swimming in ice

On December 21st we headed over to the backcountry office in Zion to get a pass for keyhole canyon. Strangely enough there was no line up there. Anyhow, we drove on up and parked, then layered up. Dennis had finally been convinced of the efficacy of the drysuits the day before in the narrows, so we were both looking forward to dropping into the icy water and swimming for it. I was bringing my tripod down with me for the first time, and we planned to take our time going through. I have done the main body of this canyon in about 20 minutes before but that was not what we wanted to do this time. We were going to savor this beautiful slot canyon which is so narrow it closes up above you like a cave. Direct sunlight never reaches the bottom of the technical section of this canyon, so it gets very dark, and cold all year round. Anyhow, we headed up the steep slickrock which constitutes the approach to the canyon, moving slowly so we wouldn’t overheat. Down the precipitous and slippery, snow covered embankment ont he other side, and then reached the mouth of the canyon. We cooled down for a few minutes then finished putting on the dry suits, unlimbered our cameras and headed into the first, non-technical half of the canyon. This part of the canyon is still a slot, but there are no drops long enough to require a rope and the sky is easily visible overhead. There are plenty of pools of water to scramble into, but nothing more then waist deep. I snapped pictures, scrambled around and prepared myself for the extra fun part coming up. Before the canyon drops into the heart of it, it opens up into a small valley. There we took a short break, pulled out the rope and rigged up for the first drop in. Much of the water we had waded through so far had been incrusted with ice, and I didn’t know what to expect in the deep part of the canyon. thick ice would have made it a royal pain, but when I had done this previously in the winter the water had been running just enough to keep it iceless. This turned out to be the case this time as well. I dropped in on the rope and the fun continued. It really is impossible to describe the beauty of these slot canyons to you without seeing it with your own eyes. Millenia of flash floods and winter storms have carved out chambers and passages made up of linked sinuous curves. The colours of the walls change from browns and grays to brilliant reds and yellows, with blue and green thrown in. Looking at the walls of a passageway you see layers of smooth walls obscuring further walls, looking almost like a stormy lake out on its side, wave layering over wave. I was very happy with our decision to take our time in the canyon. The drysuits performed admirably once again, as we rappelled from one chamber to the next, dropping into deep pools of water and swimming on until we found the sandy bottom rise underneath our feet. I had the tripod out and was snapping pictures in every direction. After the rappels finish, the canyon gets even thinner, and we scrambled our way through narrow walls and small drops, emerging into slightly wider chambers only to squeeze back into the corridors almost immediately. We could sense the canyon walls getting shorter, and all too soon they opened up only a few feet above our heads and it was over.

Anyhow, here are the pictures from the canyon, and I hope you enjoy them at least a fraction as much as we enjoyed taking them. Cheers

Keyhole Canyon Dec 2009

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