March 3, 2018
Starting out scared and timid, I finished my first X-rated canyon happy and confidently.
This won't be a traditional trip report. Descending Sandthrax made me realize that I had gotten complacent and wasn't respecting canyons like I should.
On a scale from A (perfect descent) to F (injury resulting in rescue)
If I were to grade myself on my personal performance, I would give myself a C-.
All the good is condensed into this video. I'm glad I can go back and see how much fun it was to be in there. I'm going to focus on the bad.
Beta - I honestly didn't think I would be doing Sandthrax that day. Even a few hours before I wasn't sure it was going to happen. Consequently I hadn't read any beta and trusted completely in Anthony, who had done it before. That's my excuse.
Experience - In terms of high-stemming, I believe I had experienced enough high stemming in canyons that I knew more or less what to expect. The stemming was quite similar to Upper Stair though, of course, it was higher and considerably longer. East Scorpion has a long high-stemming section for an R canyon and so I was comfortable with the idea of stemming for several hours without any break. I had intended to continue working my way up to X canyons with some others, but the opportunity to do these canyons never came and Sandthrax did, so I took it.
Crux - I also was completely unprepared for the crux. I had to trust Anthony completely for this one. I was aware of the standard "Number 5 and Number 6 cams" but have never even seen those cams in real life let alone have them with me or used them.
I need to be honest here. I am out of shape. Doing an occasional hike in the Wasatch mountains doesn't adequately prepare someone for high-stemming. It requires sustained upper body strength. During one of my many breaks where Anthony was up ahead waiting for me to catch up, I told him that I had thought I was in shape for the canyon. That was a lie. In the month prior, I had only exercised my upper body once for about half an hour. We would have finished the canyon a good hour earlier if I had been exercising regularly.
I mentioned that I felt more secure chimneying than galumphing because my legs felt more secure. That was a lie. I was just tired. I also said I was worried about my shoes not getting very good traction. That is partially true. I was tired and making excuses to myself. However, those shoes have hundreds of miles on them and the sole is definitely worn down.
For the first half of the canyon, I definitely felt like I didn't belong in this canyon. I was timid, unsure of my abilities, and very nervous. I remember thinking on multiple occasions that I regretted being there and that if there were any escape options I would take them. I also remember thinking that I probably burned 1000 calories being nervous :)
Near the beginning of the canyon we have to climb an arete. You transition from two-wall-stemming to one-wall-climbing. If I had been able to control my nerves and actually paid attention to what I was doing I could have picked a good line to go up. I didn't. When I transitioned to the one wall I panicked. Anthony had to come down, anchor himself, and provide a hand to pull me up.
Anthony called out the first silo crossing and my heart just sank. I watched him switch from stemming to bridging, cross the silo, and became terrified. At that point I was already pretty tired (did I mention we came out of No Kidding just a few hours earlier?) and didn't even know if I had the willpower to go any farther. All nerves of course. He asked if I was okay and I pointed to my head and said it's all up here. Crossing it was of course much easier than I had worked it up to be. And Anthony had the good sense to get me talking so I could relax a little and start focusing on the beauty of what we were doing rather than the danger and difficulty.
Knowing he had descended the canyon before and seeing first-hand that he was a better climber than I was, I basically just blindly trusted he would be able to complete the canyon without any difficulty. I should have known better.
I have also mentioned a couple of things that he did that I consider essential - provided a hand or a calming word when I needed it. He also provided a belay on one of the silos and climbing the crux. When I was tired and going slow, he took the rope I was carrying for much of the rest of the canyon. This was in addition to the Big Bro and etriers he was already carrying.
I want to do more X canyons. But I'm not going to do them unless I perform significantly better than I did in Sandthrax. Again I will list the bad but this time I will say what I want to do to be better.
Beta - I need to take the time to read beta again. When I first started I would read every piece of information I could about a canyon before descending it. I would have GPS waypoints or would make my own tracks. I would create my own maps and highlight potential landmarks to watch out for. I would make so many notes and read so much beta that by the time we were in the canyon I would no longer need it and could just tell people what to expect next. I need to get back to that.
Experience - I intend to go back and descend all the canyons that I wanted to do to prepare me for Sandthrax. It's really just Egypt 5 and Raven. I want to then start working my up the X canyon list until I feel comfortable leading people through Sandthrax.
Crux - First thing is to get a couple of big cams and find a place to practice climbing with them. I know plenty of trad climbers so I'll just tag along for a while until I feel more comfortable placing and relying on pro.
This one is easy. Start weight lifting again. A day after the canyon, I went to the gym and did every lift I know. I wanted to know what muscles were most sore and give them particular focus. The most painful exercise was dips, which seems pretty obvious now that I think about it. The other muscle that was most sore was actually the posterior deltoid. I think it was sore just from using my arms so much. I dunno. Oh and of course I used my core a lot galumphing. Anyway, I'm going to give more attention to my upper body so I can move more quickly without getting tired.
Along with weight-lifting, Anthony mentioned that he was doing yoga in preparation for the Pit of Despair throw. I am very not-flexible but hadn't every really considered a problem until I saw the moves he was able to pull off. Tonight I have my first yoga class and I intend to do yoga regularly so I can be flexible.
I think just the experience of successfully descending an X canyon in conjunction with writing this postmortem is pretty theraputic. I know the most important things I need to do to improve and have a strategy to do these things. If I can execute this strategy, it will definitely boost my confidence for future X canyons.
Now that that's out of the way let's get to some pictures: