June 10, 2017
Heaps, the biggest, baddest, best canyon in Zion. It was an absolute joy and I can’t wait to go again.
I had been anticipating this trip for years. Every canyoneer dreams of the day they are finally ready and able to do this canyon. And eventually everything comes together, we have a good crew, and we finally execute. I had ready every trip report, every beta site, and every forum post that I could find. I was excited to finally witness the views down into Phantom Valley, walking along the knife ridge and eventually getting down into the canyon. I was eager to see the long corridors separating the narrows sections, the Iron Room, the Devil’s Pit, that other place where people get lost, the scary jump on sloped slickrock, and especially the final rappel sequence. I was excited to finally stand on the Bird Perch and look down into Upper Emerald Pool.
I also had butterflies in my stomach the entire trip just thinking about how scary and dangerous the canyon could be. More than one canyoneer has died trying to descend Heaps and the canyon demands your attention and respect.
Randy and I had been canyoneering for the past two days together and Cody, Ryan, and Matt joined us late the night before. We got up early, like 2:30 am early, and started from Lava Point at 4:20 am. Randy started us off at a good pace, averaging 3.7 mph hiking pace until the exit from the West Rim Trail.
The time flew by and we soon found ourselves at the first rappel down into Phantom Valley.
Walking along the Knife Ridge was scary for some. For me, this was the first of many spots that demanded my attention and reminded me this wasn’t a canyon to take lightly.
Down, down, down we went. Down the 200′ rappel that puts us into Phantom Valley, down the dirt hill to the slickrock, down the slickrock to the sandy canyon floor, down the canyon and around thepotholes, until the canyon finally narrowed up. We stopped for lunch (breakfast?) and put on ourwetsuits. It took us about 5 hours to get to this point.
Something happened at this location that I’m not proud of. If I’m ever in a canyon with you and you want to hear a good story, feel free to ask me about it.
Into the canyon. Recent conditions were that it was full. That was true. On more than one rappel we lowered the first person who deemed the drop safe or unsafe and if safe. The rest of us would then jump in without rappelling. This saved some time and was an absolute blast. Consequently we blazed through the first narrows. There was one keeper pothole at the very end of this section but I was able to stem over it without too much difficulty.
Within an hour or so, the first narrows was behind us and we were heading down to the second narrows, which I led. Because I was busy rigging, I didn’t take any good pictures.
Third narrows – Cody the Savior
The third narrows is the last and longest section. This section was probably twice as long as all the other narrow sections combined. This section is why people don’t like to bring camping gear into this canyon. There was so much up and down, climbing over logjams and flopping back down into the water, awkward rappels, dragging the rope bag and it fills with water, empties, and goes right back into the pools.
Right near the beginning of this section, Ryan found a water snake curled up on a log at one of the rappels. In my selfish mind, I figured it was a goner and there was no way we could save it. Cody, on the other hand, wouldn’t allow that to happen. Randy skillfully grabbed the snake and put into Cody’s backpack.
Cody carried it through the entire third narrows. He and Matt carefully lowered Cody’s backpack at each rappel, swam holding it above water, and finally deposited it on some warm sand where the snake could escape out of the canyon. I was amazed and humbled.
The rush of warm air blowing through the canyon is the first sign that the final narrows is coming to a close. We removed the wetsuits, had some snacks, and went down the last rappel sequence.
Either no one wanted to be the first or last person, or everyone was indifferent. I was noticeably scared but volunteered to rig the rappels and be the first person down. Once I made that decision, I felt confident that things would be fine.
Once I climbed up to the start of the rappel sequence and saw the view below, all the fear I had felt turned to pure joy. What a view! All that preparation, lost sleep, exhaustion, freezing conditions I felt up to this point were worth this view.
Unfortunately, though, I didn’t take a lot of time to enjoy it because I was all business. I had a job to do and needed to focus all my efforts on getting done safely.
Rigging the last three raps I was safe, but we had some problems with efficiency. We had radios but they didn’t work, so the second person didn’t know to set the rope lengths and I ended up waiting 10 minutes at each drop waiting for that to take place.
Despite this, we made it down quickly enough. I was the first to drop. It was fun having so many cameras on me taking pictures of me going down. I wish I would have thought to have them send me their pictures. Oh well.
Upon touchdown, I pulled off my Valdotain Tresse and rappel device, screamed "off rope!", slumped over and wept. I had so many emotions going through my mind at that time. I was down. I had finished the hardest canyon in Zion. Of course, we still had a 1.5 mile hike to the shuttle but that doesn’t count.
I had to put my emotions on hold since I still had a job to do. I belayed Randy down, who belayed the others down. I took off my shoes and took pictures of everyone coming down. When Matt came down he bowed to the onlooking audience. Then we coiled and packed the ropes, helmets, and other gear. Finally, we spend 20 minutes talking to hikers about what we did, excited many kids and talked about what it takes to get into the sport, and finally headed down to the shuttle.