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S.O.S.

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Asmith, Mar 25, 2017.

  1. Asmith

    Asmith

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    SOS 3/10/17

    We had scouted the canyon days prior and also the exit of the middle XX section to verify the crawl out was in play as advised. A rope was used to ensure an escape back out. It is possible under the right conditions that this could be filled with sand or underwater and would require a very undesirable high route that looked to deliver climbs harder than anything else seen in the canyon.

    The first upper section starts with moderate stemming that can be moved through quickly in a careful star bridge. It feels serous at first as we settle into our routine of regular moves with high exposure. The walls are sharp without choss, our kind of canyon so far. Exposed moves but business as usual. I was saving my GoPro battery for the middle section so didn't take any video in here. 40 minutes and we are out to a walk and able to wave to my parents who are monitoring our progress from the rim.

    Tom Collins joined up with us a few days prior to scout SOS and the descent of BFS. He moved well through BFS and made last minute work trades and another trip to join us. Tom has the same hunger and intrigue of the X canyons that Angus and I share. He's no doubt crazy, but not stupid...a good fit with us.

    We are going light through this canyon as usual. One Lep pack, a potshot and a #6 cam. Short coiled ropes for good measure and all the usual body armor. Mostly we are carrying snacks and some water to get us through. Looking back the #6 was unnecessary but had been suggested as a possible aid.

    At the end of the first section a GPS check confirms there is only about 0.38 miles of total canyon left for the middle and lower section.

    There is a walking section between upper/middle and about 15 minutes of very low and easy stemming. After turning a corner we see two nearly perfect vertical walls that clearly marks the gate to the XX. This is the same corridor pictured in the magazine article “Highball Squeeze." Angus tests the low route which goes and we follow. A sharp right corner presents a short upclimb into a crack that soon opens into a grand room. Wide convoluted walls with a dark lower section. The downclimb looks standard and I confirm on belay it won't be an issue for the group.

    We stay low with very enjoyable canyon features and chambers that had us all letting out oohs and aaahs. Darkness In some areas make it slightly challenging to see features. We continue along solving problems as we go. We were able to stay low longer than I anticipated. There is a higher route but it looked like a lot of work.

    Moving fast and probably enjoying ourselves too much we make the mistake of all verbalizing it wasn't as bad as expected. The canyon responds as the seriousness increases and now quickly agree we are in XX features. Climbs up narrow exposed cracks with silos below. Awkward high stemming with sketchy transitions in and out of uncomfortable areas to to rest in. I find a rest with 30+ feet of exposure in a silo as I wait my turn on the next climb. Not ideal but it allows the muscles in need a chance to recover as I look down. There area lot of short climbs and a few longer ones than I remember as I review my video footage.

    Tom is ahead and finds the area we all agree must have been explained as the ejector seat problem by the first group. He climbs the crack, retreates at the silos problem at the top and finds a mid route through tight section. Makes the move over the silo at the mid level. Angus is positioned up high while I’m still mid level. I attempt multiple times to make it through the middle section to follow Tom’s route. Unfortunately not only do I not fit but for the 3rd time I’m stuck as my progress in all directions stop. I take a few minutes in this precarious position with shallow breathes restricted by the walls to regain composure. I’m finally able to retreat.

    A chute going into the dark is noticed as Angus and I investigate. It goes 30 feet or so to the ground in a dark convoluted corner. The up climb awaits a few feet away as the canyon pinches and forces us back to the level of Tom. A handline is used to protect an otherwise difficult up route that neither of us feel like soloing at the moment. The desired path pinches too tight forcing you to take the undesired one through an exposed open space move 20ft into this climb. Progress grinds to a halt as we spent about 45 minutes making it through a 20 ft section of canyon. I suppose this part of canyon offers 3 routes. A high and exposed(50ft), a middle skinny and still very exposed(40ft), or a low with an exposed climb. Pick your poison.

    From here we are going up again and moving at a high level to keep above the pinching while skirting silos and voids. This whole section is no doubt the crux of the canyon but also very near the end. Eventually the pinching below begins to open and Angus lets out a shout as he sees an arrow drawn in the sand days before during the scout. We know its times to go down. A very exposed down climb within a silo allows a drop of 30+ feet to the ground below. A crawl through two ground sections spits us out of the middle. Some celebration ensues with some whoops from the rim as my parents are positioned to see our exit into the walking section. Total time in this section was 2:30.

    A short break to drink the rest of our water and snacks and we continue down to the final section. The lower is no doubt X and contains harder moves with high exposure than the upper section. Not harder than anything we have done but fatigue is now being felt from the XX. This section felt longer than the time it took which was about 25 min. The lower contained a very pretty walking section with a lot of green moss for this time of year. It teases the end but sends us back up for one last high run. Walls become very slick with mud/moss mixture before we are finally free from the grasps of the lower and walking out a sandy wash. Across from the mouth of the canyon presents an easy and obvious exit onto the rim and back to our vehicle.


    PINTAC vs Long Branch vs Bishop vs SOS

    Our X canyon high stemming quest began a few years ago with Big Tony. It isn’t over yet as we haven’t done all X canyons but have been through all well known in the Escalante area. It was a progression that is necessary for this style of canyons as they all have unique problems and challenges. I remember many restless nights before doing Tony over the unknown. I slept quite well before SOS as the mindset changes over time. Tony was a stressful event as I hardly remember the canyon and only the anxiety felt going through. SOS was still worrisome but I found myself able to enjoy this canyon and its beauty. It is a very unique and intriguing canyon with features that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    The main question for the few who want to see all these XX canyons is which is harder? The answer over time has become more unclear and I’m forced now to say….it depends. Each canyon with its own set of problems requires a different skill set to overcome obstacles. The skills of the individual and the team going through will determine this difficulty level perceived. Your mental state and attitude will carry an nearly equivalent weight as your physical fitness. Are you doing the canyons when you are fresh or at the end of trip? These all factor into the experience.

    There are also “good” and “bad" days. Some days you are dialed in, others more hesitant or doubting. The other big factor is your plan and the situation you create for each canyon. For SOS we scouted the canyon, took the day off before to rest from other canyons. Laid out gear, double checked and discussed the necessity of all items, nice dinner and went to bed early.

    How much you carry through the canyon will influence the experience as well. While its nice to have all the emergency gear and such, this all adds up. In general we have enough to survive a night in the canyon, not to be comfortable. The alpinist idea of light and fast fits our model, yours may be different.

    If I were to rank the XX from hardest to easiest my list would be:

    Bishop, SOS, Long Branch, Pintac.

    Angus feels different as his order is:

    Bishop/SOS(tie), Pintac, Long Branch

    Bishop with its silos presents more challenges for shorter people as I am 5’7 while Angus is 6’2. Up climbs in SOS and PINTAC slightly favor someone of shorter stature in my opinion. PINTAC is the endurance canyon. It also has many off width style problems that favor those who have experience in this subset of climbing.

    Another important factor is weather and time of year. I don’t think these are summer canyons and are better done in the shoulder seasons. They are physical and require massive amounts of exertion for up to several hours at a time. Cooler temps allow for less overheating and a decreased need for water that must be carried. We prefer temps in the 60’s.

    Between the other canyoneers we met in town there was a different buzz(regarding X/XX canyons) than we have ever seen before. Many people asking questions about these harder canyons as awareness of their existence and mystique increases. I can guarantee they will see more traffic in the very near future. I wish for everyone a safe year and always have a plan and backup.

    Here is the video of the middle section

    John Diener, Kevin, danf and 7 others like this.
  2. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    Love the write up, I watched the video and I think I was more scared sitting on a chair watching than when I was actually there. Guess it was just one of my on days. Thanks for having me there, I'd been wanting to do this one, but was a little stressed out about how hard it would actually be and I think the last minute opportunity gave me the option to do it without psyching myself out in the days leading up to it and so the experience was actually quite enjoyable.

    I still have to do Bishop and I think that one will turn out to be the harder of the two for me, but at least now I think I can actually handle it.
  3. dakotabelliston

    dakotabelliston Living life to it's fullest

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    Never mind my comment on other forum !!!

    Sent from my SM-G930V using Tapatalk
  4. Ram

    Ram

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    The video is great. Being in proper climbing position, makes it appear there are more ledges than reality. It's steeper than it looks, if my analysis is correct. The spots were the twig debris falls down also shows how far down the lower dimensions are and shows just how high up you folks were. I have been chatting with Angus and Tom, as well as the 5 first descenders of SOS and Bishop and have enjoyed my armchair view of the proceedings. Congrats to all of you on your bold and fine efforts and sharing it with the rest of us. I have more inquiries, once I can sit with what you wrote for a longer spell. Thanks again.
    Asmith likes this.
  5. Asmith

    Asmith

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    Your welcome Tom, you were a great asset to have along. Let us know before you pull the trigger on Bishop as Angus and I have been itching for another run. I agree that less time to dwell on it can be a good thing.

    Thank you Ram. As for the footage, the gopro always plays tricks on post review. Areas that were tough can look easy and vice versa. That hole was too deep to see the bottom with the twigs. I saw Angus far reached to exit that silo so the short guys rightfully took the lower route. At 7:09 was one of the most serious climbs if I remember. Full extension at a strange angle of about 120 degrees while trying to work a leg into the "safety" of the crack to inch yourself up with an arm bar. If you pause at 7:42 you can see the penalty which was of the highest kind.
    Ram and Tom Collins like this.
  6. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    I don't remember being bothered by this climb, I just looked up canyon and focused on the climb and staying as far into the crack as I could while still being able to move up. I remember the one after the ejector seat as being a little harder.

    @Asmith I'll be sure to shoot you an email when my plans for Bishop come together.
    Ram likes this.
  7. Landon

    Landon

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    Great writeup and awesome video, Aaron! Great to see some of those features again!
    Ram likes this.
  8. Stevee B

    Stevee B

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    I'm with Angus in that I thought PINTAC noticeably more difficult than Long Branch. But your points about it depending on the day, fatigue, mental and technical prep, etc. are spot on also. Maybe I was just "having a day" in PINTAC?