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Terror in a Slot Canyon

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I went further down the canyon for a good 10 minutes and my heart sank as I came to yet a fourth waterfall, again with a chute on the left side like all the others. I had no idea if I saw this one before, but this one was over 20' high and seemed to require a 6' jump at the bottom, enough to get hurt. It was impossible to tell if it was climbable, because it was overhung, and getting down far enough to see where it went meant no turning back. With no idea whether this was the last, It would have been folly to continue, possibly leaving my brother stranded between waterfalls #2 and #3 while I was stranded between waterfalls #4 and maybe #5.

So I walked back up to waterfall #3 where my brother was waiting, silently climbed up to him, and gave him the bad news, which he was expecting by the fact that I bothered to climb back up. We had to return back up the way we came down -- somehow. Waiting for help was not an option: my wife back home knew we were planning to camp somewhere near the Cottonwood/Marble Canyon junction, but she had no idea which side canyons we were hiking, and anyway she wasn't expecting me to contact her for about a week. It was extraordinarily unlikely that we would see another person come our way for days, weeks or even months. Who would be stupid enough to end up here? We were not happy campers, and in fact I was near panic, but tried not to show it.

We glumly walked back to killer waterfall #2 with the 2-foot jump at the bottom. How to get up there? We considered piling up rocks to get several feet off the ground to the first hand holds, but the nearest big rocks were quite a distance back down the canyon on the other side of waterfall #3. We probably could have done it, but it would have taken all night even if we could finish it before complete exhaustion. Rocks big enough to make a difference would also have been very heavy, and I was guessing we needed at least a 4-foot boost. While we had no food, we did have over a gallon of water between us, and the canyon was in eternal shade, so we could have lasted quite a while.

I decided the only real hope was to climb on my brother's shoulders to reach the first holds. Then if I made it, I'd have to leave him there and continue on, hoping to make it up the next waterfall alone, back up over the bypass to the car to get my rope. I wouldn't have gotten back to my brother till well after dark. Luckily, I'm lighter than he is and he's pretty tall, so I gained a lot of height stretched out standing on his shoulders.

But while being lifted I had an idea, and asked to be put back down. As a last resort I decided to try making a "rope" from what we were carrying: two fanny packs and a couple of miscellaneous straps. Stretched out, this resulted in a contraption about 10' long held together by questionable stitching and 3/4" Fastex buckles. Not exactly vertical quality, but worth a shot. I suppose we could have made it a little longer by sacrificing our T-shirts, but I decided this might be good enough.

Those of you who've rock climbed have probably experienced or run into people with sewing-machine leg, involuntary muscle vibrations due to panic that makes you an incompetent climber exactly when you need all the skill you have. It has happened to me once in the past (on an un-belayed climb up a muddy slope in a cave 50' off the floor), and I could almost feel it coming on here, but this time it was for fear of never getting out of here, rather than fear of the climb itself.

But the shoulder boost worked like a charm, and despite my temporary incompetence I got to the point where I could chimney the rest of the way up. You could not imagine my relief: with at least one of us able to get out of here, nobody was going to die. It might take many hours or even a couple of days, but eventually both of us would get out. The only issue now was whether we could leave together and continue our vacation (which had just started), or waste it all on a rescue.