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A Winter Descent Of Imlay

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Austin Farnworth, Jan 7, 2020.

  1. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    On January 4th, we descended Imlay Canyon using the sneak route in full winter conditions, making it car to car in 10.5 hours. Josh Allen suggested a winter descent of Imlay to make up for missing the Black Hole descent this year at freeze fest. Surprisingly, we found 3 other people crazy enough to attempt the canyon with us! Josh and I were joined by Enoch Hardin, Brig Murdock, and Spencer Christensen. We got a 6am start from the grotto and didn’t hit snow until after scout lookout. After branching off towards the sneak route, the snow got deeper, especially as we entered the left sneak route.
    [​IMG] PC: Josh Allen
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG] PC: Josh Allen
    [​IMG] PC: Josh Allen
    We chose the left over the right thinking that the north-facing slickrock descent of the right would be very dangerous with snow covering it. I was the only one with microspikes, which turned out to be useful in the left as we discovered that the canyon held deep snow and treacherous traverses. We were able to pull it off with only one pair of microspikes and one handline, but I would definitely say that microspikes are a must this time of year based on how sketchy the terrain became.
    [​IMG] PC: Josh Allen
    Nearing the crossroads, I was questioning if we were prepared to deal with this much snow in the canyon, and we decided to make a judgement call when we reached the canyon. It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes from the breakoff of the right and left sneak routes to reach the crossroads. Luckily for us, when we reached the crossroads, the sun was shining and the snow had mostly disappeared.
    [​IMG] PC:Josh Allen
    We suited up and entered the first few pools, which were flowing. We were able to down-climb or jump every rappel in this first section, which really made things go by fast.

    This first section of narrows and open canyon had quite a bit of ice, up to two inches thick in places. I was wearing a full 5mm wet-suit with a 3mm full stacked on top. I also had a 2mm vest, 3mm gloves, a 5+2mm socks. Everyone had a similar setup to that, though two didn't use neo gloves. We were all feeling fairly warm during this part of the canyon, and were satisfied with our wet-suit setup.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG] PC: Spencer Christensen




    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    After we got to the arch room, it got a lot colder as the canyon got deeper, and we had some recent log jams to contend with. In attempting to climb over one particularly high log jam right after the arch room, I ended up having to pull down the entire thing to get through, jumping out of the way to avoid it! The deep section was unfrozen due to its depth, but it was where we started to get cold, as we dealt with log jams and figured out the jumps. It was cool to jump into Big Bertha and find it brim-full, as well as all other potholes in this section.
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
    [​IMG] PC: Spencer Christensen
    [​IMG] PC: Josh Allen
    By this point, some of us were very cold, with Josh and myself not being able to feel our fingers. Spencer had taken off his neoprene gloves early on, claiming that he was warmer without them. His hands ended up getting so cold that he couldn’t even get neoprene gloves on near the end of the canyon! We only ended up doing 4 rappels, and they were all at the end. The final rappel was epic, with big sheets of ice reaching almost all the way down to the narrows. [​IMG]

    We even had some observers below, and were met with confused looks as we made the long walk out of the narrows. Overall I'd say that Imlay is definitely reasonable in winter with the right amount of neoprene. Josh and I ended up getting the first stage of frostbite on our fingers, even with neoprene gloves. The tips of my fingers feel like they have blisters coming on, and are sensitive more than 48 hours later. With a better glove setup, I'd be down to do winter Imlay anytime! Brig said he didn't even shiver once in the canyon or feel cold. I wish it would have had a similar experience, but it goes to show that with the right wet-suit setup, you can get through some crazy stuff!
    [​IMG]
    nkanarik, Ram, Jolly Green and 12 others like this.
  2. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Very nice! Beautiful scenery!
    Curious from the final rappel video what rap device was used? (Smooth with no spin...looking good.)
    Ram likes this.
  3. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    @rawtrails was using a CRITR 2 in that video

    Sent from my Pixel 4 using Tapatalk
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  4. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Wow...nice go!

    Wetsuits....yikers...was pretty comfy in a drysuit in winter in there years ago. Never got cold.

    Still...risky business...way to git 'er done!
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  5. Ram

    Ram

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    Fantastic!! We missed you and Josh at the Black Hole, but you more than made up for it.

    I remember reading about Brian doing a winter Imlay. That was a lot of years ago, if I recall right. There was also another trip through the week before or after? One was pretty dry, the other very wet and cold. Which one were you on, Brian?

    We did the canyon December 25th 2011. The extreme Narrows were pretty dry to near the end of those narrows. That is kind of cheating. The Terminal narrows, were wet, very icy and getting more so as afternoon progressed. We had several escapes, but we also had Aaron who did mono's out of keeper pots, using hook holes. That is kind of like cheating too.

    Sounds as if the cold hands were a big challenge. Having the water all the way must have been a major factor in that. Neo gloves have never really worked for me. Lousy grip too. I now use the Atlas gloves over a thin wool glove, which is easier to manage than the dish glove bottom layer. No matter what you use in that much water exposure, it will be painful.

    I applaud your choice of using the Left Sneak route. Avoiding the exposed slickrock traverse, just before entering Imlay proper, on the Right Sneak. Great choice. Deep snow is logical, as once over the passes you are in a northern exposed and forested canyon. What led to your decision to go left vs. right sneak? Microspikes are a smart choice too. I think we had more snow and less ice than you fellas.

    Not finding ice in the water, in the Extreme Narrows, is not too much of a surprise. You are right that the deepness influences that. We never find ice in the deepest part of the Black Hole. Ice forms more readily with more exposure to the sky, so heat more readily escapes upward. The jumping sure moves the group along, but I am chilled sitting here thinking of wet heads and that water on one's neck, YIKES!!

    I have had some throbbing fingers in winter wet canyons before. The experience of that cold, then a painful warm up and then cold again, but I am confused about the frostbite. Is it possible that the tightness of neo gloves could have contributed to this? How tight was the wetsuit on your forearms?

    Only needing 4 raps is amazing. These pictures are awesome. A fine effort. Congratulations and thanks for sharing. Pretty awesome.
    Ram
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2020
    Yellow Dart likes this.
  6. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    Choosing the left route was purely to avoid the snow covered slickrock coming out of the right, which actually didn't look too bad from what we could see when we passed it.
    My finger tips on both hands still hurt. When I took my neos off for photos in the arch room, I realized that something was wrong when they wouldn't warm up. I don't think it was the neos since Josh and myself were the ones who broke ice for the group. We had our hands on ice/underwater a lot more than the others.
    I ended up worse off than Josh as far as fingers go. We both experienced redness and some swelling the day after, and almost a week later mine are still messed up. The injury fits the description of frost nip or first stage frostbite to the tee, which should go away after 2 weeks or so.

    Sent from my Pixel 4 using Tapatalk
    rawtrails, yetigonecrazy1 and Ram like this.
  7. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Bill Bees (where is that guy?) and I did it the week after Mel Brown, Tom and Stevee B's descent in winter of 2002 I think. Funny...we saw their tracks in the snow, melted out with their warm-ish temps. When we did it, starting temp in the morning was 16F. Was cold and frozen. We were following their tracks in hard snow and ice, jogging along and I remember Bill vaulting over a log in the early morning and slipping and falling down hard. I was like, "whoa, hell of a start". We kinda slowed down a tad after that.

    Was glad to have a drysuit. Just made hanging out in super cold conditions no problem. Was almost too warm starting out and I recall removing a chest layer. Goretex (Kokatat) suit helped clear any moisture out too. Which, was nice as I forgot (ahem!) to zip up my suit at the first pothole we broke through and swam. Got a bunch of water in but I dried right out in short order. Scared me at the time.

    We had good luck with our feet and hands. I wore thin-ish wool socks, followed by thin neoprene which I tucked and duct taped to my skin under my drysuit gasket. Then water blocker socks over that which I pulled over the outside of my drysuit. Seemed to both keep the water out and keep my feet warm. My hands...I kinda recall just thick-ish neoprene but we both took care in not keeping our hands in the water. From years of ice climbing and skiing, I think my cold tolerance for my hands is unusually good (knock on wood!). But, for years, I took care to condition them for cold too. Also probably have good circulation in my hands. And, I run hot.

    Winter canyoneering is a risky damn thing with not much margin.

    Trying to find the video of the fellers doing Trummelbach in the winter...link seems to be broken:

    http://canyoncollective.com/threads/trummelbach-extreme-canyon-descent-in-switzerland.13683/

    Whoa...I think here's a later version:



    I saw this falls years ago (1990!) as a tourist...looks frightening in good conditions... Winter? Whole 'nother level. Anyhow, interesting to see their gear and techniques.

    More Euro winter fun:



    Brrrr!!

    You kids be careful out there!
  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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  9. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    "...and the daytime temps were a pleasant 60 degrees."

    Wow. Unusually warm for February.

    Funny how you can get fall/spring conditions in winter, and, winter conditions in fall and spring.

    Picking good weather and conditions...some luck, some patience.

    Whoo hoo!
    Ram, Austin Farnworth and ratagonia like this.
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