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Canyoneering in the Fiery Furnace

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by peakbaggers, Jan 28, 2015.

  1. peakbaggers

    peakbaggers "Beaten paths are for beaten men."

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    I am beginning a new thread that deals with specific issues related to canyoneering in the Fiery Furnace in Arches NP, however this also ties in with the recent thread titled Canyoneering in Arches NP. You may want to read both posts.

    Two of us from the Grand Junction area visited the Fiery Furnace in Arches NP in November and had the opportunity to meet with two park officials at the Abbey Arch location on the “Lomatium” route
    As many of you are aware, the park has recently implemented new regulations that affect both rock climbing and canyoneering. One of the most significant new rules prevents climbing on any arch and/or anchoring off an arch. Many who have done this route in the past have used Abbey Arch as the anchor for the 135’ rappel. This was typically done by using a long sling or rope in a retrievable setup that went around the arch. This is no longer allowed. Our purpose in meeting with park officials was to determine an approved method for anchoring and to discuss locations for descending near Abbey Arch that would not cause any further resource damage and would help keep this route open for further use by the canyoneering community. Here is a summary of what we learned on this visit:
    What is not allowed:
    1. Using devices like potshots and sandtraps is not allowed because they require digging in and displacing sand & rocks. Also, the new regulations make it clear that deadman and/or cairn type anchors are not allowed within the park
    2. Anchoring webbing left behind such as around the boulders under Abbey Arch, or around the pinyon tree behind the arch, or the juniper tree up the wash a short distance, when found by the park service will be removed. Such material is considered “New Fixed Gear,” which is not allowed. Worn webbing on established/park-sanctioned routes may be replaced but must match as close as possible the rock color.
    3. In general, it is preferred that no rappelling be done from the immediate area of Abbey Arch as part of the resource management goals. This would include rapping from the boulders under the arch or rapping from the pinyon tree behind the arch even with a fiddlestick type device. Any method used here will either leave webbing behind or result over the long term in grooving on or around the arch.
    What is allowed:
    1. Fully retrievable anchor setups: Rapping from the large juniper back up the wash, from about 30 feet before the wash spills over the edge using a retrievable setup or fiddlestick type device. This takes any potential damage away from the arch. Some grooving may result. There are already some grooves there. Set up your anchor to reduce rope drag across the rock as much as possible. Back away from the canyon wall on the pull to reduce grooving on the pull. (not much room for this) Either method of anchoring, know what you are doing! An anchor failure here will be catastrophic. Life threatening injury is likely.
    2. A bolted setup: We discussed possible locations to place a two-bolt setup with a chain somewhere in the same vicinity as described in #1 above. (Where the wash empties over the edge.) Our take-away impression was that a bolted anchor in some location may be favored as a long-term solution. It would minimize resource damage and provide the safest and least obtrusive option. Those not wishing to use the bolts have the other option listed above. It is up to “the canyoneering community” to come up with possible locations for bolt placement and we can make more than one suggestion for anchoring alternatives. Also, it will be up to us to actually place the bolts.
    To have bolts placed at that location requires an approval procedure by the park. I am initiating that effort now with the assistance of some others. It could take up to two months to be approved once submitted. While I generally agree with the “no bolt” ethic that has become the norm for canyoneering, this is a unique situation brought about by the change in park regulations and seems to be the best long-term solution that will help keep this route open and descending safe for everyone. A cooperative effort from the canyoneering community is the key here. Comments & discussion are welcome and should consider these three areas: resource protection, visual impact and visitor use.

    One other note: Regulations for the Fiery Furnace specify a group limit of 6. If you arrive with a larger group, they must be split into two or more units so as to not exceed the requirement. In addition, those groups MUST remain separate throughout the trip. If they are found together, they will be viewed as being in violation of the group size regulations. The same rule would apply in other areas as well such as the Lost Spring complex.

    (Not related to the Lomatium route, but important to have clarified – the Dragonfly route will remain open. The regulation against going through water-filled potholes does not apply to those potholes which have a regular inflow & outflow, typically found in a water course like Dragonfly.)

    Our thanks to those park officials who were willing to meet with us and cordially discuss the new regulations and how they apply to canyoneering in the Furnace and throughout the park. I believe our discussions have had very positive outcomes.
  2. Ram

    Ram

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    Tim

    Thank you for the work you have been doing and this informative piece. The park, with the help of individuals like yourself, CAC and others is to be commended for their efforts to come up with and implement a system that has the best chance of reducing resource damage. This is the best avenue to continued access.

    Using retrievable systems at that rap will be key at that drop, as it has a roll over part way down. If a lot of traffic and that traffic is pulling ropes through, I fear what will happen. Then I also fear forcing a more complex anchor system on a community that is becoming more top heavy will inexperienced folks as our numbers swell. Tricky balance and worrisome.

    As for chains, I am less supportive. They work in many fixed climbing systems but have problems in canyons IMO. The proposed bolt station is a bit above the watercourse, but could get hit in floods. Same holds true for Dragonfly. Moving water, rock and chain is not a good combo. But these are smallish drainage's. Of more concern to me is the chain dragging those several inches back and forth, with each rap. It just isn't necessary. Webbing would be of less impact.

    I applaud the park for also keeping Dragonfly in play. Their willingness to make the distinction between plunge pool and pothole shows insight. This canyon could have very easily been taken away from us and wasn't.

    The limit of 6 seems a bit low to me, as certain guided groups and the guided tours can have many times those numbers. We will continue to advocate for a bit bigger limit. Tim, thanks again.
    Ram
  3. peakbaggers

    peakbaggers "Beaten paths are for beaten men."

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    Location:
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    I need to offer a correction/clarification to point #2 in "What is not allowed."
    The Lomatium route is considered an "established" route, hence webbing can be left behind, but must match rock color. It would not be considered "New Fixed Gear." Canyoneers and climbers may explore new routes as long as they are not leaving behind any "New Fixed Gear" (bolts, webbing, etc.) and are following the general guidelines regarding travel on durable surfaces. A new route requiring fixed gear may not be established unless it has gone through a review and approval procedure by the park. The following link may help explain this: http://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/canyoneer.htm
    The overall goal from the park's perspective is to minimize resource damage. Sling left behind in multiple locations around Abbey Arch would impact "visitor" use and possibly lead to resource damage. You know how those rats nests of webbing can build up. So the goal of this discussion is to see if we can reach a consensus in regards to how to best make the rappel at the Abbey Arch location so that we don't have multiple rap solutions leading to resource damage and possible closure of the route.
    I hope that clarifies rather than muddies the waters.
  4. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    Thanks Tim.

    Certainly a tricky balance between resource protection, visual impact, and visitor use. I would clarify the definition of 'visitor use' by adding safety, as Ram points out. You really need to know what you are doing with retrievable anchors that will minimize resource impact while keeping you safe.

    Given the popularity of the route, a fixed anchor may be best.
  5. peakbaggers

    peakbaggers "Beaten paths are for beaten men."

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    Location:
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    Update to this thread: Last weekend (03/21) we had managed to bring together some key personnel in determining anchor placement on this route for submission to the park, but were unable to actually go into the Furnace because of heavy spring break demand that kept us from getting the required permit. So as of now, I'm "tabling" this until next fall when there's a better chance of coordinating this effort and getting in there. So for now, those who want to do the route should read, understand and apply the new park regs to their choice of descent method. In my opinion, the best method that would for now cause the least resource damage would be a fiddlestick type setup as suggested before. Next to that might be an extended retrievable webbing anchor from the juniper tree that's on the other side of the wash from the drop point before arriving at Abbey Arch. When in there last November, we did not take precise measurements so here's a suggestion as to what one should have to be prepared for descent. We used a 200' rope, and rapped single strand on a Fiddlestick and had an equal amount of pull cord. We had plenty of rope left over, but not sure how much, hence, I'm not sure about a 50 meter rope being long enough. If using a retrievable webbing anchor, it's appx. 30 feet from the tree to the drop point and then you would want at least another 10 -20 feet to extend the anchor down the drop some to minimize the difficulty of the pull and reduce grooving. So 60' minimum of webbing. I would definitely do a test pull to see if this would even work, because it could easily hang up around the juniper. To help clarify the rap location, I'm posting two photos below. One of where the rap begins, the other of the juniper tree to use.

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