Monday, April 23, 2012

Canyoneering in Utah, thinking of Minnesota

Hans on the first big rappel. Not as scary as the last one, though.

Earlier this month, the Slade/Rauschenfels clan took our spring break week, added a day on either end, and headed back out to the canyons of the desert Southwest. For the first time, we had two full-blooded teenagers with us. In order to get them off their friggin' iPods and experience the real, wonderful world, we threw in some extreme adventures you can't even do while holding an electronic device. By far the most extreme was a day of canyoneering, outside Moab, Utah. 

Canyoneering is a relatively new outdoor pursuit that takes you safely down and through canyons. There's a lot of scraping along rocks and through sandstone crevices. This was not 127 Hours Reloaded, but a safe guided experience with the small Moab firm Desert Highlights. Hans and I met them at their storefront in Moab, packed our minimal gear into special tough canyoneering packs, and headed up with our guide Herb to the top of the mesa. 

Herb and Hans at the crest of "Granary Canyon".
 Herb, it turned out, is a former YMCA Camp Menogyn guide, so he knew a thing or two about our Northwoods/North Shore background. But he is now fully at home on the Colorado Plateau, and he skipped and hopped through complex slickrock terrain. Desert Highlights calls this trip "Granary Canyon", but it was really a stunning series of canyons, pinyon-juniper mesas, and heart-stopping cliffs that had to be passed.

Hans on the first rappel. Note the Denfeld Nordic ski team shirt.
Hans was a total trooper. He had never rappelled before and really had no idea what he was getting into on his first shot down. On the second rappel, with a big open-air part, once he was hanging in free space he yelled up to Matt, "I'm SPINNING! Is that OKAY!?"

It was the sort of desert experience Edward Abbey would have appreciated. We got sunburned and thirsty and a little scared. The desert winds picked up and blew sand up our noses. I scraped up my leg and pants. We were totally off the beaten path; the only path was in the mind of our guide. 

Now, we've got canyons on the North Shore. People do try to hike through them. The Kadunce River has invited hikers up its stream bank for years. But how many people go down those streams? What if you took a month like August when the rivers are running low and tried to explore the deep recesses of these rivers? Even the most popular rivers, like the Gooseberry or the Cascade, have inner canyons few if any people have seen. 

This is not a totally new idea. In fact, I wrote about it here on this blog a few years ago, sharing a video of two dudes coming down the Kadunce. Another dude tried to explore the Devil Track River from the base, got a ways in, and made plans to come back down it.

Me, inelegant.
Of course, then you might have to see something as gruesome as yours truly, coming down the edge of the cliff toward you.

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