Saturday, April 10, 2010

What Follows is a report of our Spring Break Canyoneering Trip down Solame Canyon

The trip was planned as a three day trip. Two days down the Canyon and one day hiking out Workman Creek.


We got to the trail head at 11AM and started a six mile hike up 1500 feet to the top of the Canyon. At the top of the canyon we came to a 30ft waterfall and hiked around it to the right. The weather was great and we were in a pretty place. There was a 45 foot rappel off of a tree next to a waterfall and after two more hours hiking down river we set up camp on some rock ledges along the river.


We go up at 7am, ate and broke camp. We started down stream. The rock had been sandstone and now turned to basalt and pink granite. The granite looked like a kitchen counter top made into sluices and slides. We had a great time sliding down the granite slides and off of 5-10 foot drops into pools. We came to a 65ft repel into a grotto with a natural arch above and a 60 deep pool with another 45 ft rappel out of the grotto and down a waterfall. The first rappel took some time with the bags getting stuck and finally Linda, Shelley, Brooke and the four bags were down. I rappelled to the end of the rope and was still 10ft or so above the water. I had a second 100 ft rope that I dropped. I had hoped it would float or one of the girls would grab it, but it sank 60 feet to the bottom of the pool.

After I dropped into the water I immediately noticed the water was freezing and there was no sunlight in the grotto. Linda and the girls were against the walls trying to stay out of the water and shaking from the cold.

I swam to the far side of the pool looking for the rappel ring that was supposed to be in place. No ring. It took me 15-20 minutes to find a chock stone under the water line and clear out debris to rig the rappel ring. It took another 30 minutes to rappel the bags and girls down the second waterfall. I went over the edge and could not keep my feet because of the slick moss behind the water. There was a lot of water and I had to hang in my harness and let myself down. The harness cut into my legs and by the time I was down I was hypothermic and shaking.
It took us an hour to warm up and eat lunch. We hiked down river for 2 more hours and set up camp on some huge rocks in the middle of the river. It rained that night.


Day three started at 7AM. We got up and packed and headed down stream. Again there were granite sluices and drops and we started having fun again. After 3-4 hours we came to the last waterfall/rappel at the bottom of Salome.

I now recognized that the river was in flood and the water was colder than usual. I rigged the rappel and let the girls and bags down a 50 foot waterfall. There were boulders and a 50 yard swim to a 20 foot slide and 10 foot drop to another 30 yard swim until you were out of the water.

I let the girls and bags down . The bags kept getting stuck so it took some time. I finally swung over the edge of the fall and started rappelling. I got about 10 down when the ropes stuck. There was so much water hitting me I had to stand on my tip toes to breath. I jerked the ropes, pulled one way and another. I would jump, trying to unweight the ropes and then I would be knocked to the side and end up under water, get my feet under me and push my head out to breath. After 10 minutes the ropes were still stuck and I was cold and tired.
I thought that I could die here if I didn't think fast. I would not survive the fall, and what would my family do to get out. I had to get out.

In self rappelling you have a rope hooked to your harness that goes to the top through the rappel ring and down to the rappel device on your harness. You hold the rope behind your back to control your decent. With both ropes stuck I took the loose/rappel rope and tied a loop and hooked it into my harness. I planned to leave the rope looped through the repel device and repel down the free rope. Only problem I could not lift my body weight with all of that water hitting me to get my harness free from the carabiner holding the ropes. This took another 10-15 minutes and I was literally at the end of my rope. I could barely hold my head out of the water and I didn't have any more bright ideas.

My last ditch effort was to cut the rope going from my harness to the rappel device and if the rope was stuck enough and didn't let loose, I would repel down the free rope. I had to have a knife. Chris my oldest son had given me a commando knife for Christmas and I had put it on my belt. I reached down and there it was. I began to cut the rope. This was either going to work or it was going to hurt a lot. I can still see the rope with the knife half way though it thinking that this was it. The rope held. I rappelled down in about 10 seconds.

When I got down I couldn't talk I was so cold and tired. Shelley had stayed behind in the cold water and towed me to safety through the 50 yard swim, the slide and the second 30 yard swim. She ask me if I was kicking, I was for all I was worth but it must not have helped much. Shelley is my hero. I took over an hour taking all of our wet clothes off and getting in our sleeping bags to finally quit shaking.

Hopefully, now all the drama was over. We hiked down to the confluence with Workman Creek. Well, Workman Creek was no creek it was in full flood and we could barely cross it.

After over an hour of trying to cross to one side and gaining 50-60 feet and then recrossing it became obvious we were not going to make 5 or 6 miles up the "creek". I studied the wall of the canyon and saw that the left was 2000 ft. straight up. The right wall looked to have a plateau about 400 ft. up. I started climbing rock to rock trying to clear cactus out of the way. After an hour or so we gained the ridge. There was no plateau, only a 2000ft 45 degree slope of loose rock, from baseball sized to 2-3 foot sized rocks.

To climb you had to climb with your hands, knees and feet. Truly, hand to hand combat. This was dangerous. If you stepped on the small rocks the would slide down the slope. We could not afford to fall. We climbed all afternoon and evening until it got dark.

Linda found two long rocks extending across the slope forming a trough. It was big enough to hold three people, of course we had four. We were all cold and exhausted. Linda spent the night sitting against a rock. Nobody slept much.


We had climbed about 1500 ft the prior day and there was 500 ft more of hand to hand combat climbing to the ridge above Workman Creek. When we gained the ridge we saw cliffs and a big valley. We were out of water. We headed down the valley and down a dry creek bed looking for water. The girls found some small puddles which I filtered and we all filled our water bottles. We had found water just in time. We were getting desperate. We then bushwhacked up a steep slope with dead trees, brambles and cactus. The thousand foot climb took us 2-3 hours. We finally gained the plateau and kept bushwhacking down the far slope towards where we believed the trail was. At 7PM after a 12 hour day of climbing, bushwhacking and lugging very heavy packs. Mine weighed over 50 pounds.(even without the rope hanging in the waterfall or at the bottom of the grotto) Everything was wet and heavy. We went to sleep and the girls cooked "Santa Fe Chicken", we ate some even though it tasted lousy. We slept dry and were so tired, we slept all night.


We got up at 8AM, our clothes were dry, our packs were lighter and we had pudding for breakfast. We hiked 1/2 hour to the trail and after another hour and a half we were at the car.

We stopped in Gobe and ate at Sonic until we could eat and drink no more.
Two more hours and we were home.

I had lost 8 pounds even after Sonic. I had fractured three ribs over my left kidney and had blood around my kidney from the waterfall thrashing. I had been peeing blood for three days.
My right forearm tendons were so swollen I could not close my hand and I felt as if I had been beaten by a baseball bat.

The trip received 5 stars in the guide. With the rivers in flood and the two extra days I give it no stars. I am just glad to be alive.


1 comment:

Cole said...

Wow, you are one strong woman