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UT: Capitol Reef Opening Pandora's Box, October 14th, 2017

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Austin Farnworth, Oct 17, 2017.

  1. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

    Mapleton, Utah
    Capitol Reef National Park has been my favorite Utah National Park since I was a child. My family would take us kids on a yearly vacation to Capitol Reef and I've loved it ever since. Canyoneering has allowed me to see places in the park I have never seen before and has made me appreciate it more and more. Pandora's Box has been at the top of my list since I started canyoneering and I waited until I had 47 canyon descents before I felt good about giving it a try. I got a good group together and we descended Little Bull Canyon and Chambers in Robbers Roost the week before in order to prepare for Pandora's awkward rappels and stemming. We felt ready and the following week we drove down to Capitol Reef on a Friday afternoon.
    4 out of the 6 people in our group arrived at Capitol reef around 5pm and I let the rangers know that we were planning on doing Pandora's Box the following day. With our remaining light, we couldn't resist doing a quick lap through one of the Wives. We descended wife 5 mostly in the dark, running into some cold pools that chilled us on that windy evening. The cold aside, it was a fun little canyon to get our jitters out on.
    We drove to Pandora's Box trail-head and tried to find a place among the many RV's to set up camp. The 2 remaining members of our group, Chris Haines and his wife Caitlin, met up with us at our site that night and we settled in for a crazy windy and sleepless night.
    We attempted to get up at 5:00AM but the strong wind and cold made us wuss out and we waited it out a little and didn't start hiking until 6:35AM. They say "Be Bold, Start Cold" but some of us brought along our coats anyway. We got to the top of Meeks Mesa at sunrise and enjoyed the sunrise before continuing on.
    We made it to the start of slot in 1 and a half hours, starting the slot at 8:02. The first rappel was down a fluted chute and was an awesome way to start off the canyon! The next two rappels came in succession followed by some narrows with a tight start rappel. The tight section was followed by an opening with trees and side canyon coming in. This would set the pattern for the rest of the canyon, dark tight hallways with a down-climb or two followed by nice openings. The high stem hallway was up next and I was surprised with how straight forward it was. It has a gradual start making for an easy climb up and the pocketed sandstone allows for secure footing while passing over the narrow section.
    The middle part of the slot had changed directions frequently and presented fun down climbs and a couple good squeezes. Taking pictures in the bulk of the canyon was difficult due to the dark nature of the canyon. The light would even play tricks on us in the open sections, reflecting off the walls in ways that made it seem like it was evening when it was only 11:00AM.
    The high temperature for the day was supposed to be in the low 50's so we avoided getting wet in pools to the best of our ability, usually keeping the water below our knees. When we reached the down-climb into the deepest pool of the canyon we had no idea how deep it would be and luckily I was a couple people back and wasn't the first to slide in. Chris dropped into the water and reported it to be waist deep and high thigh deep at the sides. There was a chill breeze in the canyon and I still desired to enjoy the rest of the canyon ahead of us, so I elected to get down to my undies and carefully cross the pool. It was a ridiculous scene and I was the only one to go to such measures to stay dry. I was also the only one to have dry pants in the rest of the canyon! LRM_EXPORT_20171015_171943.
    The subway sections of the canyon came up next and my dry pants made the subway sections much more enjoyable!
    The subway section marks the end of the canyon and soon after the subway we were looking down the massive 2-stage last rappel. The lighting was amazing and it literally made the walls glow as we rappelled the first 60ft down to the start of the final big rappel.
    We set the last 160ft long rappel and I went down the rappel first, discovering at the bottom that the muddy rope had eaten through a good chunk of my CRITR. The massive walls surrounding made me forget about my likely ruined device and I got lost in the impressive scale of where I was. LRM_EXPORT_20171015_171136.

    It took almost an hour to get everyone down the last rappel and we successfully pulled the rope without sticking it! It was 1:20PM and it had taken us about 5 hours and 20 minutes to pass through the technical section of the canyon. We had spotted a car at Chimney Rock Trail-head but we had finished faster than we anticipated so we opted to hike up spring canyon and take the shorter exit up and over Meeks Mesa. It was nice to be in the sun again and the hike up spring canyon was absolutely beautiful! LRM_EXPORT_20171014_181334.
    The scramble to the top of Meeks Mesa was actually a lot of fun and it provided great views out to Thousand Lake Mountain. LRM_EXPORT_20171014_181205.
    LRM_EXPORT_20171014_180951. The rest of the exit across the mesa and back down to the trail-head was a slog and the view of our car below was a welcome sight. We arrived back at our car at 4:40PM, the Meeks Mesa exit taking us about 3 hours and 20 minutes to complete. It took us 10 and a half hours car to car to complete Pandora's Box with a group of 6 and we made it back a lot faster than we thought we would.

    I had read a lot of hype about how tight and scary Pandora's Box was supposed to be, but in all actuality it wasn't that bad. Chambers, the canyon we did to prep for Pandora's, actually had much more sustained squeezing and tougher stemming. We really only had to go up and over one spot in Pandora's though i'm sure bigger folks have to go up in a few different places. While the canyon wasn't the beast we were expecting, the canyon had very unique features and was drop-dead gorgeous. Pandora's Box should be on everyone's list to do at least once, it won't disappoint.

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    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
  2. Rapterman


    Nice post!
    ...and you can flip your CRITR over...
    Austin Farnworth likes this.
  3. Sandstone Addiction

    Sandstone Addiction Headed South

    Salem, Utah
    Loved the TR! :twothumbs:

    Nice to see pics of scenes other than just in the slot (which are always appreciated too).
    Austin Farnworth likes this.
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