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UT: Zion Christmas in Behunin

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Ram, Feb 17, 2022.

  1. Ram


    Aaron and I did a snowy romp around Arches on Christmas day 2009. Good fun. How to get him to come back for another installment the next year? A superb climber, with many fine partners, I knew I had to up the stakes to get him to come for future Christmas fun. So the next year, we did a Christmas Day 2010, day trip of Kaleidoscope, or if you prefer to name this canyon for a nearby bench, thus by its boring name, Choprock. In these type ways, traditions are born. Eleven years later, we are still at Christmas Day fun.

    Tim Hoover, of California and Springdale has not missed a trip. This was to be year 12. Tim does not canyon a great deal, so as it turns out, all but one of the years, the canyon done on the 25th of December was a canyon he had never done before and in all cases has not done since. Not bad when you count Kaleidoscope, Imlay, Fat Man's, Mystery, Telephone, Isaac (Heaps retreat), Water, Russell Gulch-Subway and Lower Echo among them. All done once and all done on Christmas Day. In important ways, Tim is now central to the tradition.

    These canyons we had done, were often not the one we planned in the days leading up to Christmas. Several were switched in the hours before Christmas, as conditions would lead to a prudent changes. Some we wanted to do, just never seemed to work out. Behunin Canyon led the way in this category. I will confess that I was often the driving force wanting to do this canyon on Christmas. Several times it was cancelled. Why my interest in this specific canyon? To tell you the truth, I don't think much of the canyon. Others disagree, but during normal canyon season, I found it devoid of down climbing, nothing in the way of a slot, mostly dry and often hot. Also after decades of canyoning, rappels hold little charm for me. It had been 15 years since my last visit.

    So why Behooie, as I have often called the canyon over the years? I have an OK memory, so even 15 years after the last visit, I recall most spots in the canyon. And after 11 years of Christmas and 20 years of FreezeFest, I have a fairly keen sense of how an area would translate technically, in different conditions. If one were to visit in "full on" conditions, a snow covered Behunin would be a very serious proposition. Even low angle slopes, to rappel stations would be treacherous, needing innovative and thoughtful solutions to navigate. As I reviewed the canyon in my minds eye, I saw difficulty after difficulty with snow covered slickrock. That was the draw. Problem solving, in a beautiful winter setting. It is also good reason to have a 300 foot rope, that you envision being deployed on low angle slopes, in places that would be easy walking, at other times.

    Ah but the best laid plans.....are nothing more than whispers in the wind. Us Christmas participants follow the weather for weeks before the big day. So with less than a week before the 25th, the canyon was draped in snow. Game on!!! There is a winter storm coming late on the 23rd, through the 24th, in the mountains of Colorado that separate me from Zion. Nothing to do but leave a day early to beat the storm. Tim and wife Susan make it from California. Locals Jonathan Zambella and James Marvin await us. Tre-C and Luke come from Vegas. Six to go! Usual participants Tom Jones and Jenny West will be missed. Next year! A permit was reserved for Behooie.

    I land at the Hoover's midday on the 24th and do some packing. Partly cloudy late afternoons, in Springdale, in wintertime often provide a light show. Today was no exception. In fact that afternoon was exceptional, even good enough for Tim and Susan to break out with their cameras.




    It starts to rain in Zion, on the 23rd. It would rain steady and hard at times and all day the 24th. Those who chase waterfall flash floods were well rewarded for their efforts as most of Zion flowed. All canyons were officially closed on the 24th, as they flashed. It seemed once again we would be skunked trying to do this canyon. But then it stopped raining mid afternoon on the 24th. Water flow would be slowing its flooding, in an undermined time frame. When? The flow would decrease, in theory anyway. So the dilemma was...... The Nation Weather Service issues it flood report for the next day at 4 PM. Zion has a rule that they must wait two hours to see if this reflects local conditions, before it follows suit and opens the canyons. The problem was that the back country desks closes at 5 PM in the winter. Would bureaucracy spoil the day? With no lines at the desk, we can offer stories of "Christmas' Past" and perhaps enlist others in our dreams of "Christmas Present." If one is a good storyteller perhaps the status of the canyon can be changed, after closing and after dinner at home on a Christmas eve, by those who have the power to do so. We were blessed with this extra effort, a true gift. A Christmas eve present was provided from Santa the Ranger. Now all we needed was for the flood pouring out of the canyon to slow. We would evaluate, in early morning light, in the canyon proper.

    This was to be James, the Yellow Dart's first Christmas day with this crew and he showed great enthusiasm to the degree that we got first hand report on conditions, as he and some of his pals hiked up to the top of the canyon two days before Christmas, to view conditions and to carry up ropes to make the approach day easier. The day arrived and it is a necessity for me to get a "Jump Start" on the others. I am old and slow and the last few years has not been kind to my conditioning. Luke and Tre-C decide to join me for the casual approach. Still it was a late start by our usual standards. We left Tim and Susan's house, where we had spent the night, after a 3:45 AM wake up and were hiking a few minutes after 5 AM, White Pass in the car window.

    Half an hour later we could see the headlamps of the others starting out and closing on us quickly. They would catch us a tad above Scout's Landing. Not just James, Tim and Jonathan either. Also on hand are three of James' youthful friends Tots, Shayan and Sam. They would keep us company until we started down the canyon. From our meeting, I struggle to stay in touch with the group, reaching the pass winded and behind. I find the party has moved down toward the slab entry. The rains of the last day plus, had melted the snow away and the slab glistens with wetness. With very good fortune, it is a degree or two above freezing, preventing a slabby, sloping ice rink, by the barest of margins. With this luck, my eyes can't help but analyze what we would have had to do, had it been snow or frozen ice. To the north is a forested gully, with sturdy trees placed and spaced reasonably. I expected to be over there, but we move quickly past, in these friendly conditions.







    It would turn out to be that the snows, present for weeks before today, were almost all gone. The last few days of rain had taken it all away. Initially the stream walk was made more difficult, as the nearby slabs were covered in patchy snow, slick or icy. The watercourse was flowing, with deep pools. I scratched my hide, stemming past pools which told me that it was time to suit up. So surrounded by snow patches, standing water and wet soil, we change into our suits, 4 in dry, Tim and I, as always, in wet suits. Another Ram mantra is "if you go into water, you are suppose to be wet." We trade warmth for skin protection and do so least for now


    We stroll down toward the opening rappel series, at different paces, over slickrock wet enough not to be totally straightforward, but hugely easier than the conditions we would have experienced just 2 days before. My imagination imagining the terrain as if it were still snowy. I find myself both relieved and disappointed by our good fortune. Snow would slow us times 3 at least and make everywhere a danger to travel. The first 2 raps are uneventful and largely out of the flowing stream, which is flowing about 3 CFS. It is decided to take the final 2 raps as one, with the longer ropes, as we are going straight down the watercourse, uncertain we will find comfortable and safe purchase, between the raps, at the mid anchor station below.





    Combining the raps is a good call as the water, just a day before as snow, is about 35 degrees F snow melt and hitting us squarely on the body and helmeted heads. Damn water got in my ear too, effecting my balance a bit. I arrive at the bottom of the series of drops, a bit "discombobulated." Not too bad, but I did want to use that word and it was an apt description. It is Noon and the sun now peeks out from between the clouds. Ropes packed and in direct sunlight. It offers both some warmth and brightens the world. We wander down what is regularly referred to as the "long sandy corridor." Today the corridor is magical. A sand slog in the heat, many days of the year, we soak the sun that hits us, as we wade a shallow flowing stream, through the corridor, ever watchful of the many spots of quicksand. The walls in places, are covered in green moss and the sun sets off the color to eye squinting bright hues.















    The deep pools on the left turns are full on waterfalls, leading into swims. We end up in the loose nasty rap on the left LDC and it is my fault. Two swims are saved, but was it worth it? Not really. I swim below the narrow ledge walk, for I am too brittle to risk a fall anymore, even a small one. Another mantra calls to my old self. "You can't fall from the bottom." Soon I slide into the the start of the final sequence. I am running next to last on everything, only ahead of the person manning each rap station. The sun is pouring directly into the shallow and steep stream course. While not frigid, the sun does not warm us too much, as the water spray is constant, as is the mild, but steady breeze. The final rap looms.



    I hook in and slide down in a misty cloud of water, with a blue sky above and engulfed in the noisy spray. James has gone first and has swung over to the top of the huge boulder off the fall line, having taken near half the length of the rap away. Fine by me, as they pull us over, one by one, onto this sunny perch, with a view, that I have not been to before. Jonathon goes last and is pulled in. The ropes are pulled down and packed. The scramble is harder than I remember, the combo of age and how soaked everything is, making it seem a long way compared to my younger self. Once near the edge of the trail and hordes of people there, we strip down to comfort and heavier packs. We can see Behunin flowing out the final drop. Heaps has many times as much water and would be a spectacular, but unfriendly place to be. The hike to the Grotto goes quickly. The others take off for town, but I stay to change into dry everything. The sun shines into the side of the van in the chair I sit in and I am truly warm again. Only for the occasional bus do I cover up.


    We reassemble in the evening at Tim and Susan's. A huge variety of dishes adorn the table, contributed by many. I sit and hear many conversations occurring at the same time. It has been a long while since I have been in such human energy. Bedtime comes late, as does wake up. A fresh coat of snow adorns the high peaks of West Temple and Kinesava. As has happened 11 out of the last 12 years, on December 26th, I migrate to North Wash and the start of that other peculiar tradition, FreezeFest.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2022
  2. Kuenn


    Mr RAM, that was an enjoyable read and visual....THANK YOU for sharing it!!
    Yellow Dart and Ram like this.
  3. Jenny


    Wowzer! What a lovely tale told and great photos of a most merry Christmas! I surely missed a good one! Though, I'm with you Ram that Behunin does not draw me back either. What does always draw me are words that are spelled exactly as they sound, like your "discombobulate".

    I seem to miss meeting James through the years. At least the photos seem to indicate that he really does exist. How great that he brought along sherpa pals to make the trek up more enjoyable!

    Lastly, I want to over emphasize the generosity of Susan and Tim as hosts after a long day of winter adventure. There simply is no finer way to share a Christmas!

    Nicely done you wild, winter slotteers! (Yes, you spell it how it sounds...but is it a proper word?)
    stefan, ratagonia and Ram like this.
  4. RyanHone


    You are a great story teller and those pics are fantastic!

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    ratagonia and Ram like this.
  5. Yellow Dart

    Yellow Dart It's only hubris if I fail.

    La Verkin
    I live in La Verkin, and get after it in Zion pretty much weekly.

    Let me know if you wanna get out, Jenny. ^_^
    Jenny and Ram like this.
  6. Kuenn


    The mental imagery is hilarious.
    You da man!
    Jenny and Ram like this.
  7. Ram


    Ram said:
    The others take off for town, but I stay to change into dry everything. The sun shines into the side of the van in the chair I sit in and I am truly warm again. Only for the occasional bus do I cover up.
    The rest of the story....A few minutes after I settled in, Jonathan's wife Catrin and a pal came around the corner on their bikes. She spotted me and came over wanting to know everything about the day. She seemed not to notice "my condition," which was only a pair of sweat pants on my lap. A true European. While not noted for shyness, I will admit to being startled and a bit uncomfortable for the first several seconds. When it was clear she wanted the "long" version of the day, I relaxed.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2022
    ratagonia, Yellow Dart and Kuenn like this.
  8. Tatiana Ragsdale

    Tatiana Ragsdale

    Ooo. It was nice to give this a read. It inspired me to finally piece together the video. In my mind I originally wrote it off, but I am glad I went and did it. The link below will take you to the video!
    Jon Adams, Jenny and Ram like this.
  9. Ram


    The Behunin drainage comes in just above the ledge here, above the lower pools
    37°15'26.4"N 112°57'46.1"W
    37.257322, -112.962816

    Did you wait for us, up the trail toward the Upper Emerald Pool? Bummer to miss you. Thanks to you folks getting the ropes up there a day or two before the descent. It was fun having you along for the approach. A lovely day. Enjoyed the video. I am again struck by how close we were (34-35 degrees F?) to having icy conditions on the slab approach down and into the canyon (4:03 seconds in).
    Tatiana Ragsdale likes this.
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