The forecast for the day was 60% change of snow in the morning and partly cloudy for the afternoon. I prepared for cold wintry conditions, but also ready for my clients to say they did not want to go. As an avid outdoor lover, I enjoy any and all weather conditions, especially winter conditions, and I was up for a challenge. When Boris and Iskra walked in to the shop I saw they, too, were up for the challenge, as they had many layers and a look of excitement upon their faces. We packed our layers, food, water, and technical gear and headed to Water Canyon amidst the falling snow.
When we arrived at the trailhead it was still snowing, with about 6 inches of powder already on the ground. I was excited to see what the spring looked like, as well as the pools of water at the bottom of the rappels. The snow depth helped on the hike in, as our boots were able to sink in and get some bite, versus slipping on the rocks and mud. At the canyon entrance, we put on our dry suits so we would stay dry from the snow AND be prepared to swim, if need be. I was bubbling with excitement to be out in a snowy winter canyon and loved that Iskra and Boris were just as excited. Once we had all our gear on, we talked about the added risks snow and cold could play on our day and addressed how we would manage those risks. Our list included: cold hands, fumbly gloved hands, wet ropes, slippery frozen ropes, partially iced pools, slippery cliff edges, ice on the face of rappels and rouge snow balls. We ventured into the canyon with the start of the 90 ft rappel to the canyon floor. Boris got to go first to find out the current conditions of the wall. This was the first rappel Iskra had ever done, and she seemed to love every foot of it. From there, the exploration began.
The deep snow made for very secure footing, but also covered up hidden hazards like roots and loose rocks. The next drop was tricky, as the snow made the varnished sandstone more slippery than most days. We then had an option to walk around the next drop or try to cross the frozen pool to access our next anchor. Boris was willing to walk the ice and test the thickness. I had the camera ready to document any exciting plunges into the icy water below. He made it across with very little cracking; it was now Iskra’s and my turn to see if it would hold us. It did – phew. We continued down-canyon and on to the most exposed rappel of the day. This is where we have to walk down slickrock slabs directly in the drainage, sloping to the edge of a 65 ft cliff. There was not enough snow to catch us for a fall of that magnitude, so we roped up and assisted each other across the threshhold to the anchors. Due to the cold temps, our ropes were fortunately staying dry, as the snow was not melting and we were able to stay out of the water till the first downclimb. This climb was a rappel today, due to the snow on all the ledges. Boris again was willing to check the thickness of the ice but was met with a slushy cover over the frigid water. Suddenly, Boris was in and swimming. Once out, he took some time to warm his hands and we all had a good laugh at the experience.
Being a good sport, Boris anchored his end of the rope to a tree so Iskra and I did not have to swim the pool. We were all still very warm and excited about our day as we neared the last rappel. This rappel can be very tricky even in the summer, with no snow or ice, and here we were ready to give it our best in full-on conditions. Iskra had asked prior to this last drop if it was easier to canyoneer in the summer than the winter. This brought up a good thought of perception and one’s experience with something if there is no preconception or example to compare to. I suggested she come back and try it in the summer and experience it for herself.
Again, “Boris the Brave” stepped up to find out what was beyond our view. On this descent, I lose sight of the person on rope about 2/3 of the way down, so there is an interesting few moments of mystery and anticipation when someone drops out of sight. A few moments after Boris left my view, large crashing and slashing sounds erupted from the slow below. My heart raced and I called out to Boris, hoping he was okay. He responded immediately, allowing Iskra and me a great sigh of relief. Later, I saw he had knocked down some large icicles to make the landing and belaying safer. Iskra followed, and now had enough experience rappelling today to know what she was about to do was going to challenge her, and she was getting very nervous. She crushed the descent, however, and both she and Boris celebrated. Next came the last challenge of the day, swimming the 30-foot pool of icy water to the sandy beach on the other side. In a drysuit… no problem.
We packed up the icy ropes and hiked back to the truck just as the snow stopped; patches of blue sky appeared out as the sun set and turned the remaining clouds pink and orange. What an amazing day to share with people and to have my excitement level for the adventure and challenge matched with two wonderful new friends.