Friday, September 10, 2010

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:

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