Little brown lines, summer 2004

Sorting through quadrangle maps turned up one with notes from many years ago, and I realized that for a variety of reasons I’d never written anything about one outstanding trip from the last months we lived in Moab, publicly or privately.

As I have written many times, modesty ought to be the rule for claims of being first, especially public ones.  Phillip and I went into this under the assumption that no one had been down the crux slot before, and with little information about the place generally, which influenced our preparation and attitude enormously.  Afterwords, we both agreed that we had every reason to tell few people much of anything about this place.  For one, the technical part was beautiful, but modestly challenging, short, and a long tough hike from anywhere.  Interest seemed like it would be minimal.  For another, the most enduring part of our adventure had been by a large margin the unknown. Though we had left evidence of our passage in the form of two bolts at the big drop (and a piton scar at a smaller drop before), it seemed like we could best treat anyone who might come later by giving them no information whatsoever.

So I’m breaking that, to a certain extent, with the following maps and text, but just like with the guidebook (especially in it’s forthcoming, finished form) I’ll balance sharing a story with plenty of vagueness and obfuscation.

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 1.43.58 PMWe had left our big packs and camp gear back at the confluence, laying in plain view on flat sandstone safe in the assumption that it would never rain in the next two days, and that no other person would happen by.  This was a problem, because where we now stood the floor dropped away, the white stone ending as dark stone took over.  Black water of unknowable depth led around the corner.  It was not late in the afternoon, and it was not early either.  Sleeping bags were a long way upcanyon, our packs were heavy with ropes and hardware, and we had little idea how long the slot below us was or how long it would take.  But we had already made the relevant decision when we dropped our packs hours before.

Turned out the slot was quite short, and it took us a long time to be standing at the ground hundreds of feet below, long lengths of rope slapping down hard onto dry sand, echoing down the chained chambers surrounding the now dry wash.  It was dusk, even if we hadn’t been thousands of feet below the rim.  Standard practice in the soft sandstones of the Colorado Plateau should be a 1/2″ drill with 1/2″, stainless bolts.  Even in Windgate and Navajo, hand drilling such holes does take much time.  When I arrived at the top of the last, big drop I was drilling two bolts, and I was not drilling in soft rock.  50 minutes a hole, with blisters, sweat, and bashed fingers, and we had an anchor.  Perhaps some day I’ll go back for a second look, but I recall clearly shifting the chockstones around, all of them rattling loose like pebbles in a empty beer can.  With a drop big enough to make us question if the ropes would reach, a good anchor seemed like a good idea.  Maybe with the better head and skills I have now I could find a better option, and I feel bad that anyone motivated enough to follow us will find two shiny Fixe hangers in the more exciting perch in the whole canyon.

We raced darkness back up canyon, traversing a massive hanging scree and talus field above the slot we had just crept through.  I recall it being steep enough that the changes in angle cut by each short gully gave pause, to consider the handful of bounces and one big splat any fall would engender.  We made it back to the flat wash just at full dark.  The way back to our packs would be long and arduous, and the bushwack back to the truck the next day even worse, but at the moment feet hit level rock we were guaranteed as long a nights sleep as we could manage in an actual camp, food for breakfast, and a dinner back in our apartment the next night, after a long drive.  The still pending hazards of flat tires, sprained ankles, and sketchy 4th class cliff bypasses were certainly worth considering, but after the past five hours our heads were in a place where silly mistakes were almost impossible.  And so we went back up canyon by headlamp, content that we now knew what those particular little brown lines meant.

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2 thoughts on “Little brown lines, summer 2004

  1. Finally made it down here last week and as I walked above remembered this. Awesome. And yeah, those canyons are not easy walking and the drive is hell.

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