from Lava point would end up being easier in the long run.

    Is your traditional approach the one that takes Behunin ridge? Where you hike to the first rap of Behunin then scramble up the hill and then walk back that same distance on the ridge? We chose not to do that because with our heavy loads keeping distance and bushwhacking to a minimum was our top priority. We're a relatively technically capable crew, ascending was a pretty fast process for all of us. Continuing down the watercourse then hiking back on top of the ridge added app. 2 miles and a good deal of scrambling that we wanted to avoid.

    Next time we do this we'll use only 1 rope and 1 pullcord (and of course bring one backup rope) we'll start a bit later and use the Angels Landing trail and the traditional route up to Majestic. Doing this route does NOT require an full ascent of Mount Majestic but with a lighter pack I would definitely use the traditional route up until it was time to start rappelling.
  12. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    What I meant was, not much "canyon descent" with regard to the approach. Ie, the technical aspect of the descent into the canyon wasn't in a canyon but a steep wall.

    Its interesting what folks do (me included) to access a canyon. Or egress for that matter (Birch Creek, eh Kip?). Big drops down steep walls, for me, doesn't have the canyon scenery appeal that being in a slot does. Funny how some folks gravitate to the big air finale (or start) to canyons. Like Heaps. Heaps would still be an awesome canyon if it ended in a short rappel at the end. I've never found the big finish to be that appealing. Just a pain to have to haul the rope for. But, that's just me.

    I think if there was a simple walk in approach (like the standard Behunin) to the canyon you did, it'd be pretty popular. With the approach, probably not that much appeal to some (most?). Still, great looking venue and good on ya for the exploration.
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  13. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I have been looking at that as the "REAL" Behunin for a couple of years; though the appellation "REAL" was tongue in cheek. The canyon we normally do is the real Behunin due to several factors: A. it is marked so on USGS maps; B. it is the longest fork with the biggest drainage basin.

    That said, welcome to the wonderful world of Zion backcountry adventuring.

    A more fitting nomenclature might be "Direct", as in Behunin Direct; though East Fork Behunin would be more proper.

    Tom
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  14. Southern Canyoneer

    Southern Canyoneer Desert Hiker

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    Congrats! That is F$^#ing Awesome!
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  15. Jake Freimanis

    Jake Freimanis Ours is a quiet fear

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    Okay, I like the sound of "Direct," (screw being proper :p ) I'll update the title to reflect that. Thanks for the welcome!
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  16. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Nice video, thanks for sharing! A bit longish, yes, but it was a long adventure, right? I enjoy the unposed raw footage....gives the viewer an almost-like-being-there feeling.

    Favorite quote, "No, spiders are fine. Leave'm alone!"
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  17. Jake Freimanis

    Jake Freimanis Ours is a quiet fear

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    You're welcome! My wife was the one who edited it, we have a bunch of raw footage, it would probably take over an hour to watch it all. We were bummed because we only recently purchased a go-pro for filming, and due to inexperience we ended up taking a bunch of time-lapse photos of our headwall descent instead of a series of video clips :p
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