We skirt the hole without a problem, though, and then climb across slick rock to the next rappel site, a sheer 150-foot-tall cliff of brown-and-black rock. This rappel, which Draper has nicknamed the Moonwalk, drops us onto a landing with narrow walls. The constricted passageway leads us around a corner and over another large boulder to a spot on sloping gray rock, where we rest beneath a tree and eat our lunch of protein bars and water. From there, it’s a short rappel over a sloping ledge into what’s known as the Trash Compactor, a small room with a muddy floor that’s dotted with slippery boulders and rocks.
Suddenly, we’re trapped. We’re surrounded by tall rocks on every side. But Draper, ever resourceful, shows me a route over and around the boulders. We walk down a sandy shunt that leads to yet another large rock. Once we’ve cleared it, we find ourselves on a perch that offers a breathtaking canyon view.
On the last rappel, the so-called Grand Finale, Draper explains that the rock below curves into a hollow and that I’ll be hanging free for the final 20 feet of the fall. I must keep myself from swinging so that I don’t risk smacking my face on the concave wall. I manage to negotiate the descent with ease and then, without incident, slip into a pool down below. I swim a few strokes across the freezing water. We’re fortunate that a lack of rain recently has caused the pool to be much smaller than usual. Not only is the icy water uncomfortable, it’s a hazard to canyon explorers. The danger of succumbing to hypothermia here exists in warm months as well as in cold months, as the water, hidden deep in the shadows of towering walls, receives little heat from the sun.
We hike out through a beautiful formation of round rocks, our clothes drying in the warm afternoon sun. After five hours, we’ve completed our journey. I’m exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
On the drive back to Draper’s shop, he tells me about some of the upcoming climbs he’s planning, but all I can think about is when I can return. Later, Jones tells me about people he knows who plan trips every year, and I can understand their enthusiasm. Is it challenging? Absolutely. Can it be dangerous? Without a doubt. But canyoneering requires trust as much as technique, and more than perhaps anything else, it requires a willingness to try something new. For those who are open to the experience, the intoxicating combination of adventure, unparalleled beauty, and the rare opportunity to experience the wild delight of nature is one unlike any other.
Jim Morrison, a longtime American Way contributor, has flown barrel rolls with the Navy’s Blue Angels (he didn’t get sick), climbed up and slept overnight in a 243-foot-tall redwood (he didn’t fall), and gone one-on-one with Muhammad Ali (he didn’t flinch). He plans to go canyoneering again at the next opportunity.