A Night To Remember
Imagine a canyon so deep, so convoluted, so narrow that blocks out all light. Imagine a place so remote, so dangerous, so forbidden that only a handful of people have ever dared to venture. Imagine somewhere so beautiful that to this day I have seen no equal.
Enter Canyon X.
This is no regular canyon. This is not its real name. However it is the story of a lifetime, in retrospect the ultimate adventure. I do not think any of us were even remotely prepared for what was in store for us that day as we dropped off my car, acting as the shuttle for this hike. I pile into Chris’ car, grabbing an extra nalgene of water and a light fleece. The clock says 9 am, a bit of a late start but not too bad. We grab our packs, lock the car and soon we were on our way. We had no idea.
The further down the wash we walk the better it gets. The walls rise then shallow, going into and out of narrow passages. It is more of a wonderland than a canyon, like something out of a wild dream. For over an hour we wander down the slot, in an almost trance of how special this place is. So calm, so peaceful, so beautiful in every single way. Then Pat comes upon something that quickly brings us back to reality. We find a lone harness, carabiner and belay device still attached. Nothing else. The mood changes immediately. He stuffs it in his pack, we move onwards, nothing more is said. Soon we reach our first obstacle, and our eyes get real wide. A sheer 15 foot drop into a tight section of narrows. We scan the wall; no bolts. No natural anchors of any kind. We review our options. We talk about retreating. But after some time I decide that I can down-climb this drop. I belay Chris down, then Pat, then drop the rope. An awkward move, a high bridge and stem, and soon I am down. We are in for the ride now.
The walls soon close in. We are faced with some bigger drops and a few logjams, dealing with them accordingly. After a 50-foot rappel over a boulder, the canyon changes in character immediately. Looking downstream, None of us can believe what we see. Or what we do not for that matter. The canyon plunges into darkness. We take a rest, break out the headlamps and continue onwards. I still have never seen anything like it. The canyon enters a cave; we turn off our headlamps and look around. Pitch black. After a few minutes we are back in the light, if only for a moment.
At this point I think we all knew that we might be far over our heads this time. The canyon was no longer a dreamland; it was a more like a nightmare.
The canyon widens, enough for Chris to pick up a GPS signal. It is around 12:45, and we are about midway-through the technical section of the canyon. We grab a bite to eat, enjoy the sunlight, and push further. The canyon narrows back up and we reach another section of pitch black narrows. After this point, everything changed. Not long afterwards we reach a 40 foot drop into darkness. This time it looked serious.
It was. Off rope, I look down canyon. I can see Pat moving down a narrow slot, his headlamp illuminating more below. The floor gets wet and muddy, and I hear Pat yell, “water!” Not too far behind, soon I catch up to him at the edge of it. A narrow hallway that looks to be full of mud, water, quicksand. We look up with our headlamps we spot a small ledge 12 feet up. We back up, Pat makes the move, and gets down the other side. I put my right foot on the ledge, move my left foot to it, slip, hit the wall and land in the mud. I sink to above my knees. For a moment I do not move. Soon it hits me, I scream in pain.
No, not a nightmare, but more like a prison. Eventually the canyon opens up, thankfully for the last time, and we take a break in the dry sand. I lie in pain, staring at the sliver of sky above us, not knowing at the time that I had tore my right MCL. The canyon was not done with us yet, and there was no rescue party coming to save us. We gear up once again and head downcanyon. It is almost 6pm, the waning sunlight will soon set. We push through one more pool, climb around another deep pothole and soon we are at the sketchy traverse to the final 100 foot rappel and the exit from the madness. And soon enough we are out of the clutches of the canyon. The light quickly fades as we march down the now open canyon, my limp getting worse. After reaching a narrow ledge traverse, we decided that we were not going to make it out of the canyon today. We gather what wood that we can, and find a nice sandy alcove to camp in for the night. We find a stagnant pothole and treat some of the most disgusting water I have ever had to drink. We had severely underestimated this canyon, and tonight we were going to pay for it. As soon as we stop moving, my knee quickly worsened.
I don’t think I slept at all. I don’t know how I could have, in a state of delirium. If it were not for the fire, it would have been a much longer night. That was about as bad as it gets, and makes me appreciate things a bit more sometimes. At first light we gather our belongings and head for the ledge, now with less than 1 liter of water between the group. We get on belay, each of us inches our way across, and soon it is done. Shortly after we reach our final exit out of the canyon; a series of steep climbs followed by an 800-foot scramble up a loose and narrow canyon, taking it all the way to the rim. Met by the warm sun and a nice breeze, we drink the remaining water on top of the mesa and are soon back to my 4runner.