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The Squeeze: the adventure we were looking for

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Tricam, Nov 8, 2020.

  1. Tricam

    Tricam

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    I woke about 4am, a little before my alarm was set to go off. We were 20 miles from the nearest paved road, deep in the San Rafael Swell, camped on the edge of the Muddy River at the Hidden Splendor trailhead. I started making coffee and boiling water for breakfast and let my wife sleep a bit longer. We had packed our gear the night before, so we were ready to get up and go.

    This was to be our big one. We wanted to do one harder, longer canyon on our trip. Originally we were looking at something in Zion (where we would be towards the end of our trip with more experience), but between the permits, cyanobacteria, and shuttle tickets, we couldn't rely on anything there. We briefly considered something in Red Rock, but the friends we were meeting there only had two days and mostly wanted to climb. After some research, The Squeeze seemed to be our best bet and just within our technical ability.

    Our packs were large and full. On all of the other canyons we did on our trip, we were comfortable going minimal. A single small pack (mostly for my wife's water bladder and shared food) and gear on harnesses was sufficient. This one was different. It was longer and required more gear, but it was also more committing than anything we had done, so we wanted some redundancy. We ended up bringing the following, which ended up being overkill, but was probably appropriate given our experience level:
    • 200' Canyonero rope, packed in rope bag
    • 200' 6mm pullcord, packed in a sandbag
    • 100' 8mm accessory cord, packed in a sandbag
    • 80' of webbing and quick links (unused)
    • 2 sets of ascenders (unused)
    • 2 aid ladders (unused)
    • a few aid hooks of various types (unused)
    • about 2 gallons of water
    • plenty of sandwiches, plus a large summer sausage, a big block of cheese, and a bunch of nuts
    • all of the personal gear we would have for other canyons, plus wetsuits, drybags, and towels
    After coffee and breakfast, we geared up and began the approach just after 5am. It starts off along a nice trail that quickly comes to an end at a crossing of the muddy river. In the darkness, we quickly lost the most established trail and ended up following the myriad of social trails and human/horse footprints that snake in and out of the muddy river. It was still dark when we made it to the break that begins the ascent out of the muddy. It had taken us an hour and a half to get to that point - not great. Luckily, as we found the petroglyphs and began the ascent, daylight started breaking, and we were able to maintain a much better pace. We found ourselves at the top about 3 hours after leaving camp.

    A bit of hiking and scrambling from the top brings you to the mouth of the canyon, where you are greeted by some beautiful, small potholes. The top half of the canyon has some great scenery. We enjoyed it, but we tried to keep moving. As you make your way down canyon, the drops and potholes slowly start getting bigger, and we eventually hit one that my wife was uncomfortable downclimbing. I gave her a meat anchor rappel, then downclimbed myself. Following this was another drop that had a slung chockstone. We rappelled and continued working onward through the smooth canyon and finally found it: our first pothole escape!

    We were at the edge of a ~15' drop into a pothole. At first, I was so focused on how to rappel into it that I didn't even realize we had to get out the other side, but I soon realized what we were up against and began problem solving. The far side of the pothole looked only about 8' tall or so, but it was smooth featureless sandstone. The canyon was rather tight, and above the pothole towards the far side was a large, recliner sized chockstone. I briefly entertained the thought of stemming/bridging my way up to the chockstone. This probably would have worked but was unnecessarily risky, especially in water shoes. I also considered shot-putting a sandbag over the chockstone and going tarzan swing style, before determining how ridiculous this was. Eventually we decided it would be best to get my wife to the other side, then figure out how to get me into the thing.

    We walked back to a sandy area, pulled out our sandbags, dumped out the ropes, and filled them up. I took one, tied it to the end of the 8mm cord, and worked my way back to the edge of the pothole. I had to chimney up a bit to get in a position to throw. I got steadied and launched it. Hole in one! My first throw made it across, and it settled into a constriction. I meat-anchor-lowered my wife down, where she tested it and said it was great, but would be much easier with a boost for feet. During this time, I thought through my options and convinced myself that down climbing was the best way to go. A sandtrap probably would have been ideal here, but that was the one major gap in our skills/experience/equipment list. I started slowly chimneying down, until I hit the point where I had to commit to a slide/jump/fall to the floor. Phew! Scary, but over with quickly, and we were now both in the hole. With a boost on her foot, she easily got out, and I followed.

    After that first pothole, things started to blur together. Lots of small downclimbs and rappels into and out of potholes and pools as we made our way down canyon. We passed through two arches in this section. At one point, a rappel off a deadmans anchor landed us into a pool of water and we suited up. The water was quite low in general and absent from most potholes, so several of them were keepers to some degree. A couple of them stood out:

    "The deep one": This one wasn't really any deeper than the others (8-10' from bottom up the escape side), but it was narrow enough that I originally thought I could pendulum over it. The canyon walls proved too featureless. I ended up getting out easily with a foot loop from a sandbag, into some chimney groveling with an armbar-to-chicken-wing combo. I set small tyrolean traverse on this one for my wife, which we were quite excited about.

    "The swimmer": It wasn't really a swimmer (for me), but it was the deepest one we encountered, with chest-deep water and a reasonable wall to escape. The stance on the near side before entering was awkward, and after a few sandbag throw attempts, the best I could get was to have it land on the "deck" between potholes, not over the edge into the next one. With a wading start, I was able to get enough assistance from the sandbag to reach a small crimp (~8mm), which I pulled into death-crimp mode. This was the one place where climbing-specific strength helped me in a canyon - and it really helped. If I didn't have that, I would have had to figure out some other way out of this one.

    Eventually we made it to the third arch and stopped for lunch. We were making reasonable time given our inexperience, but looking at GPS, we still had a lot of ground to cover and had to keep moving. We ate a few sandwiches and continued onward, where we quickly found the crux pothole. It was hard to tell how deep the water was, but the pothole appeared about 15' deep and 25' or so in diameter. I had really wanted to work through this one, but we found a fixed line of webbing left there. We discussed it briefly and agreed that it was most important to keep moving to make sure we got out before dark, so we both tyrolean traversed over the pothole using the webbing.

    After the crux, it got easier and became somewhat of a blur again as we worked through the challenges. The rappels were getting larger, and there were less potholes to deal with. A handful of the rappels were in the 70'-100' range, and when it was questionable length, I would just join the rope and pullcord and throw, then pull the whole rope through from the bottom. It was simple to setup and avoided wasting time by making a mistake, but it was inefficient. A middle mark or a shorter rope could have sped us up significantly in this lower section. With my increasing exhaustion at this point, pulling then bagging 200' of rope started to get old.

    There were a couple unique challenges in this lower section:

    "The traverse": At one point we came up to a long, narrow pool of water. I was going to wade through it, but my wife wanted to traverse the featured rock face to its side to bypass it, which ended up working great.

    "The jumper": The last pothole we encountered was easy to get into but had a good size escape. There appeared to be a jug on the right side on the lip. From a pile of rocks in the pothole, I was able to leap up and snag the jug, then muscle-up to get out. Once on top, I made a quick rope-ladder for my wife to follow.

    The final rappel: The last rappel squeezes you through a tight runoff spout, then over a lip into a free-hang out of the canyon where you end up next to a pond. By the time we got here, were we exhausted and glad to be on flat ground, so to speak. I started pulling the rope. As the last bit of the tail was pulling through the spout, it jammed. "Oh F no!" I shouted up at it. I yanked as hard as I could, and it cleared the jam. Phew.

    Out of the canyon, a short bit of bushwacking through cattails brought us back to the muddy river where it all began. We took a bit of a break to snack, change for the hike back, and get our headlamps ready, then we began the long, miserable trudge up the muddy back to camp. At some point it got dark. At another point I saw a pair of eyes watching us from the canyon wall, probably a sheep (though I didn't tell my wife about this until later). The march out wasn't enjoyable, but we did make much better time than on the approach, getting back to camp after about 2 hours. We dumped our packs and I dove in our cooler... to find we only had one beer - tragedy! We split our lonely beer, made dinner, and quickly fell asleep.

    --

    Lessons from this day:
    • The San Rafael Swell is a desolate place. The thing we were most under-prepared for was the roads to Hidden Splendor. We had some emergency auto supplies for our trip in general, but I would have been glad to have a tire patch kit and a few other things on hand.
    • We made reasonable time that was inline with our expectations, somewhere between 14-15 hours camp to camp. We lost time on the approach in the dark, and the upper non-technical section consumed a couple hours as we were exploring and enjoying the scenery. We were slow on the first couple potholes, but this quickly improved. Considering our inexperience (and that we were heading to Capitol Reef the next day), we should have done the Factory Butte -> Moroni Slopes approach. It is shorter in general and skips the entire non-technical upper canyon, and we would have saved a lot of time driving the next day.
    • A group of 2 isn't ideal for potholes. Looking back, we could have easily escaped nearly every pothole with a partner assist, but we wanted to make sure we always had someone out of the hole until it was solved.
    • Our size differential was both a blessing and a curse. I'm 6'4" 180lbs; she's 5'4" 120lbs. It was trivial for me to offer meat-anchor rappels, assist downclimbs, or boost her over obstacles. Unfortunately she couldn't do the same. It would have been nice to have someone help catch me when I had to use the downclimb-to-slide technique.
    • We were adequately prepared technically. Most of the mandatory rappels had either bolts or rather obvious natural anchors available. Escaping potholes using counterweights were more or less what I expected, and we never had to use more than a single sandbag, although two likely would have been necessary for the crux. The most difficult new challenge for me was getting comfortable with the downclimb-to-slide technique I used in several of the smallish drops. I was fine with chimney downclimbing, but it took a while to get used to committing to the slide and drop. A sandtrap likely could have avoided a few of the sketchier ones of these. I also probably could have rigged a chockstone or deadmans anchor for a few, but it would have taken considerable time.
    • Overall, it was an awesome adventure, and we can't wait to do another like this.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2020
    Sutitan and John Diener like this.
  2. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Daylight just started to break as we began the ascent out of the muddy river.
  3. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Hiking along the ridge after the switchbacks out of the muddy.
  4. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    At the top! All downhill after this... kind of.
  5. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Taking a slide in the upper canyon.
  6. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    The upper canyon took a bit of time, but it was beautiful.
  7. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    More upper canyon scenery.
  8. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    A bit of an optical illusion here made it appear the canyon was rising.
  9. Tricam

    Tricam

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    Our first pothole escape. The sketchiest part was getting myself into the pothole. This was the only one we both entered at once. We only did this after it was clear that she could easily get out with a partner assist.
  10. Tricam

    Tricam

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    Our second pothole escape. The bolts made this one much easier. I setup a tyrolean for my wife to cross after getting out, but the battery on my GoPro died at this point.
  11. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    The first arch!
  12. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    One of the many small rappels in the upper technical section, into some pristine canyon water.
  13. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    The second arch!
  14. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Squeezing through a tight start into a pool.
  15. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Enjoying the canyon fragrance.
  16. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    The third arch! And lunchtime.
  17. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Tyrolean traverse over the crux pothole.
    Kevin likes this.
  18. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    After the crux pothole, the canyon started to open up and the rappels got bigger, but you still had a long way to go.
  19. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Traversing around the water hole.
  20. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    An awkward start through a chimney led to some beautiful rock.
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