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Summer's coming! Heaps and Imlay...

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by ratagonia, May 12, 2019.

  1. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Summer is almost here. Summer is a time when various poorly prepared parties epic (or nearly do) in Heaps, a few less in Imlay. Here is the new updated revised version of my cautionary intro to Heaps and Imlay... for your entertainment and comments (if so inclined).

    Introduction to Heaps and Imlay Canyons

    “Their Own Introduction?” asks the inquisitive reader.

    Heaps and Imlay are unlike other canyons in Zion and deserve their own introduction. Deeply incised into the stone, Heaps and Imlay have a character that is both sublime and perilous. Sublime because the dark hallways, carved stone and subterranean pools offer an experience only hinted at in other canyons; perilous because what accompanies these beauties are continual exposure to water, difficult pothole exits and a degree of strenuosity one giant leap greater than other Zion canyons.

    Do Imlay first. Heaps is bigger, and you have to have your caca together at the end… so do Imlay first. Heaps is more.

    So what’s the big deal?

    There are several factors that make these a big deal:
    1. Extreme Condition Dependency. When the potholes are full, Imlay and Heaps are a romp; a cold, strenuous romp, but a romp nonetheless. The technical difficulty in these canyons is the long chain of continuous potholes. When full, rappel into the pothole, swim to the other side, and exit with ease. As the water level works its way down, the pothole exits become more and more difficult; and the number of difficult exits becomes large. So, if your buddy says “way over-rated, not hard at all”, ask her how many potholes she had to hook out of.
    2. Leadership Counts. Do not underestimate the difference between leading and following in these canyons. If you were “taken down” one of these canyons, don’t think it is easy to be in the lead.
    3. Big, deep potholes with water in them. Imagine yourself swimming in a pothole. You swim to the other side. The lip is 6 feet above water level, the sandstone smooth, polished and slightly overhanging. Can you get out? There are 4 or 5 potholes in both canyons that are often in this condition. In Heaps, in low water conditions, there may be as many as 10. Be prepared to deal with them because you might have to.
    4. Hours and hours in freezing cold water. The “extreme” sections of Imlay and Heaps take from two to eight hours for a party to traverse. Much of this time is spent in pools, swimming and wading, and walking between pools. This alone requires a great deal of energy and wears you down.
    5. Excess Baggage Charges. Getting yourself through these puppies is hard enough, schlepping your stuff through is even worse. Unfortunately, their length encourages people to do them as overnights. Of course, with camping gear, the canyons take even longer…

    So how do you prepare for these canyons, and stack the odds in your favor?

    A. Bring a strong team. By which, I would suggest:
    1. Someone who has done it before - an obvious candidate.
    2. Conditioned Athletes Only! People who are not fit enough become a big liability in these canyons.
    3. Everybody Climbs! There are climbing sections that are hard to belay in both canyons. Everybody needs to be able to climb.
    4. The Right Size: three to five is the best group size. Less than three cuts down the options in partner climbing and pothole exits, more than five definitely slows the group down. The small ledge on the last rappel of Heaps fits no more than 4 people.
    5. Variety is the Spice of Life: Physical variety is of great benefit in partner climbing and pothole exits. It helps to have one small, lightweight expert climber, and one big strong human that can boost the petite gymnast when needed.

    B. Know what you are doing. Here’s some specific skills you should know:
    1. ALL members of your party should be capable of rappelling quickly. With 20 or 40 rappels each, folks not real comfortable or safe rappelling are a big liability.
    2. For Heaps, ALL members of the party should be ready for a 300-foot (90-meter) single-line free rappel on a skinny cord. One canyoneer recently broke his back on that rappel. Why? Because he had not rappelled single strand before, had inadequate skills and equipment, and lost control of his rappel.
    3. Escaping Potholes: Do you know how to escape? Techniques used include PotShot tosses, partner climbing techniques, blowup flotation devices and, as a last resort, hand-drilling small holes and bat-hooking out. You should have ALL of these tools and techniques available to your team, AND practice in deploying them so you can choose the best tool at each point.
    4. Experience! Unfortunately, there are few Zion canyons that have these kinds of obstacles. Kolob and Das Boot can give a taste of cold-water endurance. The Squeeze and Quandary Direct (in the San Rafael Swell) have some easily-passed potholes. Try taking your team with 30-lb packs through Pine Creek in wet conditions, in less than 45 minutes (for the technical section). Now you’re getting there.

    And did I say BRING LESS STUFF. Moving the baggage around can be half the effort – don’t bring stuff you don’t need.

    Gear: Here are special things you should bring:
    Hooking Kit: Hammer, 3/8” drill, drill holder, 2 Black Diamond Talons, and etriers or a bunch of slings (10) to tie into Aiders to hang on these things.
    More on Escaping Potholes: Drilling and Hooking should only be done as a last resort. Be a sport: spend at least an hour trying pack tosses, partner assists, floating assists from rafts, etc, before reaching for the hardware. If drilling, minimize your impact by using already drilled holes as much as possible. A geologic hammer ("Geo-Pick") as suggested by one author is not a valid technique as it is crude and destructive.
    Family Band Radios: extremely helpful on the final Heaps rappels.

    Ropes Suggestions:
    Imlay Sneak Route
    : The final, longest rappel is 110 feet (34 m).
    Full Imlay: from Potato Hollow, longest rappel is 170 feet (53 m).

    Most of the rappels are short. On the Sneak route, there are no rappels longer than 60 feet, so I find having two or three 120 foot ‘working’ ropes makes for efficient travel.

    Heaps: The Phantom Valley entrance starts with a 65 foot (22m) rappel. Then a 210-foot rappel (63m) coming off the ridge – I use the 300-footer here and then stack it in a drybag.

    Except for the end sequence, the longest rappel in the canyon is 60 feet (20m). The second to last rappel is just short of 150 feet. I find having two (or more) 150-foot working ropes in the canyon works well. Plus a 300-footer for the last rap.

    The second to last rappel (145 feet or 45m) surprises people. It is steeper than it looks. Hang your pack for this one, and be prepared for a long free rappel. It ends at the “Bird Perch” – a ledge upon which 4 people can be squeezed.

    The last rappel is almost 300 feet or 90 meters. If you carry a 300-foot (90m) rope through the canyon, seal it carefully in a drybag. With two shorter ropes, a lower-and-rappel can be rigged and a 300-foot rope stashed in the talus below sent up. This is a free rappel for all but the first seven feet (2 m).

    If you stash a rope below the final rappel, hide it from view. The three-leafed plant among the rocks is poison ivy – don’t touch. I like to stack the rope in a pack so it is ready to go. Attach a sign to the pack that says (something like): “Please leave this rope here. We left it on June 31st. If you take it, we will DIE.”

    VERY IMPORTANT DETAIL

    The final rappel sequence does not follow the watercourse. Climb 40 feet up a corner on the right (5.2), then down the other side. A 50 foot rappel off a tree ends at a ledge with a large tree on the edge of a huge drop. From here it is 450 feet to the ground, done in two rappels, 150 feet and 300 feet.

    The final sequence down the watercourse has been done, but is not recommended. Do not be seduced by slings above the dark slot on the left. The final rappel this route is 360 feet (110m).
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
    scottensign, Bill, YoungBuck and 2 others like this.
  2. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    critical comments would be appreciated.
  3. 2065toyota

    2065toyota

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    Do you think the Emerald Pools trail will open this year to even do Heaps?
  4. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I don't know, but, good point. That should keep the buffoonery in Heaps to a minimum, at least until the trail opens.

    T
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  5. 2065toyota

    2065toyota

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    Or just move it all over into Imlay.

    That is if the narrows opens this year

    Snotel at Midway(Cedar Mtn) still reads 64" and Kolob Resevoir 52"

    Still lots of snow on top to melt
    ratagonia likes this.
  6. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    (and to be clear, the impetus here is that I re-wrote this section for the Zion2 book, and wanted to open the article up for discussion).
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  7. YoungBuck

    YoungBuck

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    I dig it, I was almost one of those unprepared groups in for an epic journey or rescue. High off a super successful and fun trip with some friends we saw permits open for Heaps on a the planned date of a follow up trip, and almost did it if not for the lack of a 300 foot rope. We saw 20-40 rappels and a ton of fun, and not any kind of time suck. We it was easy to ignore and rationalize some of the lesser warnings, because we were a group of fit 20-something college guys who could do anything all these other older canyoneers could do. Every new paragraph in the beta just sounded like more excitement to us, tons of rappels, potholes, cold water, a long day. Pfff we did Spry in close to 4 hours and Keyhole car to car in 18 minutes, we'll take that 15 hour trip time and cut it down to 10 easy.

    I've still yet to do either of these, waiting for the someone who has done it to lead me. However, I've heard with Imlay, it can be good to do the Sneak part first before attempting the full, something which I saw no mention off in the progression.

    Overall an enjoyable read for someone considering the canyons, I eagerly anticipate the release of the full book.
  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Thanks. It would get mentioned in the descriptions, but it is perhaps good to mention it in this article as well.

    Tom
  9. gajslk

    gajslk

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    It depends. If you can get your overnight gear down to a reasonable amount, full Imlay with an overnight gives you a lot of time for the difficult section. Like a full day. And you start it fully rested. My first trip through was the full and I thought it less strenuous than the Sneak. And our camp site was glorious. Now doing the full as a day trip? Harder for sure and I'm not sure I'd bother. It's a lot of extra slogging and a car shuttle(or even more slogging) for adding an OK section of canyon.
  10. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Nice write up.
    You could make endless lists of the prerequisite skills but it would never equal the benefit of even
    one Heaps veteran/ leader organizing and calling the shots.
    I think your A.1. is mandatory for Heaps.
  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Actually, I disagree.

    As much as I am a known control freak, it is a better trip if the veteran stays in the back, and only provides key bits of information when needed. Except that, in Heaps, I TOTALLY take over for the final rappel sequence, and no one has ever objected, at least not out loud!

    Tom
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  12. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    I actually agree with your disagreement...
    :D
  13. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Thanks.

    I also think that there are plenty of competent, experienced canyoneers who do not really need a Heaps veteran on their trip. But we can't say that out loud, because of the number of canyoneers who think they are competent and experienced and who are not. The mayhem the last few years demonstrated this well. The Canyoneer-Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect )

    Tom
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  14. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    It's a good article. Heaps can be a simple day trip like when we went through it in 9 1/2 hours with everything sloppy full. I have no idea where those 10 pothole escapes might have been under there.

    You might want to add something about "a written plan for the final drop sequence". We knew which ropes would go where, what order we'd go in, how each person would rig their personal device etc. We found it helpful for one of us (me) to "man" the bird perch and assist everyone else rappelling through. So I was first of 6 to the perch and last of 6 to leave.

    I disagree that more people is bad too. You can't take more than 6 and if we got 6 through in 9 1/2 hours.....hard to argue it really slows you down. What slows people down is incompetence, lolly-gagging, and difficult conditions.
  15. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    When this article was originally written, the group size limit was 12. Thanks for the note, I will adjust that paragraph a bit.

    Tom
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