Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Death Valley - Spring 2015 - Part Four

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It was a cold morning. What a difference a few days made with the temperature. The Lady and I, on the approach hike, had our capaline underwear under our nylon pants. All of us had gloves on and our fleece hats were pulled over our ears.

"You know I could be all wrong about where I think this canyon is," I said, continuing the conversation we had earlier. "But I have a good feeling, there's good juju here. I can feel it."

"Even if we don't find it, " the Lady said, "We'll have a great day and maybe discover something new!"

"Yeah!" both Spiders added their support.

"I know, but I'm feeling juju. It's getting stronger!" I really was feeling it. This was not an attempt at optimism.

We rounded the corner in the wash and I knew I had nailed the location. We had found it.

The wall behind was covered with petroglyphs. Many were elaborate designs.

It is hard to see; Mom Spider first made it out. Here is a faded life size sheep petroglyph. Find the pecked oval line then the pairs of legs on each end. On the upper right is the head with horns.

Curving lines and sheep were seemingly everywhere.

It was an immediate climb to enter the canyon. The chute was lined with petroglyphs. They appeared to be pointing the way. This was incredible.

The climbing was only getting started.

Next up was a high ledge that bypassed a smooth pour over. The ledge was marked with round pecked spots to lead the way.

This led to a chockstone wedged over a polished rock fin. 

Barking was quickly over it but the girls noticed a glyph representing an atlatl hidden back in the shadows.

The walls of this channel was lined with petroglyphs.

After an interesting balance move on the slick rock fin, we all squeezed past the chockstone.

This canyon is an ancient art gallery. Even back in the hidden areas we found petroglyphs. Here are older star patterns with four newer sheep lined up below.

There were many large geometric designs. The Lady thought these were maps. She said that made sense because of the markings we found showing the route up the canyon.

We soon encountered our first major obstacle, a high polished chute with balconies along with a tight squeeze at the top.

Barking did the lead climb and set up just below the squeeze to haul the packs up. 


The alcove above the Lady has wonderful wavy lines petroglyphs. Could this be honoring the flowing water that polished this chute?

Mom Spider, in the alcove below, was surrounded by ancient art. 

Some appeared much much older. These were deeply pecked and almost completely weathered away.

Even the smooth chute was adorned.

Barking got through the squeeze and set up a belay station above. The girls followed and then it was my turn. Here I'm about to turn to my left and squeeze in sideways. This was one place I was envious of the others' smaller size.

 Mom Spider Photo

Immediately above was a hollowed out amphitheater at the bottom of an even larger polished chute.

We took a break.

We had to. This was one of the top magical places I have ever stood. This chamber was astounding with its ancient artwork. 


Sheep climbing higher and higher. Barking was convinced they had to have ladders of some sort to work from because of the high placement of glyphs.

It was impossible not to let our minds wander and try to decipher the meanings. This place, this canyon obviously must have held a great deal of importance. Was it a rite of passage for the young hunters to learn to climb this canyon and up into the realm of the bighorn? Was it a sort of spiritual trip to move higher and higher up into this canyon? Because this is a difficult canyon to enter and climb, was that a safeguard to protect all this art? So many questions about this mystery.

A note - We did our best not to touch any of the artwork. We were humbled by having the opportunity to visit this amazing place.

Our lead climber was ready to go higher.

This didn't work. The bottom was polished smooth and lacked footholds to start up. I put my back against the wall with my hands together as a stirrup. Barking's next foothold was my shoulder, and he was on his way.

 Mom Spider Photo

Barking set anchors at the top. We used half the rope as a fixed line that the rest of us jumared up and the other half was for belay. Mom Spider when first, nice and slow and methodical. 

While climbing is learning to use the big muscles in your legs, jumaring takes a bit of upper body strength. The Lady was up next.

 Mom Spider Photo

The climbing never let up and the way was still marked.

Here a foothold is marked.

This smooth pour over still held water in a basin and was much more difficult then it first appeared.

 Mom Spider Photo

We made it to the warmth of the sun and a well deserved break and relaxation. The canyon continued.

The bottom of this pour over was marked with ancient, deeply incised petroglyphs, now almost weathered away.

Hidden behind brush on a wall was one of the most interesting and detailed human figures we found.

It looks like the figure is floating above the earth, maybe that's the experience of climbing this canyon?

How did I even know this place existed? Death Valley is vast and has secret, magical places everywhere. All you need to do is get out and walk, look around, and be ready for discovery. That in itself is a treasure and will continue to bring us back to Death Valley again and again and again. I found one set of photos of this canyon and the photographer did a great job avoiding sky lines, landmarks in the background, even flora that could indicate elevation. But, there are always hints - all I needed to do was recognize them as hints and then figure it out. I enjoy the detective work and the thrill of success. But, all that pales in comparison to the awe of standing quietly in these incredible chambers of this secret, sacred canyon.

If you ever discover a place like this, please show the utmost respect and care. Please leave it so, as we found, the next visitors can feel like they were the first.

During our break we talked about being happy we had worked together as a climbing team in Grotto Canyon. That had been a good warm up but as Barking said over and over, "Grotto Canyon was a walkup compared to here!"

After several down climbs, always a bit harder than going up, we were back at the big one. Anchors were in place.

But, we were not going to leave anything behind in this special place. We found a small chockstone securely wedged in a crack. The repel rope was looped around it. I was the largest and had the heaviest pack. I was the test dummy. I would see if it would hold.

Mom Spider Photo

Of course, we did not throw caution to the wind and the set of anchors were kept in the system to catch me if the chockstone failed.

Mom Spider Photo

The girls followed. 

Barking was last and he would be relying solely on that tested chockstone anchor. A repel rope is doubled and looped around an anchor so it can be pulled down after its use. One of the dangers is getting it wedged so it won't pull. After I lowered myself down, we tried it. The rope would come. Still you are always gentle on your system. We do not make big jumps or pull or jerk on the rope while descending.

Also we always repel (when not on a belay) with a prusik loop as a backup. If you screw up, get hit in the head, when you let go of the knot it grips the rope. You stop. Barking was last. Everything was working well..........................except he slipped a bit the last foot, the prusik caught, and jerked the rope. The rope was wedged. It would not pull free. This has happened before. What do you do? Climb back up and get it.  On the bright side, he had a nicely anchored rope he could self belay off of with that prusik loop. It wasn't like lead climbing and always being on the "sharp end of the rope." Part way up he saw an alternate plan. On the left wall was a great rock horn, perfect to loop his shorter rope around. He set that up. Both ends reached the ground (you don't want to run out of rope). He climbed up and freed the rope but left it in place. He down climbed to the horn, still hooked to the first rope for safety in case of a fall. He prepared to set up his repel from the horn with the second rope but where was his repel devise? Right where he had set it down at the top. Ah, a nice opportunity to do a little more climbing. We have all done things like this, but in climbing, this is when you stop, clear your head, think ahead to all your moves, relax, deep breath, and get it done. Easily back up top, the repel devise was retrieved. He down climbed to the horn, got set up on that system before unhooking from the upper rope. I easily pulled the rope down around the chockstone, Barking lowered off the horn, and we were done. We could have looped a small piece of webbing around the chockstone and looped the rope through the wedding. This is often done but that piece of webbing is left behind. Barking was adamant, "We are leaving this special place clean! We are leaving nothing!" We all heartily agreed.

It was amazing, now that we were back in this main chamber, how many more panels we discovered in high amazing places

And, how some of the pictographs stood out more with the changing light.

Our day was not over. We still had a series of down climbs ahead of us.

And, I had to arch my back and make it through the squeeze.

Mom Spider Photo

I could try and probably falter, my attempt at eloquence would fall far short of the mark of even coming close to describe what this day was like. This day had everything, This day was magic. We were honored and humbled by the experience of visiting this canyon. 

Our trip was nearing its end. We had one more special place to visit. We would remember what Somona in the red dress had told us....................................

Continued in the final installment, Part Five - please Click Here

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