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UT: Cedar Mesa Black Hole 1-1-20

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Ram, Jan 29, 2020.

  1. Ram


    The timing for the "talk" about preparations and plans for the New Year's Day Black Hole descent, is a New Year Eve tradition. It requires patience and proper timing. Too early and many folks going have not arrived yet. Too late and those that imbibe, during the evening, are not fully "present" in another fashion. Never is the timing perfect, but you make the best guess. Discussed is the basics. Need for calories, proper thermal protection, hints on flotation methods and the need for everyone to monitor and take care of each other. There are other things to discuss, but these mentioned are the "big" ones.



    With the snowy weather, it was imperative that the exit be scouted in the day or so before the January 1 descent. You see, the exit from the Black Hole is north exposed and holds snow. Dave Black, about 15 years ago set ropes for the exit, without which the the trips crew would have been in for a long hike in the dark to get out the bottom miles away and then would have had a three mile dirt road hike to follow, to get back to the cars. On three other occasions, ropes needed to be set. A few years back, Rachel, Cassy, Tom, Jenny and I did the deed. Jenny and I did the honors of the scouting this year and determined that while snowy, it was not so snowy as to require ropes. We made a day of it, by hiking in Natural Bridges.

    Pictures from setting ropes 12-31-18






    This year 12-29-19. Just enough snow melted at the lower elevation that no ropes were required


    Natural Bridges was plenty icy

    The night before, at the talk, I volunteered to be "Sweeper." The job description entails going last, making sure all is well and that "No Black Holer gets left behind." While this might seem altruistic, the truth is I am the slowest one every day, these days. I would be last anyway. Cap Reef Rangers Josh and Andrew make their living looking out for others and so could not help but volunteer to be "the last line of defense" too.

    First sunrise of the new year


    The day broke cold and partly cloudy, but most fortunately, not too windy. We assembled at the trail head. I eschewed the group photo and started down right away, hoping to get a "jump start" on the crew, so as not to have anyone have to babysit me too quickly, in the rear. The group caught me before the bottom of the entry canyon. Sigh. So I told stories, that if interesting enough, others might not desert me right away. The canyon conditions are different every January 1st. The canyon is a large conveyor belt of gravel, littered with petrified wood. Early on, the group hung mostly together until the "suit up" spot, which is a different spot every years. THEN we had the group photo. Sixteen souls attended. A large number but also the lowest number in a decade. Someone will have to add the group photo to this report.


    In the next hour, Katy, Josh, Andrew and I settled in, at the rear. We would not see the others until we spied folks waiting much of the way up the exit. A few swim areas were filled in, but others were longer than normal, often with enough gravel in the bottom to be deep waders, as opposed to uninterrupted swimmers. The temperatures were warm enough, high 20's, into the 30's, that verglas ice did not form where water had dripped off of people, that had passed before, except in a few places. Little snow graced the canyon, but quite a lot of ice was present, essentially none of it human weight bearing.

    Our group stopped for food once and much steaming chai tea. Even with hot liquid going in, we soon got cold and did not stop again. The swims are many and come often during the time you are 30-50% of the way through the canyon. One then gets to warm up a little, hiking the boulders, if the wind is not blowing. There are spots when the sky is clear, that some years one can find a slice of direct sunlight, if your timing is right. And so it was for us, as Josh and Andrew indulged. But as nice as that feels, those in wet, wet suits are still burning more heat than they receive. Only "moving" works and ultimately getting into dry clothing at the trips end.


    Katy, Josh and Andrew radiated excitement. It is nice to have that wash over me. Coming off of injury and slowing with age, I considered that it was time to "let go" of this tradition I have loved so. I am glad I went. "Not done yet." Thanks to my partners that waited for me and offered me a hand and a push, when the thrust was just not there. We came through the canyon in 5.5 hours. On the days when the sun is shining, at it's low angle, around 4 PM and the wind is silent, the bottom trail head can be a magical place. Those who finish early, change into dry and warm garb and generally wait for the stragglers. Chips and other snacks make the rounds and the mood of just plain "HAPPY" pervades. It is a magical place, that spot as the sun heads down, on the year's first day. Everyone awash in big smiles.

    Sunset driving out before dark


    So the January 1st Black Hole descent is complete. Done for the 17th time in the last 18 years and all are well. Then it is time to part. Folks drive away in every direction. Some effort made to get past the cows on the road, before full dark. Some spend another night. Some insure the camp is spotless. All are thrilled for having come. Most silently consider being back next year. Thanks to all for their high spirits and diligence, in the name of "Safe Passage." See you all next year at "The bad idea that caught on."
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2020
  2. Kuenn


    Thanks RAM! If you can't be a participant it's wonderful to ingest through your eyes and thoughts....great report and pictures!!
    Ram, yetigonecrazy1 and ratagonia like this.
  3. yetigonecrazy1


    Gunnison, CO
    Agreed!! I will never make it to a FreezeFest or the New Years Black Hole trip, but that doesn't mean I don't look forward to seeing the pictures and hearing the story every year through Ram's amazing lens and words.
    Ram, Dave Melton and Kuenn like this.
  4. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

    Woodland Hills, UT
    The only sad part about FreezeFest is that it ends
    Ram likes this.
  5. bruce from bryce

    bruce from bryce

    Great trip report which I am just now reading here in 2022. I was able to participate in three trips and this trip report really amazes me. For my trips the only time that I saw the 'leaders of the pack' were at the top of the hill for the photograph and then back at camp around the campfire. To see it written that you, of all people were bringing up the rear shows where our personal adventures have taken us. 2010 was my last and you have had at least 7 or 8 more but I am not sure because I had never heard of your accident. Recovering from an illness or injury for a person like yourself who has been doing these trips and others across the US of A must have been excruciatingly painful as you probably were running canyons in your mind whenever someone would contact you to pass along hellos or ask a question. And Samuel Henry's comment about you taking him through a couple of canyons is of course Ram at his best.
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