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Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Canyonero, Jun 27, 2020.

  1. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    As promised, here is the trip report on our recent venture through Kaleidoscope.

    This was a trip long in the making. However, it was supposed to be a trip through Imlay Canyon. I have long promised to take my wife through Imlay Canyon and we thought June would be a great time. The trip was to be three canyoneering buddies and their wives. Alas, Zion National Park did not cooperate, and we were unable to secure a permit and thought poaching the canyon permit-less was not worth the potential downsides.

    Numerous other options were considered. Early on, we threw the canyons off of Hole in the Rock Road off the list due to insect and heat issues with the long approach and exit. Glen Canyon canyons were too logistically challenging for a one day bombaneering trip. We wanted something wet. @Ram suggested a combination of Zero Gravity and The Black Hole, but those seemed like better canyons for a trip with the kids rather than a "wives trip." We also considered an unpublished canyon, but in the end the logistics and the distance for one of the couples turned out to be a little too much.

    Somehow Kaleidoscope came back on to the radar. This is a canyon with a reputation far in excess of its actual difficulties...most of the time. But it is a beautiful canyon and would provide the long, difficult, epic day we were looking for. When you're only going to do one canyon on a trip, you want it to be long and hard. Besides, I was the only one in the group who had ever done it.

    Our concerns were the heat and the bugs. Concern number one could be dealt with, at least in one direction, by getting our butts out of bed long before dawn. Concern number two could be handled with long pants. The plan was set. We would drive down from Salt Lake on Thursday evening, stay in a hotel in Escalante, and leave for the canyon in the middle of the night after a 3 am wake-up. The weather forecast became concerning in the week before the trip. It went from 0% chance of rain to 15% chance most of the afternoon to at once point 40% chance of rain in the afternoon (a bit too dicey to justify the drive from Salt Lake). The day before the chance went back down to 15%, with 0% everywhere else in the state and almost no accumulation of precipitation. That was good enough for me to roll the dice. We got a bit of last minute beta from @CRNPRES (thanks for that) that indicated the canyon was in very easy mode with very low water. In fact, he said they actually wished they had taken shorty wetsuits instead of the full suits they took. Having been quite cold in a 6/5 and a ski hat on my first trip through there, I wasn't quite willing to go shorty in there, but we did cut back from our thick wetsuits to 3/2s. It would save weight and energy fighting that suit through the grim section. I also swapped out shorts for pants for the approach and exit to fight off the biting flies.

    We took the following group gear: A 115 foot Atwood Grand Rope, a 95 foot Imlay Canyon Fire, a 75 foot C4 rope, 20 feet of sling (didn't use), a first aid kit (barely used), a potshot (didn't use), and a fiddlestick.

    After a nice socially-distanced dinner at the Hells Backbone Grill, we met up with Jon and Michelle in Escalante. We sacked out into a drug-induced coma by 9 pm.

    3 am comes early as I wandered around in a benadryl-induced haze. The weather forecast had actually improved, with the chance of rain down from 15% to 7-12%. By 3:25 we were rolling and by 4:25, we had left the trailhead. The Kaleidoscope approach is a lot like the Pine Creek approach, just a little longer, so I felt comfortable doing a good chunk of it by headlamp. For a well-cairned and well-trod trail I had personally done at least five times before, it was surprisingly challenging to navigate by starlight. But we only lost a minute or so a couple of times when we wandered off the trail.

    We arrived at Tent City on the Escalante just after 5:30 am. We crossed the way-too-warm shin-deep water with boots and socks in hand. Re-shod on the far bank, we switched off the headlamps, our spirits rising with the sun.

    We were pleased to be able to do another good chunk of the approach in the shade. Our early start meant the sun was low enough in the sky that we were able to hide behind the Navajo hills and Carmel mesas en route. If you leave the Escalante riverbed in the right place (no problem the second time I did the canyon), the only other route finding difficulty consists of climbing back down into the canyon. This is also relatively easy in my opinion, since you just have to go the only way that actually goes, down a couple of short chimneys. Just over four hours from leaving the trailhead, we were sitting on a nice, shady rock ledge in Upper Kaleidoscope. We opted to fully suit up here. Our theory was that we wanted a wetsuit on for the Riparian Ballroom to protect us from the poison ivy, no matter how hot it made us.

    Fortunately, we found a couple of 2 feet deep pools in the upper section, allowing us to cool off and wet our suits. In fact, that was the theme for the first half of the canyon--flush the suit every time you came to the pool.

    We passed through a couple of downclimbs/rappels and rapped into the Riparian Ballroom in short order. This section of the canyon deserves a few words of commentary. Sling anchors were present at every drop and in good condition. In fact, there were about twice as many sling anchors in the canyon as are needed by most parties, but hey, if you need a 25 foot long sling to hold on to as you go down a 2 feet wide elevator, I'm not going to call you out on it.

    Some canyoneers seem to have a bit of a reverence for this plant-filled section of the canyon, calling it unique, interesting, and beautiful. I mean, who wouldn't want to visit the "Riparian Ballroom"? But let's be honest. There is another word for canyon sections like this...it's called "bushwhacking." And no, it isn't very fun and it isn't very beautiful. It is especially unfun and unbeautiful when you realize the bushes you are whacking are shoulder tall Poison Ivy. The solution is actually to avoid the obvious and appealing trails and just stay in the water course. This is especially easy to do in June when you really do want to be in the water anyway. Every time I got back in the water, I rubbed down my boots, gloves, and wetsuit to try to get the poison ivy oil off. We'll know in a few days if I was successful.

    We were pleased to leave the Riparian Ballroom behind and move into what most refer to as the Happy Section. And truly, it is happy. We took our packs off, pulled out the water filter, and filled up with clean, crystal clear, cold spring water. Many photos were taken and much joy was experienced. We were still dunking ourselves into the pools to stay cool at this point.

    After another short rap (a particularly photogenic place IMHO) we proceeded into what in past years has been referred to as the Grim Section of the canyon, but is probably more appropriately referred to as the Working Section these days. The canyon alternates between narrow sections requiring great effort, long walks, and long swims. Except most of the long swims had become long walks. The hourglass shaped sections that give this canyon its reputation as an infamous deathtrap were mere walks. Having done the canyon previously in April in medium water, my best memory was having to remove my helmet to swim about 50 feet through a very narrow section with my head barely above water. I walked through this section casually with my head about 4 feet lower than the previous time I had done the canyon.

    The factor that makes this section of this canyon so intriguing in my opinion is the wood. I have never been to the very top of any of the forks of Choprock Canyon, but there must be quite a forest up there. Every time you come through the wood is a little different, providing opportunities and challenges. We enjoyed building platforms and digging out rabbit holes in multiple locations. I'm surprised that anyone would want to wear a shorty wetsuit in this section. The abrasion protection of a full suit seems well worth the weight to me, especially since the pools no longer feel refreshing to swim by this point. We probably swam a half dozen times, but the last two or three pools were just as cold as I remember from our April trip, just a lot shorter and with a lot warmer air temperature once we got out. Could you survive it in a shorty or even no suit at all right now? Probably. But why? Do you hate your skin? Of all the stuff I carried all the way out there and back, I think the wetsuit was the most useful item. I didn't regret the neo shorts, gloves, knee pads, and elbow pads either honestly. It's not called the Working Section for nothing. There is a fair amount of climbing, stemming (never scary), sliding, squeezing, and elevatoring in this canyon. Most of the moves are trivial for those who have spent a lot of time canyoneering outside of Zion and who are properly armored, but if either of those phrases do not apply for you, it is easy to see why there are Youtube videos showing people in that canyon after dark.

    The arches make the canyon. I counted six total, including the two seen in the very unique feature obviously missed by those who hang 25 foot pieces of sling from chockstones in elevators.

    We were getting ready for second lunch when we realized we were only a turn or two from the final rappel and decided to just press on. By 1:15 pm, 4:15 after suiting up, we were all back in the land of the living. 3 men, 3 women, all in our 40s, at a medium pace, and we spent less time in the canyon than many people do in Pine Creek. If that isn't "easy condition" I don't know what is. I can't imagine the canyon being in any easier condition than it currently is.

    There was still some poison ivy in the canyon, so we left our wetsuits on as we walked down to the Escalante. In retrospect, that was probably overkill. Again, if you stay in the watercourse, it's avoidable. At the Escalante we laid down in the foot deep water and tried to cool off. While in the process of undressing I got to experience the joys of biting flies. Honestly though, they're not too bad. It's not like they itch afterward. It's a momentary pain and then the fly dies.

    We walked down to Fence Canyon, some of us in the river and some on the trail. Interestingly, I ran into a couple while hiking down the Escalante who had aborted a Kaleidoscope trip that same day. It wasn't clear to me exactly why they aborted, but only one of them had a wetsuit at all, which I found a bit cavalier. But I'll be the first to admit I get cold faster than most people I canyoneer with.

    We stripped down at Fence again and sat in the water for close to an hour until we finally accepted reality...we were going to have to hike back to the car at some point. It was such a wonderful day up until then. It was really sad that we had to spoil it with an uphill exit hike. The exit hike was about as painful as you might imagine in mid-afternoon in June, although it could have been worse. The temp was cooler than the day before after after, we had a slight breeze, and it was overcast by then. Two hours later (5 pm, 12 1/2 hours car to car) we were having cold drinks in an air-conditioned car. Burgers and shakes in Torrey and I was in my own bed by midnight, bombaneering trip complete.

    Pics to follow.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
    Ram, madman_lee, Tom Collins and 4 others like this.
  2. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    First and Only Lunch.JPG This is the end of the Riparian Ballroom and the start of the Happy Section. It's a great place for first lunch, or in our case, the only lunch. We also pumped a few liters of water here. Very tasty.
    Ram, Sandstone Addiction and Jenny like this.
  3. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Kaleidoscope.JPG The Happy Section is truly happy. Beautiful, fun, and easy. By the end you're not really sweating much anymore.
    Ram, Sandstone Addiction and Jenny like this.
  4. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    The Grim Section.JPG This is why the canyon is infamous. The last time I was here, the water was eight feet higher and we had to remove helmets to make it through. When two young BYU students in shorties showed up here in April 2005, it was probably 2 feet higher than that, and they did not make it through. My five companions on this trip would not have realized the history of this location if I had not been with them. There are 3 more sections similar to this, but with different water levels, sand positioning, and driftwood positioning, the next 50 feet could potentially be the hardest 50 feet of the canyon. Don't underestimate the difficulty of having to go over this log instead of under it, or swimming this entire section underwater in the dark.
  5. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    ArchesJPG.JPG I counted six arches this time through.
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  6. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Brett and Jess.JPG
    Some canyoneers can't go canyoneering with their wives. Sucks to be them.
  7. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    My Favorite Feature.JPG

    This might be my favorite feature of any canyon anywhere.
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  8. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Our Longest Swim.JPG

    This was our longest swim, perhaps 70 feet or so.
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  9. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Final Drop.JPG
    Michelle contemplates the eternal battle between friction and gravity on the final rappel.
  10. Jenny

    Jenny

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    Canyonero, great trip report and photos. I've played in the slots with you many times so I know you are a Beast (in a good way and always with a smile on your face!!!!). It is such a treat to see you out with the Beastettes. I know how challenging it is to keep up with you. IMHO this was an aggressive bombandeering trip. Well done all!
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  11. Ram

    Ram

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    That is what you get for being there in high summer!:tongue:

    Still it is a reasonable choice, in search of wet.

    In April, when you went before, it is only partially grown in. Good time to go. Even better try October, with the low sun angle AND the poison ivy in full fall colour mode. Reds, oranges, yellows. It does all 3 colours well and is quite pretty and way easier to dodge, as it stands out so distinctly. The riparian? Just another piece of the package, whenever you go. Is the Happy Section even happier, due to it following the Riparian? Perhaps the contrast is important.

    BTW, the name "Riparian Ballroom" was initially specific to the pool below the 30 foot rap, at its start, but has been used to describe both the rap spot, which is a lovely big room and the whole section.

    BTW2...the Riparian section is a long open brown patch on December 25th. A good time to go there if you despise the bushwhack enough and I promise you will not overheat.

    BTW3 The expression "Land of the Living" was also my posse's term in the 70's-90's to describe the area beyond the last rappel, of any canyon we were in. The term was first published, as it relates to canyoneering, by Tom, in that same Rave from 2002.
  12. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Some people struggle in identifying the best route... Rimaneers. Follow the water...

    The Riparian area is such a wonderful place, a place of lush life hidden in the desert. Another nice thing in summer - no bugs. I bivied there once, as staying anywhere else was IMPOSSIBLE.

    Never have gotten 'infected' by PI in Choprock, but then again, I appreciate PI which might improve my karma.

    Tom
  13. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    About the biting flies, about 24 hrs after the bite the intense itch begins and lasts for four days with me. Are these different flies from what is in the swell? Thanks for the great report.
  14. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Cedar gnats? or the Yellow flies?

    Same as in the Swell and elsewhere in Utah.

    I cannot comment on the reactions.

    Tom
  15. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    The Yellow flies (maybe deer flies?) were bad coming out of Quandary a couple of weeks ago.
  16. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I have heard a distinction in the Fly category... they are called Yellow flies if they go for the back of the knee. Vicious little things, ain't they!!!

    T
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