As Wednesday’s work day came to a close, I hurriedly punched out on the time clock, anxious to hit the road for Tom’s Canyon Fest in the Swell. By 6:30 I was on I-15, headed for Spanish Fork canyon and the always entertaining drive down Highway 6. My plans were to get to Goblin Valley by 9:30, to hook up with Nate at the park, then tag team the rest of the drive out to Hidden Splendor. Didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t going to make that kind of time. A stiff front moved through Carbon County right about the time I passed through Wellington. Luckily, there were some great lightning strikes, so I pulled off the road to make a few photographs. I should have recognized the omen immediately, it was only a sign of what was to come.

After rolling into Hidden Splendor with Nate around 11:30, it didn’t take long to realize most of the crowd wasn’t going to show up. The forecast wasn’t promising, and the turnout reflected it. Undeterred, we hit the sack looking to bag the Squeeze the next morning.

We rolled out of bed about 7 a.m., looking to be on the trail by 8:00. I rubbed my blurry eyes, and finally focused my attention on the formidable yet festive canyoneering crew. We started out as a team of seven, including Carol, Dale, Jim, Tom, Nate, Andy, the Emperor, and myself. AJ and his crew were loading up for Music, while we scrambled to get ready for the Squeeze. I, for one, was particularly excited to do this canyon, though somewhat subdued and nervous because of the cold weather and possible rain. Nonetheless, I hoped whatever warmth the sun wouldn’t provide, adrenaline would. The high was supposed to be 65. I doubt it ever touched 60.


Hidden Splendor
Hidden Splendor as the sun rises. Aren’t those beautiful blue skies? I thought so too…

Packs were loaded and we were rolling by 8:15. Current temperature: 55, and mainly clear skies. Pleasantly warm given the early hour.

Minutes into the hike, my pasty-white city legs met the chocolately flow of The Muddy River. The flow was strong, due to the storms the night before. It was mid-thigh deep in a few places, and mainly knee deep the rest. The water (or was it mud?) wasn’t terribly cold, but it wasn’t exactly getting hotter outside either. The hike through the Grand Gorge of the Muddy was fantastic, albeit a bit chilly.

By 10:30, we were eating lunch at the base of the Moroni Slopes. Winds picked up significantly, and the temperature was dropping. Still, the skies looked fairly promising:
partly cloudy, but with a swift and unrelenting breeze, and a chilling squall gently reminding us that our objective for the day might not be a good idea. After a quick consultation, the Emperor made the call: off to Knotted Rope for the day.

Looking north from the base of the Moroni Slopes. The Muddy snakes its way through the reef.

Not an hour later, the skies had cleared, and the temperature slowly creeped upwards. We began the climb to Knotted Rope, above the last 300 foot rappel. The warming temperatures inspired a new round of confidence in the Emperor, and Tom decided it was time to redeem the afternoon. Quandary Direct here we come.

So we hiked for a while, down-climbed a bit, hike up a ridge, down a ridge, up another, down again, up, down, up, down. You get the idea. But we had a new goal, so the excitement of Quandary kept us moving.

But the weather was moving quicker than us, and a nasty unrelenting breeze kicked up. More than a few gusts seemed determined to send us for the bottom of the drainage, and the swirling thief stole Nate’s cap, depositing it a few hundred feet down at the canyon floor. But still we pressed on.

Finally, we gained the bottom of the Direct route, where it intersects the bypass. The potholes are brim full, ready for action. Looks like fun. We climbed the slab to the small pass, and back down into the watercourse to suit up for the waterpark. It didn’t seem like much of an issue at the time, but we descended the gully into the middle of the pothole section, instead of staying high on the slab that bypasses the entire Direct route. After another rousing treatment of sandblasting exfoliation, we finally pulled on our wetsuits, armed for battle.

A quick look around reveals some shivers. Tom in his 3/2 with 5/3 vest isn’t exactly inspiring confidence in the rest of us. Nate is damn near convulsing from the cold in his 3/2. Dale only has a shorty. I’ve got a 3/2, and I ain’t exactly toasty. This is not looking good. Then Tom brings up an interesting point: we still haven’t touched water yet. Another quick Emperial Conference, and the plug is pulled. Quandary will wait another day.

At this point, the easiest exit back to Hidden Splendor was probably to bypass the remaining pothole section (we were in the middle) and upclimb the rest of Quandary, back to the trailhead, and back the few miles to camp. Easier said than done.

Quanzaa Celebration
The crew readies for the “bloody rap” on the historic first descent of Quanzaa.

Well, to make an already long story shorter, we ascended the canyon on the west side of the pothole section, and made it into another micro drainage of Quandary. After about an hour of slogging up the slickrock, we met our first and only rappel of the day: an 80 foot rap back into the main drainage of Quandary. After a brief party to celebrate the possible first descent of an instantly classic route, we broke a few nalgene bottles on the rock to christen the canyon, and dubbed the route Quanzaa.

Andy on his way down. Jim is on the ground below.


Emperors Throne
The Emperor atop his throne in Quanzaa.

All that remained was the mile or so walk, two small upclimbs made insignificant by Dale, and a pleasant couple-mile stroll back to Hidden Splendor. I secretly hoped we’d run into someone on the road to shuttle us back to camp, as the last few miles were like salt in the wound.

Here’s where AJ fits back in. He and Jonas were on their way back to the top of Music to retrieve a shuttle car, when we ran into them about two miles from camp. Finally, the day would end. Or would it?

Let’s just say I walked the last two miles back to camp a little disappointed we couldn’t make a ride out of the encounter with the others. It was a fitting end to a fantastically anticlimactic day.

But wait, there’s more. Remember the nasty winds that berated us all day? Turns out that Mountain Hardware tent stakes are no match for 40-50 mile an hour gusts. All that remained of Andy’s tent and sleeping gear was a handful of stakes, and a faint trace of where it had been pitched the night before.

Andy looking a little down after finding his tent blown away by the wind.

Many of the group scoured the area around Hidden Splendor, looking for signs of the tent turned parasail, but to no avail. Defeated from the long day, Andy finally gave up, and conceded to sleeping in the car that night. Night approaches, and the group gathers around the festive party tent to eat some food and lick our wounds. As the sun sets, Jonas and AJ enter from airstrip left. And what’s this they are carrying? Gifts for the Emperor? Cases of Boulder’s finest brews? Wrong and wrong. The others have found Andy’s tent, lying limp in a gully not far from the airstrip.

Whatever love was lost for from the car snub was instantly restored. Hat’s off to Jonas and AJ for the extra effort to get the tent and bag back. I know I didn’t have much left in the tank to go find the gear, and I’m sure Andy appreciated having a nice sleeping bag for those cold nights ahead.

And on that note, Day 1 of Tom’s fest concluded, we hit the sack with visions of another attempt of Quandary Direct first thing tomorrow morning. As you may have guessed, Day 2 would surprise us again.

Stay tuned for more