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Thread: Real Winter, Real Consequences

  1. #1
    Content Provider Emeritus ratagonia's Avatar
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    Real Winter, Real Consequences

    From one of my far-flung correspondants:

    > I am wondering if you have any recommendations as to which
    > technical slot canyons in Zion NP might be good in the winter. I
    > have done pine creek and keyhole down there with a BYU class and t
    > he water was very cold in fall, and I thought it might be frozen
    > over. Pine creek seems like it might be a good option because
    > we'll hit water before the first rappel, and can decide if we
    > want to commit.
    >
    > Is the water often frozen over in ZNP's slots?
    >

    Hi B**** -

    Now that it has been firmly established that we are having a REAL
    winter, let's consider how that effects canyoneering in Zion, and
    elsewhere in the state.

    There's snow. Lots of it, and at some point it will melt. When and
    how fast the snow melts can vary a lot, with consequences to the
    canyons. In Zion, it tends to start melting about April 1st, and can
    result in mild, continuous flooding until the end of May (or all the
    way to the 4th of July), or big sudden floods that all happen in a
    week. Look at the watershed, and consider the area, the snowpack in
    that area, the altitude and when and how it is likely to melt out.

    The Narrows, the North Fork of the Virgin River has a very large
    watershed extending from Zion Canyon to Navajo Lake. While it usually only floods for a couple of weeks (typically in April), I think we are expecting it to flood for longer than that this year, likely mid-April to mid-June(???) depending. Macho posturing aside, flood usually means impassable (and this year might mean good boating), thus making canyons that end up in the Narrows impossible (like Imlay, Orderville and Mystery).

    The Subway will likely flood for a week or two in April, but its basin is considerably smaller and all at about the same altitude, so it gets the job done and becomes reasonable again.

    But what canyons are likely good during the remainder of the winter season?

    Pine Creek, Keyhole??? These canyons are deep and have water-filled potholes in them. Given the cold temperatures, you might expect those potholes to freeze solid, but this is not usually the case. Potholes with a clear view of the sky will usually freeze during cold weather, but potholes that are deep within a canyon and do not have a clear view of the sky will not usually freeze solid enough to walk on.

    Pine Creek we suspect is now full of water. Any bit of thawing on the East Side (altitude 5000 feet) will put water in Pine Creek. We are having cold nighttime temps this week, so the first pothole or two I would expect to be frozen solid, but from there on out, I would expect a lot of swimming!!! The water will be at approx 32 degrees F. If you are prepared for it, this could be fun.

    Other usual suspects for Winter include Behunin and Spry - and that's
    about it. Both face south and dry out pretty quickly. For Behunin,
    there is likely deep snow getting up to Behunin pass on the north side of Mount Majestic, and then the high basin holds some amount of snow that melts out slowly. In these conditions, it takes an extra hour for the hike in; and then the canyon itself is pretty wet. The third rappel can have a substantial waterfall, and when I've been there in winter, has the interesting property that the water freezes as it falls. The upper part is in the sun, but the lower part is in the shade. Our rope froze to the rock surface, and was very difficult to pull. Spending the night on that watery ledge was not going to be fun.

    Further down the canyon in Behunin are other opportunities to get wet. In the spring, this can be fun and the canyon is very nice - in the winter this can be a big problem if you are not prepared for it.

    Spry is somewhat dryer once that small basin melts out. There can be
    ice getting to the first rappel anchor, but you can also easily turn
    around at that point. Further down, most of the canyon faces south,
    so it should be warm and dry out fairly quickly. The short pool near
    the end is almost always full and very stimulating. Wetsuits might be advisable in winter conditions.

    Elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau, lots of snow means big floods which carry with it the potential for major changes in canyon obstacles and anchors. The spring will likely come late, be cold, and most canyons will be tippy-top full. Ratchet back your ambitions. The first couple months of the season will carry a degree of seriousness not seen since the last big snow year. Expect things to be cold, wet, difficult and slow. Bring lots of webbing and plan on replacing/building many anchors. Choprock Slot in particular is likely to be very difficult through at least the end of June. It is possible that the spring floods will wash sticks and logs in there that will return it to the almost-impossible conditions of 10 years ago. Even strong teams entering Choprock Slot will be challenged to survive - weak teams may not make it.

    Tom

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  3. #2
    I just want to say thanks for posting this. I'm not a canyoneer, although I'm hoping to get in some trips this year....this was one of the most intelligent, well written posts that I have seen on any forum,including this one.
    Tear down Dams, Build up Dreams!

  4. #3

  5. #4
    Thanks Tom. Great information. As for Behunin, if there is snow on the South slop entering the canyon, what is the preferred route in? To the right LDC or left? Seems that with snow on the pass, straight down the normal route would be a quick way to leave a body print on the wall at the bottom. That whole slope would be one nasty entrance with any amount of snow. I can see why the extra hour just to get in.
    Life is Good

  6. #5
    Content Provider Emeritus ratagonia's Avatar
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    Snow up where?

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Card
    Thanks Tom. Great information. As for Behunin, if there is snow on the South slop entering the canyon, what is the preferred route in? To the right LDC or left? Seems that with snow on the pass, straight down the normal route would be a quick way to leave a body print on the wall at the bottom. That whole slope would be one nasty entrance with any amount of snow. I can see why the extra hour just to get in.
    Going left just leads to ever-steepening slabs. If there is snow there, turn around and go back!!! That slope faces south enough that it should melt out quickly. Or, hike around to the top, set up the 600' rope and rap down the headwall.

    T

  7. #6
    Zions the "s" is silent trackrunner's Avatar
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    thanks for the info
    looks like there are going to be a lot more class 4C canyons in Utah this year, if it melts late and all at once

  8. #7

    Re: Snow up where?

    Quote Originally Posted by ratagonia
    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Card
    Thanks Tom. Great information. As for Behunin, if there is snow on the South slop entering the canyon, what is the preferred route in? To the right LDC or left? Seems that with snow on the pass, straight down the normal route would be a quick way to leave a body print on the wall at the bottom. That whole slope would be one nasty entrance with any amount of snow. I can see why the extra hour just to get in.
    Going left just leads to ever-steepening slabs. If there is snow there, turn around and go back!!! That slope faces south enough that it should melt out quickly. Or, hike around to the top, set up the 600' rope and rap down the headwall.

    T
    Kinda what I figured. Just wanting to clarify so as to not send folks in with even minimal amounts of snow on that slope. The first through third raps would also require some serious consideration with any amount of snow.
    Life is Good

  9. #8

    Re: Real Winter, Real Consequences

    Quote Originally Posted by ratagonia
    From one of my far-flung correspondants:

    There's snow. Lots of it, and at some point it will melt. When and
    how fast the snow melts can vary a lot, with consequences to the
    canyons. In Zion, it tends to start melting about April 1st, and can
    result in mild, continuous flooding until the end of May (or all the
    way to the 4th of July), or big sudden floods that all happen in a
    week. Look at the watershed, and consider the area, the snowpack in
    that area, the altitude and when and how it is likely to melt out.

    Tom
    I wonder what these less than mild winter conditions mean for canyoneers planning on attending the ACA Zion rendezous scheduled for end of March. I'm thinking about it, but it seems like it'll be more like Freeze Fest than anything else. In fact, isn't it rather cold there in April too? I wonder why March was picked this time.

    You planning to be there Tom? Poor Euro's are gonna have a hard time experiencing the Zion we all know and love. They're likly to go back home and complain that it was all snowed under.

    Of course, being the glutton for punishment that I seem to be, it sounds pretty fun to me!

    ~Randi
    If the shoe fits ~ pretend it doesn

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