Send us a suggestion!

Elephant Butte - our first "canyon" of the trip

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Tricam, Oct 26, 2020.

  1. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    We arrived in Moab early afternoon on our first day in Utah. The plan was to spend the afternoon in Arches doing tourist things since my wife had never been there, but the park was full and not allowing entry. Instead we went to Fisher Towers and did some (sketchy) aid climbing on the Kingfisher tower before heading to camp.

    We got up early the next day and got into the park, where we spent the morning hiking to the delicate arch and doing other tourist things before heading to the balanced rock/elephant butte area for some tower climbing. It turns out tower climbing is quite fun, and the views in the park are incredible. We went up Owl Rock, Bullwinkle Tower, and Off Balanced Rock before finding ourselves at the car a little after 5pm - just enough time to make a quick run up Elephant Butte for sunset.

    Elephant Butte is more of a scramble, and its routefinding isn't exactly the usual linear style of canyoneering, but you do technically work your way through some canyons, and it requires a canyoneering permit from the park. Regardless of whatever it was, it was beautiful. Wandering through the canyons between the fins was awesome way to spend the waning desert light.

    I had lightly read the Mountain Project beta for this route and decided it would be obvious and required minimal preparation. I was almost correct. We worked through the route until we arrived at the sand dune area, then got to the "crux" section, where you work up a slot canyon until you enter a pothole-type room with two potential exits - left or right. We spent some time here trying to figure out which to take. Either would require some low level unprotected climbing (5.5?) which would be easy on the way up, but would be tricky to downclimb if we took the wrong path. Eventually we convinced ourselves we must have taken a wrong turn and worked back to the sand dune area before deciding that we had been on the right track originally. We looked at the time and decided we still had just enough time to go for it if we remained efficient. We worked our way back up to the crux area, and I committed to climbing the right exit and explored while my wife waited below. I started working up and left after the exit but it cliffed out. I worked my way back down, and then followed the gully straight ahead from the exit, where I found the first rappel hidden around a corner.

    I climbed back to the notch and gave a sitting belay to my wife, and we headed to the first rappel. I knew the rappel was a bit less than 100', and I had brought only our new 200' Canyonero rope. It did not come with a middle mark, and I had forgotten to mark it before we left for our trip. The lack of a middle mark ended up being probably the biggest time waste of our trip. I fixed one end so my wife could rappel to the ground, then equalized with her help from below. This worked fine, but it was unnecessary.

    After the first rappel, we followed the footprints to the right, down a long canyon... to a beautiful dead end. More time wasted. We backtracked to the end of the last rappel and worked left this time, where after some boulders, we made it to the slick rock section that eventually leads to the summit. We raced up the slick rock to the final headwall where we didn't find an obvious break, but managed to find something "good enough", so I climbed up then gave my wife a sitting belay.

    The summit was beautiful, but the sun was already over the horizon, so we grabbed a quick photo and began racing down. I gave my wife a meat anchor rappel off the headwall, then I downclimbed with some combination of a crab, slide, and jump. The directions to the last rap were pretty obvious, but there is a lot of slick rock between the summit and the last rappel to work through, so we put our headlamps on before beginning the descent.

    We made it to the final rappel with the last shred of light, and I again tied off the rope to allow my wife to rappel full length, which allowed her to skip the downclimb (which was a bit tricky by headlamp). After we were both down, we had a nice walk through the desert back to the car by the light of a nearly full moon.

    Lessons from this outing:
    - Do a little more prep. A minute or two and a quick download could have prevented our back tracking and allowed us time to enjoy the sunset on the summit.
    - I really should have middle marked the rope. I didn't resolve this until we returned home.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2020
    Ali Miller, Kuenn and Sutitan like this.
  2. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    [​IMG]
    Scrambling up the talus between the fins
    Ram and infocus5280 like this.
  3. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    [​IMG]
    Up on a fin
    infocus5280 likes this.
  4. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    [​IMG]
    Accross the sand dunes towards the slot
    infocus5280 likes this.
  5. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    [​IMG]
    Up the slot
    Ram and infocus5280 like this.
  6. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    [​IMG]
    Looking back down from the "room" with two exits
    infocus5280 likes this.
  7. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    [​IMG]
    Working back from the deadend after the first rappel
    infocus5280 likes this.
  8. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    [​IMG]
    Quick summit pic
    infocus5280 likes this.
  9. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    [​IMG]
    Final rappel, just after nightfall
    infocus5280 and Brian in SLC like this.
  10. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

    Messages:
    1,092
    Likes:
    1,173
    Location:
    Salt Lake City
    Great TR!

    Just curiuos, though...why not just match the ends and feed one side through the anchor? If the terrain supported it, could have just tied the ends together as well and feed the one side through.

    Glad you're sharing your trip! You guys squeeze the daylight pretty hard with your day in Arches...nice!
    Tricam likes this.
  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

    Messages:
    5,349
    Likes:
    6,574
    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah
    Lots of ways to skin that cat. Including very many that do not involve a middle mark.

    I have this theory that as soon as I put a Middle Mark on a rope, then I will get a core shot and have to cut it; and the rope will now have a Not-Middle Mark.

    Tom
    Tricam likes this.
  12. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    If I had the rope coiled, matching ends would have been much quicker, but it was flaked into a rope bag with one end tied at the bottom, so it seemed quicker at the time to fix the tail, throw the bag, then equalize with someone on the ground to watch when I pulled enough that the bag lifted.

    If I were to do this route again, I might just backpack coil the rope. The only real advantage that the bag had was that it made it quick and easy to pull out short lengths for when I was meat anchoring.
  13. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    Yeah - this was the only day that we solved this in the "fix then rebalance" manner on the trip. We used a pullcord in most other cases. Using a toggle was definitely the most efficient when it was appropriate, but a regular pullcord at least pushed the issue to after the rappel and eliminated any guesswork (but pulling then repacking the whole rope... gah). I rigged (but didn't have to release) a figure 8 contingency anchor in one instance, and another time I just took a best guess then equalized while on rappel, using an ATS double stranded in tube style mode.
  14. ratagonia

    ratagonia

    Messages:
    5,349
    Likes:
    6,574
    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah
    I've been using a 'better' way of doing this. Secure the top of the rope to the anchor. Drop the bag. Person1 raps. Once down, Person1 ties an overhand on a bight on the rope at ground level. Person2 pulls the rope up (and through the ring) until they get the knot against the ring. Throw down the tail, which is now JUST exactly the right length. Install a block or rap double strand (if the other side still reaches the ground).

    Even slicker if instead of tying an overhand on a bight, Person1 just installs a biner block. Pull it up to the anchor. Hook up, rappel.

    If the rope is not long enough to double, you are still good. Pull up to the block. Rappel down. Stop on rappel, and bend another rope or pull cord to the other end that did not quite reach.

    Tom
    Yellow Dart, Dave Melton and Tricam like this.
  15. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    Smart! That definitely would have saved us a good bit of time in the questionable length cases, I'll need to remember this.
  16. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

    Messages:
    1,092
    Likes:
    1,173
    Location:
    Salt Lake City
    Yep, bunch of different ways to do it...

    I like working out of rope bag, but, for shorter drops or maybe just less of them, I usually just coil the rope.

    Have to say I enjoy playing the "how much rope do I need here" game. I'll either eyeball the drop or look at some beta, then, arm load out what I think is the right amount. Then I toss it down. If the end barely grazes the ground...I win! Ha ha. At full wing span with some relaxed shortening my arm lengths of rope are fairly close to five feet per.

    If there's just two of us, and, my partner is nervous or less experienced, I usually rappel first so I can bottom belay (fireman's). So, if the rope ends are uneven and I'm rapping double strand with an ATC type device, I just hold one side and let the rope equalize when I feed the other side. Works pretty well for me.

    Good times!
    Kuenn, Tricam and ratagonia like this.
  17. Canyonero

    Canyonero

    Messages:
    1,043
    Likes:
    1,088
    I used to mark my canyon ropes like my climbing ropes--the middle and sometimes the quarters with a different mark. I quit doing it after a while for a few reasons.

    # 1 The marks wear off SOOO much faster due to the sandstone friction, the mud, the water, and the sand.
    # 2 Canyoneering ropes never die, they just get shorter. And when they get shorter, that mark is no longer the middle.
    # 3 As they gain experience, most canyoneers quit rapping double strand (they also quit using Canyonero rope too because it handles so poorly and weighs so much) and thus no longer need the middle marked.
    # 4 Few rappels are exactly half the length of your rope, so if you put the middle at the anchor you have to stuff more rope back into the back than you really needed to take out.

    I've got lots of Canyonero. It's great when out with youth groups and stuff when you need a more durable rope. But I bet your next canyon rope is a different one.
    Tricam likes this.
  18. Canyonero

    Canyonero

    Messages:
    1,043
    Likes:
    1,088
    Very slick. Not quite as slick as tying it into the anchor with a stone knot and dropping the bag and then fiddling it with another rope or pull cord, but slick nonetheless.
    Yellow Dart likes this.
  19. Tricam

    Tricam

    Messages:
    177
    Likes:
    100
    I did end up middle and quarter marking it when I got home. The quarter marks I plan to use as a sanity check while estimating throws if I have rappel length beta, but I did run into a few instances where the middle mark would have been useful. In one canyon in particular, the longest rappel was 100', but there were at least half a dozen in the 70'-100' range where I couldn't see the landing, and the rappels didn't lend themselves to using a toggle. In these cases, I would have been glad to just pull to a middle mark, biner block, and throw, but I ended up joining tails with a pullcord. This was quick to setup, but required pulling and packing all of the 200' rope... :/ Tom's improved fix-and-rebalance technique would have been ideal here, or would have been having a 100-120' rope instead of just our 200' one.

    But as you state, I am not confident that these marks are going to last long, so we'll see how they pan out.

    I didn't plan on doing a ton of double-strand rappelling since that doesn't work great with adjustable friction devices, but it would have been nice to have that option for some of the short, rapid fire rappels. A biner block doesn't take that much longer, but it is an extra step I could have avoided in some cases.

    On the Canyonero... yeah, I have no plans on getting another one of these. I wanted to write up a review, but I've been struggling to put it into words. I got the 200' Canyonero primarily because I wanted a workhorse rope that was long enough for all of the routes we were doing and would last the whole trip. So, for our primary requirements, it met the goal: 10+ canyons, hundreds of rappels, and the thing is still in good shape.

    But... I have never disliked rappelling on any rope as much as this one. Before we left, I took it out for testing over a 35' free hanging boulder cave. I couldn't find a single initial friction setting on my Pirana or ATS that would allow a controlled descent that could be changed to a "comfortable" descent with an additional wrap on freehang, which was possible with every other rope I have used (8.1mm twins to 11mm static). It felt like I was bouncing between the nubs in the kernmantle instead of slowly slipping rope, which made it very unpredictable. About halfway through the trip, the kernmantle threads had frayed enough that it wasn't so bumpy and I was able to get a reasonable rappel, but it was quite awful until then.

    The stiffness makes it annoying to tie knots, and it doesn't pack down well in a bag, but these didn't bother me like the bumpyness of it. The extra weight also wasn't much of an issue compared to a thinner rope in this length, but it would have been nice to have something about half length that I could have packed in a sandbag for canyons where rappels were <100'.
  20. Kuenn

    Kuenn

    Messages:
    1,592
    Likes:
    1,751
    Nice report and pictures, thanks!

    Random comments:
    - Our first trip with some technical canyons was to Moab in 2009. Beautiful place to start and progress from.
    - Impressive diversity load stuffing days.
    - I like Canyonero rope, have a bunch of it in many lengths. Yes, it's sturdy and can get stiff...that's why I like it....fantastic for ascending. Comparing it to PMI 11mm pit rope, it's a wet noodle.
    - As for rope marking, I don't care much for middle marks for the reason stated. Consider marking every 50 feet, alternating black and red stripes, that way if you end up cutting the rope the marks are still meaningful.
    - Looking forward to more reports. Great couple activity! In the spirit of transparency (and not creepiness), what's your wife's name?
    Tricam likes this.
Similar Threads: Elephant Butte
Forum Title Date
Trip Reports Elephant Butte--Nov 19, 2016 Nov 21, 2016
Trip Reports Elephant Butte - Arches N.P. UT - 5/25/2014 Jun 26, 2014
Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group Elephant butte Mar 23, 2008
Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group Owl Rock/Elephant Butte/Onion Creek this weekend? Apr 27, 2005
General Discussion New Stealth Cow Grazing Area, on Hwy 24 near Factory Butte Nov 19, 2019
Trip Reports Canyon of Butterflies Feb 20, 2019