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First Time at Freeze Fest

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by deathtointernet, Jan 8, 2019.

  1. deathtointernet


    Work has always kept me from attending previous Freeze Fests... perhaps to my not-actual-disappointment? But this year I would be able to make it for the last day or two, and I quickly recruited my mom, Chris, water monster that she is, into a descent of the Black Hole. She had always wanted to do the canyon anyway... though maybe not under these exact conditions. As the trip got closer it became apparent that instead of some of the previous years' somewhat "tame" Freeze Fests we had managed to sign up for one of the more cold and difficult ones. Well, so it goes. We rented drysuits and packed virtually all of our warm gear, and off we went.

    Sunday evening after I got out of work we drove to Torrey to spend the night, and awoke to fresh snow. We completed the drive and found a spot over at the Sandthrax campground, just a little too late for a group Blarney adventure. We got our tent up, and then took a short little hike up Leprechaun from the bottom since my mom had never been to North Wash before. Afterwards we decided to see if we could get in a quick canyon with the rest of the afternoon, and set off for the Right Fork of Shillelagh.


    As we ascended the ridge the snow started falling again, and the wind was cold. Thankfully though the ridge itself was almost entirely snow-free so offered no obstacle to getting up to the canyon.

    The snow was still falling in big fluffy flakes as we started down the two-rappel entry sequence. Thankfully the ledge below for the longer rappel was entirely protected from the wind and we could warm up quite a bit.


    It was strange to descend a canyon with snow in it, though it caused no trouble in a canyon as simple as Shillelagh, it was a new experience for me. As my mom's first North Wash canyon, it was probably an interesting experience for her too. But it went very smoothly and soon we were back at the campground drinking warm beer out of the cooler.


    We survived the cold night, and in the morning joined the group for the Black Hole descent. It was cold, with a bit of wind, and a nice covering of snow on the ground as we started off. It certainly seemed like the day was going to live up to its reputation.


    The descent into the canyon was slippery in the snow, but soon we were at the bottom and heading down an equally-slippery snow-filled canyon. After an hour we reached the first unavoidable water, and it was time to pull up the drysuits and plunge in.


    My mom and I took up position with the slower group towards the back, with Ram bringing up the rear to make sure no one was getting left behind. We partnered up with Michael, in the wetsuit, and incredibly, no gloves (we offered several times but he felt the gloves would stay wet and make him feel colder, and he was fine in the end, what a trooper!) and we all agreed to watch out for one another. Eventually we would turn into essentially a group of four with Ram and Nate, who was great on several of the partner assists.


    Crawling on ice, a Freeze Fest tradition!


    As the scrambles and downclimbs increased, I envied our wetsuit-clad partners who could move much more easily... but then I felt better on every long swim when they had to hustle through and we could idly float by. At a few points my feet, clad in three pairs of neoprene socks, got cold, and at the end of the adventure I was chilled, I was never really cold in my core. Couldn't say what the better option is, but for two folks doing this for the first time the drysuits seemed the safer bet.


    Ram coming up behind us on one of the long swims. It was great to canyoneer with him again, and we appreciated the experienced presence.


    We couldn't bypass some of the later water sections thanks to the snow on the ledges above them, so we got to do extra swimming. In the second half of the canyon I took considerably fewer pictures as exhaustion began to set it... turns out it's some work keeping your body temperature up and hoofing the suits and all the gear through the canyon... and as all our gear began to freeze, including the cases for our cameras.


    The exit was interesting; with my boots giving little-to-no traction on the ice and snow, I appreciated Ram and Jenny setting up a few ropes. Coming out into the remaining sunlight, I felt exhausted like I hadn't felt in quite a while. Our packs were frozen, our drysuits were frozen, it took a minute of holding the clasp on my helmet to get it to thaw enough to take off. Tom drove us back to our car, and by the time we returned to Sandthrax our gear had thawed enough to take it off. To our profound relief the Burger Shak in Hanksville was open... definitely one of the best meals of my life, haha! And then it was back home to Saint George, with the knowledge that we had successfully completed what may be the coldest adventure of our lives! Big thanks to everyone out there who made it a fun (you know, in that weird way) and safe trip!
  2. Dan Ransom

    Dan Ransom Staff Member

    Salt Lake
    This is awesome Jeremy! Killer photos and great story. What a crazy first experience in the Black Hole for your mom - incredible!
  3. Jenny


    Great stuff, Jeremy.

    For the record, besides Ram and I there were others setting those ropes for the descent-Tre C, Rachel, Cassy and Tom J.

    Though this was Chris G's (Jeremy's mom) first Black Hole experience, she is a very experienced adventure gal and a super active advocate for the wild places that remain. Once, at the exit of Fat Man's Misery Canyon, our group came across this lone woman who had ventured all the way to the warm springs for a wee day jaunt (NOT!!!!). That was my first meeting of this amazing woman. Jeremy and Chris are likely the most adventuresome mother-son duo out there. Understated and humble as they are, they are super stars! Truly wonderFULL folks!
  4. deathtointernet


    Well gosh, you are just too sweet Jenny!
    Ram and Sandstoned like this.
  5. Sandstoned


    I enjoyed the story greatly, and wish I had been down there with you all! What a wonderfully whacked out tradition this fest has become...good on ya, all who have attended some or all of the fests in the past!!
    Ram, Anthony Dye and deathtointernet like this.
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