A Week in the Roost (Robbers Roost, USA)

Party: Mum, Dad and I
Canyons: Robbers Roost (North Fork), Blue John (Squeeze, Main, Little Blue, and Lower), Horseshoe, Not Mind Bender, Larry, Twin Corral Box (Northeast Fork).

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After checking the weather, we fueled up (gassed up?) and headed to the Roost. “The Robbers Roost was an outlaw hideout … used mostly by Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang in the closing years of the Old West. The hideout was considered ideal because of the rough terrain.” It is now a popular canyoning destination and boasts many spectacular slots. The area is quite remote and most days we didn’t see a soul. All the routes we did started high on the plateau, constricted and then inevitably ended in a larger drop to the bottom of the Kayenta layer where the canyon opened into a large wide ‘hiking style’ canyon until you reached the exit.

Our first day in the Roost was Mum’s birthday. Unsure of road conditions we headed down Blackburn Wash Rd. surprised to find it in better condition than the main road that is probably most often used to access The Maze district. We knew we were in the right spot when we encountered a group of canyoners camped out along the road. We pulled up next to them. They weren’t overly talkative, but gave us a heads up that we probably shouldn’t take our vehicle any further. Packing we were soon on our way. It was quite a way. I couldn’t help but laugh at Jimmy’s replacement pants after destroying his last pair in the North Wash.

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Eventually we ran into the first pitch, which was followed by a partner assist and a couple more pitches (one which was bolted, which is uncharacteristic of the area). Some nice narrows followed, but unfortunately where short lived.

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We reached an early escape and Jimmy decided that was enough for him, so he hiked out early. Just around the corner, Mum and I did a very nice rappel/abseil (P5 xxx black/2)(three bolts). It was at a sharp turn in the canyon, and standing at the bottom I could look both up and down canyon at the same time. Probably the best narrows followed.

We enjoyed the wide canyon that followed and climbed up the exit canyon CR. Once we reached the road, we were happy to spot Jimmy’s tracks. Back at the vehicle we headed off to establish a central camp, from which we would launch the rest of our trips.

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The next morning we drove a short distance to Granary Springs, which, true to its name was a good source of water – mainly intended for cattle, but it came in useful for us towards the end of the week. The plan for the day was to visit the Squeeze fork of BJ and then reverse the Main fork. The BJ canyons have been made somewhat popular after Aron Ralston got his arm stuck and had to self amputate it (I think the film is well made and worth the watch if you haven’t already). They seem to see quite a lot of usage as most of the forks are a great introductions to canyoning. The Squeeze fork, probably isn’t the one to pick for beginners though. Recommended by a friend, we chose to do this more challenging fork and were not disappointed. The canyon deepened abruptly with a difficult downclimb requiring some partner assists.

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It was very nice and for the most not difficult to travel. It wasn’t until the end after a second pitch (downclimbable) that it narrowed considerably providing a more intimidating face for those who take a quick look from below.

The East fork soon joined and the constriction continued for some time, the walls slowly reducing, the drainage returning to a wash. It wasn’t pleasant and the wind brought a new meaning to gritting your teeth as we pushed on head down facing the wind. Peering slightly up I would squint to take a bearing, close my eyes and continue trudging along. Enthusiasm was low as we reached the junction and started heading up the main wash. Exiting early was brought up, but in the end we pressed on regardless and were happy we did. The Main fork wasn’t particularly narrow but the towering walls and many small climbs made it lots of fun. Towards the end (/start) there were a series of harder climbs  where Mum was happy to use the handline lowered from above. Funnily, Dad who climbed up all the difficult parts himself got stuck at a final step out of the canyon – he just couldn’t get his leg up onto the shelf. I couldn’t help but laugh!

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Reversing the Main fork of BJ.

The following day I woke early packed and headed off a little after my parents had roused. I’d be heading down BJ and meeting my parents at the Grand Gallery (in Horseshoe canyon). The sun was low on the horizon and taking a bearing I headed just to the left of it and soon found the small arch in the Little Blue drainage. I was underwhelmed by this canyon. There were a couple of pitches I flying angeled, but prob should have put my harness on for one of them. The fork was over before I knew it and it was a long walk down to the lower constriction.

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The lower constriction was extremely short. The first 100m fairly shallow with numerous chock stones that required climbing under and over and between. The final 100m was amazing but short lived. A bolted 25m pitch ejecting you into the wider canyon below. It was cool and the water here was frozen to about 5cm thick. Part of the streamway I simply walked along on the ice.

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A couple of burros. Finally solving the mystery of the faecal matter that certainly didn’t come from a cow. P.S. the fence doesn’t work!

A flock of swallows circled landing in the tree next to me. Watching them they dropped down to the stream to drink not 10m from me! It was one of the highlights of the trip.

I was surprised to find the Great Gallery unattended, and sat down for lunch. I hadn’t finished making my second sandwich when my parents rounded the corner and joined me for lunch. We couldn’t have timed things much better!

Soon we all continued/headed back down the canyon. Stopping at the various panels of rock art on the way. The Alcove was a very nice spot!

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The Great Gallery
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The Alcove
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The main Horseshoe panel.
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The smaller Horseshoe panel.

The next day we visited Not Mindbender, again on my friends recommendation. There are at least 4 canyons in the Mindbender System. At first I found all the names confusing but then found there seemed to be a logical progression: Not, Maybe, Almost… Mindbender! “Not” enters highest up so we’d be passing all the other canyons as they entered on our left. There seems to be quite a lot of ways to drop into the canyon, and in the end we took our own route for the most part.

After the initial constriction we joined the main drainage enjoying a particularly nice section before it opened up (a lower entrance is here). The constriction that followed was very good. Mum dropped her pack down a drop. I wasn’t there to hear the “Splash”, but heard the the commotion that followed as she tried to climb down as quickly as possible to rescue the absorbing pack. I took some of the waterlogged webbing and a cordelette to lighten the load. A steep incline followed. Acting as meat anchor, my parents slid down. I stepped down to a tiny ledge, then grabbing it with my hands and lowering myself to full extension, Dad that supported my feet and brought me safely to the bottom.

The canyon opened and we began passing the other Mindbender forks all which ended in a larger pitch and couldn’t really be explored from the bottom.

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Some amazing light bouncing off the canyon’s wall. It looked better in real.
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Typical wider canyon walking.

Soon we reached a large overhung rappel. Mum went first, then Dad and I tailed at the end. I don’t really get excited over long drops. In my current eyes it usually means I need to carry more rope, and I prefer a more ‘climby’ approach. Nevertheless this pitch was spectacular. Overhung most of the way, water was seeping out from the bottom of the sandstone layer allowing ferns and mosses to grow. The chilly weather meant icicles were decorating several of these hanging shelves.

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We continued down the wide canyon admiring the shapes on the smooth varnished walls. Some time later we bumped into a large cairn. Looking to the left I thought it might be the exit. Getting our coordinates I checked to confirm. It looked a little harder than I had expected and I strongly hoped we wouldn’t have to pioneer an alternate way. Walking to the base of the easiest face I donned my helmet and headed up. I soon reached the part that I was concerned about. Looking around I considered traversing a shelf to the left, but looking to the right I found a couple of Moki steps cut into the rock making it much simpler! Dropping a rope, we were soon all up. Crossing over the top of an alcove we enjoyed a petroglyph panel before continuing up to the rim. I went ahead to walk the few kms along the road to retrieve the car.

***

Maybe the fact we were getting low on food was why I awoke in a bad mood. I ate a concoction of rice mixed with caned sweet potato soup as I boiled water from the cow trough to make a hot chocolate.
We were soon on the road driving towards Larry, a canyon I’d been looking forward to for some time. The road proved 2wd friendly until we reached the dramatic drop into Alcatraz  – which would have to wait for now. On the way, Dad announced that he’d be sitting this one out. A shame, but it would save Mum and I 6ks of road walking!
Someone before us had patched some on the cross ditches so we made it to the Larry wash with little difficulty. Shouldering our packs, Dad drove back along the road whilst we walked a short way down the wash to the first pitch; on the way realising I’d forgotten my camera. Unfortunately it wasn’t the only thing I’d forgotten…
Looking down into the canyon we were faced with a series of frozen pools. Mum was not impressed dispite me assuring her we would be able to avoid these. I guess the possibility of “waist deep pools” was in her mind. We pulled the rope and proceeded down the canyon. Whilst not impressive at first, some harder layers of rock created interesting shelving as we continued down. Soon deepening, we climbed under and over a number of chock stones, stemming narrower sections and chimneying a few drops. The canyon got better and better with some really nice narrows before we were altered of a large drop by a mess of webbing around several anchors. Peering down the beautiful flute, I decided to downclimb the first section until it flattened out. The next section was vertical with no way down. I yelled up to Mum to rig the pitch with the full 30m rope… Which is when we found out what else I’d forgotten: “there’s no pull cord!” Mum yelled down; commenting that in the past she would have started panicking at this point… “Woops!” I thought. Okay. Think think think. Leave the rope behind? Not preferable. Can’t go back (though I later learnt there were some Moki steps at the top of the canyon). I was on a bit of a shelf at the bottom of the flute before the last vertical section.  There was a bit of a depression here. We’d farm some rocks and build a cairne anchor. I climbed back up and we spent the next half an hour or so exhuming rocks and transporting them down the first part of the pitch. We were soon both at the bottom pleased with our efforts. We were pretty sure that was the longest drop, but had been zealous acquiring canyon booty just in case.
The next section was fantastic: Impressive deep narrows involving bridging some icy pools. And a drop into a dark section in which you could barely see. To our excitement, it didn’t let up for some time. An extended slanted section tiring my left arm as it had to hold my body for such a long time.
When it did finally open we reached the large drop down to the bottom of the Kayenta layer that seemed typical for all the canyons we’d visited in the Roost. This time it was tiered. 15m followed by the final 20m pitch. Both quite specky.
The walk down to the exit was enjoyable. Sheer cliffs shiny with desert varnish surrounding us. It was drier than the other canyons allowing for better time due to lack of vegetation (also less sand?).
We almost missed the exit cairns, actually finding them behind us when we paused to look at a possible exit. 40mins later and we were on the plateau rim with a few k’s of road walking to where Dad would be awaiting us.
A couple of movies later and we were in bed. Tomorrow would be a short trip. Our last canyon in the Roost.
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Making another stop at the water trough, we filled up some containers to get us through the last day. Following another of the convenient cow trails that always seem present, we soon arrived at the head of the canyon. Wash resumed after a short and shallow but extremely sculptured section followed another shallow but very pretty sinuous slot.
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The main constriction was quite long with a lot of stemming and downclimbing. The final section (after a prominent escape CR) follows a slanting layer of harder rock. It was quite dark and I didn’t manage to get a nice photo here (a tripod would help a lot I imagine!). The canyon ended with a dramatic drop into the wider canyon below. We sat there for a while admiring the view, before reversing to an exit not far back up the canyon. This proved harder than expected. There was one particularly hard section that consumed much of my energy.

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Looking out from he final drop. We reversed a short way to escape the canyon.

And so another canyoning binge came to an end. We packed up camp and headed back to Hanksville admiring the sand dunes on the way out one last time.

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Admiring the sand dunes, one last time on the way out.
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