Sunday, September 26, 2010

Desert Winds "group trek" - summary

Even the title of this blog post deserves more explanation, but I have time only for a summary post for now. Next week while John is taking his solar class I plan to write a full report. So that should take you hours to read or seconds to skip over. For now, here's the overview:

John, Kip, Dave, and I participated in the Desert Winds 3-to-5 day event last week in the Mojave Desert, south of Las Vegas. It started Sunday morning with a prologue that got cut short by the National Park rangers. At least they weren't around Sunday night to watch us walk out of the hotel and across the street into the desert for the first trekking leg.

It was a long leg - 94 km with multiple canyons to negotiate. The canyons defined the race: rappels, down- and up-climbs, problem solving, walking through hot springs, and dealing with a couple small waterfalls. Plus pack rafting to move from the bottom of one canyon to another. We enjoyed the heck out of the first "Adventure" section of the trek.

Then the sun came up and we started the "Survival" portion of the trek. This turned epic as we miscalculated how much water to bring and how long until the next water resupply. Dave started having heat problems in the late afternoon so we stopped a couple of times to rest in the shade. Darkness brought cool temps finally, but didn't solve our water problem.

Finally we were close enough to the river that we decided John should run ahead and bring water back. That worked, and we drank and slept in the middle of the canyon floor. One more pack raft section got us across to the Arizona side of the lake. Dave gamely continued on instead of getting into the rescue boat at CP3.

Tuesday involved a long trek up a canyon and across the desert. With plenty of water this time, and more resting in the shade at CP4, we made it to the end of the trek after about 45 hours. Wow, that was quite the experience! We were rewarded with sodas and a meal at Rosie's Cafe in Boulder Inn, plus a ride (!) up to the transition area.

It turned out that only 4 teams out of 11 completed the first trek (the rest were transported from the river up to the TA). The top 2 teams, DART-NUUN and Bones, were running fast and competing hard against each other. They were in a class of their own. Team Verve started as a 3-person team and then lost a member to health problems before the last climb up from the river. So we were currently in 3rd place. All we had to do was get to the finish line as an intact team to keep that placing.

The race was unique in that there were only 12 mandatory points - the 12 manned CP's. There were 55 optional points, all of which we initially intended to hit. After the first trek, our strategy completely changed to aim for the goal of finishing 3rd. With Dave's heat concerns, Kip's bad blisters, my small blisters and a possible broken toe, and I guess John was sleepy sometimes, we decided not to concern ourselves much with the optional points unless they were on the way to the mandatory ones. Also, we needed to take care of ourselves, not race hard, and take breaks when needed.

We biked out of the TA starting at midnight. The bike section was fun, nice downhill at night, interesting section on a dry lake bed, then a huge headwind going south (so at least it wasn't as hot for us during the day on Wednesday). We tried a detour to avoid climbing over a mountain, and the details of that adventure will have to wait for the full race report. We had another meal in the town of Chloride, slept in the town park, and finished the bike section just as the sun was going down (130 km total on bike).

After putting our bikes away in our awesome new "Ta Da!" bike boxes that John had built, we started on the second trek. We would have liked to try the canyon in this section, but we were very concerned about Kip's blisters so we aimed instead for the park road. It was still a long walk, 35+ km, and the road made all of our feet sore. And it lasted forever. But at least it was dark, relatively quick, and the second half was easy nav.

We made it to the start of the final section, a 35-mile paddle on Lake Mohave, at dawn on Thursday. We had one canoe for the 4 of us, which put us rather low in the water but did allow one person at a time to take a break and we'd still keep moving with some kind of speed. There were several optional points up side canyons along the way that we considered trying, but we ended up just staying in the boat.

It was a beautiful day, the lake was gorgeous, and we made decent time. We could also keep water on our heads so we weren't as hot. Sadly, there was no south wind on the lake for the first time in days, so we didn't have a tail wind. We really wanted to try our kite but didn't get a chance to. Oh well, at least we were paddling well.

We finished at about 4:30 pm on Thursday - yay! We were actually the first team on shore because the two lead teams were upstream getting the final 2 optional points. Amazingly, 10 minutes after we arrived, they showed up SPRINTING toward the finish line, both boats pulling as hard as they could, neck-and-neck up to the end. It was absolutely incredible to watch, and we were so glad we could be there to see it.

DART-NUUN and Bones ended up tied for first, awesome job. We were the only other full team that finished all 12 mandatory CP's, so we got 3rd. All the other teams made it to the finish line, everyone doing a different version of the course in some way or another. We loved how everyone could customize it, try different things, get help to move ahead to the next section, and still be ranked as a finishing team. Every team, every racer mattered, and the race staff and volunteers really took care of us - besides sending us out in the middle of nowhere to fend for ourselves in between :)

An amazing event, very special, we're glad we were there to experience it. More later!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lone Star Rogaine

John and I flew back to Texas for the Too Cool rogaine last weekend - we just can't resist a rogaine, especially in our own backyard. Even if it hasn't been our "backyard" for several months. Plus we got to see Kip and Dave in Austin and a few friends at the race - too cool.

We drove out to the YO Ranch and admired the lack of major terrain features. Not much uphill to worry about here. Finding the shallow drainages looked to be more difficult, something different after a summer of climbing mountains and crawling through canyons. One benefit of our training was that we were hopefully ready for the heat. The humidity, on the other hand, might be a factor.

The maps were handed out at 7 a.m. and we sat in the van figuring out a route. Based on the area, we decided we would try to clear the course. That cuts down on a lot of strategizing because the point value of each checkpoint no longer matters. We drew a general T-shaped route with the hash house (start/finish area) in the middle and decided to hit the south leg first, then the east, and finish up on the west side.

At 9 a.m. we were gathered at the pavilion for the start - and go! We headed south to #32, over a small hill and into a drainage for the checkpoint. Team HFAR Knights (Chad and Gabe) were there too, but we departed in different directions.

We took a southeast bearing toward #44. After pace-counting to be sure of the distance, we found the fence we needed. We didn't think we had crossed the draw we were looking for, so we turned left. After about 100 meters and no draw in sight, John started questioning the left turn. He suspected we may have actually crossed the very-shallow draw before hitting the fence. We ran back and sure enough - the checkpoint was just slightly in the other direction. Nice correction, John.

We followed the fence southwest toward a "windmill area". Everything was going fine until we were confronted with a HUGE fence right in our path - a "Jurassic Park" fence, as Robyn called it. But it had a gate open right in front of us. Hmm, what to do? We couldn't see far enough to tell if we could get out the other side. Sure would be stupid to get caught in here! But we wanted to go in that direction, and it was hard to decide whether to try going around it to the right or left.

Finally we chose a right-turn, toward the main road, and eventually did hit the road while trying to skirt the fence. Other teams were converging on the area, and no one had caught sight of any windmill. We aimed uphill based on the contours, took another short detour around a smaller fence, then saw HFAR Knights duck through a hole in said fence as a nice shortcut. Hi again!

Checkpoint #34 was just up the road, still with no sign of a windmill. But it was definitely a "windmill area" so we couldn't really complain :)

We went back to the main road and discovered that it was actually the old main road when it connected to the current main road (but at least we were going in the right direction such that it didn't confuse us). John veered off toward #42 in a draw and hit it right on. We met another team and exchanged greetings.

Back on the road, we took off at a run toward #42 a bit over a kilometer away. John towed me up a slight hill and we stayed on tow until we saw the shallow drainage on the other side. Also a bunch of longhorn cows. Every cow, when they saw us, would stop chewing and stare. I swear, if a cow could stand open-mouthed, that's what they were doing. It took them a while to figure out how to react, then they would take off in terror at a dead run. Cars = no problem. People running = very, very strange.

The other amazing thing about the longhorns was how they could stampede off through the cedar trees and disappear in an instant. We would try to follow through the same trees and have trouble finding a clear path, always ducking and weaving to get through. How did those big beasts with those long horns (really long, in some cases) manage it? Weird.

Anyway, after shooing a herd away, we located #41 not far from the road. Coming back across the road, we moved southeast toward a drainage that contained 4 checkpoints. Basically herding the herd toward the checkpoints, we made our way on a bearing until we found the "creek". It was hard to tell exactly where the creekbed was at times - there were usually several low spots and the path of the water diverged and came back together a few times. Interesting.

We turned left toward #56 and surprised a set of cows again, although I think they were still the same cows - even though they still had the same incredulous looks on their faces when they saw us. We found the checkpoint and when I stopped to look at the map I heard a loud buzzing noise, like a huge bunch of bees. What is that? John thought it was just cow flies, while I was looking up for a swarm of something, and then I decided we should just get the heck out of there and stop trying to ID them.

Continuing along the creek we went around a corner and eventually came across #61 on a nice big rock face. It wasn't easy moving in the creek, so we decided to try jumping up to the field next to it and pace counting. Running was much easier there, but we kind of lost track of the creek for a moment. But we did find some large-diameter fence posts, so we went back and forth between them in what seemed like a possible creek bed until we found #54 (intersection of creek and fence).

We ran in a field, following cow paths, and worked our way toward our first 80-pointer. Getting in the area, we started looking for a side creek, but it got pretty brushy and dense on that side. John found #82 in a more open area further along, thank goodness. We backtracked a bit and then jumped up to head toward the road. Done with that drainage!

There was a high fence marked on our map, so we aimed for the northern end and hit it a little to the right such that we had to go around just a bit to get to the road. Once there, we ran/walked to a side road and ran/walked to a windmill where we found #55 next to an almost-dry pond. Southern-most point complete!

We ran back up the side road, cut over to the main road, and found our next creek to follow. HFAR Knights was coming the other way, so we said hi again. We found #60 a ways up the creek, then continued north for a while. We ran into a high fence - it was never certain how high a fence on the map would turn out to be! Just to the east the fence went across a shallow drainage, so we were able to crawl under it. That worked out.

What didn't work out was finding the road to the north. After about 300 meters we decided to just head northwest toward the area of the checkpoint, and we soon came across a road that led us right there. OK, so I guess it worked out in the end.

After punching #47 we put some water in a bottle, drank a bunch, and decided not to fill our camelbaks since we were heading to two water spots on the east side of the map. We ran up the road, had a short debate about the shallow draw up to #58 (John was right, for the record), and found the checkpoint after a couple of wasted minutes.

We ran further up the road and I pace-counted. John thought he saw the hilltop for the next checkpoint, while I thought it was a bit early. We headed uphill and found ourselves on a ridge without a hilltop. We hadn't crossed a road to get there, so we went north along the ridge until we found the road and then the spur to the right with #49 where it was supposed to be.

I looked for an easy way down the hill, but we ended up bushwhacking anyway. Whenever we came to a bunch of branches, it was always easier to let John lead the way and find a path through it. I tend to get stuck on backing up, looking for an better way, etc., while John sees how to move branches aside to make a path.

Back on the road, we headed off to the east and followed some vague contours, a compass bearing, and my pace-count. That seemed to work because after a couple kilometers we came down a slight hill to see the top of a windmill in front of us. Nice! However, the windmill quickly disappeared in the trees and we could not for the life of us spot it again as we approached. I started asking the cows if they had seen it?

We got close enough to see some troughs that usually indicate water/windmills, and the windmill magically reappeared. Team Spartans was having a snack there, and we chatted while John punched #59 and I tried the spigot. No water - no wind to move the windmill, so no pump for the water. Hmm, that's a bit annoying. Oh well, we still had a bit of water and there was another water spot marked on the map, 2 checkpoints away.

As we went south toward #62, team Werewolves came the other way asking about water at the windmill. Sorry guys! They told us there was water in the tank near #72, but nothing coming out of the ground so they had skipped it to wait for this one. I later learned that a different team had climbed up to a windmill to manually spin it to pump water - and it worked! Good to know for future reference.

A team of three women (team name We Have No Balls! - their exclamation point, not mine) told us the same water story as we got to #62. They were pretty concerned about us heading in that direction, but we were OK with the idea of treating water out of a big tank. John punched the checkpoint and we started southeast toward #72 in a draw. I actually saw this one a ways away but didn't think it was in a draw - I guess it was a really shallow draw to look like a field.

Going to the water tank was a bit of a detour, but at least we had that option unlike the 2 teams we had just passed. John climbed up and used my bottle to fill his camelbak plus the bottle. We figured we would have enough to get us to the YO ranch. Although we were now behind on food since we had to wait 30 minutes before mixing a Spiz. I tried a bit of gel that John was carrying and it actually wasn't too bad. Hopefully we wouldn't hurt too much from being out of water in the middle of the day.

The Spartans joined us at the tank for a water fill/treatment. It was fun chatting with them, as they had also been at the Big Muddy rogaine in Oregon earlier in the summer. We left there and ran north to #64 in a creek, then ran/walked up the road to the northeast corner of the map. We found a corner in the road, took a bearing, and came across #80 in a draw right next to a big fence.

Said fence had a road next to it and it was going east-west, a good direction for our next point. And hey, the clue for the next point was "Fence" - let's try following it and see if it takes us to the checkpoint. Sure enough, #65 was on the same fence. That sure worked out well.

We took a bearing back to the road where I mixed some lemonade powder into my bottle. It would cover the taste of the tank water, plus the lemonade tasted great on a hot day. Really great, actually! That was a nice way to start rehydrating.

It was starting to get hot running on the road, but we made decent time toward the next drainage system. We followed a creek to the right to #57 and then cut across to a creek to the left for #45. Points that are close together are fun.

We climbed back up to the road and started speed-walking west. We saw a team ahead of us, and it turned out to be our friends Scott and Sheila of Run Amok - hi y'all! We almost caught up to them by the top of the hill, then we all decided that the next checkpoint was just to the northwest. We found it together, and chatted as we started down the other side.

They told us they were hoping for water at the YO Ranch, and Sheila said she wished she had brought some money in case there was something to buy. John remembered a soda machine, and I pulled out two 1-dollar bills and a $20. I gave Sheila a single and kept one in case we couldn't find change for the $20. Here's hoping for a cold soda soon!

Just on the other side of some brush we found #81. It was fun hanging out with Scott and Sheila briefly, but we were headed in different directions from there. We went southwest back to the road, while they went northwest toward #53. After a bit of a road walk/run we turned downhill to #33 in a steep (well, relatively anyway) draw.

We tried going north through an open field but got stopped by fences so we cut left and made our way to a ranch road. There was an RV park just ahead, and when we noticed water spigots we were pretty excited. We refilled everything and washed off our heads and faces - ahh, very refreshing.

Going further north, we made it up to the main part of the ranch where we happened to see Nate Winkleman driving by. It was fun chatting with him for a moment. They continued on, then John pointed at a building and told me that the soda machine was in there. Do I want to stop now or after the next checkpoint? "Now" would be great!

We were happy to see that the building was open and that the machine would take our dollar bill in exchange for a 20-oz Sprite. John went in search of change for the $20 so he could have his own soda, while I sat and drank half the Sprite. It took a while, and I had to stare at the green bottle in hopes that the rest of it would be mine.

He came back waving dollar bills - we were in luck! I was so happy to finish the Sprite and stand in the AC cooling off. Very, very refreshing. I even bought another one to carry for later. We walked out the door to see Scott and Sheila coming out of the brush. "You need another dollar!" I yelled to them, and gave them another single so they could each have their own soda too. That really made my day.

We climbed up a really pretty draw to find #53. The Spartans were just coming down to it - they were moving well, and I wasn't sure we could stay ahead of them if they were a 24-hour team. We found out later that they won the 12-hour division, nice job.

We returned to the ranch road, waved at Run Amok through the window, and found #31 next to a "swim tank" - well, it did have a water slide, I'll give it that much. I led the way north and west along dirt roads, ignored a couple of roads that weren't on the map, and found the next draw for #61.

The road got confusing from there, and we did a bit of cross-country to stay on track. At an intersection of a road, fence, and creek, we were pretty sure of our location so we followed the creek west. #48 was a bit further than I expected, but I decided my pace counting must be getting shorter.

Instead of following the brush-infested creek, we jumped out to the field and ran alongside it. The field and terrain were making sense, and a road even appeared to take us through a small side draw. Then things got weird. We never got back to open field like we expected, the side draw continued southwest instead of stopping like it was supposed to, and we saw cliff-like terrain on the other side of it.

I paced-counted to be try to keep track of our approximate location. When we crossed back over the side draw, John stopped and stared at the map. I told him I had been confused for the last 200 meters. He suggested we were actually close to the checkpoint, and I thought that might be right. We found a significant draw going south into the cliff-y hill, and then #43 was right in front of us. Score! I broke open the Sprite to celebrate finding that one. Yum!

We headed southeast and up toward "Gobbler's Knob" - we could see that highpoint from a ways away, again with a windmill that disappeared as we got closer (what is it with those windmills?). John found a way through some cedar trees and soon we were at the top of the hill and #35. Also a gravestone for one of the ranch family members. What a nice spot for a final resting place, with great views in all directions.

From there we went down to the road and started southwest. Onto the western map! This would have been exciting, except we were going west and that's where the sun was. Not such a great part of our strategy, there. It was in our eyes, and it was still dang hot at 5:30 pm. We didn't so much enjoy the road at that point.

Finally we found the "shearing barn" and had some shade for a moment while we tried to locate the point. John found it on an upper level - cute, y'all. Cows, a bit more walking on the road, then we found a fence that hopefully would take us most of the way to the next checkpoint. And hopefully without too much underbrush along the way.

Well, that part was OK, and we only dodged a few trees and shrubs. However, as was typical of all the fields on the ranch, there were tons of rocks all over the ground. I hadn't really thought about them much up to that point, I just worked my way over them and tried not to turn an ankle. However, they were starting to wear on my heels. In fact, it was starting to hurt like blisters were forming. Not a good sign.

Up the hill along the fence, then down the other side (with a nice view ahead of us), I started to hobble a bit. We followed a spur to #66 and then sat down so we could work on the worst foot. After not seeing anyone for a while, we were surprised that HFAR Knights appeared right at that moment from the other direction. Hi guys! They had been out of water for a while earlier that afternoon, so they didn't look as good as they had in the morning. On the other hand, we were sitting on the ground working on my feet, so we didn't look all that great either.

John managed a moleskin/duct tape solution that worked pretty well. That foot was good to go. The other foot got jealous and started making more noise. We went downhill to find #73 in a creek, then followed a road up to #70 at a water tank. We checked our camelbaks and made sure we had enough water for another 3-4 hours. The sun was going down (yay!) and we were finally feeling cooler.

We stopped again to make a patch from the remaining moleskin and duct tape, which wasn't quite as good as the first one but was better than nothing. OK, let's do it. After a bit of a walk over more rocky terrain we came to a dirt road. I was pleased to learn that I could run on the front of my feet and my heels didn't hurt. We mostly ran west to find the draw that contained our westernmost remaining checkpoint. A short way up we located #71, then returned to the road. Time for some road running for real.

It was nice to still be able to run, because it was about 3 kilometers on the road to the area of the next checkpoint. Walking that would have been tedious. I ran as much as I could, and we covered ground decently fast. After walking up a hill we turned off the road toward #63 in a draw. On a nice bearing, we came down almost directly on top of it.

The draw wasn't great for following, and we had some distance to follow it, so John led the way up the other side looking for an old road. We didn't find the road, but we found a great powerline cut heading generally the right way. I could run parts of it since there weren't many rocks. We came out in a field looking at the shearing barn across the way, so that helped us pinpoint our location for the second half of this section.

There wasn't a great non-rocky option going forward, so John followed the shallow draw from just north of it while I hobbled along behind trying not to slow us down too much. We had our lights on finally, and I used my bright handheld to try to see as many of the rocks as possible before I kicked them or stepped on them. Not fun, but at least we weren't terribly far from the finish.

Our draw teed into a second one, and the next checkpoint was supposed to be right there. In the dark, in all the brush, we didn't find it right away. Our first draw was rather wide, nothing new, so John tried checking to the right. I stayed in the area looking for the point, but couldn't cover much ground very quickly so I didn't have any luck. John came back and tried to the left where he found #50. Excellent, thanks John.

Once again we opted not to follow the draw from within it, instead climbing up to the woods alongside. We eventually ended up back in it without really trying to, but it was OK there and we were nearing the next point. We had left a quick loop ("quick" being relative at this point) for the end for something fun to finish with.

Just as we started to notice some large rock faces on either side of us, John checked the clue and realized it was the "Crevasse" that we had been curious about. We weren't sure this was a good one to try at night - but it turned out OK, just a cave-like hole in the cliff. Apparently there were spiders around that area, but John didn't notice when he punched #46. I was more focused on the rocks at my feet.

A bit more time in the rocky creek, trying to baby my blistered heels, and we found #36 around the corner. Finally done with that particular creek! Back up on flatter ground, we found a small road and I was able to run again for a short distance. At least my legs were still doing great. We climbed up - quite a bit up, surprisingly - to the top of a mesa. Just a little round-about-ness and we located #38 at an overlook. In the dark we couldn't see much, but I bet it was pretty there during the daytime.

We took a southwest bearing, eventually found a road, and tagged #39 next to a windmill. From there we followed a high fence that hopefully would lead us directly to the next point. We saw some headlamps coming toward us (and presumably, people attached to them). I had been thinking that my recent slower pace might have allowed another team to clear the course ahead of us, and I wondered who was still out here.

It turned out to be Tom and Chris of Team Werewolves. Hi guys! They were heading for the western section, so they had a ways to go. We wished them well and continued along the fence. #52 was just to the side where the fence headed down a rather-steep drop-off. John suggested I hold onto the fence to help myself down, which was a great idea and my feet appreciated it too.

Another road at the bottom, awesome. Only one point remaining! We walked/jogged up the road and pace-counted to decide when to head over to the creek next to us. We thought we had turned toward the creek early enough, but then we came across some big fence posts. I wondered if that would be the fence on the map? In which case we had just overshot the checkpoint.

John thought we still had a high cliff on our left, but I questioned that. So he went over to prove it, and it turned out that no, there were just high trees. That, plus the fence, made us realize we needed to turn around and go back south a bit. I wasn't excited about stumbling over more creekbed rocks, but it wasn't too far and John soon found #30 up a side draw. Last one! Time to get home.

It was a relief to get away from the rocky terrain for good, back on the road, and heading back to the hash house. We found it without incident, and it turned out they were expecting us - in fact, wondering why it took so long for us to find the last checkpoint? We were carrying a Spot tracker to test it out for the Desert Winds race, and they had gotten ahold of the link for the online tracking map. Apparently we entertained a couple people with our track that day, so that was fun :)

We were also the first 24-hour team to clear the course, so we took the overall 24-hour award. We're doing pretty well in the "co-ed or better" category in recent rogaines. It probably helps that we really enjoy doing them. Now to put on some sandals and rest my sore feet!

Big thanks to Too Cool for putting on another fun event and for bringing back the rogaine to Texas!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scenes from around Boulder City

After Zion we drove southwest over to Nevada to scout around Boulder City for a couple days. We'll be doing the Desert Winds expedition race there later this month, and it was nice to get to know the area a bit.

On the way into Vegas, John scored a few tie-down straps:

In our RV park, the view from the side door toward Lake Mead:

Mandalay Bay!

We rented a canoe to see a small part of Lake Mohave - very pretty:

Refreshment on a very hot (110 degree) day:

Overlooking Lake Mohave on a bike ride:

A great little store just east of Nelson - part of the movie "3000 Miles to Graceland" was filmed here:

A short trek in the desert:

With help from a local, we found a fun little natural bridge:

Climbing around on the bridge:

Testing out some interesting footwear (I'm going to stick with gaiters for the race instead):

A huge solar array in the desert:

A visit to Hoover Dam:

The new Hoover Dam bridge (almost open) and the High Scaler sculpture:

Biking up to the radio towers above Bootleg Canyon:

View of Boulder City from above:

That's it! I'm caught up on blogging.

John and I will be doing the Lone Star Rogaine in Texas this weekend, looking forward to it.

Later y'all!

It's a Mystery

In our travels this summer, whenever we mentioned "Zion" and "canyoneering" to someone who had been there and done that, they invariably told us that they liked Mystery Canyon, that it was their favorite, that it was fun. I'm never sure someone else's idea of "fun" will match my own (more likely John's), but I gave it some credence. I listed the challenges: Getting a permit (check), getting a topo map so we wouldn't go down the wrong canyon (check), a difficult hike/slide down at the top (that part maybe worried me the most), possible swimming pools (we had done that in Subway and survived), two 40-meter raps (we had practiced with two 25-m ropes previously), and a slippery water-covered final rappel to the river (I may end up on my butt, but I bet I'll make it down!). On the plus side, we'd get a lot of rappel practice - 13 listed in my book - and maybe it would indeed be fun. With that, I gave us the green light - let's try it!

I was rather anxious about this one, and my comment that morning was "Good thing we're only in Zion for 3 days - this park is wearing me out!"

We took the shuttle up to Weeping Rock and started our morning hike up the mountain in the cool shade:

A fun trail through the rocks:

We made a short detour to Observation Point and got a great view down to Angel's Landing and the valley:

From there we hiked over to the top of Mystery Canyon. We had no trouble finding it, and the way down was indeed steep and loose/slippery in places, but lacking exposure so it didn't bother (much) after the initial drop from the rim. There were plenty of trees and roots to hang onto in most places - thank you trees!

After reaching the canyon bottom:

In the first section there are small paths where people had climbed around obstacles, but we were told by the ranger to stay in the main drainage and rappel/downclimb over anything in our way (to reduce erosion). Every drop of significance had a rappel anchor already set up, and we wanted to practice rappelling, so we were more than happy to set up the rope each time. We did 5 extra raps in that section that weren't in my book. It was great practice dealing with different angles of descent over various types of rocks, and a good warm-up. We even tried one handline (hanging onto the rope instead of running it through our ATC) and I got to practice down-climbing.

We had turned the flash off on our camera without realizing that it would make canyoneering photos more difficult, so we came away with some blurry shots. I pulled out the best ones so you can at least see the general idea.

Me figuring out where to place my feet (once I got past the initial "take off" at the top I was usually quite comfortable on the rope):

Hi John!

John got lots of practice with rope management, setting up rappels, and taking them back down from the bottom:

Our first drop of significance, about 20 meters into a slot canyon:

John led each rappel, finding the best way, or more frequently, options to avoid (which made things easier for me) - thanks John!

I wish this photo had come out better!

Some of the descents down interesting sandstone formations were really cool:

I'm not sure how I ended up down this one first in order to take the photo - maybe we did a top belay (or "meat belay") where John anchored the rope for me. Or, less likely, maybe I down-climbed it myself like John is about to do...

Fun challenges with each rappel:

Coming out into the "open" below the upper slot:

John practiced keeping some of the rope coiled for faster cleanup:

John found a tree to walk down, but it was a bit slippery for my taste so I think I rapped down beside it (hard to remember with so many rappels - which is a new one on us!):

A huge rock slide in the middle of the canyon:

Looking down at the last part of Mystery:

We started finding small pools, and this one required a bit of stemming. Without the water (and possibility of quicksand at the bottom) below me, I would not have had any trouble. As it was, I was an unhappy camper. But with John's help and encouragement, I eventually made it across:

The next-to-last rappel was a big one at 40 meters. This one scared me. Here's John setting up our two ropes (tied together) with a slope down to the right toward a big drop that you can't see.

The piece of webbing in the foreground is a safety rope to reach the rappel anchor without fear of slipping. Once John was ready to rappel, I made my way over there to watch him (but the camera stayed in my pocket!). Before he started he looked at me and said "If something ever breaks or I fall, just know that I have had a lot of fun" That made me smile (if only inside). I love you John!

He made it down just fine, of course, although it took awhile and I started to hear some splashing. I wondered how wet he (and I) were going to get in the pool below this one. Finally he was off rope and it was my turn.

It was a long ways down, but mostly a standard rappel so I was OK. Near the bottom John pulled me way to one side so I could get to dry land without touching down in the pool. That was interesting - and fun, once John explained that he wouldn't let me swing back over into the rock face like I was worried about if my feet slipped. Thanks John!

Looking back up the rope at what I had just done:

John explaining the rocks that he used to get through the pool. He had tried to maneuver to keep his feet dry but eventually had to get into the water. Apparently there was some mud too, which I'm glad I missed. I tried to explain that we were about to get our feet wet "for real" anyway but he just enjoyed the challenge.

There was a challenging down-climb after that, but oddly I don't remember much about it. I think my brain was still focused on the previous and upcoming 40-meter rappels.

Looking over the final drop to the Virgin River:

Hey, there are people down there! I knew we'd provide a bit of a spectacle, especially if I fell on my butt on the way down...

John letting the ropes down through the anchor:

Starting his rappel - very cool:

I love this angle! John did great, telling me to keep a wide stance. He even kept his feet on the wet rock and just slid them down part of the way.

When it was my turn, I didn't see how I would be able to keep my feet, but somehow I did. The slight drop that put me directly into the path of the waterfall was... refreshing :) Then it was all about slowly backing down until I reached the bottom. Success! And yes, that was TOTALLY fun!

Looking up from the bottom:

Either flying a kite or reeling in the rope:

Pretending to be John for a moment:

Heading down the river to the shuttle stop:

Our (awesome) canyoneering permits - very glad we did both of these:

Add me to the voices of those who think that Mystery Canyon is great fun! We did 19 rappels, a daily record for us that we may never top. We would love to bring some friends down this one if anyone ever wants to go! Just say the word.

The view out the back of Howie at the end of an excellent day: