12 March 2009

Our First Ascent into the Side Canyon

05 March 2009 -- copied from my field notes.

Image: Kyle setting up the traverse on the last technical area before we reach the canyon rim. I'm on the other side of the exposure. I was safety checking on everyone's harnesses, placing folks on rope, and then directing them across. Credit: Ty Spatta.

Image: Tama and Doc preparing to negotiate the traverse below the canyon rim. Credit: Jon Kalman.

Last night, I slept in the truck. Ty unfurled his beaten-up sheet of plastic, laid out his sleeping bag and slept under the stars. The wind howled all night long. Ty didn't sleep well last night. I had a pretty good night's sleep. It's amazing what ear plugs can do.

Voyles arrived around 2230hr last night. I was already asleep by the time he arrived.

Image: Another day at the office. Canyoneering to get to our study sites.

It took us a while to get our gear together this morning -- although everything was mostly packed, it was just one of those mornings. We arrived back at base camp around 1130hr. The rest of the team was awaiting our arrival. Water had been filtered and we were ready to make our climb up to the bench caves.

We quickly sorted through our gear once again at base camp and then prepared for our ascent to the canyon rim. Our plan is to ascend a steep side canyon to access the upper bench, which is located just below the canyon rim.

Fortunately, the winds had died down and the day was perfect. Temperatures were in the middle 60s. Our ascent was most pleasant despite our heavy bags. We were carrying all of our sampling gear, food, vertical gear, and camping gear. Doc, Michael, John Cassidy and I will be spending two nights up here on the bench.

Image: Mr. Adventure. Credit: Jon Kalman.

The ascent was rather easy for the most part. We had a few sections that involved bouldering and scrambling up dry falls. We also had a few rather exposed areas that required a safety belay across these sections. It took us a while to negotiate these sections; not only did we have to rig these sections with rope and/ or webbing, but we also had shuttle packs.

Image: Shuttling backpacks through the canyon. We probably did this about a dozen times in this side canyon. Credit: Jon Kalman.

There was one section near the canyon rim that involved an exposed section above a 50 foot dry fall. This section took us a while. We had to find appropriate anchors and rig the area. Then, we had to get everyone across. Once we made it across safely, the remaining approach to the caves was a piece of cake.

Image: We made it! Our first ascent to the bench caves during this expedition. We'll only need to do this a couple more times. Credit: Kyle Voyles.

Once the team arrived at the first cave, it was 1700hr. Kyle, Tama and Ty had about 1.5hrs to return to base camp before it got dark. For safety reasons, we don't want personnel hiking through this side canyon at night. So, Kyle, Michael and I quickly sussed out the three caves we would be studying. Kyle wanted to show me the routes to these caves once again. There are a couple of exposed areas leading to an 1100ft drop, and we wanted to be sure we knew the correct route to these caves. A little mistake compounded by an 1100ft fall might be a problem for us.

Image: The team arrives at the first bench cave. We are in front of the entrance of Hungry Plant Cave. Credit: Jon Kalman.

Once he showed us the locations and routes, Kyle returned to the team and lead his team back to base camp. Michael and I set up the Anabat ultrasonic bat detection at Holiday Inn Cave and then rejoined Doc and Cassidy.

Tonight, three of us slept beneath the stars. We cleared small quasi-sleeping pads on the bench. Michael slept in one of the caves. Tomorrow we will deploy traps in two of our study caves up here.

Image: Vista of base camp from Hungry Plant Cave. On the far right, mid-image and to the left of the wash is a blue spot. That spot is Doc's tent. Credit: Jon Kalman.

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