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Trip Report: Notes From Narrow Places, Sept. '06 (Day 1)

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Journal Entry 1: I scan my eyes down the meager list of gear and provisions that will be the only thing standing between me and a buzzard's colon during the next week in the wilds. Like a gossamer sheet to protect from a howling gale, the margin for error is razor thin.
         Water, food, medical kit ..... check
         Rope, harness, helmet ..... check
         Tent, sleeping bag, mess kit ..... check
         Lion taming equipment, bean bag chair, Suzanne Somers ThighMaster video ..... check, check and check

Here's the premise .... I began canyoneering something like 10 years and 26 minutes ago and have often heard folks discuss canyons that were so difficult and dangerous that only the most experienced, risk tolerant and very, very cool should even contemplate a descent. These are the so-called  'X-Rated' canyons. Now before your filthy little mind gets too carried away, the 'X' is part of a canyoneering rating system which describes the risk associated with a particular canyon descent.

X = Extreme Risk: Multiple risk factors exist that will complicate the descent. Errors in technique or judgment will likely result in serious injury or death. Descent should only be attempted by expert canyoneers.

That's where this trip comes in. The goal is to work up to, and descend an X-Rated canyon, and in the process determine whether:
a) I am very, very cool, or;
b) uh ..... not

I head to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which was established by president Clinton in 1996 and encompasses 1.9 million acres of wilderness in southeastern Utah. The Monument is home to spectacular scenery, twisting canyons, interesting geology, paleological and archeological sites and as of yet - no tourist amenities or activities that require a fee or permit (thank goodness).
There I meet up with some partners for the trip. The cast of characters (from left to right): Bruce from Bryce, Dave from Prescott, Ram from Ramoo-land, and Dave from Wyoming.
The morning warm up is a short jaunt through the narrow defile seen below that I'll call X-caliber.
The headwall requires a big, multi-stage rappel using a rock pile as an anchor (in technical terms this type of anchor is known as a 'bollard', though this term is only used in conversation by show-off types and geeks and is often followed by an embarrassed silence).
What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you look at the picture below (think Rorschach test). If you said two elephants balancing a beach ball between their trunks, you are a normal, healthy, well adjusted adult. Perverts come up with something along the lines of a person sans clothes laying on their stomach - thank goodness that wasn't what you were thinking!
This shot was taken while on rappel about 100 feet from the bottom. Note the shape of the narrows - it's possible, with some effort, to squeeze through the crack at the bottom where the people are standing. The other option is to chimney up the crack to where it widens at the top of the photo and stem along at that altitude ~50 feet from the canyon floor. I don't want to read into it too much, but I suspect there are Freudian implications to your choice of a route. For what it's worth, I took the high road.
The short, if strenuous, section of very narrow canyon is followed by a short section of moderate narrows. Mission accomplished we head back to our vehicles, then complete a short backpacking trip to our base camp for the next two trips to follow.
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