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UT: Ticaboo Mesa Glaucoma Canyon: An X-rated Experience

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Austin Farnworth, Jan 22, 2019.

  1. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    There’s a feeling of panic that sets in when you feel your chest compressed between two stone walls and gravity is trying its hardest to pull you down into a dark abyss. If you let that panic set-in, you will sink further and further into that narrow abyss until you are beyond help. I struggled frantically before jamming my feet between the walls to hold me in place. I called for Tom Collins to stem above me and get into position to rescue me if needed. I quickly realized that I was too far down in the narrow slot and there was nothing Tom could do to help me out. For a short moment I reflected on other times I had been stuck in tight canyons like middle Leprechaun and Chambers, though I was practically on the ground during those incidents. Now, I was stuck high above the ground looking down into dark slot that narrowed into nothingness below my feet. I slowed my breathing and took off my helmet, which was jammed between the walls, throwing it down-canyon so I could turn my head. Turning my head, I saw that my only path of escape was back the way I came. Tilting my body to the side, I placed two new foot jams and pushed as hard as I could, gaining inches of progress at a time, until reaching a wide enough spot to start climbing up. X-rated canyons are a sketchy business that somehow keep me coming back for more.

    Departing Spanish Fork Utah at 3:20 AM, our group of five started our drive down to Ticaboo Mesa for an unusual day trip with plans to do Inferno and Limbo as a combo day. Comprising the group was Tom Collins, Chris Haines, Nathan Ellison, and my wife Olivia. We decided to switch out Limbo canyon for glaucoma in order to give Nate a chance to do his first X-rated canyon and for Chris to do his second one. Inferno turned out be quite wet, though by the end of the high-stemming section we were all wishing we had not put on wet-suits. Stemming with wet-suits on and heavy packs had taken its toll on us as we finished the final series of rappels hiked back up the slick-rock to the truck. The rough dirt road between the Dante’s and Warm Springs was luckily dry for us as we made our way to the head of Glaucoma Canyon.[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Olivia, too tired from Inferno to take-on Glaucoma, decided to carry gear for us and set up the line at the end of the canyon so that we could ascend out before the canyon dumps into the lake. Rappelling off Olivia’s body, we entered the canyon past the initial pothole to avoid getting our feet wet. Over a year ago, I descended Glaucoma for the first time with Tom Collins, who insisted that the three of us who had not done the canyon before lead, while he hung out in the back. Holding true to tradition we had Chris lead, while Nate stayed in the middle to get better film on his Gopro. Glaucoma gets you off the ground right off the bat with multiple easier silo crossings 15-20 feet off the ground. As the canyon deepened, we saw Olivia on the rim, waving down to us as we descended into the belly of the beast.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    The big down-climb is the first feature of the canyon that truly merits an X-rating, A feature that has even been rappelled by other groups in the past. It starts with a massive silo, far too wide to even think about crossing. Down-climbing a 30ft plus crack with a delicate crossing at the bottom is the only option and Chris was leading the way. Chris shouted up from below, confused on what to do so I started to descend to offer what help I could. The top of the down-climb flares out requiring one to squeeze into the crack and jam your right arm in order to prevent a horrendous fall into the depths of the silo. About half way down, I spotted Chris in his predicament perched above the trickiest part of the down-climb. At this point the crack flares out wide and nearly disappears, forcing you to jam a foot what’s left of the crack while pasting your right foot on a insecure slab. From this position you make the move over the void beneath to a large ledge on the other-side, hopefully with unsoiled clothing. Chris made it across without incident after hearing the beta, while I struggled to follow my own beta as I made the awkward moves to the other side of the silo. Nate came next seemingly making down the crack with ease until at the bottom crossing, he suddenly slipped, catching the opposing wall with his feet preventing a fall into the darkness below. I happened to be filming him during the slip, and about dropped my phone in surprise. We then shared some of those awkward “someone almost died laughs” and continued down-canyon.[​IMG] [​IMG]

    As we continued on, we were immersed in a world of twisting, convulting rock, stretching up far above our heads. Glaucoma is phenomenally beautiful, almost beautiful enough to make you forget that you are stemming and crossing silos up to 60 feet off the ground! The section of the canyon between the big down-climb and the mousetrap is definitely my favorite, with unique silo crossings unlike I've seen in other canyons. Because the convoluted features of the canyon, many silos do not present much exposure, with the true depth of them obscured by fins and darkness. Nonetheless, some of the silo’s are fairly awkward and have balancy exit moves, as you try to transition from a wide-open space to a narrow one.[​IMG]

    The feature called the mousetrap, is located more than halfway through the canyon and is the scariest part for many including me. The dark and narrow v-slot beneath your feet opens up into a chamber with a sandy bottom, some 30-40 feet below. There is no way to down-climb into the chamber on the canyon side, so you are forced to stem over it where it is just narrow enough to support a back to feet stem for about 20 feet. It’s hard to feel anything but insecure while crossing over the mousetrap, even though 6 feet tall, it is still a stretch for me. The first time I descended Glaucoma, my brother-in-law who had thought Psycho D wasn’t “intense” enough for him, attempted to star-bridge across the mouse without even thinking about it first. He looked frantic and desperate as his legs spread further and further apart, somehow making the last few moves to safety while we all watched in horror. I got him to admit afterwards that he actually got scared for once in a canyon.

    Fast-forward a year and here I was back at the mouse-trap, with the gap between the walls looking wider than I remember. Chris crossed first without incident and then filmed me as I crossed. My back was too high up on the wall, and I found myself placing my hands behind my back with a full leg extension of reach the other wall. After a minute or so of feeling very insecure, I reached the other side. Nate came next, and though he is shorter than me, picked a better spot for his back, making it across without much issue. Tom followed after nate, and we continued on to the final stretch of canyon, that takes a bit more time than final would imply.

    [​IMG]
    From the mousetrap on, the canyon shifts from frequent silo crossings and galumphing, to frequent and strenuous up-climbs. If the canyon didn’t put the hurt on you by this point, it was here to give it to you now. It was at this point where I got stuck and managed to free myself after throwing my helmet down-canyon. After up-climbing 20 feet, and descending another 10, I was luckily able to collect my helmet which had been wedged in a convenient place. The up-climbing was narrow and burly; the kind of climbing that makes you feel like you are using every muscle in your body all at once to move up half a foot. This pattern of up and down took its toll on us, especially Nate, who was totally gassed, descending Glaucoma as his very first X-rated canyon. There are certainly less strenuous X-rated canyons to do for your first canyon, but the accessibility and relative short distance of Glaucoma makes it too tempting to pass up.
    [​IMG]
    Gradually, solid ground started to appear beneath our feet as we neared our fixed line out, hearing the voices of chris and Olivia as Chris made the ascent out. On mostly solid ground again, I made my way over to the bottom of the fixed line to find that Olivia had thrown Tom’s pack down in the one place that had a pool of water. It just wasn’t Tom’s lucky day, he had earlier slipped into a pool in inferno fully-clothed before putting on his wet-suit. We all made to long ascent out of the canyon with handled ascenders, admiring Olivia’s creative friction anchor in place of the normal one, which was underwater. Tom’s shirt was literally torn to pieces to the point where it could not legally be called a shirt any longer. Luckily he had brought another, as it was sunset and starting to get cold. The feeling of completing a challenging physical endeavor such as an X canyon, stimulated a strong feeling of euphoria, enhanced even more by a stunning sunset over Lake Powell. As we hiked back to the truck and started our drive back up north, I thought about how crazy and how lucky we are to be able to push our limits in such an amazing place.[​IMG]
    (Pictures and phone video were taken by Chris Haines and myself, Glaucoma video was shot and edited by Nathan Ellison)
  2. Downward Bound

    Downward Bound

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    Great report. My palms were sweating just reading it.


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  3. Ram

    Ram

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    I love that canyon. Love it!

    When seeing the picture on the top video, I choked! I knew the spot right away. Big people feel they will be spit out and seeing the bottom is not in the cards there. When one does get low enough, one is in a tube with scoop outs on one side, then the other and then back again, like going down into a cave. Intimidating spot. The lower scoops look to be where the slip occurred.

    A funny story about the spot. When we were exploring the area, on our 4th trip out, we came upon a pair of footprints for the first time in the area, They were from cheap sneakers. We guessed who this solitary person was and we were right. Mr. Kelsey had found the area. It would be awhile before we got confirmation on that. I believe we found out from one of his partners, AJ Pastula, who along with Mike did the 2nd descent of Glaucoma (Mike calls it "Best Slot."- Great name NOT!). So Mike and I engaged in a conversation, as we did periodically, usually with me trying to advocate for lower impacts, anchor techniques etc.. The spot mentioned above? He was insistent that it needed to be bolted and that he was going back to do it. He planned to come in from the side, to place it and then exit back up, I believe.

    I made the argument that if someone was in this X canyon they did not need it and if they needed it they did not belong in this X canyon. This was going nowhere. So the idea came to me. I called Aaron over from the other room and with Mike being able to hear and with some sign language between Aaron and I, I asked Aaron if the spot needed to be bolted. Now Aaron had gone last here and Mike knew this. So Aaron emphatically said that it was just a downclimb and no bolt was required. I winked at Aaron and told Mike...."Aaron is a third of your age. He thinks it intimidates but is easy (Ultimately it is easy)" Mike was convinced. If some kid could do it no problem, he must have overestimated the difficulty. This is why that spot remains bolt free. Mike having his mind changed? Rare and priceless. Thanks Aaron.

    The later video titled "Crossing the Mouse Trap?" We named the spot below "Jail." I like Mouse Trap better. AJ said that he went to the bottom and that it was no problem getting back up. When we stemmed past it, it did not look easy to me, but.....Someone should check that out sometime.

    On March 21st, this canyon will see its 11th anniversary of it's first known descent. The canyoneering history of the exploration of the area can be read in this two part story, link below. I am no longer X capable, but the memories are as sharp as if it was yesterday. Great job on your descent. Kudos.
    http://www.math.utah.edu/~sfolias/canyontales/ram/?i=fears

    Ram
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2019
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  4. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    Thanks for sharing more about the canyon! That long downclimb is definitely easier for skinny people, even I with my smaller frame feel like I'm getting pushed out into the silo at the beginning of the downclimb. Tinitus right next to it is also a great little canyon, though I suspect it gets done even less than Glaucoma.

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  5. Ram

    Ram

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    I won't sully a Glaucoma TR with too much Tinnitus talk. A few comments on it though. That up climb in there, narrows as you get higher. Awkward. Makes it an R, says I. The tube rap feature is a special and spectacular spot. Kelsey named it in his book before he did it, if he ever did it. Named pothole fork or some such nonsense, because he saw potholes from the rim. He then told people in the book to contact me, without my permission, about the canyon. Botched my name badly though and no one ever did contact me.

    Saw its first recorded descent September 12th, 2008, a bit less than 6 months after Glaucoma. Explorations moved at a much more relaxed pace back then as there were very few people doing them. It was a more nerve wracking experience, in the days before fiddlesticks, sand traps and waterpockets. There were 6 of us. We broke into groups of 3. Not sure how we decided who went first, but Landon Michaels, Hank Moon and Matt Brejcha got to go first. The Tom's, Wetherall and Jones and I sat rim. Then they sat rim for us. I agree with you...great little canyon
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  6. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    It's interesting that you bring up Kelsey because I ran into him just a few days ago at the local rec center and asked him about his Warm Springs explorations. He didn't seem to remember much about Tinnitus or Glaucoma other than that his group fixed ropes to escape two of the canyons there which could mean that he did Glaucoma and Sinusitus instead of Tinnitus.
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