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Return to Imlay: A Humbling Experience (Aug 8 2023)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Canyonero, Aug 8, 2023.

  1. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Our previous trip down Imlay (Full Imlay) was a decade before when we were far less experienced. We were lucky to hit iit n completely tippy-top full conditions and swam across every single pothole. It still took us from the middle of the night to about 5 pm. I thoroughly enjoyed it but just hadn't been back because, well, permits and crowds: the same reason many of us avoid Zion canyons these days. I decided that when I did it again I'd do the Sneak version. Not only do you save doing that terrible shuttle, but you can carry shorter ropes and skip 20 rappels and what is frankly a lot of "nuisance" canyon that forces you to rush through the really good stuff at the end of the day when you're tired.

    This was going to be a "wives and kids" trip, so we were two 14 year old boys, and the rest of us in our late 40s and early 50s. Not exactly the strongest group that ever went into Imlay. But certainly a group we felt good about. Our wives have done dozens of canyons (including plenty of 4B ones) and the kids have done 5-10 as well (including some pothole canyons for one of them.)

    3:30 am wake up got us to the Grotto by just after 4. The other party doing Imlay that day had pulled in just before us and were loading their packs by headlamp. It was a father, a son, and his friend, all from the Salt Lake Valley. It was apparently going to be family day in Imlay. They looked pretty fit and left 5 minutes before us. We figured we'd never see them again. Lo and behold we were going to spend a good chunk of the day together. And that's a good thing.

    They got off course twice on the approach so we leap frogged back and forth for four hours as we worked our way over the "two passes" and into the canyon. You really do feel like you're sneaking around on that approach, but by just after 8 am, both parties arrived in the canyon together. We stopped to suit up before them, but a few minutes later passed them while suiting up. We had twice as many people (including two kids) but we move pretty efficiently through canyons thanks to bringing lots of ropes (we took 5 between 75 feet and 120 feet along with 4 potshots). This time we left the hooks we took the first time through Imlay after being assured by someone we trusted they were not needed at any water level. More on that later.

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    Last edited: Aug 8, 2023
  2. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Well, we didn't hear them for a long time, but they eventually caught up to us very briefly midway through the first "Extreme Narrows" when we slowed due to a pothole problem with an awkward entry rappel. But then we didn't see them even when we stopped for a 20 minute lunch break between the Extreme Narrows sections. The first Extreme Narrrows section was just as good as I remember it, although the water was quite a bit lower. Still, all of the potholes lent themselves to relatively easy solutions, mostly partner boosting and climbing (sometimes from a tall cairn). We threw some potshots on one pothole, but it wasn't even 100% we needed to do that. The boys were awesome and even did a few escapes themselves. We enjoyed the classic birth canal, counterweighted rappel, and other Imlay classics. We even did a guided rappel over one pothole.

    Anchors of course were all simple given the plethora of bolts and webbing in this frequently done canyon. While they weren't all in perfect shape, they were certainly good enough. We rigged almost everything with a stone knot, allowing for two isolated strands to be used at the same time until LAPAR pulls the biner and raps double strand or sets a fiddlestick for a longer rappel. We were eating lunch by 11:15 in the morning, 3 hours after we entered the canyon and 7 hours from the trailhead. The temperature was awesome, which is pretty unique for canyoneering where you're almost always either too hot or too cold.

    Froggy Gets Out.

    There are benefits to having a 96 lb pothole escape artist along.

    Counterweighted Rappel.JPG

    A classic (if usually blurry due to the darkness) Imlay image.

    Rappel Window.

    Such a cool place.

    Wood.

    All that wood in Imlay sure is useful.

    Birth Canal.

    Ahhh...the birth canal. Feet first or head first. Decisions, decisions. At least there's a very convenient stance on a log once you get through.

    2 to 1.

    Pothole escapes are always easier after the first person thanks to the marvels of the 2:1 lift.

    Guided Rappel.

    Nothing complicated, but the guided rappel sure made the crossing of this pothole easier for all the folks in the middle of the team.

    Pretty log.

    This might have been in the second narrows, but it was still a really pretty room. It really is impressive how big some of the lumber in Imlay is (and how many years it can stay in there).

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  3. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    After lunch came the second Extreme Narrows. By the way, anyone ever felt like the entrance is something out of the Lord of the Rings?

    The Way of the Dead.


    LOR.

    Same, same, right?

    At any rate, the second Extreme Narrows has a bunch more rappels (including the incredible final rap) and serious pothole problems. More serious than we expected in fact. Those of us who don't routinely carry bolt kits into explorations always fear running into a "stopper pothole" and it seemed like perhaps we had finally found one in Imlay. It looked like this:

    Stopper Pothole?.

    Well, like good canyoneers (who had taken care of nearly everything all day with boosts) we sent some probes down the line first, me (6'2", 200 lbs) and our 96 lb Froggy Fresh pothole escape artist. I discovered that while there were some places I could stand in the pothole, none were within 15 feet of the lower end of the pothole. So we decided to attempt an underwater shoulder stand to boost. Unfortunately, there was no sand at the lower end so it was a sloping, slippery rock bottom that really only allowed me to stand on the gravel bottom (with my head about a foot underwater mind you) 4+ feet back from the wall. After several tries, it became clear that I was not going to be able to get him high enough to climb out of the pothole. The water wasn't terrible, but we weren't going to be able to stay there too long without getting cold, so we were both pulled back up out of the pothole. I also worried that no one else was going to be able to make the toss with potshots. As you can see from the picture, it was a LONG toss from the top of the pothole.

    Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that I wasn't going to be able to make the throw either. Even with the bags 1/3 full, my throws were landing 10-15 feet short of where they needed to be. So we decided to go back down and try boosting Froggy Fresh with two people underwater. That didn't work either. Well, how about a boost up to throw a potshot? While I think this idea would have eventually worked, it required a lot of coordination from three people who were otherwise treading water and getting tired and cold. After a few attempts, the other party arrived above us and our increasingly worried spouses inquired about the presence of a hook in their gear.

    They were informed that not only did they have a couple of hooks, but they were more than willing to lend them to us ("Get these yeahoos out of our way" must have been going through their mind.) The owner of the hooks said, "I don't know if they'll work, I've never actually used them." Given that I was starting to get a little cold and tired, and I felt bad about holding them up, and I'm really not all that prideful and besides, all those holes were already there, I wasn't going to be drilling any new ones, I quickly took them up on their offer. Most of the holes were blown out, but I quickly found one 12 inches out of the water that would hold a talon and stepped up into my aider. From there I was able to easily throw that potshot to where it needed to be. I called for either another hook or another potshot and the hook arrived first. I found another hole up high that would hold a BD grappling hook and I was out. We quickly extracted packs, ropes, and bodies and were past the obstacle. We asked them if they wanted us to haul them out or if they wanted their hooks back and to be left alone to work the problem themselves. They chose the latter and when we left all we heard were potshots splashing into the pothole about where mine were landing and that was the last we saw them.

    The rest of the canyon yielded easily and we were soon standing on one of the best ledges ever looking down into the narrows. I love dropping that first rope out of Imlay. The only thing better is LAPAR walking away from the final rappel like a movie star leaving an exploding building while giving a tiny yank on the fiddlestick pull cord causing the elven rope to "heel" 2 seconds after touching down. That one always amazes the tourists.

    We were on the ground by about 2:15 pm and out of the Narrows by about 4 pm and eating barbecue in Cedar City on the way home before 6 pm. 6 hours total in canyon. 4 hour approach. 2 hours out the narrows. 12 hours car to bus.

    Froggy last Rap.

    Jon on last rap.

    The first person I texted upon exiting was our awesome supplier of beta.

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    So while this is a trip report, not an accident or near miss report, there are always a few good lessons to learn.

    # 1 Don't get tunnel vision and just look down canyon when staring at a huge pothole. Just like it's easy to miss good anchors if you don't look around, it's easy to miss good throwing ledges too.

    # 2 Hooks aren't heavy. I own two talons and could have easily brought them. Wouldn't hurt in Imlay. One interesting thing I saw was a couple of potholes with all kinds of holes drilled them in where I was standing on sand, no water, and the top of the lip was at chest height (i.e. easily boostable if not climbable). It made me wonder how much sand I was standing on if multiple people had taken the time to drill there in the past. Just because something was easily escapable on prior trips doesn't mean it will be when you go.

    # 3 Always roll your dry bags carefully and think twice before throwing them down into potholes. After an hour in the pothole, my drybag became a wetbag.

    # 4 Be careful with water bladders instead of bottles. The tube popped off my water bladder (probably from being tossed into a pothole with my pack while nearly full) and I lost 2.5 L of water. The good news is I didn't discover it until I was already standing in the narrows. My prehydration must have really worked well and we had some Aqua Mira anyway.

    # 5 The stone knot/isolated strand technique is a real winner. All 6 of us could tie it and so any member of the group could rig the next rappel.

    # 6 Lots of ropes and passing them forward really helps speed a group up. While we did slightly slow the group behind us, for the most part we were moving faster with twice as many people. There's nothing worse than being stuck behind a group of 12 beginners in Pine Creek who only own one 200 foot rope.

    # 7 Don't put your hand in cactus. It can really slow an approach. Tweezers are a nice addition to your canyon first aid kit. Moleskin is also particularly important when renting four pairs of boots.

    # 8 Walk in permits are a great way to do last minute Imlay/Heaps trips. They're often available.

    # 9 Zion Express really needs to figure out how to issue a parking permit online.

    # 10 Put little floaties (like the ones you put boat keys on) on your hooks (and maybe your aiders). I didn't drop them or anything, but they had them and I thought that was pretty clever. In fact, I think a little piece of flotation could easily be attached to aiders by manufacturers (hint, hint).



    The rest of the story came the next day from the party behind us:

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    Last edited: Aug 10, 2023
  4. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Niiiiiice. Great pictures too.

    T
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2023
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  5. Yellow Dart

    Yellow Dart It's only hubris if I fail.

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    I do enjoy a thoroughly documented trip report.

    Haven't seen one done in parts before. A good idea.
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  6. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Great TR with some good things to consider for folks less-in-the-know.

    Thanks!
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  7. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    "if you back up the canyon a little, there's a little climb up to the right on a (ledge)(sic) system that you can do a super easy throw from"

    Ha ha...

    There are a series of bolts that allow getting up to that ledge. A friend of mine, BITD (which means before I got there in 1999), was (pirate) guided down Imlay by a climber, and that is where the bolt ladder that allows escape up to the side to take place safely. By this point, one day overdue, the 'guide' was over it. He got to that point and was "Oh poop! not again!" so he bolted up the side to a traverse ledge and was able to pass the pothole on a thin ledge. We do not often look to the side like that.

    In the past, when the water was low enough to make that specific escape challenging, there was enough sand in the pothole to allow a partner assist. We ended up in Imlay once in challenging conditions with exactly one hook. Thankfully, Brendan was up for the challenge of getting up these things with one hook, campusing off a mono to move the hook up to another hole. Talent. Bring Talent. If there is one thing to learn from Ram and myself, it is that bringing talent is very very helpful!

    Tom
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  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Then again, @Canyonero and that other guy are usually considered in the remuda of "talent"!
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  9. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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  10. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    " In fact, I think a little piece of flotation could easily be attached to aiders by manufacturers (hint, hint)."

    Since the aiders are manufactured for climbers, who are unlikely to find themselves swimming in pools and then aiding out of the pools, well, let's just say 'don't hold your breath'. Floats are available and easily attached by persons who are thinking of aiding out of pools. My personal ones are attached to my hooks.

    Tom
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  12. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Canyonero thanks for the post!
    So great to be able to relive some of the classic Imlay highlights with your awesome crew!
    :twothumbs:
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  13. John Diener

    John Diener

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    Thanks for the report Canyonero! Out of curiosity, does anyone have a picture of the climb-up spot just before the "stopper" pothole?
  14. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    We were the group behind you. We were impressed how fast you moved through the canyon. We were having so much fun we chose not to rush through and were happy to have you test all the anchors. I didn't realize that you were the notorious Canyonero! Once we realized we were going to be in that keeper pothole for a while we pulled out inflatable pillows which we used for floatation to carry potshots and to rest while thinking and struggling. We had a fantastic day in Imlay as well. Here are a few of the photos we took.
    Start. Small Pothole. Pothole. Narrows 1.
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  15. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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  16. Yellow Dart

    Yellow Dart It's only hubris if I fail.

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    I love how small of a world our community is.


    Reminds me of a time I was out scouting a FKD on the east side in fall 2019 (we did it 3 weeks later) having been talking with that day's trail gumbi trail partner about how small the actual canyon community is; later, coming down the switches below the tunnel late in the day, doors off on my j00p, I see a guy with his Imlay pack leaning against his car at the Pine Creek bridge. I pull over to ask "How was Spry?"

    He replied, "Oh it was great, never seen it so dry in my life before, didn't even get my toes wet" in a very non-southern-Utah accent

    I asked "Are you... @Kuenn ?"
    "Yeah, are you @Yellow Dart ?" (He and I had met very briefly 4 years prior)

    We talked a bit about ascension systems, 'til a non-LEO ranger pulled up, I said "Hey Sarah" she said "Hey James, can I see your permit" Keunn handed his to her, all was good, she drove away.

    I asked "Need a ride to scoop your top-vehicle"
    Keunn replied "Nah my partner beat me out and hitched up, in fact there he is coming down now"
    His partner rolls up with their shuttle vehicle and gets out, it's @hank moon
    "Oh hey Hank"
    "Hey Mister Dart"



    It's fun living in Zion ^_^
  17. NevadaSlots

    NevadaSlots

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    Nice trip reports y'all. Thanks for sharing.

    Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I don't think the 'difficult potshot toss pothole' (mentioned and pictured above) is the same pothole that, "if you back up the canyon a little, there's a little climb up to the right on a ledge system that you can do a super easy throw" to climb out of it. I think thats the next pothole down-canyon. I could be wrong, but I don't think my eyes are deceiving me.

    I took some videos for clarity. Downloading them to youtube seemed to be the easiest way to share.

    https://youtube.com/shorts/S4ieJueJrYU?feature=share

    https://youtube.com/shorts/1RtlIieoYQg?feature=share
  18. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Looks like the correct spot to me.
  19. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    What do you say to that @Bootboy and anyone else? I think he's right based on those videos. How do you get out of that pothole in hard mode without hooking out?
  20. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Ingenuity. Imagination. Cogitation!
    clown35.

    The Supai pool toys also work. Linking 3 or 4 packs together with inflated drybags within, also works. In all cases using 'rafts', it usually takes two swimmers pushing the raft against the wall to prevent the raft from gliding away from the wall. If climbing off the raft does not work, a 'pack-toss' from the raft is likely to work, though the tosser is likely to end up in the water.

    I think the real question is, do you or do you not find the problem-solving involved in canyoneering interesting?

    Tom
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