The San Rafael Swell is located north and south of
Interstate 70 in Utah about 20 miles west of Green River. It is a region
of uplifted sandstone that has been cut laterally by numerous narrow
canyons. Many of these, like Lower Chute, Crack, and Little Wildhorse, are
easy walk-throughs. But a few are difficult technical routes requiring special
skills for getting in and out of very deep potholes. The degree of
difficulty and the methods needed vary considerably with the water depth, so it
is interesting to do these canyons more than once under different
QUANDARY-DIRECT AND THE SQUEEZE
These are two of the longer and more
technical canyons in the area (the others include Cable, the full Baptist Draw -
Upper Chute,....). Each May a group of enthusiasts converges on Hidden
Splendor Airstrip to enjoy evenings beneath the clear desert sky, and days out
in the slots. The images in this trip report were taken in May 2002 at a
Rendezvous organized by Tom Jones of Salt Lake City.
ODE TO THE POTHOLE
Apart from some route finding and few short but interesting
down-climbs, the main excitement is getting through the deep potholes.
Called "keepers" because if you jump (or rope) into one unprepared,
you probably won't get out. Baby-bottom smooth sides, steep and sometimes
overhung lips, and the potential for floating in quite cold water for a long
time while orchestrating an escape, add to the complexity of getting through
Qunadary Direct and The Squeeze. I would never do these canyons alone. Partner-assisted climbing is often enough to get it done.
But on other occasions special
techniques using hooks, throw-bags, and perhaps even poles (or "cheater
sticks"), may be required. Great fun!
With a number of people, and low water, most of the big potholes
in Quandary and The Squeeze were negotiable by buddy climbing. This is
reasonably fast and doesn't require scarring up the rock with bolt holes (BAD
BAD BAD). With mid-depth water the toss-bag technique, wherein a sand-weighted bag
with a light rope attached is thrown over the far lip, or pushed over the lip with a pole, is
necessary. If the toss is awkward or too far, it may be necessary to
resort to a hook (on the end of a pole), a pole ladder, or multiple lighter-weight throw bags.
Canyoneering = Engineering a canyon with minimal
impact. Oh Yeah.
While getting through the big potholes is the challenge, these
two slots are also very pretty, with colorful convoluted walls and interspersed
narrows, The route from Quandary back up through Ramp is highly
recommended. Ramp has some marvelous bowls and fluted sidewalls.
Seger's Hole (The Squeeze) is San Raf's tour de force. With many many
drops (something like 25 or more), it is definitely worth the effort.