Man, this is one of those trips where I don’t even know where to start. I was so stoked for this year’s fest, and after missing last year because I was sick, I was ready to power through pretty much anything to attend. Even the 5 inches of snow that covered every square inch of desert on 1-70 approaching the Hanksville exit.

I made a quick phone call to Ram – “Uh, Ram, I think we’re in trouble. There is snow everywhere. Complete coverage…” This is bad. He asks me to call him again from Hanksville. A few miles outside of Hanksville, the snow dissappears! Showtime!

I would’ve never suspected what I then saw unfold. The farther south into North Wash I got, the deeper the snow, and more complete the coverage. This is going to make things really interesting, I thought.

Mike Macphee in the Monkey Business corkscrew.

The first day was easy to rally. Slickrock approaches were out of the question. It was car shuttles to canyons near roads only. We decided Shimrock would be a good start. We had absolutely no idea what to expect, and we went in extra cautious.

The first snow wall stopped us dead in our tracks. A 20-foot snow slab blocked passage, save a few feet of a tunnel at the bottom. Looked sketchy to me, but Chris from Vancouver powered through the tunnel, and announced it safe for everyone else to follow. Soon, the group debated whether to proceed. An hour of deliberation later, and we pushed on.

We were rewarded with some of the most sublime canyon scenes I’d ever seen. The warm glowing sandstone complimented by the icy cool snow made for perhaps the best shimrock presentation I’d ever seen.

Day two had a similar story line, this time a different canyon. We opted for Monkey Business, mostly south facing, and it seemed prudent. Another group rallied for Shenanigans. Big John scoped out the fault exit the day earlier and announced it was passable.

We thought we saw a lot of snow in Shimrock. We saw three times as much in Monkey. Huge sloughs of snow piled deep in places, including one that was 40 or 50 feet long and 10 feet high. Tunneling was on option, but too scary for me. I opted to stem it, and see if we could knock it down a little bit. Wow! The volume of snow was exciting, scary, and sublime all at the same time.

Tunneling through Maidenwater

We went to bed that night with high spirits. Things seemed to be turning our direction, and we figured we just might get lucky. About 1:30 a.m., that all changed, as the snow began to fly yet again. By sunrise, and additional two inches had fallen, and covered up again all the dry slickrock that had been exposed just hours before. The group was sunk. We opted to head to Ticaboo, make some phone calls, evaluate the weather, and see where the flakes would fall.

Somewhat dejected, we headed out for a casual romp up through Middle Trail, and by the time we had got back to camp, there were 15 more people setting up. And all of them far more enthusiastic than I. Their excitement saved the trip, and infused us with the energy to pound through some more canyons.

The biggest concern still remained… What to do about the New Year’s Black Hole, a now 7 year tradition. Is it possible? Can we fix ropes? Who knows? Then steps up the man of the hour, Dave Black, offering to fix ropes up the entire exit. 600 feet (or more) of rope later, we had an exit. Enough thanks can not be sent Dave’s way. Absolutely no way it could’ve been done without him, and no doubt the lines must’ve taken hours to set. Brilliant work!

And thus, the biggest prize of the whole trip lay within reach. It was truly a phenomenal canyon, covered in snow and ice, just barely lending safe passage to the 22 souls who braved it this year.

This trip had it all. The best company, the most unique conditions, and epic canyon tales of every variety. The only strike against it is that it actually had to end. Already counting the days ’til next year.

Happy New Year all!

Bruce making his way through the giant alcove on his way to the Black Hole.