Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Shake Tree Canyon at high flow

I'll return soon (I swear) to going over some of the highlight trips from the past few years.  In the meantime I have another new trip to talk about, and this one was a doozy!

It had rained heavily for several days in the Valley, so we knew that normally so-so drainages might be flowing heavily.  Mike picked out Shake Tree Canyon, off the Y-Bar trail in the Mazatzal Wilderness, as the canyon of choice, and a group of five of us headed up from the Valley on Super Bowl Sunday to check it out.

We used a sneak route that cut off some hiking via jeep roads, but that doesn't mean the approach was easy.  We still had a good stretch uphill to reach the drainage.  On the way in, we could hear the normally dry wash that led of out the narrows flowing below, and we questioned if Shake Tree Canyon would even be runnable, but decided to head up to the start of the canyon to check it out anyways.

Fortunately we were in luck.  At the head of the narrows, the creek was flowing but not so much to deter anyone.  We suited up and dropped into the creek, quickly reaching the first waterfall.

This was my first serious class C canyon.  I had done some flowing canyons before but never like this.  Every single drop in the canyon was a waterfall, and the rappel usually had you going right down or right next to the falls.  It was a total blast. This was full on ridiculous fun.  After the first rappel everyone was grinning.  We quickly made our way to the big rappel, a 170 footer next to a massive waterfall.

On the internet, the term "epic" has been co-opted by people trying to describe everything from video games to burgers.  We need a new term, for things that really fit the definition of epic.  This trip was definitely in that category.

Of course, you're also very aware of how serious the environment is that you're traveling through.  A momentary lapse could have catastrophic consequences.  I had a scary moment just downstream of the big rappel.  I came down the middle of a little 15 foot rappel and at the bottom, the force of the waterfall hitting my pack pinned me.  I think given time I could have wriggled out, but fortunately we had a good team of strong canyoneers for this trip.  Bill stepped in and helped pull me out from the flow, and all was well.  But it was still a good reminder of how seriously you need to take this environment.  I feel fortunate to have put in enough time and effort into learning the basics that I can even consider doing a class C canyon like this.

I found myself absolutely exhausted by the time we got done with the canyon.  You burn calories just trying to keep your core temperature up, not to even speak of all the physical stuff you're doing.  Usually I'm a fairly strong hiker, but I have let it slip a few months due to a back injury, and I was seriously flagging on the way out.  You have to hike uphill to get both to and from the canyon, and I was just beat at the end of the day, so I took my time up the hill.   All in all, an "epic" day in the canyons.  This is a yardstick I'll measure future trips against.

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