Rocky Mouth in Hard Mode

June 15, 2019

View canyon rating for Rocky Mouth
Yes I am in there somewhere. Photo Credit Vickie A.

There are so many cool things about Rocky Mouth in high flow that make a perfect place to learn about waterfall rappelling. It has a very short approach, you pass the bottom of the technical section on the way up so you can see every obstacle before having to commit, you can pretty much see all anchors from the approach, and you can bail out any time. With these things in mind, I present the

10 things I learned in my first ridiculously hard waterfall rappel

  1. Your brain turns off
  2. Rocky Mouth is such a simple canyon but under these conditions having a plan of attack for that waterfall before you are there is crucial. When it is time to rig and rappel, you brain will be concentrating on other things and won't be able to focus. At least that's how it was for me. I think I need training.

  3. Water spraying you in all directions sucks
  4. About 10 feet from the top of the rappel all the water flow converges. I figured that would be the most difficult part of the rappel because water would be coming from all directions and you would basically be blind. It was true that I was basically blind at that part of the rappel. However, lots of cold water spraying you from all directions is much more difficult than just not being able to see.

    It's like jumping into a pool of water - that initial shock of weightlessness combined with your entire body telling you that you are now covered in freezing cold water. Except that it's not just a quick shock and you swim to the surface. It's a perpetual sensation. Despite this it still wasn't the most difficult section of the rappel.

  5. All that water on concentrated on your head is worse
  6. After getting down through the poltergeist of water at the top of the rappel, the water converges into one concentrated flow. This was the most difficult part of the rappel by far.

    Imagine everything I described above with water splashing in all directions and not being able to see or feel. Now stick a 20 lb dumbbell on your head. Also make it so if you don't look down you can't breathe. And if you do look down it's going to try and force your head off to the side. Maybe strain your neck, maybe flip you over. Who knows. I think I need training.

    It is possible to bypass much of this by stepping to the right and awkwardly descending. However, it's slippery with all the water and moss, and it's really trying to pull you back into the worst part of it. And there are no circumstances where you can descend the waterfall without having the full force of water right on your head.

    Trying to avoid the most difficult part of the flow. Photo Credit Vickie A.

  7. Rain jackets can only do so much
  8. I didn't bring a wetsuit on this trip. In hindsight I'm glad I didn't. I did bring a rain jacket and figured it would help with the worst of the water. That became a problem, though, because I held the rope with my guide hand above the rappel device. Tons of water came in at that opening where my hand was. I would recommend either wrapping your wrist with tape so water can't get through or just know that you will still get wet and be okay with that.

  9. It feels much colder than still water
  10. Since the water is flowing it sucks away body heat much faster than a stagnant pool of water. It wasn't that big of a deal for me since the water section was so short. However, my hands were completely numb and I remember thinking they didn't ever get that cold in Heaps.

  11. Nothing is truly waterproof
  12. Since there is so much flow in that waterfall most devices that claim to be waterproof or water-resistant likely have not been tested in this type of scenario. I am specifically thinking of high-end phones that are now waterproof up to like 1 meter. Those types of devices will get destroyed. How about a GoPro in its waterproof casing? Maybe, maybe not. I put mine away and I'd recommend you do the same.

  13. Remove everything from your helmet
  14. I had a headlamp on my helmet when I started that rappel. When I finished the headlamp was dangling by one of the little hooks that pinch it on. I read from a previous trip report that something similar happened to someone's GoPro that was attached to their helmet. If you have something on your helmet it can easily be forced off so just remove it to be safe.

  15. Things in your backpack lid should be sturdy
  16. One person in our group had sunglasses in the lid of their backpack. The force of the falls broke them. I'd go ahead and just suggest that things will get destroyed much more than usual on so if it can break, leave it in the car.

    Sunglasses that didn't make it. Photo Credit Vickie A.

  17. Rope gets tangled much easier
  18. This seems pretty obvious in hindsight. With all that flow you won't be able to see where the rappel line was deployed or even if it's tangled 10 feet down. The first person down noticed it had caught on something and was able to untangle it quickly and without problems. But still she wasn't able to see it was caught until she was at that point. Next time it might be a good idea feed the rope down. I don't know. There is probably a better way to do this. I think I need training.

  19. Mind that friction
  20. I am using a SQWUREL as my rappel device this year. I have heard complaints that under some situations the rope can pop off the horn so canyoneers unexpectedly lose that friction while on rappel. That had never happened to me before and I never really gave it any thought until this rappel. It popped off and I didn't realize why I was going down so fast until I was at the bottom and saw what had happened.

What I didn't learn - know what to do with that knife

Having a knife that is quickly accessible is essential when canyoneering. I guess. I've seen a couple of posts from guides who canyoneer in predominantly class C areas who make this claim. On Rope Canyoneering even sells a version their chest pouch with a knife holder on the front of it. I had mine accessible but didn't need to use it at all and still don't understand its importance or what types of situations would call for its immediate accessibility. I think I need training.


I think I need training.

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