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Perils of icy conditions

Discussion in 'Accidents and Near Misses' started by Tirrus, Dec 11, 2018.

  1. Tirrus

    Tirrus Rope rider.

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    Just saw this post over on a well known social media site, and thought it important to share. With FreezeFest fast approaching, and the icy conditions already well upon us, let’s all continue to play safe out there.

    E2CB90C5-BB45-46E4-9664-83A62E82E399.

    ADAF7ED9-3001-4F08-92B4-E8B3275BE225.

    It’s also very possible in Cassidy to avoid the second bolt traverse all together, and stay safely in the watercourse.

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    Austin Farnworth likes this.
  2. Craig

    Craig Feeling My Way

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    I seem to remember a hueco to the left of the watercourse that can be used as an anchor. Is this the feature you are referring to?
  3. Zach Olson

    Zach Olson

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    Wish that second bolt station had been placed in the watercourse instead of that sketchy ledge. Maybe time to move it?
    wisconnyjohnny likes this.
  4. Cameron

    Cameron Long Tall Texan by birth

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    a well known social media site @Tirrus :rofl:
  5. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Hmmm. I always thought that was a good choice of anchor location. Looks like rappelling straight down puts you in a narrow slot with a bunch of loose blocks.

    Have you rapped straight down? I have not.

    From the bolt anchor, it puts you in a good place to rap through the crack at the first place it is big enough to get through. The anchor is awkward to get to, but does position the rope well for a clean retrieval and minimizes rope grooves.

    Perhaps the Park should proactively close the route.

    Tom
  6. Zach Olson

    Zach Olson

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    I agree the anchor location makes the actual rappel a breeze. I haven't tried the alternative of following the watercourse but I know Tirrus has.

    It might make sense to turn that sequence into 2 rappels with another station on the intermediate shelf in the watercourse. I know there have been issues in the past with groups pulling their rope on the intermediate shelf and getting stuck (despite an abundance of natural anchor building materials and solution pockets).

    I know that rappel #4 is an awkward as hell crack to climb through on rope so if rappel #2 was also an awkward crack it wouldn't be anything entirely new for the canyon.

    I ran through Cassidy a week ago right before the snow with an experienced caver friend of mine and we were both less than excited about the traverse to the second anchor even with sticky rubber approach shoes. We weren't worried for ourselves but it seemed like the anchor traverse was out of place now that the rest of the canyon has bolted stations at every rappel (and I know the 2nd anchor is much older than your recent work).

    That canyon gets a staggering volume of beginner canyoneers.

    I'm really just brainstorming here and not saying that the park should make a move one way or another. Next time I'm in there I'll follow the watercourse and maybe document alternatives with some photos.
    ratagonia likes this.
  7. rick t

    rick t

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    Or, instead of planning on different ways to set it up in winter when its icy, just go somewhere else where it isn't icy. The park will close it if some fool dies doing it in winter.
    Kid Feral likes this.
  8. scottensign

    scottensign

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    why not simply put a fixed line to the rappel bolts like the one at the Mystery Spring rappel?
  9. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Fixed lines are litter. They are considered tolerable in a few, specific places. This would not be one of those places.

    For those unfamiliar with the one in Mystery Canyon, to get to the second to last rappel, there is at times a fixed line that protects the 2nd/3rd class walk over to the anchor. The walk across is very easy, but feels exposed.

    The fixed line in Mystery Canyon is tolerated because when removed, it is quickly replaced with a new one. The location is difficult to access for maintenance purposes, being near the end of Mystery Canyon.

    (Placing bolts in Capitol Reef National Park is prohibited unless a permit from the Park is acquired.)

    Tom
    Kid Feral likes this.
  10. scottensign

    scottensign

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    There is however a fixed line lower in the canyon, at the rappel where the old bridge is. So one is already tolerated there.
  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Is that a fixed line, or a historic installed cable?
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  12. scottensign

    scottensign

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    the latter. but used as such. a bit of an eyesore too :)
    I am not advocating for a fixed line. I've done that traverse multiple times with no issues. But if safety is the key factor in this heavily-used canyon, it could be a solution. I doubt the outfitters who guide this canyon heavily allow their clients to walk out to that rappel without being tied into a belay line.
  13. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    It is a bit of an eyesore, though I have not considered removing it, not because it is useful, but because it is part of the historical context.

    There are perhaps special cases, but no, I would not set up a safety line for clients for that non-technical stroll (if I was guiding that canyon). I would have them clipped in for the last 5 feet to get into position to rappel. Exceptions made for children. Most of the guides I know would not "helicopter" their clients to the point of roping them up on non-technical terrain.

    And I would expect guides leading this canyon would not do so in snowy conditions.

    Tom
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  14. scottensign

    scottensign

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    Is it true that someone tried to build a trail route up the technical route many years ago, which is what the bridge and cable are left over from? Can't remember where I heard this?
  15. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Cassidy Arch Canyon was used as a hideout for polygamists, when the law came looking for them. Back In The Day.

    Tom
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  16. Kid Feral

    Kid Feral

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    Huh, interesting discussion. I guide Cassidy 50 times a year, and have done so for at least eight years.

    [] The traverse to the second rappel station is easy - when dry. Almost every one of the thousand-plus guests I've ever taken through Cassidy crosses that slab with no belay, regardless of their footwear, because most belays or hand lines here would be strictly psychological anyway. Anchoring the up-canyon end of a handline requires building a logjam anchor, and body-weight tension on such a long horizontal span would require serious anchor hardware to hold. Even then, rope stretch would probably drop the faller off the ledge, requiring some sort of anchorless rig to bring them back up. If you belay off just the bolts, as these two did, the only benefit you'll get is if the second falls near the end of the traverse (which not it's 'hardest' section). The poster was very luck he didn't fall until he was almost at the end, and his friend who went first is even luckier. Rope or no rope.

    It's easier, and safer, to coach people thoroughly and, if needed, have a confident co-guest or guide walk right in front of them. It's amazing how this tends to remove the mental obstacles some face in crossing. Coaching and active leadership are often a better answer than knotcraft and tourism hardware, but you don't often see those former skills being utilized.

    [] Rappeling straight down the watercourse into the cave (to avoid the traverse) is possible, but a nightmare. You still have to descend down an upper, mezzanine level to reach a cairn-pile anchor (which is usually there, if old). Dropping off that anchor for the second half of this two-stage rappel, there's no room on the up-canyon end of the crevasse for a body to fit without stemming 40-45 degrees out of the gravity line, and the crack is a rope-eater on retrieval. I've found at least three ropes stuck there, left when people drop unthinkingly off the second bolt station and suddeny go "Duh, guess we aren't down this two-stager yet." So a watercourse rappel here makes zero sense.

    [] As to old handrails. The old metal cable in the lower canyon, like its companion footbridge, is a historic relic. It was built by local boosters back in the early Monument days, when the 'Cassidy Arch Trail' ended at the bottom of what is currently the 6th rappel. (CapReef became a Monument in 1937, and a National Park in 1971/72.) Both bridge and cable now fall under the Antiquities Act. People still cross the bridge, but it was already sketchy 30 years ago, and shouldn't be used, as it's dangerous, fragile, and historically important.

    [] This time of year, sunlight rarely strikes the second belay station, or the traverse out to it. Do not expect it to dry/de-ice quickly in winter. When snow melts there, it tends to re-freeze, turning to utterly frictionless water ice that's well-bonded to the slickrock surface, a phenomenon alpine climbers call verglas. Verglas is impossible to stick to and, on slickrock, it's usually far too thin and skittery even for ice tools and crampons. I guided guests through Cassidy several times this autumn, working between snowstorms. All those trips were timed to avoid any moisture on the traverse. If you think it might be wet, snowy, or icy, go elsewhere. Slickrock and snow do not mix. Don't get fixated on a particular canyon despite conditions. Let conditions dictate your objective. On that note, don't head for Nah Gah in snow either. It has a shorter but sketchier traverse out to a much more awkward two-bolt anchor.

    [] If you're a heads-up, aware canyoneer, (and not just going "Wahooo! Non-permit Saturday rappeling only 2.5 hours from Utah County!") you can visually scout the traverse from the approach hike (where you can first look into the entire canyon). You can get an even better view of traverse conditions by looking down off the northern end of the Cassidy Arch 'toilet bowl' drop-in hole. A small pair of binoculars helps you examine the actual traverse conditions before committing.

    [] Cassidy Arch Canyon does indeed attract a great number of beginners, and most private groups there seem to be advanced novices leading total novices. If someone comes to a bad end in Cassidy, it'll probably be from losing control on the long, steep first drop. I see a lot of people struggling there, and their companions rarely seem to be paying attention more than a disinterested fireman's 'belay'.

    I'm glad this accident wasn't worse, because the first person across that slab would have gone the full 150'. So, they were lucky. But at least they were attempting a belay. Without that, it could have been a fatality, not just a thrashing and some bad bruises.

    Still, I personally see ZERO reason to change the anchor position, create a 9th rappel, or install a handline between first and second drop.
    The anchors seem well set up. People just need to be more heads up, and less focused on going to a particular destination when conditions are bad.
    Blake J, Erin, Ram and 4 others like this.
  17. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    What he said! Thanks Kid!
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