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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lost In The Black Hole of White Canyon

A sign at the trailhead warned people not to try to hike the Black Hole, but I knew the sign was old and that conditions had changed in the canyon. Reputable sources told me the canyon was doable so I decided to trot on down and find out for myself.

Nope, we couldn't make it. We had to turn around and fight out way back up the canyon, and that was not easy.

The Black Hole is a classic narrow slot in White Canyon, in the Hite area near Lake Powell. In past years it has provided a challenging canyoneering adventure, difficult but not technical. A few years ago a flash flood left a pile of unstable logs in the heart of the slot, making it very dangerous to descend. But subsequent floods have washed logs away and some canyoneers have successfully completed the route.

I'm not a die-hard canyoneer but I consider myself pretty good. I've completed many of our best canyoneering routes without any problem. I've done the Black Hole twice - before the logjam. But I couldn't get through this time.

I have two primary goals when I go canyoneering.
- 1 Everyone has fun
- 2 Nobody dies

Note that completing the route is not one of my primary goals. It is a secondary goal, nice but not nearly as important as the other two.

While canyoneering I constantly assess conditions and judge safety as it relates to the skills of the people in my group. Our slot canyons continually change - every rainstorm brings change. Changes are not usually significant, but you never know and so you've got to be cautious.

On this trip the canyon was much different - much harder - than it had been on my previous visits. We were close to the heart of the Black Hole, the tightest part where you drop down a cliff and have to complete a long swim through frigid water. I knew if we dropped down that cliff it would be extremely difficult to get back up, and I wasn't sure our group had the strength and skills needed to face challenges that might be much more difficult than I had anticipated.

So we backed out.

Still, it was an enjoyable hike in a beautiful canyon. We had fun. Safely.

Maybe those signs at the trailheads do mean something after all.

Right now is the perfect time to hike many of the trails in the red rock country of southern Utah. A few trails require wading, and the season for that is now over. (We wore wet suits in the Black Hole). But conditions are perfect for dry hikes in Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Staircase, the San Rafael Swell and other areas.

(I have video of many of my canyoneering trips. Watch it by clicking the videos on the main pages linked from the previous paragraph.)

Get out and have fun.

- Dave Webb


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