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Ringtail, Not Quite Full Neon, Kaleidoscope- April 2017

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Canyonero, Apr 27, 2017.

  1. Canyonero


    Well, the canyoneering season is now in full-swing (even though Ram thinks it's almost time to break for summer and has already been canyoneering for four months.) We decided to celebrate with a bombaneering trip down to the Escalante from Salt Lake. You know, bombaneering- When you blast out of Salt Lake at 90 mph, pound out more canyons than you have days, then zip back home totally blasted and hoping to recover over the next few days at work. 64 hours door to door and managed Ringtail, a whole lot of Neon, and Kaleidoscope (aka the South Fork of Choprock.)

    The crew was initially four, but one bailed out with just a few days to go. There was a mad rush to replace him, but despite 16 last minute invitations going out, we only managed one- "zul" from this very forum, who drove 6 hours from Sedona to canyoneer with three yea-hoos he's never met. That takes a special kind of diehardedness. Maybe it was the screening question I asked him - "Do you weigh 280 lbs and can't do a pull-up?" that convinced him we were okay. We were excited to have him, since he was the only one of us that had done Kaleidoscope before.

    Day one consisted of the drive to the trailhead. We stopped in to see Rick Green in Escalante, just to say hi. (Highly recommended by the way if you ever need a guide in the Escalante area.) Rick extolled the merits of Ringtail, which we hadn't planned on doing.

    "How long does it take?" I asked.

    "Oh, a couple of hours for a group like you, he answered."

    Wheels started turning.

    Unfortunately, zul was late to the trailhead. My bad. I forgot to specify "Utah time." Those crazy Arizonans don't go on Daylight Savings Time so Utah time does not equal Arizona time for half the year. I remembered, but failed to confirm it. He showed up right on time per his watch! We hiked down to the Fence campsite (water is so good there) and were still feeling pretty good at 5:15 pm.

    "Who wants to do Ringtail?"

    Two enthusiastic yeses, one mildly enthusiastic yes, and one "I didn't actually sleep last night but if you all go I'm not staying behind." So off we went. 3 hours of daylight to go.

    Unfortunately, even hiking as fast as you can, it still takes you about a half hour to walk down to the start of the Ringtail approach from Fence. The approach goes pretty quickly and before long we were suiting up to drop in. Rick was right. Ringtail is cool! Tons of bang for your approach buck. Cold swims, interesting down climbs, a rappel on a fiddlestick (figured why not ghost it?), a pothole requiring a partner assist, and the infamous ever more darkening (especially 1/2 hour before dusk) squeezy section. Very cool.
    The crew
    How NOT to be captured effectively
    How to be captured effectively

    Dark and squeezy
    Even darker and squeezier. They're not kidding about the headlamp.

    Next up? Neon
  2. Canyonero


    The next morning dawned with birds chirping. We figured we had all day on this, the most relaxing day of our trip. So we slept in, rolling out of camp shortly before 8. The plan today was to do as much of Neon as we could. So we hiked up past the main entrance, past all the sport entrances, and continuing up until we were WAAAYYY up there. How far is WAAAAYYY up there? Well, at this point we had been hiking for three hours from Fence. At that point, the side canyons coming into Neon are like a Medusa. You either have to go a long, long way around them, or find a way down into one and back up the other side. Eventually, we decided we were sick of approaching and it was time to do some canyoneering. We were about here:
    Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 1.20.51 PM.
    Or on Kelsey's Map, about here:

    Unfortunately, we got cliffed out and decided it was best to rappel than spend any more time wandering around up there in that maze. More info on that little rappel here:

    It was hard to tell if we had dropped into a major arm of Neon or just a crossjoint (lots of them up there.) But we didn't go far before we were full-on swimming for a few hundred feet. Downclimb, swim, downclimb, swim, stem, swim and we finally reached the main Neon drainage. I went up it a couple hundred meters, climbing over a few obstacles until I got to one I couldn't climb up without a partner. Looked like plenty more fun stuff above me. Then we headed down. For hours. Lots of swimming, some captures, removed some tat on an unnecessary deadman. Lots more swimming. We'd been going for hours, taken several breaks and STILL not gotten to where the sport routes come in. We finally arrived to known territory but it turned out about 2/3 of the canyoneering we did was above where the highest sport route comes in (20 minutes more approaching than the "standard" route.) Lots of cool stuff on that upper section (including a keeper that would require throwing at the right water level in a section that can be skipped if you recognize that's what it is before committing to it.) Since 3 of us walked around that section, climbing back in and doing a partner assist to get him out wasn't too bad.

    IMG_4661 2.JPG
    Some of the cool stuff up higher than most people go.

    The lower section below the sport entrances is well-described elsewhere, so not too much detail there. It is enough to say that there are really only two mandatory rappels, and the first can be ghosted by a fiddlestick on a log and the last can be done with a sandtrap (the Golden Cathedral rappel is actually a very good sandtrap placement.) The two potholes were so full it wasn't even funny. The water was at least a foot and a half above the lip of the first one and many feet above the lip of the second one. Despite a 0% precipitation forecast, we got rained on three times, but none nearly as hard as when our final rappeller was in the cathedral- swirling hail too. As it started to run a bit up there he started worrying about the sand getting washed out of the sand trap and rappelled faster! The cloud blew over before we could even get our wetsuits off, but it was a little unnerving how wrong the forecast had been.

    A quick walk back to Fence and an early dinner to get ready for Kaleidoscope the next day.

    Obligatory Golden Cathedral Picture:
    BaJenkins, spinesnaper, Ram and 3 others like this.
  3. Canyonero


    Kaleidoscope! I've been wanting to do this canyon for the same amount of time as the rest of you....since 2005. I certainly wasn't thinking about it in 1982, however, when Jenny and Mike pulled this one off. I'm no less impressed by it than I was by their first descent of Poe.

    We got up early for this. Nobody was sleeping anyway. When Ryan pulled off the down pants, we knew it was time to go. Unfortunately, we walked by the only turn we really had to get right on the approach. Veteran's tip- After crossing the river from Fence Canyon and heading upriver, the approach is the ONLY place you can climb out of the canyon at anything less than 5th class. Once you pass that, it's a sheer 30 foot wall all the way to Choprock. We lost a few minutes previewing our walk home that afternoon, but all in all, we took 3 hours and 45 minutes to get into the canyon. Could probably cut 45 minutes off that, but not much more if you don't want to be totally blasted upon arrival. Once you get up on the mesas, you can see Navajo mountain and get cell coverage (and an up to date weather forecast.) We had 9 hours before the forecast had anything but 0% precipitation.

    We suited up and headed down. The upper section before you drop into the Riparian section was pretty cool. Some cool downclimbs and elevators there before you drop into a shallow pool below on your first mandatory rappel. (Easily fiddlestickable, but we weren't planning on ghosting this one. In retrospect, we probably should have as it certainly goes clean.) The Riparian section goes very quickly. The main difficulty is deciding whether to walk slower through the water or faster through the poison ivy.

    Then on to the Happy Section. I don't know where that water comes from, but it's cold. Uncomfortably cold in a tight 6/5. Still, it's nice and pretty with lots of subway sections. We took a break and ate a little, planning to stop again before starting the grim section. We had only been canyoneering for an hour at this point. A couple minutes later there it was, the rappel into the grim section. We rapped the sling off a chockstone, but the top of that two stage rappel is capturable and the bottom can be done with a water pocket.

    The grim section was hard enough to be fun, but not scary. The secret passageways through logs were a treat, the stemming/climbing was R but not X, and the most desperate section was 20 feet where you had to take off your pack...and helmet....and push yourself lower. I was worried I was going to have to submerge for 20 feet, but in the end I was able to always keep my mouth out of the water. The water was cold enough that there was no stopping to warm up between pools. The only way to warm up was to keep moving. Near the end of the grim section we found a sunny spot where we were able to lay out, warm up, and eat. After a lengthy break, we did the last few climbs and swims and found ourselves at the final rappel- a perfect placement for a water pocket with three convenient bolts right next to it. We were about four hours from suiting up to finishing the final rappel.

    A few tips:

    1) Cold protection is no joke. I took an extra 1.5 mm shirt and a neoprene hood in addition to my 6/5. I didn't put those on, but I don't know if I would have survived in a 3/2 full wetsuit. Kaleidoscope is pretty and fun, but it won't be if you're too cold.
    2) A 90-100 foot rope and a pull cord is all you need. Don't take extras. It would be VERY hard to stick a rope at any of the main rappels. I assure you that you don't want to drag any more rope than that through the grim section.
    3) Do bring body armor. Lots of climbing and sliding and stemming. Two of us brought neo shorts, knee pads, elbow pads, a t-shirt to destroy etc. The other two are now shopping for new wetsuits.
    4) It wouldn't take a lot of sand and logs shifting around for this canyon to be a lot harder than it currently is. The canyon has a reputation for being super hard and a killer canyon, but that is only under certain conditions. The actual length of the technical canyoneering under more normal conditions isn't all that long. It's just a long walk to get there and a moderately long walk back to camp. Even so, don't take a non-climber. It is a particularly difficult place to help your partners much.

    Some pics:

    Taken from the top of the second Mesa looking down into Kaleidoscope (South Fork of Choprock). Some tricky routefinding required to get into the canyon, but you can basically walk the entire way if you find the right route.

    Good example of the Happy Section. Didn't take photos of the Riparian section. Imagine some pools and bushwhacking through some poison ivy. I think most are happy to leave it.
    The 2nd stage of the two stage rappel into the grim section. Good fun in pretty canyon.
    But the grim section looms. Stop and eat here if you haven't recently. Seriously. Eat something. Now. I know you've only been canyoneering for maybe 1.5 hours, but it's about to get a lot more interesting.
    But hey, if you want you can try to eat here. Notice Ryan here climbing above one log jam and below another.
    Approaching the grimmest of the grim now. Notice the size of that Heaps pack. It is empty except for a one foot drybag and a few odds and ends of metal and sling. I would not want anything larger in this section and pray you're not the guy with the 100 foot rope.
    I usually try not to post pictures of canyoneers without helmets on the internet. I hope you'll forgive me. In this section he either had to take the helmet off or get a snorkel.
    A cool little downclimb, but also a bit panic-inducing to have your pelvis lodge with your arms over your head and your feet off the ground. I would not have done this cool little thing @ratagonia 's beta refers to if I had not watched someone else do it first. But it gives you a good sense for how bad this canyon could potentially be.
    And the rappel back to the land of the living.

    Overall, a great first trip through Kaleidoscope. Thank you to @Jenny and Mike for pioneering it, to Kelsey and @ratagonia for beta-ing it, to Ryan for hauling the rope through the grim section, and to @zul for accompanying us on this epic adventure!

    10 hours round trip camp to camp. Then we hiked back to the car and drove home arriving just after midnight for a true bombaneering trip!
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2017
    JayVo, BaJenkins, spinesnaper and 8 others like this.
  4. Pictish


    Orem, UT
    Nice report. I've done Neon twice and as far as I can tell that's where I dropped in on both trips. Both times I was looking for the route to the 120' rap from a tree mentioned in the emperors book but gave up on finding a path through the deep cross joints. Was your first obstacle a 12' nuisance rappel anchored from some webbing tied around a small, flat boulder?
  5. zul


    Sedona, AZ
    I learned something around every corner from this crew: Meat anchor/partner assist, sand trap rig and rap, fiddlesticks, keeper pot escape techniques. Early on, in Ringtail Canyon, I quickly discovered that this was a swift moving and safe team to descend with. Fast and Fit.

    Day two, I was exhausted with a sore and knotted left quad. After a final read of Choprock (our day 3 canyon), I was feeling less inspired to push through. Choprock is no easy canyon, long stretches can be physically demanding. Next morning: pre-dawn alarm and colder than expected morning air temps -- freeezing outside -- also not inspiring. So, what's a canyoneer to do? Of course, I crawl out of the sleeping bag, pack lunch and dig deep ... all day long. Luckily, my leg held up and it turned out to be my best canyon day of the three.

    Tired and exhausted, three great canyons. Already looking forward to the next Escalante trip!!!

    Thanks for the TR and Pics, @Canyonero !!
  6. Canyonero


    No, never saw webbing until we were in the canyon except that huge piece around that pillar near the sport entrance.
  7. spinesnaper


    Awesome trip report. Love this combo. That Ringtail has two nasty potholes. Well done. Ken
  8. Canyonero


    Has two huh? Hmmm....must have swam over the top of one of them.
    spinesnaper likes this.
  9. spinesnaper


    Count your blessings.
  10. ratagonia


    Mount Carmel, Utah
    I cannot even find this entrance again... at least, I missed it last time I tried.

  11. spinesnaper


    These are from a bone dry Ringtail May 2012. The first picture is the first pothole and the second picture is exiting the second pothole. I also tried it the year before in November filled up with ice cold water 4 feet from the lip. In those conditions, we did not make forward progress and ultimately bailed the way we came. Ken

    IMG_2808.JPG IMG_2812.JPG
    ratagonia likes this.
  12. BaJenkins


    The second one only needed a knee-high boost for the rest of us.

    Sent from my SM-G920T using Tapatalk
  13. LonePeak


    We just did the Neon on Monday starting from the reasonably worthwhile "More Fun" entrance perhaps 3/4 mile above the standard entries. There was no flow but the potholes were so full of water they were almost difficult to distinguish from other swims. Two of us super warm-blooded team members made it through all but the last longer, deeper, darker, colder swim or two before we put on our 4/3 wetsuits, but suiting up earlier is generally advisable. Not bringing them would be dangerous. There's an awkward start from a chockstone worth using a courtesy anchor. We probably should have removed the awkward existing webbing. Next time we'd backpack down to the Escalante and hit everything in the area to get better value for our long sandy "Beeline" exit, and likely take Fence both ways for firmer footing and shade. The Escalante didn't have too much silt to pump water, and was easily waded. The final Neon rappel is beautiful looking from the bottom up, but over too quickly and not as spectacular coming down as we'd expected.

    We decided to hit Egpyt 2 while in the area, and found it more worthwhile than advertised, probably around 4.4/5.0 for fun and variety, though not difficulty provided you're equipped for a long rappel.
    hlscowboy, 2065toyota and ratagonia like this.
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