Category Archives: Techniques

Free Canon Camera & Video Workshops in Zion

Canon has been running their National Parks promotion for six years now, and they are finally coming to Zion! From June 24th to July 9th, you can borrow a Canon SLR, point-and-shoot, or video camera to shoot gorgeous Zion scenery… AND you can receive free instruction on how to do it. Yes, it’s an unabashed marketing promotion on Canon’s part, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to a) try out top-of-the-line technology for free, and b) get expert advice from Canon photography teachers/mentors. Here’s the meat of the press release from Canon: The Canon Photography in the Parks Program offers participants the opportunity to learn about photography or hone their skills through free professional instruction as they take part in a guided walking photo tour of some of the most scenic national park areas. Participants can bring their own equipment or borrow, at no charge, Canon equipment from a selection of EOS DSLR cameras and EF lenses, PowerShot point-and-shoot cameras, or VIXIA camcorders. Equipment is available for photographers at every skill level. Following the tour, participants have the opportunity to print their work on site, and to download their image collection later from the Program website. Visitors of all ages and … Continue reading

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Yesterday while descending Water Canyon with a small CAD I learned a little something about quicksand. Over the past several years I have experienced quicksand, quickmud, and various other mires, but NOTHING like what I experienced in Water Canyon on 4/18. After descending into Middle Water Canyon, we got past the first three raps and started heading down the long hallway into Lower Water Canyon. About half way through this section, we experienced a couple of sloppy, sucking sand areas, but nothing above the knees, which made extraction casual. Moments later, however, I stepped off of a rock in the middle of the watercourse and INSTANTLY sank to my crotch into thin, watery sand. It was somewhat entertaining initially, and I took 10 seconds or so to have the moment captured photographically for all to see. Within those 10 seconds, the sand solidified around my legs and developed the consistency of concrete. I was unable to move any muscle below my waist, so I started digging and scooping water and sand to attempt to free myself from the sucky obstacle. After 10 minutes of digging, damming up the flow to better remove sand and water from the area, and attempting … Continue reading

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Tie Knots In Your Rappel Ropes to Avoid Disaster

Whilst descending the North Guardian Angel Saturday evening, Calvin and I found our 100′ rope just a bit short to reach the most comfortable landings along the way. It wasn’t much of a problem, but highlighted the importance of tying knots in the ends of our rappel lines. Even when the terrain is not vertical, sliding off the end of your rappel ropes can be extremely dangerous, often fatal. In many places on the North Guardian, an unprotected slip could lead to 50 to 500-foot tumble… not good for your health. On the last of three rappels, we staged this shot as a grand coupling of beautiful landscape and tragic technical foolishness. Can you imagine seeing this scene in real life? Watching someone rapidly descending a 50-degree slope with only 18 inches of line left? I would probably crap my pants. So while we took the picture in jest, I wanted to share it to highlight the serious message underlying it. ALWAYS tie knots in the ends of your rappel lines, or at the very least, make a very conscience and aware decision not to.

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Climbing Ethics: Chipped, Hammered, and Bolted

From philosophical discussions to bolt-chopping wars, there are as many opinions about climbing ethics as there are climbers. While climbing in Yosemite last week, I had a realization that complicated my beliefs about climbing ethics. The old stone masters worked hard to establish one of the most iconic climbing areas in the world, but by today’s standards they would likely be met with criticism for altering routes all over Yosemite Valley. Standing on EL Cap Tower, I felt as far away from the everyday world as if I were standing on the moon. However, without the piton scars, bolts, and fixed equipment we used, I could not imagine how I could have arrived at such an amazing place. I owe tremendous gratitude to Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, and George Whitmore, who spent 47 days nailing their way up The Nose, using “seige tactics” to progress up the wall, setting fixed ropes and camps all the way to the summit. Without their assault on El Cap, it would not be possible for modern day climbers to dispatch the route in such short periods of time (from a few days to a few hours). The luxury of clean aid and free climbing … Continue reading

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Learn How to Layer for Warmth in Cold Weather

For the last so-many years, a group of die-hard canyoneers has converged in North Wash  for “FreezeFest”, a canyoneering rendezvous anchored around a New Year’s Day descent of the Black Hole. This troupe of crazies camps out during this entire endeavor, enduring cold, long nights around campfires and REALLY cold, dark nights huddled within “festive party tents,” battling the dark and cold with food, stories, and laughter. With highs in the 20s over the last week, it takes some good preparation to take part in FreezeFest, especially in the clothing category. But what if you don’t know how to dress for cold conditions? How does a canyoneer stay warm over 2 – 10 days of sub-freezing conditions? If you can’t stay warm, you won’t have fun at FreezeFest, or anywhere else in the outdoors under cold conditions. In honor of winter and our comrades’ festive shenanigans, I offer a great no-nonsense video on cold weather layering from the NOLS folks. I used to live in the Teton Valley, where snow can easily be on the ground any month of the year. Since these cats outfit thousands of students for outdoor greatness each year, we can trust them to know a … Continue reading

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Rappeling Off Sand: The Sandtrap Anchor System

A Revolutionary New Canyon Tool Without a doubt, the most interesting and widely discussed canyoneering innovation of the last year or two has been Steve Woodford‘s “sand anchor”, a simple but brilliant contraption allowing canyoneers to rappel relatively safely off a plentiful canyon resource: sand. Though not nearly as simple or obvious to use as bolts or a tree, Woodford’s design enables trained canyoneers to leave no trace safely and securely in remote, pristine canyons much more easily than previous leading-edge “ghosting” techniques. As this tool, and the understanding of how to use it, spreads through the canyoneering community, I hope to see less new bolting in canyons, and perhaps even less rope scarring as well. The Sand Anchor Concept The fundamental idea behind the anchor design is straightforward: If you can spread a lot of weight over a large enough friction surface, you end up with a safe anchor to rap on. In the past, there have been lots of approaches to this concept, but most of them relied primarily on the weight variable, and not as much on the surface area variable. Thus, we always needed a sharp corner or deep hole to gain enough friction to hold … Continue reading

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Stemming: An Essential Canyoneering Technique

If you ever played on a jungle gym or climbed up the door jambs of your home as a kid, you know how fun it is to play with the simple, opposing bodily forces. Climbing around a natural or structural environment is both intuitive and irresistible to most children, one of the original ways to have good, clean fun. So why, as we grow older, do we stop our monkeying around? I think one of the reasons canyoneering makes us feel so much like kids is the literal return to our childhood travel methods. In the canyons, we crawl, climb, swim, and hang, just like we did when we were kids. My favorite canyoneering technique is STEMMING, the multi-faceted act of using our hands and feet to travel through rock corridors without touching the ground. While there are a number of variations on stemming, such as chimneying, bridging, and galumphing (to name a few), all stemming techniques share a common element: Don’t touch the ground. Practically, there are lots of reasons to get off the ground. We may want to avoid a pool of over-our-heads water, or a deep, dry pothole that would be tough to escape. We may be … Continue reading

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Science Confirms: Rappel Devices Can Get Very Hot

If you’ve rappelled more than 40 feet before, you probably have noticed your rappel device heats up when you use it. On long, free rappels, in fact, your ATC, Pirana, or other device of choice easily becomes hot enough to burn you good. I tend to immediately throw my Pirana in the closest pool of water in such situations, because if I don’t, I invariably burn my thigh or arm a few moments later. Whether throwing a 174º Pirana into 50º water warps or changes it, I have no idea. Anyhow, canyoneer James Kehoe took a big step past casual observation in attempting to answer the long-standing question: Just how hot does a rappel device get on a 450-foot rappel? James posted his test results on the Canyons Group, and I thought I’d post them here for general interest. Take home message: Your rappel device can get REALLY hot, especially on long, free rappels. Take precautions to avoid licking the device upon touchdown and keep small infants at least 10 feet away at all times. Thanks to Mr. Kehoe for posting his study. To find his original post, go the Yahoo Canyons Group and look at the 10/4/2010 posts. I’ve … Continue reading

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Pothole Escapes: An Introduction

I recently ran across this highly illustrative portrait of a pothole escape from a Lake Powell canyon in Spring 2009, and I thought it a good example of this infamous canyon character, the Pothole. Potholes have a grand reputation in canyoneering for being some of the most intimidating and diabolical characters around. Back when Imlay and Heaps were scary, don’t-go-there canyons, tales of the freezing, dark, unknown potholes left many canyoneers (including me) more than nervous to go see for themselves. So… what exactly IS a pothole? As seen here, a pothole is basically a big hole in a canyon, drilled out to large proportions by gritty water over hundreds of years. In this particular case, the pothole is about 15 feet deep and perhaps 20 feet in diameter. Because the walls are very to completely smooth, it is typically impossible to climb your way out, leaving your creativity to overcome what brute strength and agility cannot. And thus comes forth the barrage of tricks: pack tosses, sand bags, partner hoists, stick clips, and other techniques ranging from medieval to genius. All the tricks and tools have one simple goal – getting out of the hole safely and efficiently. In … Continue reading

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