March 3, 2018

View canyon rating for Sandthrax

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.

Postmortem for Sandthrax

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-.

The Good

  • We survived
  • We got out before dark
  • No injuries

The Bad

  • I was not prepared - only had cursory knowledge of the canyon
  • I was slow
  • I was scared
  • I could not have finished the canyon without Anthony

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.

I was not prepared

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 was slow

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.

I was scared

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.

I could not have finished the canyon without Anthony

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.

I was not prepared

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.

I was slow

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 was scared

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:

On the approach looking down into the canyon
After the first rappel and fully committed
Anthony going down the first down climb
Anthony thinking hard at the crux
And the full view of the crack
Awaiting my turn at the crux

View all images

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