Red & White, with a Touch of Hypothermia (East Zion, USA)

Party: Mum, Dad and I
Canyons: Diana’s Throne, Red Caves (North and South Forks)

After one successful snowy canyon we were ready for more! With the snow and colder temperatures, many canyons were now closed to us. With a bit of research we’d found a couple that looked dry as well as snow friendly.

A late start meant we didn’t have time for the planned route and instead decided to visit Diana’s Throne (named after the nearby high point). Parking on the side of the highway, we wondered down a network of roads before dropping into the wash. The snow on the red rock was spectacular!

The route passed through some short constrictions, the ground often covered in ice. On one downclimb, Dad weighted the wrong bit of ice, breaking through into the water below, but managed to catch himself after receiving only one wet foot.

The first pitch soon appeared. There were several bolted rappel stations. We scrambled ’round the first one and Mum passed a third as she dropped to the bottom.

Dad on the first rappel. Mum went down first. Note the rope grooves!

A couple of shorter drops followed. I managed to get a wet foot on a pool at the bottom of one of them when testing how much I could weight the ice.

Another open section followed before the final constriction which was also in my opinion the most beautiful, some amazing stripes decorating the walls.

An open section before the final narrows.
A very pretty section towards the end of the canyon.

Opening, we continued down the snowy wash for a short distance before the exit trail was spotted on the ice. The sand under the snow made the exit very friendly and we were soon back on the dirt road that led back to our awaiting vehicle.

Camping nearby, the next day we decided to visit both forks of Red Caves which cut through the same layer of red sandstone. Parking on the side of the road, Dad was adamant he was having a ‘rest day’. We brought gumboots to cross the Virgin River and continuing on the other side of the bank quickly ran into a slew of “No Trespassing” signs. Wary of the American gun laws, we decided to hike around the property. This added extra time and it was an hour and a quarter before we reached the end of the canyon. From the tracks in the snow, we could tell a group had driven in and hiked around to descend this fork. We reversed the bottom part to the dryfall and then took the social trail around the the two pitches, using a meat anchor and partner assist to drop back in.

Looking up at the incredible lower constriction of the South Fork.

Reversing the top section we passed through numerous constrictions between open sections. Eventually we exited and started crossing over to the North Fork. We passed a strange balancing rock, that looked like it had to have been placed on three peculiar pillars of sandstone.
There were a few snow slides to drop into the North drainage and then a long section of pools that required stemming, bridging and a couple of times even climbing out and around to stay dry.

We finally reached the start of the North Fork and peering down I could see a pool of water. We found an anchor just up-canyon of this and it looked like the easiest way forward. Even if the pool wan’t passable, we could reverse and hike out on the other side. We didn’t have enough rope for the drop. Once I was down I got Mum to pull up the pull end and tie her pack to it. When she reached the bottom, the weight of the pack pulled the rope down.

Now came the decision, brave the pool and enjoy the canyon (after-all the canyon was supposed to have “a few shallow pools that can be avoided”), or reverse, climb out the other side and skip this fork… I thought Mum was going to pass on the canyon but in the end we decided to continue down the canyon. Taking off socks and shoes, I stemmed out above the water and then lowering myself into the water until it reached my knee. I took off my pants and threw them to the other side of the pool stepping down, it was about thigh deep and I managed to keep my other foot dry… Mum got both legs wet, but putting our shoes back on we were fine.

Stemming some pools we reached another pool that required bridging. Shoes off I stayed dry, but Mum fell in up to her waist and had trouble pushing through the ice (several cm’s thick) which cut her legs and feet… So much for shallow pools! Things got progressively more difficult… and deeper. 
Committed we pressed on getting wetter and wetter with several neck deep pools and even a spot of swimming.

Mum in one of the icy wades before I got too cold.

Mum was getting hypothermic and couldn’t feel her feet anymore. We considered stopping several times but didn’t really have any gear for shelter and place, the best course seemed to press on a s quickly as possible.

To avoid some pools, we rappelled of a small tree in an open section with hundreds of names carved into the rock. I went ahead trying to break the ice up to make it easier for Mum. It seemed to go on forever. Mum was slowing down. We needed to reach the end soon.

Mum at the final deep section of water.

Finally the canyon opened. We had made it! I stripped off Mum’s top and put my puffy on her. Putting her feet under my armpits we warmed them up a bit before removing her wet bottom layers. Dry pants went on and my dry rain pants went over the top. Warming her feet again- then move move move.
I was in wet shorts, boots dripping and a damp top.  I was soon feeling cold but we had no choice now but to press on regardless.
Setting a cracking pace, we hiked out (5km) through the private property encountering no hostiles. Crossing the river and removing wet layers tried to get warm using the car’s heater.
Well that was an unexpected end to the day! In a few days, when the cold has worn off, it’ll be one of those trips we’ll always remember.

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