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UT: Zion Live and Learn

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by rick t, Dec 24, 2013.

  1. rick t

    rick t

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    Had an interesting TG weekend in Zion, not a biggie, but since I had never before made an unplanned bivy in a canyon, OR enlisted someone elses assistance in a canyon, or rather getting out of a canyon, it was not totally insignificant.
    Out of boredom and desperation I agreed to go down to Zion on friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and join a bunch of meetupers, a combined group from grand junction- dougs group, and a SLC group, backpackers anonymous, who were convening in zion on wednesday for TG. There were omens. All 5 of my planned companions for the weekend crapped out on me before I left, leaving me driving down alone. And the jeep which I dropped off at the garage on tuesday for a 2 hour repair, didn't get finished until 4 pm friday afternoon. The group camped at the new "mosquito cove", a couple of miles up the Kolob res. rd, on the right, in the drainage flats. After hiking Lady Mountain on Saturday, the next day five of us, all relatively experienced canyoneers, to hike through Hidden Canyon from the top down, starting at the Stave Springs trailhead, up off the Ponderosa. None of us had ever done Hidden before, though I noted that another group had run through there on friday. I was given to understand that it was dry, easy, and that the longest rap was 100 feet. Figuring it had been freshly done and we wouldn't need much we went light, with a 200, a 100, and an 88(?), 100-130 ft of webbing between us, and probably 6 rap rings. I read through Toms beta, and took Lukes with me, but no GPS, it didn't sound that hard to find. We made our preliminary junction points after leaving the car, right on a 3 mph pace, and used time to measure our distance. The last junction was 1.2 miles short of the drop in point, so I figured 25 minutes, but a couple of other things came in to play- the temperatures rose as the morning wore on, and the frozen ground turned to a nasty gooey mud, and we hit a few switchbacks, which I figured may affect lukes distance by GPS computations, so with the perception that our pace had slowed markedly, we hiked past the drop in point, not recognizing it, and hiked across a valley and up the slope on the far side, where I saw steps- waterbars, in a sequence, going up the slope, so I figured the drop in was there, clearly there was a significant drop in to a large canyon there. Two others in the group doubted we were there yet, and hiked on another quarter mile, finding nothing, before coming back and joining us, and we dropped in. More bushwhacky than I had anticipated, and some serious vertical, which we just down climbed. Quite a ways before any rap, which also didn't ring a bell- Luke had promised one not far in. We pressed on, and it got progressively more and more interesting. With some sketchy climbing on the left ledge bench we avoided several pools, and set up and did a few raps. At some point I realized that we were not in the right canyon, but we had seen webbing and anchors along the way, so I figured it must go, others had been through there before us, even if it wasn't two days ago. Some of the webbing was old and bad, and we replaced it. It got more and more technical, and then we were standing on a 100 drop, and saw that we had come in on a right fork (LDC), and we were dropping into the "main" canyon which was much bigger than the one we had come down. I thought for a while that we must have dropped into the wrong fork, and that here, finally, was the real Hidden Canyon. We shredded a new 100 ft'er on this rap, cutting it down to about an 80. Continuing on down canyon quickly disproved that theory, as the canyon got bigger, deeper, and more technical as we descended. After skirting a couple more pools, we ended up on a chockstone 20 ft above what looked to be a swimmer, with no alternatives. Thinking we were in a dry canyon, we were all in cotton, for abraision and warmth, not really planning on swimming, on dec 1. We dropped our lone woman, who valiantly volunteered, into the water, which was armpit deep, and she took a rope with her, setting up a simple zip line, instead of a guided rappel, since the distance was short, the landing sand, and I had started to realize that time was going to become a factor. Light was fading. Soon we ran into more water, and ended up missing the depths, but all rapped into a knee deep pool. Finally we got to an exit window, where we could see the canyon road below us (about 1000 ft below us), and scouting around at dusk we found a very nice equalized anchor, cordelette style, using new royal blue 9/16ths inch webbing, and three anchor points, a good solid bolt, an old but solid piton (shades of constrychnine), and a climbing nut (!). A climbers rap station. It looked to be less than 200 ft down to a ledge system with a tree or two, some brush and dirt-
    lots better than the sketchy bare rock exposed slot window we were in, so one guy rapped down to check it out, as daylight faded to black. He reported back that there was plenty of room for all of us down there, and that he had maybe 20 ft of extra rope, so the rap was 180 ish, so we all proceded down and pulled the rope. We scrambled down 50-100 feet to a small but comfy area, and I saw another ledge/edge down below us another 30 ft, and downclimbed with one other guy, to check it out. A lip over a BIG drop. Threw a rock off to check the distance. Nothing. Cars are driving up and down the canyon road, right in front of us. Grabbed a big rock, bowling ball sized, and hucked it. Still, i didn't hear a thing, although my companion, whoses ears both worked, did. After maybe 20 seconds. Lets see, approx 30 ft per second? 20 seconds? 600 feet? Give or take. At that point we made a decision, to start gathering whatever firewood you can find, we were spending the night right here on the ledge. I had some confidance that there was a route down, other than over that lip, but not knowing where it was, given the distances involved, and the fact that it was pitch black out, it seemed prudent at that point, to hunker down and wait for daylight. Some 13-14 hours away. A large fallen pine tree yielded a decent pile of branches, though it retained enough life to keep us from being able to break off anything much bigger around than my thumb. I had brought my cell phone, so i tried to call out to notify wives/partners of our decision to bivy, but was not surprised to have no service. Being unable to reach anyone, I tried 911, and was surprised when somebody picked up. The operator failed in his attempt to patch us through to Zion dispatch, so I told him where we were and what we were doing, assuming that he would pass it on. After my phone call, when I asked why there were only 3 of us around the fire, I was advised that one of the group had not been content to sit and wait out the night, and had headed off in the dark to see if he could find a way down, on his own. And he was accompanied by the wet, and now cold, and desperate woman. Astonishment and disbelief did not change our decision to stay put. Those guys were on their own. Two hours later, with no response or reaction (though it was not like we had called out for a pizza, and wondered where it was), at the repeated urging of some in the group I again called 911, and this time got patched through to the park, and chatted with somebody @ dispatch. By this time we had seen headlamps coming down the trail on the opposite wall, which we figured out was the angels landing/west rim trail, and lights in a building below us, which we took to be the bathroom at the Grotto, so we were able to tell them where we were. After quizzing me on our status- and confirming that there were no injuries, we had food and water, and that we were just checking in- since we had left a car at the weeping rock trailhead, and had a permit that said we were planning to be out that day, and I passed on the information that our group had fragmented, that there were two loose cannons on the mountain, and that while I was comfortable with our situation, I was concerned about the welfare of these two. They said OK, thanks, there wasn't much they could do either way right then, and that somebody would come check on us in the morning. Actually, about a half an hour later, a ranger vehicle came and stopped below us, and put a spotlight on our position, which must have been clear to them due to our campfire. We spotted them back, and they waved and drove off to get some sleep, something that would escape most of us. One guy curled up on the ground next to the fire, and slept on and off during the night, the other two of us sat on/against a 45 degree angle rock slab above and on either side of the fire, which we realized we had to keep quite small, to try and shepherd our limited firewood, to make it last through the night. I had not dropped my fleece jacket in the car at the trailhead, as I had the day before, instead wearing it, in addition to the fleece vest and long sleeved capilene, topped by a light nylon windbreaker, with my Dome Perignon hat, and rappel gloves, so I was pretty warm, save for the wet feet. It didn't start to get real cold until the last hour or two before daybreak. We were up and at it by 7, though it still was not light yet, and ate and drank what we had, and by clear daylight at 8, headed off to try and find our exit route. 50 ft up, and 100 ft over, we found a drop off of 80-100 ft, to a deck that appeared to be in the watercourse. After reaching that deck we all then rappelled another 20 ft around an exposed corner to another lip, which had another bolted anchor on it, two bolts this time. And a big drop, which though it looked an easy 200 ft, out of sight down into a slot; we decided was less than 200 ft, since our missing overnight 200 ft rope was tied off to the anchor. We set up a pull rope, using our 80, and the remaining webbing, and dropped into the slot. Seventy or so feet on down the slot, past our touchdown point, was a whole bunch of air, and our two missing canyoneers, looking over a big drop- an easy 300 ft to the first ledge of a series of steps or ledges that faded beyond that, and into a hillside that dropped another hundred feet or two to the road level. Since we were not sure of the length of the drop, and had only a single 200, and now two 80's, there wasn't much point in sending anyone down, passing at least one knot, even with a lower, so we broke out the remaining food and drink, laid out our ropes and gear, and just chilled, to see who and what was going to show up on the deck below. The anchor webbing was old tan one inch, and had a cut at one of the hangers, so we replaced it with a new piece. A little while later two guys showed up lugging gear, we tied off our ropes and lowered one end to them, and they tied on a couple of 315's which we pulled up and set up a clean double rappel, using their 9 mil ropes, and we all rappelled out. The rangers said they had never done that particular canyon, and that they had needed to call an outside the park authority to even find out what the canyon was, and how big the exit drop was. According to them it is called Red Canyon, though when I got home and got out my monster Zion topo I found no name at all to identify the canyon. They complemented us on making it through the canyon, and on our decision to stop and bivy when it got dark, but also of course, gave us the obligatory, and certainly justified lecture about us being screwups, for dropping into the wrong canyon, and requiring their assistance to get out, even if it wasn't really a rescue, they didn't want our rope left there hanging- as it would have been had we opted to do the knotted exit rappel on our own, as we lacked the necessary cordage to pull it. An interesting canyon, and adventure.
    Notes to self. December is not a good month for canyoneering. Not enough heat, or daylight. If you are doing a canyon that neither you or anyone else in the group has done, you should maybe take your GPS, along with the coordinates, to make sure you drop into the right canyon. More firestarter, and better ignition. The Bic lighter didn't work at all, the matches were old and crumbly, the paper was damp, and it was a real bitch trying to get a fire started. And without the fire the night would have been interminable, as well as MUCH more uncomfortable. My rescue bivy sack was left in my tent. Although I have to say, during the night I was tempted to kill both of my companions due to the noise from their mylar/tinfoil rescue blankets. With the fire I was OK without it. Absent the fire it would have been a more serious omission. In my mind, our most serious problem was the group fragmenting, and the absence of a group discussion about the situation preceding that. Potentially much more serious than it turned out, a bad idea at best. They put themselves at risk in heading off blindly into the night, and could have jeopardized the rest of the group in having taken our 200 ft rope with them. And they suffered through the night, not having been able to make a fire on their own.
    Another day, another adventure. Live and learn.
    rick
    Post script: Tom asks if I have perhaps seen, or read his book, (I have 2 copies) which does list and describe this canyon- Grotto Canyon, btw. Upon then doing so I am unable to recognize it from his description- the unmistakable canyon junction, where he describes a 260' rappel, we dropped in using a 100. And where he lists the exit rappel as a 100 footer, our watercourse exit rap was a good 300' free. Another trip through together next summer is planned to try and reconcile these significant discrepancies.
    Kevin, Anna, inventme and 2 others like this.
  2. Sam G

    Sam G

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Boulder, CO
    Rick,
    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Glad everyone made it out safely. Sounds like(most of) your group made some smart decisions once you realized where you were(or weren't).

    I feel as though using a GPS encourages many groups to take a cavalier attitude toward navigation. Navigating by map and compass forces most people to really familiarize themselves with the area.

    Whenever possible I also try and print out a picture of the first rappel so I can confirm where I am before I commit.

    I also find that making my own maps really helps me familiarize myself with an area. This is a convenient place to download satellite-overlay quads. I find these very useful for spotting landmarks like groups of trees or different colored patches of rock.
  3. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah

    Agree on all points. Hank and I probably used a GPS (one point) when we did it the first time (for us). I would use a GPS now, as the terrain is confusing. Navigating in Zion is usually straightforward, but there are exceptions.

    Tom
  4. ratagonia

    ratagonia

    Messages:
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    5,250
    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah
    (with some more spacing)

    Had an interesting TG weekend in Zion, not a biggie, but since I had never before made an unplanned bivy in a canyon, OR enlisted someone else's assistance in a canyon, or rather getting out of a canyon, it was not totally insignificant.

    Out of boredom and desperation I agreed to go down to Zion on friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and join a bunch of meetupers, a combined group from grand junction- dougs group, and a SLC group, backpackers anonymous, who were convening in zion on wednesday for TG. There were omens. All 5 of my planned companions for the weekend crapped out on me before I left, leaving me driving down alone. And the jeep which I dropped off at the garage on tuesday for a 2 hour repair, didn't get finished until 4 pm friday afternoon. The group camped at the new "mosquito cove", a couple of miles up the Kolob res. rd, on the right, in the drainage flats. After hiking Lady Mountain on Saturday, the next day five of us, all relatively experienced canyoneers, to hike through Hidden Canyon from the top down, starting at the Stave Springs trailhead, up off the Ponderosa.

    None of us had ever done Hidden before, though I noted that another group had run through there on friday. I was given to understand that it was dry, easy, and that the longest rap was 100 feet. Figuring it had been freshly done and we wouldn't need much we went light, with a 200, a 100, and an 88(?), 100-130 ft of webbing between us, and probably 6 rap rings. I read through Toms beta, and took Lukes with me, but no GPS, it didn't sound that hard to find. We made our preliminary junction points after leaving the car, right on a 3 mph pace, and used time to measure our distance. The last junction was 1.2 miles short of the drop in point, so I figured 25 minutes, but a couple of other things came in to play- the temperatures rose as the morning wore on, and the frozen ground turned to a nasty gooey mud, and we hit a few switchbacks, which I figured may affect lukes distance by GPS computations, so with the perception that our pace had slowed markedly, we hiked past the drop in point, not recognizing it, and hiked across a valley and up the slope on the far side, where I saw steps- waterbars, in a sequence, going up the slope, so I figured the drop in was there, clearly there was a significant drop in to a large canyon there.

    Two others in the group doubted we were there yet, and hiked on another quarter mile, finding nothing, before coming back and joining us, and we dropped in. More bushwhacky than I had anticipated, and some serious vertical, which we just down climbed. Quite a ways before any rap, which also didn't ring a bell- Luke had promised one not far in. We pressed on, and it got progressively more and more interesting. With some sketchy climbing on the left ledge bench we avoided several pools, and set up and did a few raps. At some point I realized that we were not in the right canyon, but we had seen webbing and anchors along the way, so I figured it must go, others had been through there before us, even if it wasn't two days ago. Some of the webbing was old and bad, and we replaced it. It got more and more technical, and then we were standing on a 100 drop, and saw that we had come in on a right fork (LDC), and we were dropping into the "main" canyon which was much bigger than the one we had come down. I thought for a while that we must have dropped into the wrong fork, and that here, finally, was the real Hidden Canyon.

    We shredded a new 100 ft'er on this rap, cutting it down to about an 80. Continuing on down canyon quickly disproved that theory, as the canyon got bigger, deeper, and more technical as we descended. After skirting a couple more pools, we ended up on a chockstone 20 ft above what looked to be a swimmer, with no alternatives. Thinking we were in a dry canyon, we were all in cotton, for abraision and warmth, not really planning on swimming, on dec 1. We dropped our lone woman, who valiantly volunteered, into the water, which was armpit deep, and she took a rope with her, setting up a simple zip line, instead of a guided rappel, since the distance was short, the landing sand, and I had started to realize that time was going to become a factor. Light was fading. Soon we ran into more water, and ended up missing the depths, but all rapped into a knee deep pool. Finally we got to an exit window, where we could see the canyon road below us (about 1000 ft below us), and scouting around at dusk we found a very nice equalized anchor, cordelette style, using new royal blue 9/16ths inch webbing, and three anchor points, a good solid bolt, an old but solid piton (shades of constrychnine), and a climbing nut (!). A climber's rap station. It looked to be less than 200 ft down to a ledge system with a tree or two, some brush and dirt - lots better than the sketchy bare rock exposed slot window we were in, so one guy rapped down to check it out, as daylight faded to black.

    He reported back that there was plenty of room for all of us down there, and that he had maybe 20 ft of extra rope, so the rap was 180 ish, so we all proceded down and pulled the rope. We scrambled down 50-100 feet to a small but comfy area, and I saw another ledge/edge down below us another 30 ft, and downclimbed with one other guy, to check it out. A lip over a BIG drop. Threw a rock off to check the distance. Nothing. Cars are driving up and down the canyon road, right in front of us. Grabbed a big rock, bowling ball sized, and hucked it. Still, i didn't hear a thing, although my companion, whoses ears both worked, did. After maybe 20 seconds. Lets see, approx 30 ft per second? 20 seconds? 600 feet? Give or take. [editor's note: uh, no. Not even close].

    At that point we made a decision, to start gathering whatever firewood you can find, we were spending the night right here on the ledge. I had some confidance that there was a route down, other than over that lip, but not knowing where it was, given the distances involved, and the fact that it was pitch black out, it seemed prudent at that point, to hunker down and wait for daylight. Some 13-14 hours away. A large fallen pine tree yielded a decent pile of branches, though it retained enough life to keep us from being able to break off anything much bigger around than my thumb. I had brought my cell phone, so i tried to call out to notify wives/partners of our decision to bivy, but was not surprised to have no service. Being unable to reach anyone, I tried 911, and was surprised when somebody picked up. The operator failed in his attempt to patch us through to Zion dispatch, so I told him where we were and what we were doing, assuming that he would pass it on.

    After my phone call, when I asked why there were only 3 of us around the fire, I was advised that one of the group had not been content to sit and wait out the night, and had headed off in the dark to see if he could find a way down, on his own. And he was accompanied but the wet, and now cold, and desperate woman. Astonishment and disbelief did not change our decision to stay put. Those guys were on their own.

    Two hours later, with no response or reaction (though it was not like we had called out for a pizza, and wondered where it was), at the repeated urging of some in the group I again called 911, and this time got patched through to the park, and chatted with somebody @ dispatch. By this time we had seen headlamps coming down the trail on the opposite wall, which we figured out was the angels landing/west rim trail, and lights in a building below us, which we took to be the bathroom at the Grotto, so we were able to tell them where we were. After quizzing me on our status- and confirming that there were no injuries, we had food and water, and that we were just checking in- since we had left a car at the weeping rock trailhead, and had a permit that said we were planning to be out that day, and I passed on the information that our group had fragmented, that there were two loose cannons on the mountain, and that while I was comfortable with our situation, I was concerned about the welfare of these two. They said OK, thanks, there wasn't much they could do either way right then, and that somebody would come check on us in the morning. Actually, about a half an hour later, a ranger vehicle came and stopped below us, and put a spotlight on our position, which must have been clear to them due to our campfire. We spotted them back, and they waved and drove off to get some sleep, something that would escape most of us.

    One guy curled up on the ground next to the fire, and slept on and off during the night, the other two of us sat on/against a 45 degree angle rock slab above and on either side of the fire, which we realized we had to keep quite small, to try and shepherd our limited firewood, to make it last through the night. I had not dropped my fleece jacket in the car at the trailhead, as I had the day before, instead wearing it, in addition to the fleece vest and long sleeved capilene, topped by a light nylon windbreaker, with my Dome Perignon hat, and rappel gloves, so I was pretty warm, save for the wet feet. It didn't start to get real cold until the last hour or two before daybreak.

    We were up and at it by 7, though it still was not light yet, and ate and drank what we had, and by clear daylight at 8, headed off to try and find our exit route. 50 ft up, and 100 ft over, we found a drop off of 80-100 ft, to a deck that appeared to be in the watercourse. After reaching that deck we all then rappelled another 20 ft around an exposed corner to another lip, which had another bolted anchor on it, two bolts this time. And a big drop, which though it looked an easy 200 ft, out of sight down into a slot; we decided was less than 200 ft, since our missing overnight 200 ft rope was tied off to the anchor. We set up a pull rope, using our 80, and the remaining webbing, and dropped into the slot. Seventy or so feet on down the slot, past our touchdown point, was a whole bunch of air, and our two missing canyoneers, looking over a big drop- an easy 300 ft to the first ledge of a series of steps or ledges that faded beyond that, and into a hillside that dropped another hundred feet or two to the road level. Since we were not sure of the length of the drop, and had only a single 200, and now two 80's, there wasn't much point in sending anyone down, passing at least one knot, even with a lower, so we broke out the remaining food and drink, laid out our ropes and gear, and just chilled, to see who and what was going to show up on the deck below.

    The anchor webbing was old tan one inch, and had a cut at one of the hangers, so we replaced it with a new piece. A little while later two guys showed up lugging gear, we tied off our ropes and lowered one end to them, and they tied on a couple of 315's which we pulled up and set up a clean double rappel, using their 9 mil ropes, and we all rappelled out. The rangers said they had never done that particular canyon, and that they had needed to call an outside the park authority to even find out what the canyon was, and how big the exit drop was. According to them it is called Red Canyon, though when I got home and got out my monster Zion topo I found no name at all to identify the canyon. They complemented us on making it through the canyon, and on our decision to stop and bivy when it got dark, but also of course, gave us the obligatory, and certainly justified lecture about us being screwups, for dropping into the wrong canyon, and requiring their assistance to get out, even if it wasn't really a rescue, they didn't want our rope left there hanging- as it would have been had we opted to do the knotted exit rappel on our own, as we lacked the necessary cordage to pull it. An interesting canyon, and adventure.

    Notes to self. December is not a good month for canyoneering. Not enough heat, or daylight. If you are doing a canyon that neither you or anyone else in the group has done, you should maybe take your GPS, along with the coordinates, to make sure you drop into the right canyon. More firestarter, and better ignition. The Bic lighter didn't work at all, the matches were old and crumbly, the paper was damp, and it was a real bitch trying to get a fire started. And without the fire the night would have been interminable, as well as MUCH more uncomfortable. My rescue bivy sack was left in my tent. Although I have to say, during the night I was tempted to kill both of my companions due to the noise from their mylar/tinfoil rescue blankets. With the fire I was OK without it. Absent the fire it would have been a more serious omission. In my mind, our most serious problem was the group fragmenting, and the absence of a group discussion about the situation preceding that. Potentially much more serious than it turned out, a bad idea at best. They put themselves at risk in heading off blindly into the night, and could have jeopardized the rest of the group in having taken our 200 ft rope with them. And they suffered through the night, not having been able to make a fire on their own.

    Another day, another adventure. Live and learn.

    Rick

    Post script: Tom asks if I have perhaps seen, or read his book, (I have 2 copies) which does list and describe this canyon- Grotto Canyon, btw. Upon then doing so I am unable to recognize it from his description- the unmistakable canyon junction, where he describes a 260' rappel, we dropped in using a 100. And where he lists the exit rappel as a 100 footer, our watercourse exit rap was a good 300' free. Another trip through together next summer is planned to try and reconcile these significant discrepancies.
    inventme likes this.
  5. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Thanks for posting Rick, so we all get the benefits of your experience. Do you remember your aprox. start time from the car and also when you dropped in?
  6. dweaver2130

    dweaver2130 Canyoneering Duo from AZ

    Messages:
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    Awesome post, I think it is something we can all learn from. We all make mistakes and make decisions that aren't the best. We only get into trouble when all of those line up and we get the "swiss cheese effect". Like you guys did, the best think to do is to take a pause, collect yourself, and look over your options. I think people that really get themselves into trouble are the ones who panic, or continue trying to overcome the mountain they are building.
    Jenny likes this.
  7. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    A very interesting read both from an educational, as well as, a fascination perspective.

    I appreciate the honest self-evaluation; why decisions were made and how they could have/should have been made. But what is preeminent, is that we're reading and learning about it here and not as a "canyoneering trip turned tragedy". This one will not make the nightly news...and that's a positive adventure in my book.

    All's well that ends well.
    Anna, Jenny and dweaver2130 like this.
  8. David Haynie

    David Haynie

    Messages:
    3
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    1
    Location:
    Salt Lake City, UT
    Adventure is what happens when things don't go according to plan. Rick, thanks for taking the time to write this up in such detail.
    Jenny likes this.
  9. inventme

    inventme Travis

    Messages:
    9
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    1
    Location:
    Washington, Utah
    Crazy adventure!
  10. ratagonia

    ratagonia

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah
    Kevin likes this.
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