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Thread: TR: Mystery, 3 July '09

  1. #1

    TR: Mystery, 3 July '09

    With the forecast suggesting a 30% chance of "scattered thunderstorms" later in the day, and clear blue skies, 5 of our group of 6 were dropped off at the east mesa trailhead by the 6th, who had decided that Mystery probably wasn't for her (worries about exposure and scrambling). Most beta we'd read suggested 5-8 hours for a descent, and even though we're a relatively inexperienced group we figured starting at the east mesa would help with time, so we weren't too worried about starting at 11am. We passed a group gearing up for Englestead on the way in, and given what happened later I suspect they may have had a rather "interesting" time too. The main reason for the later than ideal start was because those of us who'd waited up from 3am the previous morning to get the permit were tired.

    Taking 2 120 foot ropes that Tom had kindly lent us, and my 200 foot rope, we made quick progress to the apex of the canyon, geared up, and started the Death Gully descent. It soon became clear that the name was appropriate, with the footing being a little treacherous in places. Still, we were careful and about 45 minutes later found ourselves at the bottom.

    It wasn't long before we started encountering various bolted drops. I understood that previously these had been bypassed by taking the trails on the right, but that this was now causing problematic soil erosion, so we downclimbed or rappelled them. I think there must have been 7-8 rappells before the first "real" rappel in the slot section. This slowed us down quite a bit, although the use of rope bags and single strand raps helped make these a lot faster than they otherwise would have been. Still, by the time we'd reached the dogleg the clear blue skies of the morning had been replaced by dark clouds overhead and distant rumbles of thunder. We sped up, wanting to get out of the slot section as soon as possible, and at one point I even rigged 2 nearby rappels simultaneously using the 200 foot rope, which provided enough slack to make this possible.

    When we left the narrows, the heavens had opened and rain was coming down hard, and rather more persistently than the "scattered" thunderstorms that the weather forecast had claimed as a possibility. Some of us were getting pretty concerned by this point, and decided to seek higher ground and some shelter to wait for the rain to stop. It never did, but when it eased off we made our way to the Devil's Hole, and felt a lot more secure when we'd scrambled to the top of the sand and debris pile, figuring that even if the canyon above us flashed, it would have to dump a ridiculous amount of water into the Devil's Hole to top that barrier.

    All this had taken time though, and it was now the late afternoon. By the time we reached the signature rap into Mystery Springs, the light was looking somewhat gloomy.

    The rap itself went well, and some kind person had already rigged a webbing safety tether out to the anchor. Still, waiting for our turn to descend, most of us were pretty frightened. I set the rap, using Tom's 9mm bagged rope, biner blocking it to one anchor and backing up the biner block with a figure eight on a bight clipped to the second anchor, to which I was also tethered via my canyon quickdraw. Zoe, being one of our most experienced rappellers was to be the first down, and she clipped the bag to her gear loop and rapped to the top of the boulder, then into the spring, deploying the rope as she went. I was able to watch most of this, feeling confident enough to lean out over the edge despite my acrophobia (thank you canyon quickdraw), but got a little emotional when I could no longer see what she was doing. Seeing her emerge from the far side of the pool at the bottom filled me with relief.

    One by one, the other three went down, with Zoe providing a bottom belay, but I think it was more for confidence than anything else as the rap seemed technically unchallenging - it was just the longest one any of us had done. I was the last to go down, and before I did I removed the figure eight knot backup anchor, tied the now free end to Tom's bagged 8.3mm rope using a double EDK, and rapped down with that rope deploying from my gear loop as we went. The pull, while a little sticky at first, presented no real difficulties.

    We were now really concerned about time, and made speedy progress downcanyon. The beta said there were another 3 raps before the exit rap, but we only counted 1, so I guess we must have downclimbed two of the shorter ones. When Joyce, who'd not been to Zion before, stopped at a notch with a shouted expletive about a flash flood, I realised we'd reached the exit.

    I looked over and what I saw was not reassuring. The Virgin was brown and appeared to be flowing fast. It did not look friendly. With the light fading fast we were faced with a choice of spending the night in Myster, or trying to make it out. Thankfully we'd brought plenty of food, headlamps and emergency blankets.

    We decided to do a couple of tests. I deployed my 200 foot rope, and watched the current take the end, It didn't seem too bad. Zoe then dropped a rock into the water to try and gauge its depth, and once again, while the water looked fast and dirty, it didn't look any deeper than we were expecting. Indeed, we could see pebbles jutting out of the water at various points. Knowing it wasn't too far downstream to the exit walk, we decided that it was at least worth a more detailed examination. Zoe descended the rope, rigging for lots of friction, with the intent of stopping just above the water. She took her ascenders with her, in case she needed to come back up. She made the bottom without problems, and declared the water at the bottom to be ankle-deep. After some discussion we decided to try and make it out, the intent being that we'd move downriver with everyone roped together for safety. We knew it wasn't far to the paved path, and the prospect of spending a night in that stream wasn't appealing.

    I deployed the pull cord, and went next. I found the rap pretty easy, despite the slippery surface, but a couple of the others did slip a couple of times, with one of us developing a novel hybrid rappelling/boy-scouting technique which probably wouldn't win any style points, but which was effective.

    By the time all five of us were down and the ropes had been retrieved, it was dark. Te walk out was nerve-racking, although the river never got more than waist-deep. The current was strong, and being roped together progress was slow. The feeling of sheer relief when we reached the end of the paved path was palpable, and we decoupled ourselves and turned off the headlamps, relying on our night vision for the mile walk back to Temple of Sinawava. We arrived, passing the "flash flood warning" sign, just as the penultimate shuttle of the night was pulling in, and concerned that our friend had reported us overdue, I asked the driver if he could radio ahead to let someone know we were OK. We must have looked a pretty sorry sight, sitting there on the bus, still wearing our packs and harnesses, smelling of Virgin-a-la-flash flood.

    Lessons learned:

    1) Start early, even if the beta says the canyon takes 5-8 hours, because some of us move more slowly than others.

    2) When the weather forecast says a "30% chance of scattered thunderstorms", realise that it could be wrong and despite the clear blue skies at the start of the descent, those possible "scattered thunderstorms" could turn out to be persistent rain that just refuses to let-up.

    3) Taking lots of emergency supplies and extra rope is a very good idea. Thankfully we did this - if we hadn't, I suspect we'd still be up there now, making a rather miserable exit.

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  3. #2

    Re: TR: Mystery, 3 July '09

    Quote Originally Posted by sarahlizzy
    Taking 2 120 foot ropes that Tom had kindly lent us, and my 200 foot rope, we made quick progress to the apex of the canyon, geared up, and started the Death Gully descent. It soon became clear that the name was appropriate, with the footing being a little treacherous in places. Still, we were careful and about 45 minutes later found ourselves at the bottom.
    Also, I struggled at the start a bit, not being used to rope bags - I'd tried to clip it to my harness only to find it swung about and unbalanced me on the downclimb. Slinging it over my back was even worse - it swung over my shoulder and caused me to lose my footing nastily at a couple of points. I ended up with it in my backpack - once it was secure like that, I was actually able to make good progress!

    We sped up, wanting to get out of the slot section as soon as possible, and at one point I even rigged 2 nearby rappels simultaneously using the 200 foot rope, which provided enough slack to make this possible.
    Having extra rope helped with speed here too - we had two raps rigged simultaneously for much of the portion above Mystery Springs. (I was worried enough at one point that I nearly rigged three - using the 8mm rope double-line that we'd intended for use as pull cord - but decided I didn't want to split the party up too much, plus we didn't have any experience rapping on 8mm rope, not that I'd expect any dramas with it double-lined.

    Zoe, being one of our most experienced rappellers was to be the first down, and she clipped the bag to her gear loop and rapped to the top of the boulder, then into the spring, deploying the rope as she went. I was able to watch most of this, feeling confident enough to lean out over the edge despite my acrophobia (thank you canyon quickdraw), but got a little emotional when I could no longer see what she was doing. Seeing her emerge from the far side of the pool at the bottom filled me with relief.
    I found it surprisingly hard to communicate with the group up top once I was even half way down that rap, next time round we will definitely take waterproof radios!

    We arrived, passing the "flash flood warning" sign, just as the penultimate shuttle of the night was pulling in,
    Specifically, a BIG YELLOW SIGN saying "VIRGIN RIVER CLOSED, FLASH FLOOD RISK".

  4. #3

    Re: TR: Mystery, 3 July '09

    [quote="zoeimogen"]
    Quote Originally Posted by sarahlizzy
    We arrived, passing the "flash flood warning" sign, just as the penultimate shuttle of the night was pulling in,
    Specifically, a BIG YELLOW SIGN saying "VIRGIN RIVER CLOSED, FLASH FLOOD RISK".
    Look what I found:



    I'm actually quite proud of us - I don't think we could have predicted what happened when we went in, given the conditions and weather forecast. It turned out worse than we expected, and we got out OK, mainly I think because we prepared for contingencies. I suspect the river level was already dropping from that peak when we exited.

  5. #4
    Bogley BigShot oldno7's Avatar
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    Not to lecture, but.............

    IT'S THE MONSOON SEASON!!!!

    Most people are leaving canyons around 11:00, not just getting to them.

    I never take too much stock in the weather forecast's. Recently we had morning thundershowers show up on a 0% chance of precip.

    Start early/Leave early during Monsoon, not a bad idea at any time though, help's relieve stress..

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by oldno7
    Not to lecture, but.............

    IT'S THE MONSOON SEASON!!!!

    Most people are leaving canyons around 11:00, not just getting to them.

    I never take too much stock in the weather forecast's. Recently we had morning thundershowers show up on a 0% chance of precip.

    Start early/Leave early during Monsoon, not a bad idea at any time though, help's relieve stress..
    Point taken. I do wonder what happened to the Englestead group we passed. They were still organising themselves when we were hiking in, and they'd have had it worse than us if they'd exited at a similar time.

    Just been to the backcountry desk. Apparently the peak flow in the Virgin was about an hour after we made it back to Temple of Sinawava.

  7. #6
    A good learning point from this would be to make sure and check at the top of the text part of the weather report and click on the special weather statements or hazardous weather outlook. There was a special weather statement that told about the expectation of heavy rain and possible hail activity likely between 3pm and 7pm that caused us to cancel our long canyon trip that day and switch to something shorter.

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by jiveassmother
    A good learning point from this would be to make sure and check at the top of the text part of the weather report and click on the special weather statements or hazardous weather outlook. There was a special weather statement that told about the expectation of heavy rain and possible hail activity likely between 3pm and 7pm that caused us to cancel our long canyon trip that day and switch to something shorter.
    Where did you see that? We checked the weather that morning, at ZAC en-route to the East Mesa trailhead, and I'm pretty sure there was nothing about that there. As far as we were concerned, we were doing the right thing, being sensible, etc., but still got caught out.

  9. #8
    Here is an image of where you can find special weather statements from the national weather service Salt Lake office. I drew in a red arrow pointing to the link. www.wrh.noaa.gov/slc I have never attatched an image before so if it doesn't work I will keep trying.
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  10. #9

    Re: TR: Mystery, 3 July '09

    Quote Originally Posted by sarahlizzy

    I'm actually quite proud of us - I don't think we could have predicted what happened when we went in, given the conditions and weather forecast. It turned out worse than we expected, and we got out OK, mainly I think because we prepared for contingencies. I suspect the river level was already dropping from that peak when we exited.
    And on top of that, you guys have a great adventure story. Congrats on braving the elements and being none the worse for wear. Loved reading your TR, thanks for sharing it.
    Your safety is not my responsibility.

  11. #10
    You missed out on the best part of mystery: the applause at the end when you rap down into a group of tourists.

    Yeah, monsoon season seems to have started. Clear skies in the morning mean nil. :/
    -----
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  12. #11
    Glad to hear you made it out safe.

    Here are a few pictures of the skies over Zion on Friday afternoon.




  13. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by jiveassmother
    Here is an image of where you can find special weather statements from the national weather service Salt Lake office. I drew in a red arrow pointing to the link. www.wrh.noaa.gov/slc I have never attatched an image before so if it doesn't work I will keep trying.
    Thank you! Bookmarked for future reference.

  14. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Ryebrye
    You missed out on the best part of mystery: the applause at the end when you rap down into a group of tourists.
    Drat! Now we'll just have to come back next year and do it again.

    Wonder how cheap I can get a return flight to Vegas for at short notice...

  15. #14

    Re: TR: Mystery, 3 July '09

    Quote Originally Posted by Deathcricket
    Congrats on braving the elements and being none the worse for wear. Loved reading your TR, thanks for sharing it.
    Thank you! The only real casualties in the end were our underwear, which was so obviously never going to be clean again that some of it got thrown away!

  16. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by SLCmntjunkie
    Glad to hear you made it out safe.

    Here are a few pictures of the skies over Zion on Friday afternoon.
    Eek! Glad we could only see a small fraction of that looking up from the canyon bottom. The small slice we saw was demoralising enough.

    Next time I do a 3BIII, I'm starting at 6am.

  17. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by sarahlizzy
    Quote Originally Posted by Ryebrye
    You missed out on the best part of mystery: the applause at the end when you rap down into a group of tourists.
    Drat! Now we'll just have to come back next year and do it again.
    We also need to learn how to do a guided rap, for extra crowd-pleasing ability!

  18. #17
    Melanie, who didn't descend the canyon with us, just found the "survivors' photo" she took of us as we arrived back at Springdale. Thought it might amuse:



    Left to right, Sylvia, me, Sara, Joyce, Zoe, all in serious need of a shower and beer!

  19. #18

    Re: TR: Mystery, 3 July '09

    I'm Melanie, taker of that survivors' photo Sarah posted above.

    Quote Originally Posted by sarahlizzy
    and concerned that our friend had reported us overdue, I asked the driver if he could radio ahead to let someone know we were OK.
    Yes I did report them overdue! I didn't go on the trip because I have an issue with exposure. I didn't think I could cope with the ledge before the Mystery Springs rap. Add to that I wasn't well for some of the trip. I am trying to acclimatise myself to improve my exposure issues so may be next year.

    Anyway as I wasn't canyoneering that day I acted as the taxi service. I also hiked in to the narrows to meet them on their final rap. However due to the time estimate issue I was some what earlier than they were. So I decided to hike up the narrows and come back to the falls to wait for them. About a mile up it started to rain. I turned around and started back. I could tell the water was changing colour and rising so I got out of there as quickly as possible. At one point it was up to just below my breasts. I think I finally got back on to the shuttle bus about an hour an a half before them. The rain was torrential and I got soaked to the skin getting from the park shuttle to the town shuttle.

    As they still hadn't arrived by the time it was totally dark I thought it best to head back to the park and talk to them. After chatting with a ranger we both thought that they would either appear before the last shuttle, or would weather the rain over night and arrive in the morning. I took his number and agreed to let him know if they appeared later, or hadn't appeared by early morning. They did appear later and I was somewhat relieved.

    Alas I didn't sleep well though because of my bad stomach.

  20. #19

    Re: TR: Mystery, 3 July '09

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyberspice
    I didn't go on the trip because I have an issue with exposure. I didn't think I could cope with the ledge before the Mystery Springs rap.
    It's funny - before the trip out there I'd been very apprehensive about the last rap in Pine Creek, to the point of having nightmares about it. When we came to that rap, I just clipped on to the rope, sat on the ledge and shuffled off into space with no issues whatsoever.

    The only time I was actually really frightened was on that ledge above Mystery Spring.

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