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A Beginner's Guide to FreezeFest

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Canyonero, Jan 5, 2018.

  1. Canyonero


    So I went to FreezeFest this year. I had a great time. I was given lots and lots of great tips before going, but even so there were a few things I wished I had known prior to going. So I thought I'd post a Trip Report and hopefully give those who may come later some idea of what they're getting into. In addition, I put together a 13 minute YouTube Video documenting some of my experiences over the three days. Don't expect Dan Ransom kind of video quality, but hopefully you'll enjoy it. Not only am I a rookie canyoneer, but I'm also a rookie photographer, videographer, drone pilot, and video editor. First the video, then the trip report. If the video drags too much for you, just skip ahead. Sorry about that black spot toward the end, it only lasts a few seconds. Like I said...rookie.

    Salt Lake is having a crap snow year, so there was nothing else to do over New Year's, and Ram had been bugging me about how fun FreezeFest always is and telling me that it isn't nearly as cold as most people think. So I decided to go. I tried to recruit every one I could, but in the end, only @BaJenkins was stupid enough to come with me. A few days before, I got to thinking about what we'd do down there besides the Black Hole and asked whether anyone ever did Sandthrax. @Tom Collins was up for it and @ratagonia was willing to lend us a couple of # 6 Camalots so we left Salt Lake at 4 am so we wouldn't miss the show. Probably could have left earlier since I couldn't sleep anyway due to thinking about the canyon. We pulled into the parking lot about 8 am and over the next couple of hours, a group of 11 came together and headed off for Sandthrax.

    Now this was a little weird. I was walking toward an X canyon with 10 other people, 8 of whom I had never met before and had ZERO idea of their capabilities. But their gear was pretty torn up, so that was reassuring. It clearly wasn't a first canyon for anyone, and at least 2 or 3 people had even done it before. It was a pretty motley crew, but I figured if those guys could get through it, I could get through it.

    After a short walk to the top, we put on body armor and headed in. Lots of stemming, mostly easier moves at R/X- kind of heights. After a few hundred yards, I found out Sonny had tweaked his ankle at the first elevator and headed back to camp. Nobody mentioned he was crawling at the time, but he wouldn't have had it any other way because he didn't want to ruin anyone else's day of adventure. The rest of us were doing well, with various levels of fatigue. We came to one spot where it looked like you could wiggle down underneath and go low. AJ, one of the few Sandthrax veterans, assured us that it was best to go high, so up, up, up we wet. The downclimb on the other side was intimidating to say the least. It just seemed to get wider and wider and wider as we went, and it looked like 60 feet to the bottom. After 4 of us had done it, someone else came along on the low route, which was not only less scary, but easier. That's okay, it was fun to go over on this one and it was a good warm-up for what was to come.

    People were starting to look a little more tired, some foot scuffling and slipping was starting to happen a bit. @BaJenkins was out front leading the way and @Tom Collins was patrolling the back of the group. AJ positioned himself in the middle as the reassurance and beta man. We came to the high silo. Not too hard, but serious penalty points. Most people went down at least a little bit before crossing, but honestly, it took the least amount of energy to do a full body bridge over the top. See the video for details.

    There was another tricky silo as well, but not quite as high nor as wide and we finally arrived at the crux. @BaJenkins was in the front of the group still, so up the gear was passed and off he went. Two aiders, a static rope to lead on, a # 5 Camalot, the two # 6 Camalots, my # 3 Big Bro and somebody piece of wood cut to about the size of a # 4 Big Bro. He was doing pretty well, made it about 2/3 of the way up, but it was becoming very obvious that not only could he not climb 5.11 off-width, but he really wasn't much of an aid climber either! He was plain old tuckered out from trying to keep from being spat out of the off-width. I was second in line, so the sharp end of the rope was handed to me.

    Now I had just spent the previous night climbing an 80 foot severely overhanging offwidth that started 150 feet off the deck over and over again instead of sleeping. The 25 foot, barely overhanging off-width that looked like it was designed for # 6 Camalots looked so easy compared to what I had in my mind, that I had no doubt I could get up it. Besides, I had one major advantage over @BaJenkins- I'm lazier. That is to say, I had a little more aid climbing experience. So I just hung on the gear. Stepped in the aiders. Pulled on the gear etc. Toward the top, the # 6s were pretty tipped out, so I got up high in the aiders and put in the Big Bro, which was a major key to doing it all. That got me two feet higher and from there it was only like 5.6 for a few feet before it was over.

    It took quite a while to get all ten people up this thing, even with a top rope. There is no decent anchor up there, and the rope was running over the top of the Big Bro which was looking sketchier and sketchier all the time, so we were limited in how much we could haul on people, but everybody made it up with some combination of hauling, free climbing, and aid climbing. From there, it was a pretty relaxed trip back to Terra Firma.

    Lessons Learned:
    1) Some pretty hard core people show up to FreezeFest
    2) When you ask "does someone already have the ropes, aiders, and gear in?" you might want to be more specific and ask if someone has a dynamic rope because you may end up being the guy leading the crux.
    3) Taking a Big Bro (# 3 or # 4) makes the crux dramatically easier.
    4) Sandthrax is definitely X, but its reputation is more based on the crux which shouldn't be a very big deal if you have any aid climbing experience at all (and the right gear.)
    5) It doesn't take much of a drop to break your leg.
    6) Freezefest can not only be warm, but it can be dry too. Although we all see these pictures of people scooting over the ice, about half the time it's downright balmy and most people are avoiding wet canyons anyway. The North Wash has tons of dry and nearly dry canyons. Our highs were around 50 and our lows in the high 20s, which made for pretty much perfect conditions for Sandthrax.

    We had a nice evening that night around the campfire, although you better stake your spot out early. It's tough to get 60 or 70 people around one fire. You may end up having to relocate to the rebel fire. Plenty of treats, brews, and good company.

    @BaJenkins and I didn't have any plans for day two. We figured we'd just glom on to some other group doing a canyon. Well, that was a mistake. I'd never been to North Wash before and we had no beta whatsoever. Despite 60+ people there at this point, it only sounded like 3 or 4 small groups had any ideas for the next day. They were either doing something harder than we wanted to do, something easier than we wanted to do, or really weren't interested in having a huge group along. @BaJenkins has been trying to get me to do Shenanigans for years, but I'm really not into tight canyons, but eventually that's what we ended up doing. He hadn't done it for 5 years and really didn't remember much about getting into the canyon. So we asked @ratagonia who gave surprisingly accurate directions to the trailhead and we thought if we could get there, @BaJenkins could probably get us into the right canyon. Still, we hoped to recruit somebody else with some beta or who had been there more recently. No dice. The next morning nobody was interested, so it was just us. Luckily, someone dug through their vehicle and found some beta for Shenanigans. It turned out we got page 1 and page 3 of @ratagonia 's beta, which was plenty for our purposes. At the last minute, Angela and Jay joined us so we'd have some company. Angela had just done it less than a year before, so we were excited about that. Unfortunately, for those of you who know Angela, she is a lot like Dory from finding Nemo. "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." The upside is that she gets to enjoy every canyon like it is her first time. The downside? Well, her memory of canyons is like the opposite of Ram's. At any rate, between @BaJenkins, Dory, and the Beta, we went straight to the canyon no problem. A few hundred yards in, we discovered this was only like Jay's 3rd or 4th canyon. That's okay, he was wiry (not skinny as he informed us) and did just fine.

    The canyon got narrower and narrower as we went. I kept looking at the others wondering if I was going to fit through. No sense looking at Jay, he always had two more inches in front of him than I did. But I figured, hey, my chest is no larger than Angela's. Unfortunately, what I didn't realize is that boobs are much more compressible and mobile than ribs. When we got to the tightest spot, I was "temporarily lodged" as they say in the caving world. Of course, nobody told me this was the tightest spot. In fact, both @BaJenkins and Dory deliberately lied to me and said it got worse ahead. Which freaked me out a little. I was hesitant to breathe out all my air, lest I not be able to move back up canyon. I tried again. No dice. I came out, turned around, and went back in the other way. For some reason, my body lined up better with the canyon that way and I slipped on through. @BaJenkins was doing some funky thing with his shirt, pulling his shirt through, then sliding his body to where the shirt was, but it worked for him. Angela made it look easy. And Jay seriously had two inches of air in front of his chest at the tightest point. Punk. We were actually pretty tired after doing the Kelsey exit, but there were some vehicles at the Leprechaun parking area. Vehicles driven by people who don't hide their keys very well. So we borrowed a car to go get our own. Can't beat the "homeboy shuttle."

    Lessons Learned:
    1) Make sure there is someone fatter than you in the group so if you get stuck at least you won't be alone! 180 might not be a hard limit (I'm 190 and 6'2") but it's about right.
    2) The up climb to get over didn't look that bad, at least after doing Sandthrax the day before.
    3) Page 1 and 3 are all you need.
    4) Don't assume you can glom on to someone else's canyon. Come prepared to lead one yourself.
    5) Bring beta. Many times there are experienced people that can lead a group, but the trip doesn't go for a lack of beta. There are plenty of published canyons around the North Wash.
    6) Take two cars. You're not going to feel like doing that mile and a half on the road after doing the Kelsey exit with a migraine.

    That night was fiesta time. The group swelled to over 80 and partied around the longest campfire I've ever seen. Luckily someone showed up with half a pick-up of wood to stoke it. Ram started counting off for New Years at 9:30 saying something about "Newfoundland time." Reminds me of the tricks my parents used to pull. At any rate, by the time we got to Central time, I was off to bed. @BaJenkins came out of Shenanigans with a migraine and spent 16 hours in the tent. By the next morning he was good to go for The Black Hole.

    I don't think I've ever done a canyon with 30+ people. I was most excited to do it with @John Diener who I'd been hearing about for years but had never done a canyon with. It was the warmest and driest it had ever been for Freezefest according to the veterans. Here's what I wore:

    5 mm wetsuit
    2 mm neo shorts
    2 mm neo shirt
    Shell jacket
    Neoprene life jacket (this adds like 30 mm of neoprene to my chest and back along with flotation)
    Neoprene hood (total overkill)
    Ski hat
    Dish gloves with sleeves tucked into the neo shirt so my hands stayed dry
    Canyoneering gloves
    5 mm neo booties

    My butt got a little cold on the swims because the neo shorts and the wetsuit have holes in the butt. My wrists/hands got a little cold after I got done playing with ice in the only swimmer with ice in it, but otherwise I was more than comfortable the whole time, even dressing and undressing.

    Lessons Learned:
    1) You CAN stay warm in a wet canyon on Jan 1st.
    2) The shell/life jacket help a TON especially when you're not in the water
    3) Harness and rope were totally unnecessary in our conditions. There were a couple of 10 foot fixed lines that were handy. Obviously, conditions change.
    4) The dish glove idea is a real winner.
    5) It's really quite a long walk through there.
    6) The "climber exit" adds a little spice to the day.
    7) The real challenge is getting a system that will keep you warm. If you can knock that out, it's very casual.
    8) Try your neo hood on at home. Mine was way too tight.
    9) Don't assume every one comes to Freezefest planning to get wet. 50 people didn't come on the Black Hole with us, mostly because they didn't want to get wet. You can come and leave your wetsuit at home if you want, especially on a warm year.
    10) Apparently, about half the time it's pretty warm and dry at Freezefest. You just see the photos from the other half.
    11) Don't forget your migraine medication.
    12) Bring a propane tent heater- made things downright luxurious.

    Overall, we had a great time and I'm sure we'll be there again.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2018
    A.J., Morgerator, ratagonia and 8 others like this.
  2. GravityWins


    John Diener and Ram like this.
  3. AngelaCanyons


    Well, we didn't exactly lie... there was a harder spot up ahead but you seemed to breeze past that pretty easily. -Dory
    Ram and BaJenkins like this.
  4. BaJenkins


    You better be careful, or that nickname is going to follow you around. ;)

    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk
    Ram likes this.
  5. Canyonero


    Oh crap! Dory is on this site! :)
    Ram likes this.
  6. ratagonia


    Mount Carmel, Utah
  7. A.J.


    So is A.J. So are many of the folks who go to freezefest... ;)
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