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UT: Zion A Winter Solstice Heaps

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Tom Collins, Dec 22, 2019.

  1. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    Location:
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    The trip started at X Fest when Jessica Lawrence mentioned that she had never done Heaps and I jokingly asked her what days she had off in December and when we found out we would both be free the weekend right before Christmas we decided to see if we could get a crew together to do it. I've been jealous of Ram's and Tom J's Christmas Zion canyon stories for a while, they always seem to have epic trips that day, but I usually either work that day or am spending it with family. While the 21st isn't Christmas day it did turn out to be the Winter Solstice which added a nice touch to our plans to descend Heaps canyon. We managed to convince 3 more hearty souls for the trip, Anthony Dye, Cassy, and Tre-C and we sat back to watch the weather and hope that Zion didn't get too much snow and wreck our plans.

    The day of the trip finally arrived and the weather seemed to be cooperating so we drove down Friday night and were fortunate enough to be able to stay at a friends house so that we could at least start nice and warm. We started hiking at 4am and the temps were actually quite pleasant at the TH, such that we were soon taking off extra layers.
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    Not long past the turn off for Imlay Sneak we started seeing snow on the ground
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    Sunrise at cabin springs was a special treat
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    Everyone's Happy!
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    Anthony observed after the trip that between everyone in the group we had 30+ descents of Heaps and yet we still managed to botch the approach. We missed the knife ridge somehow and ended up about 100-200yds west.
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    Not only did we get to do Heaps on the solstice, but it was class C as well!
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    In some places the ice was thick enough to walk on
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    This is where we lost one of our working ropes
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    In other places the ice was just thick enough to be an annoyance
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    I seem to recall a pothole there last time I came through, also the flow was picking up a little from the afternoon runoff
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    Unfortunately that was the last picture I took, due to being cold, and also being the 300' rope mule all day I was quite tired. At one point at the start of the 3rd narrows the quicksand was bad enough that I sunk up to my waist almost immediately, and getting out with a 40# pack on was quite the ordeal. We made it to the changing room about 4:00pm and got 2 out of 5 down before sunset. I was the last man and it got dark right around the time I was at the big tree right on the edge. We had lost one of our working ropes at the pool before the jump across so we had just enough to get down, but had to use Cassy's 300' dyneema pull cord for each of the pulls and it kept getting hopelessly tangled so it took me a long time to get down, but I made ground (or rather ice) fall about 7:30pm. The entire slope at the bottom of the final rappel was a sheet of ice 2-3' thick which made packing up rather interesting with slabs of ice calving off from time to time and exploding around us. We made it back to the car at 8pm for a round trip time of 16 hrs.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2019
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  2. Anthony Dye

    Anthony Dye

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    Good write up Tom! That was a great day. I liked the second sunrise pic. I dont think I noticed that golden glow at the time. Probably too busy looking for the elusive knife edge
    Tom Collins likes this.
  3. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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  4. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Wow...big risks...big rewards! Way to get that rig done!
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  5. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Wow!
    Speechless!
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  6. Anthony Dye

    Anthony Dye

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    Here is a video of the descent if anyone is interested!
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  7. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Totally impressed. With flow too.
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  8. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    It was Thomas Aquinas who said,
    “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.”

    You folks blew that adventure invitation right out of the water - figuratively and literally!

    From the video it’s obvious that staying warm and combating hypothermia was a challenge (highlighted by the final rappel sequence dialogue snippet).
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020 at 1:52 PM
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  9. Ram

    Ram

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    This is a great accomplishment. Take it from someone who tried it a few times.
    My efforts...
    1-thwarted by an ice storm, which led to being out 4+ days and escaping out the Right Fork, (March 9th-13th 1994)
    2-historically low water another time, which led to an escape out Isaac, after a Christmas night bivy. (December 25th-26th 2017)
    3-a major snow storm that diverted us to Telephone (December 25th 2014)

    What is especially bold is that they added the Phantom sections and managed to pull it off in one day. The math of the time needed never added up to me (weaker, older, slower, less skilled, less vision) for that to work and we used Gunsight fork of Heaps, to access Crossroads. The additional exposure to the cold that the upper section adds, is not trivial either. KUDOS!!

    Missing the knife edge is not that big a deal, as the gully route may actually be quicker, as opposed to the time the long rap takes, beyond the knife edge. I would have been concerned with the slickrock down to the water. Even though it is south facing, it is up at a bit of altitude and if it had been significantly snowier than you pictures show, that would have slowed progress quite a bit.

    Being tippy top full is very helpful, but additionally having flow is a help, on top of that. Flowing water creates a narrow path totally or somewhat free of ice. A perfect combo, aside from the massive increase in exposure to cold, with so much water. Not that that was helpful everywhere. In the video, I saw a couple of spots where the flowing water entered into an ice covered pool, that appeared not to be weight bearing. It seemed to punch a hole through the ice. That looked terrifying, because if that ice had been somewhat more solid, it would be very dangerous and the entry to those pools looked plenty tricky enough already.

    With the "refrigerator effect" that happens at drainage level, in these deep wet Zion canyons, in winter, I am sure the dripping of water, off the dry and wet suits on the log downclimbs and rocks, created instant verglas and were treacherous for the folks not in the lead. Keeping everybody's engine warm and going as fast as necessary is excellent team management. Just a wonderful effort. A "no mistake" zone requiring total focus and concentration from everyone.

    I am always fascinated by encountering new and unanticipated environs on trips like this. The story of the ice field, on the talus, at the bottom of the big rap surprised me, even as it makes total sense upon hearing about it. There is also the objective danger of falling ice, as part of the "risk tolerance" package. Or is it a subjective danger, as you knew you would encounter it? A wonderful accomplishment. Congratulations and thanks for letting us play along, at home.
    RAM

    PS Tre-C was on both my Christmas Day efforts to descend Heaps. She wins the prize for perseverance.
    Kuenn, ratagonia and Yellow Dart like this.
  10. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Truly, this is/was a extraordinary accomplishment. With plenty of risk. Constant vigilance for self and partners. Reducing risk by being at one's best. Multiple ways for things to go very wrong and domino into disaster. Yes, great accomplishment! Equal distinction to the recent Imlay trippers too.

    Ram's post helps bring reality to what can/could happen when the environment is not exactly "user friendly".
    Surviving 4 days in a deep-freeze is equally (if not more) impressive!

    Kudos to you all!!
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