a little Lytle
2 weekends ago Dennis, Mitch and I decided to go to check out the Middle Fork of Lytle creek a little earlier in the season then I had previously done, and it was well worth the effort. We were going to decide as we went down if we would go the dry(ish) route or go whole hog down the waterfalls, and with the high flow and good temperatures we decided to do it the fun way. From past experience we knew an early start was important if we wanted to hit the coldest portion int he sunlight so we met at Dennis’ place at 6:00 and got underway tout de suite. I had never met Mitch but we got along great and he was very excited to be doing his first canyon with us. He had some previous rappeling experience but was essentially unschooled, so this was a great adventure for him, and of course for us as well.
We reached the parking lot at 8:00 and geared up. By 8:15 we were on our way. The temperature was cool verging on cold, which was ideal for the hike up. We took our time and admired the full river, the snow capping the surrounding mountains and the brilliant spring greenery. We made good time up the trail and reached the stream crossing before the last steep trail in good time for a midmorning snack. We checked with Mitch to see how he was holding up and it was a big thumbs up from him. After a 15 minute rest we grabbed our heavy packs and set off up the part where we were earning our rappels. 50 pounds of wetsuit, rapping and anchor gear and a heavy camera are not a small thing to lug up the hill, but the temperature was perfect and I was feeling good so I plowed on up the switchbacks in excellent time, giving me the opportunity to sit and look over the canyon we would soon be descending. It was very quiet, compared to the city anyway, but the birds were in full voice and the sun was warm and the view 2000 feet down the canyon was gorgeous. These moments are pretty much why I do this. SOon enough the other two reached me and we set off up the last half mile before the drop in. Soon enough we reached the steep slope where we left the path to drop into the canyon. The canyon was different once more from the last time we had been here. Every time we come in here the canyon shows us a new face. This time there were no ladybugs dripping of the branches, the water was substantially higher, and there were still patches of snow scattered on the banks of the canyon. It was just as pretty as always though and we wandered downstream to our first waterfall. The first one was to be the only dry drop in of the day, which was good since we wanted to give Mitch a reasonable first rappel. We ate a little and donned our wetsuits and harnesses, then I took him to the small tree where the anchor was and set up the rappel. We went over the basics again and I studied his rappel device before letting him head off down the rope. Dennis had gone ahead and down climbed most of the waterfall, just tossing a rope over a tree to rap the last bit, so he was waiting at the next anchor 30 feet downstream with the next rap already set. Mitch vanished over the edge, a huge grin on his face. Soon enough I heard him yell “off rappel” and anchored in myself, then quickly down I went. The water was roaring down the next drop, and we all clipped in to the anchor point at the top as we discussed ways to attach the video camera to the rope so I could take video of myself as I rapped. We engineered a good solution, but unfortunately the camera got turned off by mistake at the top of the rappel so all that footage was lost 😦 Ah well, next time. The roaring water was bracing, to put it mildly, but our adrenaline was on overdrive so we yelled and laughed and cheered as we rappeled into the pool at the bottom. With this put of the way Mitch was now a veteren and loving it. After the second rappel there is a relatively long hike downstream before the next series of 3 rappels ends the canyon. We scrambled over fallen trees and rocks, and enjoyed the day as we wended our way down the creek.
Finally we reached the top of the last 3 rappels. Our timing was excellent, and the sun was shining on the suspended granite bowl which makes up the bottom of the first rappel. The bolts at the top of this drop are situated in such a way that you are dropping in to the full flow of the waterfall. Since the water was so cold and strong we set an anchor off a tree to the left which allowed us a mostly dry descent right beside the falls. The water was chilly but the sun was warm, and the small swim in the pool was fine. I headed down and then setup the second rappel as the other 2 came down the first. Once everyone was down the first I dropped in for the second leg. Each of these drops is in the 90-100 foot range, and the exposure down the canyon is incredible. Once again I set the next anchor as the other two came down. The bottom of this second rappel is cold since the water generates a very strong wind, but once I had set the anchor I was able to move a little bit to the side of the canyon, and sit in the sun out of the wind.
During these 3 rappels you are in a world isolated by granite and water. Its a very private place and worth sitting and absorbing. Anyhow, we went down the last rappel soon after, and I was a little worried since it is almost exactly one half rope length down, with no wriggle room on a 200 foot rope. We set the length as well as possible after Dennis went down, and the end of the rope was tied in to the bottom of the rope bag I would have clipped to my harness as I went down so if I reached the end of the side of the rope we use to pull the rope down I should have known about it. I decided to rap right down the middle of this last water fall since we were finished after and I could warm up then, but the water pummeling me and the rush from the rappel were probably why I didn’t notice as I reached the end of the pull side and it efficiently untied itself as I blithely rapped to the bottom. When I got down I finally looked into the rope bag at my side and realized the end of the rope was hanging about 20 feet up in the middle of the waterfall. This made it difficult to pull our rope. We always, however, carry a means to ascend the rope with us, so I decided to warm up a bit and reascend the rap side of the rope. The plan was to attach the pull side to my harness and rappel back down again, essentially lowering myself as if I had myself on belay.
It sounds easier then it is.
Normally this wouldn’t pose any problem, and really it didn’t here, but the water was fresh snowmelt and pounding down hard, the rock was extremely slippery and it was off vertical so I couldn’t just put my weight on my ascenders, I had to try to keep my footing on the slick rock while the roaring water tried to pull my feet out from under me.
It was awesome!!
Admittedly the top of my head got very cold as the water pounded it, but it was great fun nonetheless. I climbed up, attached the rope, lowered myself back down, and life was good. We stacked the rope back into the bag, packed up and headed into the sunset. (actually sunset wasn’t for quite a few hours, but you get my drift)
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