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Doing a canyon no one has ever done

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by mountainfish, Jan 31, 2017.

  1. mountainfish

    mountainfish

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    I have never considered canyoneering to be an "extreme sport". I also don't really participate much in anything that I would consider an extreme sport. I do, however, know plenty of people that would disagree with me and call it a sport for the mentally insane. To which I usually try to gently convince them of their ignorance (without using the word "ignorance").

    Why I do it:
    First, let me say that I am afraid of heights. I actually believe that my fear of heights has been unintentionally cultivated and developed during my canyoneering adventures. I trust the gear, the ropes, and the technique so much that I have never had anything akin to an adrenaline rush due to risking my own life. I try to always do the things that make me more safe and I scowl upon practices that make me less safe.

    I do, however, feel an insane flood of happiness and contentment in the backcountry canyons. Working with the biners and knots just satisfies me. I have rarely seen the kind of beauty elsewhere that can be found easily in the backcountry. It is so unique and incredible. I also love so much sharing this experience with other people. And lastly, as nerdy as this sounds, I have an engineer's heart and I love thinking of the potential energy I gained as I a climbed the mountain and how it as I rappel it turns from potential into kinetic and lastly it exhibits itself in the burning hot aluminum of my rappel device. Mass times gravity times height!

    I realize that was an excessive preface to my question. Hopefully I haven't lost you at this point.

    THE QUESTION (that few can answer):
    What is it like doing a canyon that you have zero data on? I mean, I feel like that would be such an intense feeling of satisfaction. I recently discovered some pictures of Poe Canyon (the smiling cricket) online. I am trying to just imagine all the feelings and gear and everything about doing a canyon like that for the very first time. Sound advice is to know what you are getting into before you go so you can plan accordingly. But what happens when no one has ever done it (or documented it)? How do you minimize risk for the absolute unknown?

    Please tell me there are some of you who have had this experience.

    mountainfish
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  2. Mike

    Mike epic blarneys

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    Lots to be said here...

    I just want to say that there is a pretty large difference between modern first descents, and the ones that were done during the dawn of the sport. What Jenny and Mike did in POE all those years ago, or Kaleidoscope etc., is on a totally different level in my opinion. We have advanced so much. The toys, the experience levels, the techniques, the scouting, satellite imagery for crying out loud. Things are much more calculated now. I wish I could experience one from the early days, but its easy to settle for the modern approach. Plenty of gold left in the hills.
  3. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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  4. Ram

    Ram

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    Here is a quote from Dave from this link...
    I was awakened and quite shaken the next day when I took a day off and the group went to explore another slot. The canyon had been extensively upclimbed and scouted out from the bottom. The day dawned clear blue, and as I joined on the approach I felt confident in the group’s ability to finish out the slot. I returned to our camp without a care in the world. Near dark, with the boat well behind schedule and the fate of our group far from certain, I began a list of rescue gear and a journey of self–discovery. For the first time I was envisioning the catastrophe that would be involved in a significant injury and the scope of a rescue operation in this vast and remote landscape. When the crew had returned safe and sound with a new adventure under their belts, I was relieved.

    Here is the story of the day he missed
    https://www.math.utah.edu/~sfolias/canyontales/ram/?i=xcommunication

    X–Communication
    by Ram
    We had poked our nose up from the bottom of this canyon for years. Its bottom section—swimming, while squeezing, while wanting a headlamp—is top notch. The fluted walls, going up to the sky, are reminiscent of Antelope and Pine Creek. We call the canyon Blast–phemy now. We had gone up the canyon quite a ways on several forays. We were finally stopped by a tall greasy dryfall. It was time to drop this beauty from the top. We noted the large cross joints dotting the canyon, casually went back home, looked at the map, and guessed which canyon it was—not noticing another nearby canyon with the same configuration of cross joints and never bothering to confirm that we were in the canyon that we thought we were. Every turn matched up. Beware seeing what you want to see!

    Another trip out to the Glen, the time had come to pull the trigger on Blastphemy. We had been what we thought was 3/4 of the way up it. So, just a short descent to known territory and the great stuff below. We aligned the map and scoped the entry options and lined it up with what we thought was the canyon on the map. It turned out to be a brilliant canyon. It was also not the one we thought it was. One can get in trouble doing this—a lot of trouble.

    ‹› ‹› ‹›
    We scope the canyon entry and nervously probe into the canyon. At its doorway is a hoodoo—its top cap looking like the top of a beautifully carved bishop of a fine chess set. The slot drops fast in a joint, leaning left, with drops of 25 feet at a time. Some we climb in are tight and we have to slide down. Others we stem widely, beyond their constrictions. The canyon levels, joggs to the right, and potholes appear—one after another and 10 feet lower than the ones before it, some deep, some shallow. We suit up and got after it.

    Soon we reach a 30–foot drop after the seventh pothole. It landed in a keeper pothole. No obvious anchor revealed itself. A pothole, back upcanyon early in the series, had some rocks. Everyone went back up the drops, one person per pothole, and rocks were ferried forward, from pothole to pothole. Benny goes to wrapping the best rock. Dave, Tim and Ryan assisting. Into a shallow pothole they go, only 3 feet deep. Ummm. The rap is not vertical and it is a somewhat curved lip ... should, could, maybe work. People are rapping off of me, testing the anchor fully. The rocks that form our anchor in the pothole, are moving and coming up but not fast and not out of the hole. Benny and I share knowing glances. He exhales. He built it. He goes clean–up. The drop–in is into deep water and, after everyone else is down, he edges over, ever so gently. From below, I see the webbing creep forward a foot and a half and stop. Smearing the wall on rap, he slides down and into the water. The webbing gently slides back a foot and a half when it is no longer weighted. Collective exhale and smiles ensue.

    The pothole is a bit of work to get out of. Partner–assists and pack–tosses do the trick. Then a full splashing pothole and another rap is encountered, this one about 50 feet. The pothole in front of the drop is shallow too, but it has a wonderful ledge underwater to wedge rocks into, in opposition to the drop. Perfect! Except there are no rocks ... anywhere ... except, perhaps, down below. Off of people Josh raps. He confirms—there are rocks down below. Backpacks are emptied, lowered, filled with rocks, and hauled up. Hard work and we are rewarded with a sound anchor. Very cool!

    I don’t recognize the spot at the bottom of the rap. I am expecting to see canyon I recognize. No, not yet. Ummmm. Nothing to do but go down. Right away, a spot of off–the–deck climbing is followed by some full potholes. Maidenhair hangs from the walls and then we come to a spot where there are two canyons in front of us. They split off in different directions! Now I get nervous. This is impossible. This is not a cleaver on a volcano!

    A CANYON CAN NOT SPLIT IN TWO! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE!!

    We have burned a lot of time with the anchor building and it is after 3 PM! A pothole downclimb looks hard. Benny goes around and checks out the second canyon. He calls back. The slots join via a super narrow slot between the narrow walls separating the two canyons. The way to the right goes down without interruption. The canyon on the left goes up a total of 6 vertical feet before dropping off the back side and forming another canyon. We know which way to go again. We go right, through the tight cut in the wall—a very weird spot.

    We come to rap into a pool, essentially a severely undercut hole in the floor. Others go 25 feet up and wide–stem around it. Another time, we rap off Benny and big Ryan catches him on the way down the 18–foot drop. Ryan is really strong. Benny is really grateful. We are squeezing on the bottom, then short swims and wades, and, beyond, it gets too narrow for humans. Up we are forced, in a tight, vertical, shaped slot. We rarely touch down for the next 45 minutes. It is tight and narrow to the 30–foot height. But if you go up there—where it is comfortable and stretch out—you can only travel at that height for 20 feet or so then it bells too wide and you are forced down again. The effort to get up is daunting so you just stay and work your way through at 15–25 feet up, in narrow, largely featureless slot, using your body as a camming device, shoulders and knees grappling through, trying not to leave too much skin behind. The sun shines in and we all pour sweat. Grunts and the occasional advice are the only sounds. I keep my worry to myself. Time is ticking away and this is not the place we are supposed to be.

    The tightness begins to relent. There are a pair of faded and tacky shorts attached to a boater anchor, down where we can’t reach. We come to a cross joint and a well deserved rest. We see the high water mark 40 feet above us, confirming what I have suspected for a while. We are in a great canyon, a challenging canyon, but not the one we planned on. And the boat guy will not be waiting at the bottom ... if and when we can get to the bottom.

    We eat and drink. It is 5:30 PM. Our scheduled pickup was at 3:30 PM and we have 2 hours of light left, maybe less. The good news is that we only have 85 vertical feet to drop to the pool. The bad news? The slot tightened up right away, looking more fearsome than ever. We are forcing up onto vertical and featureless walls. Progress was slow and tenuous. We are 30 feet above the narrow bottom. Soon though, it belled out below. Wider in fact than the height we were at. The young and skinny ones, Benny and Josh, descended and gave it a try. It works and we are down with the sculpted curves, bridges, water and slimy walls, on the bottom, sometimes squeezing through twisted tight openings. The canyon above turns impossibly narrow. Shuts down essentially. I wonder, which way it will play. If we get squeezed off down low, we are in big trouble as we can’t fit through the middle ground to get high enough to stem. Time is short. To retreat and climb up would be disheartening and cost more energy than perhaps we have left. But no! It opens below and I start to stroll, thinking about how to find a boat that is not looking for us where we are coming out. Around the corner, I find Josh and Benny, struggling mightily where the canyon has shut down to just 6 inches wide.

    Josh looks at me and says, “You’re not gonna like this.”

    I am sure he is right. I thought the canyon had released us, but it saved its hardest and most dangerous place for last.

    Understand that the walls are vertical and mostly featureless. These walls have only recently been exposed from the receding lake levels. All this was underwater last month and have been under water for nearly 30 years, and everything is like grease. You really can’t call this stuff rock! Foot or hand holds, if you find any, crumble. Or is ‘smear away’ a better description? Try to stem and you slide down, with mossy slime coating you. We rest, quite tired and make our way up with teamwork, with big strong Ryan going it alone in the rear. Tim and I are warring and breathing hard, with the youngsters ahead calling back advice. The advice? Stay high! You are forced up in two stages 35 feet up. You concentrate on every gooey contact point, moving carefully, ever so carefully. The climb–up goes at 5.9 R. Just beyond, you are forced to stem over a long pothole, impossible to exit from within—scary, wide moves. Then 75 yards beyond, you can slide down to the bottom again. Relief. A few steps and you are walking in the lake. Then you are swimming the canyon, 3 feet wide.

    We come out into a flooded cross joint. Released at last!! We enter a bay but there are no places to get out of the water. Benny and Josh have swam out near the main channel. We all cling to walls, upper bodies clinging to slab, lower bodies floating in the pool. Then we hear an engine of a boat in the main channel and spy the boat briefly as it flies by. The collective shout from the marooned canyoneers could have awakened the dead. Oh, what relief when we hear the boat throttle down!!! Ivy the boatman comes into our little bay and turns off the engine. He stares one way, then another, and then another. Everywhere he looks he sees a half submerged canyoneer clinging to the wall.

    He shakes his head and says, “Pitiful.”

    We sheepishly swim on over and into the boat. Ivy has traveled the main channel back and forth looking for us. He has swam the 375 yards and into lower Blastphemy where he expected to find us. I saw his footprints a week later when we descended that canyon for real that time. He climbed up hard and far searching for us. He was calling our names, hoping there would be no repeat of the Psycho Damage bivy of the year before. Now there was joy all around and high fives. It is 6:30 PM and we have dodged a bullet.

    ‹› ‹› ‹›
    We will spend a few days figuring out a name for the canyon: The fact the canyon went X–rated plays a part; the fact that we went down the canyon that we thought we meant to but that it wasn't actually the canyon we thought it was ... bad communication, for sure; and finally the X–shaped crack system on the wall at the entry to the bay. X–Communication it became.

    Sometimes when you skate on thin ice, you have to shake your head and count yourself lucky. Everyone stayed within themselves and performed. Back in the setting sun at camp, smiles went all around. I saw Tim shaking his head while he smiled broadly, looking off in the distance at nothing in particular. His face and spirit were aglow.

    He looked at me and said, “I have no one I can tell about this, who would have any inkling of understanding. I am busting to tell someone and there is no one anywhere, who I know, who would understand.”

    I smiled and sensed his pride in a job well done and thought ... maybe the people who care about us most ... not knowing might be for the best?


    Ram
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  5. Ram

    Ram

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  6. Ram

    Ram

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    Yup. Mike and Jenny...bold! My heroes

    Hope I have the updated one here
    https://www.math.utah.edu/~sfolias/canyontales/tale/?i=pitsandpendulums
    and
    https://www.math.utah.edu/~sfolias/canyontales/tale/?i=bogartramblings
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2017
  7. mountainfish

    mountainfish

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    Um. So... I think after reading some of that and watching the video that Ram put up, I changed my mind. Relative to many of you, I am still a pup in the sport. I would love to say that I would feel comfortable doing some of that stuff but as of yet I feel like I would crap my pants on some of that. You guys are nuts.

    ... or maybe I am just ignorant!

    May the gods of the canyons smile upon me in such a way that I experience the things that I yet lack the balls to pursue.

    I feel like I might need to make friends with some of you.
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  8. Ram

    Ram

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    A few thoughts. Number one, none of these canyons are truly unvisited. Our ancestors went everywhere. Rare is a true first. Those that came before us came and went with different sensibilities. Or so I imagine and guess. They were looking for water. Looking to trap game. Looking to get past the obstacle we call a canyon, managing to enter, go a bit up or down and exit out the other side, chipping steps, on there way to wherever. The best we can hope for is the occasional spot that eyes have never seen and the best we can claim is a first "Integral" descent. And none of that amounts to a hill of beans.

    Canyons unknown, are like a box of chocolates...you never know what you are going to get.....Sorry, I could not resist. Not saying that the seasoned and trained eye does not have an advantage, but the canyon often packs surprises. Back when Mike and Jenny were getting after it? WOW! That took some skills and confidence. Today, with ghosting tools (captures, Fiddlestick, sand and water anchors) and knowing how to use them, takes a big piece of the edge off the potential for trouble. Not long ago, I did many less explorations a year, because, I was too scared to do them very often...MEOW! I NEVER slept the night before, or very little at most. Today, many of us, go pretty regularly, perhaps sleeping just a little fitfully, as opposed to the terror of years gone by.

    But that major "Smack down" could be just around the corner. I often hear this fear..."you bring all the tools, including the kitchen sink, and then it goes super hard high stemming, with you all laden with all that weight." That one worries many of us. There is also the mythical spot....it is out there. Probably several of them. We all know about "keepers." Out there, waiting for us to stumble upon it is the "STOPPER!" Only a matter of time till the first one is found. In fact, one spot we got to in one canyon, terrorizes most of our posse. Others will go back to probe it further for weaknesses. I am only here to tell of this because, sensing it, we probed and scouted the spot, from ledges we accessed on descent, before total commitment. Anyway, be careful out there.
    R
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2017
  9. Jolly Green

    Jolly Green

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    Take a few fancy tools, a few people with their full wits about them, and a few more with only half a wit to go first on the crazy stuff and you have yourself an unbelievable exploration team!
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  10. mountainfish

    mountainfish

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    Finest advice yet!
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  11. Bootboy

    Bootboy Atwood Gear

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    Speaking to Ram's musings on the subject of the "stopper", I suspect that it is likely in a canyon that has been done before but that it hasn't been "in condition". This is fun but also terrifying to think about - that there is a such a feature hiding in plain sight, just waiting for the perfect conspiracy of events that would bring it to life.

    On more than one occasion, some when Ram and I have been together, we have encountered spots that have been so close to this mythical spot, but for the existence of one unlikely feature that makes passage possible. A pile of sand in just the right place, a miraculous crack or handhold, fortuitous water levels, an underwater arch, etc. have been the heroes of the day on more than one trip.o_O
  12. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    At the beginning of this run, 2000/2001, we weren't really all that good. The Canyon Gods were kind to us and gave us challenging canyons, but never stoppers, really. As our skills got better, the Canyon Gods gave us harder canyons. They still have not decided to get us totally stopped. Knock on wood.

    :moses:
  13. John Diener

    John Diener

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    Good stuff from some very experienced people, in the responses above. Definitely agree that exploring the unknown is very different from 20, 10 or even 5 years ago, given all the new anchor tools, high-res aerial imagery for planning, etc. In a slightly different tack than other posts, I’ve listed some of the things I think about or do when planning to explore an unknown canyon (on the Colorado Plateau).
    - What kind of canyon is it? Fast-dropper? Skinny stemmer? Pothole problems? Wet or dry?
    - What is the biggest possible continuous drop? Combination of topo and imagery can sometimes net a pretty good estimate.
    - What is the approach like? Is it questionable whether it goes?
    - Depending upon the answers to these initial questions, pre-scouting of the canyon may be in order. Some thoughts on scouting:
    o If the approach is in question, that is typically the first thing to figure out.
    o Walk the rim of the canyon, or as much as possible.
    o Getting to the rim near canyon corners (outside corner) can be particularly useful as it usually gives the best sight lines down in.
    o Try to get a view of any significant drops.
    o Find available exit/entries.
    o Are there places set escape lines? Rarely needed, but when it is…
    o Often the last rap is the “big one” – if possible I visit this from below and estimate its height using simple 45 degree triangulation (I use a folded piece of paper to sight it).​
    - What is the time estimate for the outing? Can the approach, canyon, and egress be accomplished in the time available, with spare?
    - What time of year is most suitable for exploring the canyon? Is warmer or cooler weather appropriate? Longer daylight needed?
    - Who do I need on the team? An anchor expert is always a good idea. If looking at a stemmer, everyone better be able to deal. A capable climber in the group is always helpful. If potholes are in the equation, having a strong boulderer is even better.
    - How many people? The story of Jenny and Mike descending Poe 35+ years ago is amazing. Most people I know wouldn’t explore a canyon like that without a few more bodies (although the 2nd visit was also accomplished by just 2 people). Pothole canyons can generally use more people – pyramids, more work to share, etc. For stemmers, less people seems ok, but in all cases, it is sometimes helpful to have enough people to spread out, with a person above each point with a reversibility issue, until the point person can get to a known good spot or exit.
    - Rim crew desired? I dislike planning these, because usually you want the whole team to enjoy exploring, taking turns on point, etc. But when you have one, boy, does it take the pressure off.
    - What group gear is needed?
    o The longest estimated drop guides rope selection. If it is a pothole or multi-drop canyon it is usually good to have a selection of shorter working ropes as well.
    o A fiddlestick, if it is a tool you have experience with and are willing to use, is fantastic for explorations. Very fast if a suitable anchor is found, and allows for chaining drops/ropes together to reduce the number of anchors needed.
    o Sandtrap (and watertrap/pocket if pothole canyon) highly recommended.
    o There may often be alternative anchor solutions to using the tools listed above - fiddlestick, sandtrap, watertrap, but they can require more gear (webbing, rings, additional rope) and take much more time. Sometimes speed is safety.​
    Anyhow, maybe I’m overly cautious, but that is some of what I think about. Most of the above is just common sense, but perhaps it may serve as a starter checklist?
    -john
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  14. Jolly Green

    Jolly Green

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    Somehow we all forgot the most important thing you can do. Bring John Diener. Well said John.
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  15. Ram

    Ram

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    John's post drips with wisdom, but the comments on the fiddlestick could use a bit more "spotlighting."
    Chaining drops and ropes together? Ooooh yeah!. Picture a reasonable straight away, dropping canyon, with pothole after pothole, many in keeper mode. Back in the old days, one could chain two drops or so but not much more. Then it was time to try and make an anchor, sometimes seeming out of thin air. The rope drag, when you extended anchors too far, on retrieval, made it difficult to impossible, not to mention unethical, as rope would drag over various edges, ledges, walls etc. and scarred rock when pulled. One of the best aspects of fiddlestick use is that you don't need to "pull" ropes up and then down. They release and fall down to you, so you can, in theory, if snag points are not present, get out a pot, near the end of a rope, tie a rope on and solve the next series of potholes or drops off the same original anchor. Then sometimes you get to add another rope and on you go.

    In a canyon called Perils, we once descended 515 feet of rope off the same anchor, using a 200 and 300 foot dynemia pull cord release of the fiddlestick. Not that long ago, it would have required 4-5 anchors to do that same section of canyon. And the unexpected benefit? No more pulling ropes through anchors reduces or eliminates grooving. Faster, thus warmer and safer. After some strong resistance and concerns about this anchor, it has caught on quite a lot and many never leave home without it. They consider it part of their safety gear. As popular as it has become, it remains totally unforgiving, if mistakes are made. Be careful all!.
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  16. Ram

    Ram

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    In October of 2001, I did lower Neon for the umpteenth time. The canyon was dry. In the spot you all know today as the keeper, before the final drop, the area was as it had been for at least 8 years (my time there). A flat section of softball to bowling ball sized rocks. I have heard but never confirmed that there was no measurable precip in the town of Escalante through the winter, to March of 2002 when I returned, this time on my first trip with Tom, along with buddies Vladman and Johnny B. We heard some noise ahead and came upon a couple from Montana struggling mightily to get out of what many of you can envision from your visits there. The keeper pothole. It reemerged that winter, out from under the rocks and boulders, where it had sat waiting....for how long? It was a little deeper that first couple of years. The lower scooped bowl has filled in a bit, with time. So it was harder that first year or so. This couple had just done the sport route and had no thermal protection and were near the end of their rope, literally and figuratively. We had suits, having entered the canyon near the Triborough Bridges, way up canyon. I would like to claim that we came to the rescue, but just as we arrived, the fella manged a full on dyno escape, while shivering violently. They graciously gave us a hand out. How many more spots like this are buried just out of sight and far beyond our limited imaginations?
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  17. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    How many more spots like this are buried just out of sight and far beyond our limited imaginations?

    Probably more than we think. I have wondered what would be found if canyons such as the Black Hole nearly dried up and were scoured out. Given the magnitude of the floods that rip through, there has got to be some serious scour if the holes aren't filled with water, pebbles, and sand.
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  18. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    It's always an adventure but it is rarely a classic. Think about all the canyons out there. How many of them are spectacular? That same percentage applies to new ones. Probably even a lower percentage. Many of them are duds. The worst day canyoneering still beats the best day golfing, but you don't discover Imlay every day.
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  19. dakotabelliston

    dakotabelliston Living life to it's fullest

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    I love this thread !!! Thank you !!!

    Sent from my SM-G930V using Tapatalk
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  20. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    What is it like doing a canyon that you have zero data on?

    If anyone wants to find out, I have a hidden slot canyon scouted out near Vernal. It appears to be a good one. I have never heard of anyone doing canyons in this area so there will be no beta.

    If anyone is interested, I am thinking of going sometime this month (but not this weekend).
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