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Family Fun in Big Tony

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Austin Farnworth, Oct 24, 2019.

  1. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    Location:
    Mapleton, Utah
    Big Tony isn't a family friendly canyon, unless you go with the Cluffs! Both of my wife's parents and her six siblings have accompanied us on quite a few canyons, and when they said they wanted to do a canyon with lots of stemming, I decided to take them down Big Tony. The combination of great high-stemming and the best dark passages out there was too hard to pass up! We originally had planned to do the full canyon and have those who weren’t doing well bypass the X-section, but we ended up starting the canyon at the end of the X-section. On the standard approach route on the west side of the canyon, you can cut down once you reach the X-section and do a 80 foot rappel into the same place where groups down-climb in when doing the full route. I call this the sneak entry, as it hits the best parts of the canyon, with a shorter approach.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    The fun starts right off the rappel with a big elevator down-climb while avoiding slipping into a silo on your down-canyon side. We hit the ground and walked a short distance before the high-stemming section began. Amanda was the youngest of the siblings with us at age 11, with the other three being 14, 15, 18 years old. Like I mentioned before, none of them had done high-stemming before, but they took to it fast, as we quickly got off the ground.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    The movement of this section between the X-section and the pothole fork is fantastic. There is a high-route with multiple silo-crossings and a lower route that requires more up-climbing and avoids the silos. A few followed me on the high-route as I showed them how to cross silos, along with tips and tricks for high-stemming.



    There is a fun down-climb that has pop out of a tight arch at the bottom after an elevator down-climb. Emma managed to get her foot stuck while going through the arch and I had to go back and help her get free, which gave us all a good laugh.

    In showing the teenagers the basics of high-stemming, I had left my wife and her parents behind, so I told them to go ahead and route-find while I waited for them to catch up. When they caught up, I watched the siblings work through some problems ahead and blindly followed in their steps, assuming they were on the path of least resistance. I saw them down-climb through a narrow, dark opening in the slot so I followed, suddenly discovering that their down-climb was straight into a nasty bombay that I was luckily able to catch myself in. I got a good laugh out of how hardcore of a route they were taking on their first time leading a high-stemming section.
    [​IMG]
    It took us about 1.5 hours from the start of the R section to reach the point at which the pothole fork comes in. This section of the canyon has high, streaked walls, and is one of the only sections of the canyon where you can walk on flat sandy ground.

    [​IMG]
    We encountered the first rappel soon after, which involves rappelling through a rabbit-hole and then down two stages, about 65 feet to the ground. At this point you can start to notice the leaning walls above that will gradually close until a point ahead, where they cut off all light.
    After a few down-climbs we were at the top of a long elevator shaft into darkness. A chock-stone at the top of the down-climb makes it a tricky start, and only the very skinny can actually chimney straight down into the darkness and make it out on ground level. The siblings all went for the down-climb, including my wife, while the parents had to high-stem down-canyon before being able to down-climb in at the end of the dark section. The light at the end of this down-climb was the last we would see for a while, as we entered the cave section.




    [​IMG]
    The cave section is by far the most unique section of the canyon, with complete darkness for a good distance, requiring headlamps. We soon encountered the first water we had seen in the canyon, and at first tried to avoid it. However, our attempts were futile, and we were soon waist deep in water, making our way through narrow corridors in total darkness.

    The first light to re-enter the canyon from above marked that we were getting close to the up-climb. The walls pinch down to almost nothing down-canyon, so you are forced to make a wet, muddy, and desperate climb up to where you can start stemming down-canyon. My wife and two of the siblings were able to squeeze in further down-canyon to a point where they could they could at least get knee-jams on the way up. [​IMG]
    The rest of us had to start climbing up in a wide slot that suddenly gets tight overhead. You are essentially up-climbing a bombay. Emma made it up, and I followed, getting worked in the process. I knew based on how much I had got worked by it that the in-laws were gonna have a hard time making it up this one.

    The first attempt by my wife’s mother ended with her falling down into the water and hurting her ankle. I then made a rope-ladder and got them out from a secure perch above. 100 more feet of stemming after that and we were on flat dry ground again.

    From here on to the final rappel, there are only a few short down-climbs, and high, impressive walls. In the right light, this is the most scenic part of the canyon in my opinion.[​IMG]


    A triangle shaped tunnel leads to the final rappel, and fantastic views of Sleepy Hollow below. [​IMG]


    After the final rappel is the most impressive exit hike I've done, with high walls, giant alcoves, and a lush forested valley floor with a spring running through it. Half-way back to the junction with Coyote Gulch, there is a particularly large alcove on the RDC, which is well worth climbing up into for fantastic views from inside.[​IMG]


    The hike back up to the Chimney Rock Trail-head took longer due my mother-in-law's hurt ankle, making it 9.5 hours total car-to-car on the sneak route. With a smaller group and no injury you could definitely cut two hours or more off this time, noting that it had taken us 9 hours to do the full route from the top previously. Big Tony is among the most scenic canyoneering experiences in Utah, and should be high on anyone's list who hasn't done it.
    RossK, Ram and Ali Miller like this.
  2. RossK

    RossK

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    Nice report. How far from the Escalante did the slot meet Sleepy Hollow? Did you have to bushwhack much out? I once tried going up Sleepy Hollow to see some of those giant alcoves but there was so much dense vegetation we gave up. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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  3. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    Location:
    Mapleton, Utah
    After the final rap of Big Tony, it's about 1.5 miles of walking in sleepy hollow until you hit coyote gulch. The alcoves are halfway down. There were multiple trails not too hard to follow through the brush.

    Sent from my Pixel 2 using Tapatalk
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  4. Ram

    Ram

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    You did not try hard enough. There is a very dense vegetated section near the bottom. Looking up canyon, you enter on the left (West) and cross over to the right (east) when you can. Fairly quickly, it becomes much easier, 10 minutes below where Long Branch comes in. Then it is easy, with paths of use, all the way to the bottom rap.
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  5. Ram

    Ram

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    First off....Congratulations to the Cluff Clan for a bold and successful descent. For those playing at home and considering the same, be aware that there was nothing trivial about this descent. It has several committing moves. Kudos!

    Very interesting idea to rap down, from the west, to the pinch where the X ends and the R starts. That saves a lot of time and effort vs. going around the top and finding one's way into the same spot. Yes, from there to the pothole fork is a spectacular section. The ledges are large and it is not too high but it is one convoluted passage with great route latitude, among the green moss covered turns. I don't envy you having to be everywhere at once, even as all were up to the challenge, but lacking depth of experience. Like finding that the group was all through that bombay. Glad you got to laugh about it.

    The stem across, just before the steep downclimb, to the dark section has some width to it and it is not for everybody. My first time in the dark section, I was in front alone and without a headlamp. I traversed the section by braille. Got to the end and had difficulty getting up that climb up, avoiding the pinch, with a dead owl bumping into my thigh. Landon Michaels once stemmed that whole section, over 100 feet up which seems soooo scary. Here is a great and hilarious tale from the Rosen group through the dark section that makes me shiver when I remember my blind passage
    https://www.math.utah.edu/~sfolias/canyontales/tale/?i=tonysnake

    Did I say "well done" already? Thanks so much for sharing!!

    PS Tell Emma she is not the 1st to get her foot stuck there.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2019
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