There's a mostly unspoken acknowledgment among the voluntarily impoverished
dues-payers of our towns that it's better to be fiscally poor yet rich in
experience -- living the dream -- than to be traditionally wealthy but live
separate from one's passions. There is an undercurrent of attitude among the
high-country proletariat that to buy one's way back into the experience of
resort life is a shameful scarlet letter. Better to be the penniless local than
the affluent visitor. (But the locals depend on the visitors to survive, so the
implied elitism is less than fair.) We understand our mutual membership on the
same side of the equation.
The same is true of our environmental sensibilities. We each hold Edward
Abbey -- combative conservationist; anti-development, anti-tourism, and
anti-mining essayist; beer swiller; militant ecoterrorist; lover of the
wilderness and women (preferably wilderness women, though those are
unfortunately rare) -- as a sage of environmentalism. Remembering an oddball
quote of his, I say how he delighted in taking things to the extreme. "I
think there was an essay where he wrote, 'Of course, we're all hypocrites. The
only true act of an environmentalist would be to shoot himself in the head.
Otherwise he's still contaminating the place by his mere presence.' That's a
paraphrase, but it's effectively what he said."
"That's kind of morbid," Megan replies, putting on a face of sham
guilt for not shooting herself.
Moving on from Ed Abbey, we discover that we're each experienced in slot
canyoneering. Kristi asks me what my favorite slot canyon is, and without
hesitation, I recount my experience in Neon Canyon, an unofficially named branch
of the Escalante River system in south-central Utah. I wax poetic about its five
rappels, the keeper pothole (a deep, steep, and smooth-walled hole in the canyon
floor that will "keep" you there if you don't have a partner to boost
out first), and the Golden Cathedral: a bizarre rappel through a sandstone
tunnel in the roof of an alcove the size of Saint Peter's that leaves you
hanging free from the walls for almost sixty feet until you land in a large pool
of water and then swim to the shore.
"It's phenomenal, you have to go," I conclude.
Kristi tells me about her favorite slot, which is just across the dirt road
from the Granary Spring Trailhead. It's one of the upper forks of the Robbers
Roost drainage, nicknamed "Mindbender" by her Outward Bound friends.
She describes a passage in that slot where you traverse the canyon wedged
between the walls some fifteen feet off the ground, the V-shaped slot tapering
to a few inches wide at your feet, and even narrower below that.
I mentally add that one to my to-do list.
A few minutes later, just before noon, we arrive at a steep, smooth slide
down a rock face, which heralds the first slot and the deeper, narrower sections
that have drawn us to Blue John Canyon. I slide fifteen feet down the rock
embankment, skidding on the soles of my sneakers, leaving a pair of black
streaks on the pink sandstone and spilling forward into the sand at the bottom
of the wall. Hearing the noise as she comes around the corner, Kristi sees me
squatting in the dirt and assumes I have fallen. "Oh my gosh, are you
OK?" she asks.
"Oh yeah, I'm fine. I did that on purpose," I tell her in earnest,
as the skid truly had been intentional. I catch her glance, a good-natured shot
that tells me she believes me but thinks I'm silly for not finding an easier way
down. I look around and, seeing an obviously less risky access route that would
have avoided the slide, I feel slightly foolish.
Five minutes later, we come to the first section of difficult downclimbing, a
steep descent where it's best to turn in and face the rock, reversing moves that
one would usually use for climbing up. I go down first, then swing my backpack
around to retrieve my video camera and tape Megan and Kristi. Kristi pulls a
fifteen-foot-long piece of red webbing out of her matching red climber's
backpack and threads it through a metal ring that previous canyoneering parties
have suspended on another loop of webbing tied around a rock. The rock is
securely wedged in a depression behind the lip of the drop-off, and the webbing
system easily holds a person's weight. Grasping the webbing, Megan backs herself
down over the drop-off. She has to maneuver around an overhanging chockstone --
a boulder suspended between the walls of the canyon -- that blocks an otherwise
easy scramble down into the deepening slot. Once Megan is down, Kristi follows
skittishly, as she doesn't completely trust the webbing system. After she's
down, I climb back up to retrieve Kristi's webbing.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...