Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Travels. A hike up Leprechaun Canyon in the North Wash, Utah.

The North Wash Continued.

Leprechaun. After spending the morning canyoneering in Hogwarts we go back to camp and after lunch Lisa suggests a hike up Leprechaun.

The North Wash with decorative little water falls.

North Wash.
Leprechaun is one of the best canyons in the North Wash. You can experience a slot canyon without the gear it takes to canyoneer by hiking up from the bottom. It's not named on many maps but it's not difficult to find and there's a parking spot just of Highway 95 at the mouth of the canyon.

Turrets perched on sandstone domes. 
We hike up the road about a quarter mile to Leprechaun from our BLM campsite at Sandthrax. Turrets of rocky outcrops perched on sandstone domes guard the canyon. The mouth of the canyon is wide and doesn't hint of the slot it will become. A few solitary cottonwoods accent the stark walls and whisper at the touch of breeze.

Jim hiking up Leprechaun.
The canyon begins to narrow and the floor becomes a mini-slot that we climb around and up to the next level. The slot is only about 15 feet deep.

A mini-slot in Leprechaun.

Looking down canyon from inside the mini-slot.

Jim looks into the mini-slot.
Above the mini-slot we come to the narrows.

Jim and Lisa at the beginning of the narrows.
A big boulder sits like a gate attendant in the middle of the canyon floor. I often wonder why there aren't more of them tumbled into the canyon. Most likely boulders near the canyons edge have long since fallen in, pulverized, turned to sand or swept away.

Jim and Lisa at the boulder in the middle of the canyon floor.
The boulder has been there long enough for a channel to be etched around it on both sides.

Channels etched in the canyon floor.
The channel is dry and filled with fine sand. Its scalloped sides are sculpted and smoothed by the turbulence of heavily silted water. This is the beginning of another slot.

Lisa and Jim wander off around the next bend.
We wander on around the next bend where undercut walls fold over us and foreshadow the canyons denial to our passage.

Jim, a small life form in a big world of sand.
We're small life forms in a big world of sand. Nothing much lives here in the curving sweep of rock bushed clean by occasional flash flood. It's not easy for creatures to make a living where nothing grows.

Jim and Lisa.
Another channel is being scoured into the canyon floor, a future mini-slot. Probably a small crack in the floor channeled the water, quickening its flow, scalloping its edges as it sloshed between its widening sides. I would love to sit here and watch water swirl through it. Hydrology that created these canyons at work on a small scale .

A new channel, a new slot.

Around another bend the sun shines in on Lisa and Jim.
We go around more bends and come to a place where the sun reaches in to illuminate a subterranean doorway.

Jackie and Jim at the entrance to the subway.
We come to the entrance to the subway, the first slot in Leprechaun. This kind of slot is called a Mae West. There is a slot both above and below a narrow crack forming an X shape.

Looking out the entrance of the subway.

Jim and Lisa inside the subway. Light comes in through the door. The crack angles above us.

Light illuminates the door of the subway and reflects on the floor.

The floor of the subway is a narrow channel that our feet fit into.
The subway is only about 100 yards long but is really exceptional and a slot you don't have to canyoneer. The subway exits into a curved vestibule.

The vestibule at the upper end of the subway.
The subway is at the lower end of the vestibule and the right and left forks of Leprechaun come into the upper end of the vestibule. It's large enough for several people on a canyoneering expedition to gather.
Jackie climbs out of the subway.

The vestibule narrows as the left and right forks join.
The vestibule narrows where the right and left forks join. It's hard to tell where the forks are until we get to the opening on the right were the floor disappears. Space is getting pretty tight.

Looking up the left fork slot. The right fork is the gap on the right.
Jim works his way into the left fork slot. It's angled so that his weight is on his chest and so narrow that he has to go in sideways and squirm his way through, wiggling his body against the rock to make progress. There's not room on the bottom for his feet so they have to be angled to the side and wedged in the rock. He had his ball cap on and couldn't turn his head because the bill got in the way.

This slot is barely able to fit a slim person without a pack. Canyoneers say that if you're going to canyoneer Leprechaun do this hike from the bottom first and see if you can get up this slot before trying to come down it. It wouldn't do to get stuck in there. Maybe it's called Leprechaun because it's for wee people.

Jim and Jackie at the right and left forks of Leprechaun.
Jim decided wiggling was a lot of work and would be even more if he had to drag a pack behind him. He squirms back out and we call it a day. Maybe next time we'll explore further.

Hiking back through the subway as the last of the light filters in.
We hike back through the subway as the last of the light filters in. It's time to head back to camp.

Lisa and Jim.

Jim and Lisa hiking back down canyon.

The narrows of Leprechaun.

The sun's already set.
We end the day sitting around the fire with beer and wine. A velvet darkness chases the retreating sun into the west and descends on us with pin prick stars, one, then two, then a galaxy full of them. Shapes of cliffs soften to formlessness. It's been a fine day in the canyons.

Join us again for more adventures.
Until then,

Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 Travels. Canyoneering in North Wash, UT

We take a Spring trip to Moab to visit our friend Lisa Kussmaul. She's going to take us canyoneering in the North Wash, a scenic slick-rock canyon that flows into the Colorado River near Hite at the upper end of Lake Powell. The canyon has several popular canyoneering routes and slot canyons.

Lisa and Jim on the hike to the left fork of Blarney.
Camping in North Wash. It takes the morning to drive from Moab to North Wash. We find a place to camp at one of the primitive BLM campgrounds along Highway 95. There are no facilities in any of the primitive camping areas. Back county etiquette dictates that trash and human waste be packed out. The sandstone landscape can't absorb human waste and would quickly become polluted. Bring your own portable toilet or be prepared to drive several miles down the road to the Hog Springs Picnic Area were there are vault toilets and trash bins.

We hike over sand stone domes on our way to Blarney.
After we set up camp and fix lunch Lisa leads us to the left fork of Blarney for an afternoon of canyoneering in a slot.

Looking down from the rim into the slot in the left fork of Blarney.
Canyoneering down Blarney. From the canyon rim we get our first look into left fork slot of Blarney. We'll hike along the rim to the upper end of the canyon and rappel down the first cliff to the head of the slot.

Jim looks into the canyon from top of the first rappel.
Near the head of the canyon we slide down a rounded rock face to the top of the cliff for our first rappel.

Lisa on rappel at the pour-off.
The first rappel is only about 50 feet but begins by going down a slanted pour-off.

Lisa at the bottom of the pour-off chute.
The cliff becomes a little undercut at the bottom of the chute.

A little hop and she lands with feet on the wall under the chute.
At the bottom of the rappel we come to the head of the slot.

Looking down Blarney from the head of the slot.
The easiest way to get into the slot is down the "rabbit hole", a handy person-sized hole under a stack of boulders.
Lisa leads the way down the "rabbit hole".
Lisa goes first and we pass our packs down to her. It's only about an 10 foot drop and the footing is good. From there we can climb down to the slot floor.

Lisa's almost down the hole and we'll pass the packs to her.
The sandy, level floor at the bottom is interrupted by stacks of boulders that we have to scramble down to descend through the slot.

Jim at the bottom of the "rabbit hole".
The upper portion of the slot is wide and filled with light that bounces down the curving walls illuminating the soft sandstone hues.

Lisa in the convoluted upper reaches of the slot.

Jim and Jackie.
Stemming is useful when the bottom is too narrow to walk.

Lisa stems through a narrow section.

Jim in the last of the suns illumination before we enter the subterranean darkness. 
At interval in the slot there are 3 vertical drops of about 20 feet. The chock stones at the top of the drops cause debris to build up behind them and raise the level of the floor. The first vertical drop had an anchor around the chock stone so we could rappel to the lower level.

The 2nd and 3rd drops had no way to attach an anchor so we used a friction technique Lisa taught us on the spot. It's a little spooky but the hardest part is getting past the chock stone.

The trick is to get over the chock stone and into a position facing down-canyon with left elbow and knee pad pressed against one wall and right elbow and knee pad pressed against the opposite wall and the back wedged into the crack below the chock stone. Arms and legs are spread holding the body between the walls. How slightly release the pressure on elbows and knees and let the body slide down the crack. If the slide is too fast spread elbows and knees to add friction and slow the descent. Got that? It's the frog position.

Getting over the chock stone can be dangerous for the inexperienced with the possibility of loosing friction contact with the stone while getting into position. Jim played out the rope and wrapped it around his waist to provide an anchor for a hand line to assist Lisa and I getting below the rock before we friction to the bottom. That didn't leave Jim with an assist but he doesn't need one. He threw the rope bag down to us, climbed over the chock stone and slid down like he'd done this before.

Lisa and Jim at the bottom of one of the vertical drops that we friction down.
Where the vertical drops occur the canyon is at its most narrow and the overlapping walls dim the light into a dusty eclipse. I couldn't get the right camera settings and some interesting photo opportunities passed me by.

Looking back at one of the two vertical drops.
There is only one chamber in the left fork of Blarney where we can congregate and appreciate the beauty of the slot. It is softly illuminated when the afternoon sun slants in.

The chamber in left fork of Blarney.

Lisa in the chamber.
After the vertical drops and the chamber the slot allows more light in and we continue down canyon placing one foot in front of the other in the narrow canyon floor, shoulders brushing along the walls.


Lisa and Jackie play Spider Women.

Interesting side canyons on the hike out.
The slot ends and it's an easy hike back to the car passing interesting side canyons along the way.

Looking back up Blarney.

Blarney widens on the hike back to the car.
Our afternoon at Blarney takes a couple hours. With shadows falling into the canyon we hike out with daylight to spare. Tomorrow we go canyoneering in Hogwarts, so named by the first to discover the route.

Lisa and Jim on the climb out of Hog Spring Canyon to the top of the ridge above Hogwarts.
Hogwarts. The hike to Hogwarts begins at the Hog Springs Picnic Area in North Wash. We hike up canyon about a quarter mile and then begin climbing up a steep slope on a faint route along a side drainage. This isn't a hike to make in the heat of summer when temps can reach the triple digits. Plenty of water is required.

Lisa with the backdrop of the monuments on the mesa above the North Wash canyon complex.

Jim and Jackie in a silly moment on the ridge.
From the ridge we look down on Highway 95 in the bottom of the North Wash with Hogwarts just below us.

Looking down at Highway 95 with Hogwarts below and out of view.
We hike down to the first rappel and catch up with a canyoneering class conducted by Jared Hillhouse of Northwash Outfitters in Blanding, UT. Hogwarts is a perfect class room. The canyon becomes a series of high pour offs as the canyon narrows and drops quickly to the North Wash. In that short 3/10 mile there are 5 rappels of about 100+ feet each.

Lisa's taken classes from Jared and continues to take them to improve her skills and leadership. She speaks highly of the quality and variety of his training and teaching techniques.

The class from Northwash Outfitters at the top of the first rappel.
The class has just begun setting up for the 1st rappel and they let us pass through.

Looking down to the bottom of the first rappel.
From the edge of the pour off we can see the bottom of the 1st rappel. Ambient morning light glows on the canyons cool sheltering walls, a retreat from the warming sun.

Lisa coming down the first rappel.
The 1st rappel is easy and open. The anchor point is low so we go on rappel from a seated start getting to our feet on the cliff wall after we've scooted over the edge.

Jim and Lisa heading down canyon to the 2nd rappel
We leave the class behind and make our way to the 2nd rappel that has a beautiful arch spanning the canyon. This is a spectacular rappel.

Looking under the arch to the bottom from the top of the 2nd rappel.
Jim is first on  a rappel that begins in a narrow chute and opens into an irregular wall of smooth, water-sculpted hollows scooped into the cliff face. There are two more small pour offs and a large pothole under the arch before getting to the canyon floor.

Jim above the arch on the 2nd rappel .

Jim drops over the pour off with the arch in the background.
I go 2nd and we watch from the bottom as Lisa makes her way down the sculptured wall to the 2nd pour off.

Lisa works her way down the sculpture wall.
The deep pothole below the 2nd pour off is dry so we don't have get wet to get to the 3rd pour off. Lisa's been here when the pot hole was full making things individually challenging.

Lisa on the lip of the dry pot hole between the 2nd and 3rd pour offs.

Looking back at the 2nd and 3rd pour offs below the arch.
At the 3rd rappel we think about stemming down a narrow series of elongated potholes and decide the span may be a little too wide. We op for a short climb to the top of a sloping rock face that transitions to an arching undercut wall. A rappel point there lets us drop into a crack and bypass the potholes.
Lisa at the top of the 3rd rappel that drops into a crack.
The crack was narrow and maybe I was too far back in it but my pack wedged me in. It took me a while to slip out of it so I could drag it behind as I scooted under a rock jam. Everyone was wondering what was taking so long so Lisa calls down. By then I'm out and Lisa starts down.

Lisa gets to the crack.

Jim waits as Lisa comes down the crack.
The 4th one is the easiest and most straight forward. The canyon has opened up and we can see the top of the last rappel and the trees below in North Wash.

At the top of the 4th rappel looking into North Wash.

Lisa and Jim at the top of the 4th rappel.

Lisa on the 4th rappel.

Jim and Lisa at the bottom of the 4th rappel.
The last rappel in to North Wash has an impromptu and somewhat reluctant anchor call the Alligator, a long slab of stone with rocks wedging it in place on the sloping sandstone above a 100+ foot pour off we'll rappel down.

The Alligator with webbing for the anchor point.
Lisa checks the webbing around the Alligator to be sure everything is straight and there are no frays.

Lisa checks the webbing around the Alligator.
Below the rappel anchor there's a small rounded drop into the drainage above the pour off so to relieve stress on the Alligator we start the rappel from a seated position and then get to our feet before we go over the pour off.

Looking up to the pour off from the bottom of the last rappel.
I get to go last. It's kind of lonesome at the top when everyone else is gone down and I'm left alone with the Alligator.
Jackie at the top of the pour off at the last rappel.
The pour off is undercut at the top and it's a free hang almost all the way to the bottom with a few ledges to put a toe on going down.

It's a free hang almost all the way to the bottom.
The cliff has a few ledges and it takes only a few toe touches to push away from the rock and slide down the rope to the sandy canyon floor.

Touching down at the bottom of the rappel.
Highway 95 is across the creek from the canyon we descended. Looking back at the pour off it looks like many others along the North Wash that occasionally produce spectacular temporary water falls after a good rain. It obstinately denies a view and access to its treasures so most people driving through hardly give it a glance . There are those few hardy climbers who want to know what's up there and use their wits and skills to explore. We're grateful to the ones who came before us and opened up the opportunity to experience this country in the incredible way that we do.

Looking back at the last rappel.
We walk about a quarter mile back up North Wash to the parking lot. There's a pictograph along the way that we're going to see.

Walking up North Wash back to the parking lot.
Before we get to the parking lot there is an alcove with a life-size anthropomorphic figure.

Lisa and Jim at the alcove.
The pictograph is named Mokie Queen. She's adorned with a finely decorated cape, jewelry and headdress. Beside her is what descriptions in books have called a "familiar" for lack of any better term. It's a strange image and not very animal-like. I think it looks like a animal skin water bladder. The Mokie Queen can be seen from the highway if people are paying attention. She's near Hog Spring Canyon where there must have been reliable, flowing water even when the wash was dry. The migrating people could see her as they came down canyon. She's saying "This is the place for water. Fill your bags and have a safe journey." She's a concessionaire sign.

The Mokie Queen and her familiar.

Lisa and the Mokie Queen.
We still have the afternoon to spend so we go for a walk up Leprechaun Canyon to find out what a slot really means. We're not going to go canyoneering but the canyon is worthy of a little afternoon walk. See pictures in our next post.

Until next time.