October 06, 2015

Mike Green, Daniel Martin, Adam Haydock, Derek Reneer, and Troy Fuqua going to Jolly Gulch, Zion national Park. Photo taken by Troy Fuqua.
Another week long week trip to Zion National Park and some of the best canyoneering in the state of Utah! The high desert dry weather and beautiful landscapes make this region one of the best locations for a picturesque enchantment of sandstone geology as the watercourses cut through the mountains, sculpting their way through ancient history revealing the strata layers of our planets past. These natural plumbing systems. which I like to refer to as "caving in the sun" have a lot of similar properties as cave systems with the absence of a ceiling, yet demand some different skillsets to have a safe and effective trip.

in Jolly Gulch, Zion National Park 
 Beautiful colors of firey red, orange, and yellow paint the walls as hanging gardens and dry falls tarnish the sheer cliffs that reach over 700 ft at times. No doubt, Zion is a characteristic of what makes canyoneering and the desert a unique place to find peace and freedom.

Daniel on the 165ft. rap in Jolly Gulch
These mosaic drainage systems can also come at a price if the intrepid visitor seeking beauty, challenge, and experience relieve their attention to detail and allow risk mitigation to fall to the wayside. Recently a group of trained canyoneers went into Keyhole canyon and were caught in a flash flood which took all of their lives in a place that is known to be a relatively short and "beginner friendly" canyon. The forecast called for a 60 percent chance of rain. I have always told myself I would not go into a canyon when there is over a 30 percent chance of rain yet there are variables to that and "what if" scenarios. There was a rescue a few days before we went to Imlay canyon and another fatality the day after we were in Imlay canyon on a side canyon called "not Imlay".  These were experienced and trained people, some of which were friends of friends, and the unfortunate occurrences happened that ended fatal.  Please be careful out there when visiting these wonderful canyons, even the so called "Beginner Friendly" canyons can become quite serious for any experience level.
Troy, Adam, Mike, Derek, Daniel on the East Rim trail to Jolly Gulch. Photo Taken by Troy Fuqua
I am not here to say how great I am or how other should have done this and that...we have all made mistakes...yet I think there is something to be said about situational awareness, experience, practice, and training which all comes into play when making decisions. I feel this "equation" is one of the best tools for risk mitigation and what might help new and experienced canyoneers, cavers, cave divers, mountaineers, and others that face a threshold of risk which can help to make good decisions. Even when we do this, a not so favorable outcome can and will happen.

Derek Reneer in Jolly Julch
Again, I am not here to ever ridicule or put down the decisions others have made but I find that not only when I put my deepest prayers and the most comforted condolences to the friends and families that are dealing these major loss, I find that we can continue to learn from our friends and grow into a more self aware and conscientious collective while keeping these lessons learned alive by yielding to these risks that our friends have found to be fatal. Not only will we never forget them but it might just help out some others in similar situations. Overall, I have to say that this trip was quite eventful with a lot of change organization due to the large rock that blocked the road to Zion, Kolob Terrace road closing at certain hours, and Angels Landing being closed. This all made for quite the plan which included car shuttles and camping accommodation adjustments.
Mike Green and Derek Reneer in Jolly Gulch

I got to the ponderosa ranch early and waited for everyone else to wake up early in the morning. On this week long, Troy Fuqua, Daniel Martin, Derek Rainier, and Mike Green were at the campsite. Walter Stech missed his flight and came into the camp the following night.

The First Rap in Jolly Gulch

We headed out to the East rim trail to drop Jolly Gulch. This was rated at a 3AII as it had 3 rappels to 165ft into a small section of narrows and into a gorge the washed out back towards the trail. We headed up to the top of the rim which took about an hour or so and made it to the top of Jolly Gulch.
Daniel Martin and Derek Reneer in Jolly Gulch

 It was a nice view of the gorge and a great first rap down into the canyon bottom. I also chose this canyon to ensure that everyone was able to get their gear dialed in and get use to rappelling on 9.2 rope since different techniques will be used than when we are caving.
Mike Green in Jolly Gulch

 To my surprise, there was no webbing set in place so, at first I thought to set up a releasable anchor but ended up setting up a fiddlestick so we could practice minimal impact and leave no trace.

Daniel about to go down Jolly Gulch
We each got on rope and went over the edge down to the bottom of the 165ft. rap into Jolly gulch. We pulled down the fiddlestick and the rope made for an easy pull afterwards. What a great device.

Top OF Jolly Gulch East Rim trail Zion National Park

The next two raps were a 30 and another 30-40footer which took us down into a pool and out of the canyon. We rigged a biner block and set up a single line to the bottom. We recently heard from a few hikers that since the park had the boulder blocking the road, the rangers were going to close the road at 4pm so we had less than a hour to make it back over to the entrance before we were locked out. Troy and Daniel made it back over to the cars and moved them before the road was closed.

bottom of Jolly Gulch

We eventually made it back to the road just as the gates were closing...they were literally closing the gates as we got to the road!! We loaded up the cars and the others were talking to the Rangers about the Boulder. The ranger asked us to see our permits but since the road was closed, we did not drive around to get the permits which is what I told the ranger. He let us go without incident due to the boulders blocking the road.
Adam Haydock Rapping down the first drop in Jolly Gulch, Zion national Park Photo by Troy Fuqua

We made it back to the campsite and tried to figure out where we were going to go
The following day due to the road being closed. We came up with fat mans misery, walker gulch, and deadeye dick, but as we were about to go to sleep, the park announced they re opened the road and were able to get the Boulder out of the way so we got prepared to head over to spry canyon for the next day.
Adam Haydock, Derek reneer, Daniel Martin, Mike Green going to Jolly Gulch, Zion National Park. Photo taken by: Troy Fuqua

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