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Tech Tip: Answered Winter Canyoneering Stuff

Discussion in 'Tech Tips and Gear' started by ratagonia, Dec 8, 2015.

  1. Scott Byington

    Scott Byington

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    Paracord would be for auxiliary uses like lashing down a shelter, making a sling/brace, making a snare (squirrel kabobs), simple things. Please by no means am I advocating using it as rope replacement.

    Something else to consider when layering clothing and such, if day temps make it to the 60’s and overnight lows are less than 30’s; think about the sweat factor.
    Everyone sweats differently, a couple of Dec ago, I was with some guys doing Monkey Business it was at the end of Dec and the day high was at least mid 30’s. I was sweating good, when that sun went down it got cold fast. Advance knowledge of the physicality of the canyon, my exertion level, I prepped with a change of clothes to make sure my core temp didn’t drop. So after the Kelsey exit, I changed my top layers and beanies so that I could manage the trek back to the car, overnight lows were estimated in the single digits.
    On this same trip I did manage to get 1 foot wet, wearing wool socks; I was able to quickly ring out my sock and put it back on and keep those digits warm. I’m a fan of wool for that reason.
    I switched beanies, rang out my wool beanie, put that in my pack and it was frozen crunchy by time we made it to the car. I only mention that because temps drop and you aren’t exerting energy, that days sweat will chill you fast beyond your control.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2016
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  2. LonePeak

    LonePeak

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    Thank you for yet another very helpful thread on this forum. There are a couple of other subtopics on which I’d appreciate additional insight: 1. Moderate canyon destinations and conditions potentially accessible by intermediate canyoneers on warm, dry weeks, including at either end of winter; 2. Standard, non-emergency gear, including wetsuit management. I’ve read this thread, Roadtrip Ryan’s link, and a few other short ones. I suppose I might as well personalize it so I can get more nuanced and relevant advice, not just the generic warning to keep out the wrong people.

    I just got back from Leprechaun where we were chest to thigh deep in water on occasion, with a high of 47’F and a low of 27. With a couple thin long-sleeved layers we warmed up real quick after wading. I just ordered a 4/3 wetsuit, 2mm socks and 3mm gloves and imagine that considerably lower temps would be very manageable.

    Now I’m not looking for the crazy ice-covered-rock experience on days when everything sticks to everything and the exit may be unexpectedly impassable and you’re racing against a survival clock. I’d like to believe that there are days and places where the rock is wet at worst and with a more experienced intermediate partner (yet new to winter and wetsuits) could manage it without excessive risk. I might consider myself a late beginner/early intermediate with a few 3A/Bs under my belt along with more non-technical canyons and extensive outdoors experience. Angels landing didn’t seem bad in six inches of snow and ice. If you start to fall, just lick the chains :wtf:. I know it’s different without hand lines, and I am considering consequences of injury too.

    So could limited winter canyoneering be done with discretion and a progressive approach? There’s apparently a little snow in Zion and a bit more on the way, but in a couple weeks might there be canyons without ice and snow? How about Lower Fridge or Observation Point with some southern exposure? We’d like to get some wetsuit experience. Which other ones might you recommend looking into? I’ll watch for trip and weather reports. When do most of Zion’s slots start opening up after snow melt on warm or normal winters? Which might be largely ice free midwinter candidates on warm weeks? When might we do Mystery reasonably safely? What about other areas? I know the N Wash, Moab, and some of the SF Swell tend to be warmer. Which canyons might be advisable there? Are we purely headed for trouble or is there room for discretion? Shorter trips in less isolated canyons sound safer.

    So what do you wear under your wetsuit in winter? What do you wear over it? When do you take it off, and then what do you do? What about the refrigerator effect? How do you best manage that? What techniques or approaches should we be aware of? What other standard, non-emergency gear should we bring? I have a tendency to regret over-preparing, as in this weekend with an excessive pack in Leprechaun. Surely mobility has a very high value in the risk/benefit analysis of gear preparation, right?

    What else should we be considering? Thanks in advance for your advice.
    Ram likes this.
  3. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Thanks for joining in, LonePeak.

    For me, the most important advice is: "Do canyons you have done before in summer."

    Not very satisfying, I know. But it helps, a LOT, to have a pretty good idea what you are getting in to.

    As far as Zion goes, I have the advantage of living right around the corner, so I can track the weather pretty well. In a "normal" winter, canyoneering is pretty much out from the first snow until the meltout completes in April or May. We do not have very many "normal" winters. Except our annual "Zion Crazy" trip, where we do something easy in Zion in the snow, with a very experienced crew, and it is epic. Our day in the Subway was one of the hardest days I've done, on par with a FreezeFest Black Hole.

    So this is one of those "if you gotta ask..." answers.

    I'm looking at the Virgin River Gorge, myself.

    Tom :moses:

    ps: Lower Fridge: visible from the road. The upper (downclimbing slot) is in the shade 98% of the day, so could be icy and snowy.
    pps: Obs Pt Canyon has a "freezer section" where it turns into the shade, drops, pools, a couple raps to the final rap. Would be supercold without wet or dry suits. Did I mention the keeper pothole in there??? The basin that feeds that lower section covers a wide range of altitude, and several different aspects, so it could take a while for the snow to melt out from there. Two months without snow = probably good.
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  4. Scott Byington

    Scott Byington

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    From my limited perspective, during winter it’s good to have someone in your group who has previously done that canyon recently (last year or 2). Familiarity plays a huge role in expectations and understanding the beta on a canyon, conditions you might encounter, etc.
    If no one in your group has that experience, you can always look to expand your “participant” horizons, think of it as online dating. Some good, some bad, and something to learn from. I hear that Winterfest XV “dating” is coming up soon. :wavespin:

    I tend to plan the upper end on beta time to complete the canyon, reason being I anticipate something going wrong. If nothing goes wrong and I’m a head of schedule, that just means an extra beverage of choice after. Winter days are shorter not just from a visibility standpoint but also in my experience productivity. Carrying more gear means that those skinny canyons take longer to complete. Canyons with exposed climbs and or “R” and “X” rated canyons can take on new perils given poor conditions.
    Applying that philosophy to canyons in the winter time has helped me. Areas that I enjoy during winter are: North Wash, Escalante and Moab.

    As a side note, a wetsuit is that item of gear that is an after of fact “I wish I had that” or “why did I carry that”, just remember the 1st is only possible if you survive.
  5. Ram

    Ram

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    Zion has big walls that prevent direct sun and much melting, once snow falls at all. The entries are at higher altitude too. From December into the spring, it rarely is the easy place to go. All those grade 2 canyons near Sandthrax. Poison Springs if the escapes are snow free, something discernible with a tad of scouting. The Angel slots too. Roost is a bit higher, so a settled period avoiding north exposed exits can work. Arches is wonderful. It is wonderful out there. BTW wetsuits in the winter can and often are used for armor and warmth. Not being concerned about water if you find it is a bonus.

    But really its the management of the day, into night and back into day that is key. Gear freezing solid over the long nights makes efficient starts, on subsequent days difficult. Doubles of all your gear helps. Planning well is critical
    LonePeak likes this.
  6. LonePeak

    LonePeak

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    Thanks for the advice, each of you. We'll look carefully into those areas mentioned. Anyone know how Egypt in Escalante is right now (with wetsuits and an early start).

    So has the snow closed off Zion already this year then? I see no precipitation forecast by wunderground between now and Dec 10, and highs of 37-56°F. If it’s not yet closed down, which might be the cleanest bets? I'm seeing <1" snow wed everywhere but Zion in the forecast, which I presume is trivial, though wading wouldn't be unexpected.

    @ratagonia
    By this do you mean that most winters lately have a mild period that may melt out select canyons, or do they pretty much remain impassible? I read a prediction of less snow than usual in S Utah this winter. Mind if I check in after a dry spell to see if any have opened up?

    Once your wetsuit is wet, do you leave it on for the rest of a cold weather hike or change for dry layers? Is it necessary throw a windbreaker over it to prevent rapid heat loss?
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2016
  7. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    The easy one first... It depends. Once you take it off wet, you are unlikely to put it back on, so make sure you are past the wet obstacles. For instance in Mystery, if you have to put it on for the Lake, you would probably keep it on until you exit the Narrows. Some would wear it all the way back to the car; some would take it off at the veranda. It is often warmer to take it off and switch to warm outdoor clothes; but best to take it off when you are warm... a place where experience is helpful.

    A windbreaker or raincoat can be helpful for that reason.

    Tom
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  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Egypt is a trailhead that accesses a number of canyons. Unfortunately, they are rarely done this time of year and CAN vary wildly in how much water they have. Neon can be really dry or amazingly wet. Choprock same. E1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 tend to be dry except for the swampy parts... etc. You would have to be more specific, and then the answer is most likely: "nobody knows, use caution".

    Oh, and the road is bad and could be worse.

    Tom
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  9. Ram

    Ram

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    Six Christmas' ago, we did a day trip through Kaleidoscope. The road was in good shape and the area was basically snow free. While Neon is less of a commitment via the 3 sport routes, it will share some of the same issues/challenges. Here is what I learned......

    The Escalante River Valley does the inversion thing. It was nearly 20 degrees colder down near the river. This blanket of cold air was about 250-300 feet deep. The canyons are Wingate Sandstone. More than any layer of sandstone I know, Wingate becomes markedly more slippery during the winter. Once the sun angle lowers enough, the lichen on the rock "activates." Even where it is barely visible on that lovely orange rock, it is super slick. I fell to my hip, in a flash, on a flat section and everybody was slipping. Class 3-4 required a hot shot rope gun, going up and raps where one would walk without hands, most of the year, going down.
    R
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  10. Ram

    Ram

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    It is more an issue of wherever the sun does not shine, out of the valley, snow and ice accumulate and rarely melts. It is like taking at least half the places you would normally be able to walk and having to treat it as "out of bounds." Slickrock and snow/ice combos, are a very bad idea.....so even if you are not dealing with broad based snow cover, it gets a lot trickier. Forested areas don't melt either and sometimes deeper snow is actually safer and easier. A few inches can be treacherous. I mean...it's not like it is impossible or deadly, but it takes a LOT of judgment/experience, combined with knowledge of the canyon/approach you are trying. More often than not, the paved trails out of the valley, have been walked into ice. Micro spikes mitigate this, but it is just "one more thing" during the shortest days of the year. That 37 degree day as a high? I bet its colder than that every night, even on the days in the 50's. Little inversions all over the place too. It all adds up. Even in good weather, winter tightens its grip, in subtle but very real ways, day after day, as the sun angles get lower.
    R
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  11. LonePeak

    LonePeak

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    As the forecast high was 58'F and there didn't look to be be any snow at these elevations, my partner and I hit Rock Canyon and Pine Creek last weekend. It was a fine time. The little bit of ice we saw was more scenic than anything, like rapping down a small frozen waterfall. We were prepared but didn't need to use our microspikes or the survival gear suggested on this thread. However the water in Pine Creek was pretty cold. I was happy to put on the extra 3mm wetsuit I had been carrying on top of a 4/3 after the first dip. 7mm and neosocks were truly necessary. So, this really was more of a late fall excursion. We'll be looking at warmer, drier places in the upcoming months. How about that Grand Cathedral? Beautiful!
  12. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    Zion is great in the spring/fall and ok in the summer (if you know where to go and the tricks to beat the heat), but while it can be rather inhospitable in the winter that is its greatest season in my opinion.
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