Things change fast on the road. Oftentimes we end up making plans at the last minute, just because we don’t know exactly where we’ll be. Alyssa and I have really grown to love this style of shotgun planning while being on the road – it’s different than how we’ve planned trips previously, but it can be a lot more fun!
This last Sunday was a perfect example of how being open and flexible to new plans can lead to some pretty incredible adventures.
The day started with a mountain bike ride down Lower Porcupine Singletrack and Porcupine Rim with Brooks and Thomas, two friends from Boulder who came down to Moab for the weekend. Alyssa is still working her ankle back to full strength, so she volunteered to shuttle us to the top in Thomas’ home on wheels, an awesome Dodge ProMaster van conversion. The van handled the dirt road up to the drop-off a lot faster and more comfortably than the bus would have and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves on what I think is some of the best single track anywhere.
About a mile into the trail we stopped to help Thomas deal with an issue on his new bike (your Yeti needs to run higher PSI than your fat bike, Thomas), we were on the trail again and made quick work of the ~16 miles down to the Colorado River from the top of the rim.
After the ride we pedaled back into town to pack everything up and grab a bite to eat, when I got an unexpected call from another Boulder friend, Sam, inviting us for a quick canyoneering run down the Medieval Chamber. Canyoneering has long been on my list of activities to try and I jumped at the opportunity to make it happen. I pounded down a veggie burger and a milkshake at Milt’s Stop ‘n Eat, dug my harness and rappel device out of the back of the bus, and we hit the road.
Sam’s friend Braden drove us the short distance from town up to an unmarked pullout off Sand Flats Road. We hopped out of the car and the adventure began. The entrance into the route was unmarked, but footprints in the sand from previous canyoneers were easy to follow.
As we made it closer to the canyon the wide open slickrock expanses started to narrow and the sandstone walls grew more vertical.
About a mile and a half in, we found ourselves at the top of a deep slot canyon. Standing at the edge, it was impossible to see down to the bottom through the twists of the canyon walls. Sam pulled out the rope and started setting up the first rappel on the fixed anchors.
Once Sam and Braden had both done their rappels, it was time for me to get hooked up and down to the bottom. With everything in place, I double and triple checked that I was safe and correctly configured and leaned back into the rappel. As soon as I was over the edge I could see down to the bottom and was blown away by the beauty of this canyon, hidden just out of site from the rest of the world.
With the first rappel out of the way and the rope repacked, we hiked the short distance to the second and final rappel off the Morning Glory Arch. The fixed anchor was being used by a guided trip so we opted for the more exciting simultaneous rappel off both sides of the arch. To achieve the simul-rappel, the rope would first be lowered down both sides of the arch so that each end touched the ground. Then Sam and Braden would both rappel down each side at the same time, using the other person as a counter-weight to prevent the rope from slipping. Once they were down, Sam would tie off the rope on his end and I would use him as an anchor at the bottom and do a solo rappel by myself.
Watching Sam and Braden get started with the simul-rap was a sight to see, but once they were over the edge the rappel went smoothly and they were soon safe on the ground. When it was my turn to hop on rappel, Sam and I very carefully communicated which side I would need to rappel off of – choosing the wrong side would be a stupid mistake that would leave me flat as a pancake 120 feet below.
After running through our voice commands and double checking everything, I was confidently ready to go and leaned into the rappel. As confident as I was that I was on the right side, it was still a little scary to lean over the edge knowing how easy it would be to make a devastating mistake here. At this point I was full committed and hadn’t plunged to my death so it was time to relax and enjoy the ride down to the bottom.
Safely on the ground again, we packed up the rope and harnesses and departed down the canyon. The hike out was stunning and a great reminder of just how much vegetation exists in the desert if you know where to look.