The Neon Canyon Golden Cathedral Keeper Pothole Trip Report
The Neon Canyon Golden Cathedral Keeper Pothole Trip Report- yeah, say that 5 times fast!! I decided that I have given up on trying to get my adventure blogs done in order. So here's one from a week and a half ago.. I got asked to lead Neon Canyon on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. I have co-lead canyons before but this was my first time ever leading one. I usually take a back seat in it because of my desire to shoot photos and not have to pay full attention to safety and rigging in spite of knowing how to. But the trip was looming close and without someone to lead it, Saoly and Mj were thinking of cancelling it. So I stepped up and agreed to lead.
The group size changed over the week and a half prior to the trip. In the end, MJ and Saoly headed out to Escalante on Friday to start their adventure, and I joined them on Sunday morning at the Egypt trailhead where I crashed out in the car with Blaine and Jake for a couple hours after arriving about 530 am. The plan was for all of us, plus Tiffany and Johnny to meet at the trailhead at 8am. We didn't get on trail till almost 9. Tiff and John were nowhere to be seen.
I did a ton of research on Neon Canyon prior to heading out to Escalante. I printed out the beta and placed it in my gear in a ziplock bag and also made sure to add coordinates for key places along the way. We were originally thinking of backpacking in and doing Ringtail Canyon the following day, but we decided against doing the super technical canyon, and carrying camping gear AND canyoneering gear on such a hot day. So, it was a day trip of about 11 miles. The two beta's I read from can be found here: http://brennen.caltech.edu/swhikes/neoncn.htm
We decided to do the beeline route to the canyon which is the shorter way to get in. It was very sandy and there was pretty much no shade on the way in. After dropping in from the top (it reminded me of dropping into the Grand Canyon but not as high and the entire hike had many levels to it) it was steep elevation drop, and then once at the bottom it was a slight downhill incline most of the way till we got over the oasis near the edge of the river/Neon Canyon and dropped in. Then it was a severe decrease in elevation through very deep sand. In my head I planned that this was not the way we would exit; the heat and the sand would destroy us on the way out. And, somewhere along the way Sao Ly realized she had forgotten her water bladder. Knowing that there was plenty of water we could filter from, we pushed ahead instead of her running back to the car to get it.
MJ was already boasting a blister as we trekked through the sand rifts. The view of the canyon was as of an oasis; a drastic change from desert to greenery as we reached the river we had to cross. We stopped to try and repair it with a wrapper and some ankle wrap. I usually carry moleskin and super glue with me but had forgotten it for some reason. I was starting to feel a few possibly hot spots on my feet so I tried to shift my shoes around and change my gait in an effort to lessen them.
We delayed in the wash after we crossed the river; not even sure why. But as we delayed, Tiffany and Johnny caught up to us at the confluence. I couldn't even believe that they found us, let alone caught up to us. Unfortunately they had brought all of their gear with them to spend the night. They found a place to stash everything before continuing on.
You really have to pay attention to directions and watch for social trails at this point. Otherwise, instead of hiking to the top of the canyon where the rappels start, instead you would end up at the end in the Golden Cathedral. We had to head up to the bench above the bottom of the canyon and traverse along a few levels there. Blaine made a HUGE cairn in the hopes it would help other hikers spot this turn off. Once on top, there are many cairns to guide you to the drop in point for the first dry rappel.
For whatever reason, Blaine chose to downclimb around the rappel. The rest of us got our harnesses on and did the short rap down to the canyon floor. We found a shady spot close to the 1st wet rappel into Neon and took off our harnesses, donned our wetsuits, and then put the harnesses back on. We also took lunch at this point. We were going very slow that day, but were having an awesome time hanging out with each other so we didn't care.
We dropped into the first wet 25ft rappel straight into water. It was a swimmer for a very short amount of time; not even worth noting, really. We continued on to the next section where there was a 12 ft drop or so. It looked like it could have even been downclimbed or handlined and there was log a few feet up canyon that also had a webbing anchor on it, so there were a lot of options. We set up a quick rap and were down it in no time.
The canyon was very picturesque and the time of day we were there was causing the sun to dance reflections on the walls of the slot. We took plenty of time to take photos as we journeyed through.
We turned through a slot that curved downward to a few small windows in the rock followed by a large pool of water. I knew just by looking at it that this was the infamous keeper pothole of neon canyon. Sao Ly and Blaine peeked up through the windows for a photo and then slide into the pool below.
I hung back with the rest of the group to see what we were dealing with when it came to the pothole, but the two swam across and then just casually walked out as if there were never a keeper pothole in this place. I made my way down and in and realized that the entire thing was filled with sand making the "keeper" a non-issue. I turned back in time to catch photos of Jake doing a cannonball into the pool.
The canyon had opened up very tall and wide and we let a group of two guys pass us. Thankfully we did because even though we knew the Golden Cathedral was coming up, what we pictured in our heads and what was actually the entrance into it were two separate things. The guys yelled back that it was indeed the Golden Cathedral. The reason it was important to know was because I was going to go first to take photos of everyone coming through the roof and I had to make sure that Jake knew exactly what to do as LAMAR. Confident that he knew what to do, I got on rappel and slipped down into the Cathedral; Go Pro and selfie stick close at hand.
Seeing all the photos doesn't really do it justice, rapping down into it is a completely different experience. You back through the sinewy turns of the slot and then lower yourself down into this massive, sunlit cavern. After I had stepped away from the wall and was in a full free hang, I tied off on my Critr to free up my hands so I could take a few photos. I hadn't expected an audience but there were at least 20 people hanging out in the vicinity watching. I then tucked away my selfie stick and then dropped to the pool below; fully expecting it to be over my head but instead about neck deep and very quickly waist deep. I threw off my pack and pulled out my camera to shoot the rest of the crew as they made their descent.
It was kind of like watching a little kid at Christmas as each of the 6 lowered into the Golden Cathedral. I ran around back and forth around the pool taking photos as did Sao Ly and MJ once they were safely on the ground. There was a cool effect of the sun playing a spot light directly where the rope touched the water; the same light reflected and played across the walls around the cavern. We took a few group pictures, removed our harnesses and then made our way into the wash to begin our hike out.
It wasn't long to get to the confluence where Tiffany and Johnny had left their gear. We exited out through the confluence, hiking along the shores of the river headed in the direction of Fence Canyon. We needed to filter water and at this point it was a high priority.
A lot of bush whacking was involved here as we made our way into Fence but we finally came across a good number of tents where people were camping. We found a pool of somewhat running water that wasn't directly on the river (the river was brown with all the silt it was stirring up) and we stopped for a snack break, removed our wetsuits, and filtered water. Wasn't the best tasting but it was what helped us get out of the canyon that day. Even those of us who had full bladders and extra bottles went through most of our water by this point.
The hike out was really long, hot and steep. I won't bore you with the details but taking the Fence canyon way out was definitely better than going the direct route. The hike was a lot more gradual with less sand, and more shade. It was about 7pm by the time we made it to the cars.
The plan that night was to hike into Sunset arch to shoot the Milky Way. Jake and Blaine were in but Sao Ly and MJ were not so we parted ways and headed the the Coyote Gulch trailhead where we parked the car. It was already dark so I was relying on GPS to take us the 2 miles across the desert to my favorite place to relax and camp, under Sunset Arch. We were tired and it seemed to take forever to get there; we quickly set up camp, made some food and then tried to take some Milky Way shots. It was Blaine's first time and we both had crappy tripods. I was planning on doing a timelapse but I had brought my backup camera because my primary was in pieces at home, and the intervalometer I had was for my primary. So I shot a couple more shots and then called it a night. No matter, I was exhausted from the activities of the day.
I woke in the morning from no so much the light as the heat. So I changed my address; I casually packed up my stuff and then grabbed it and my tent and moved into the shade of the arch. It wasn't long before Blaine and Jake were there joining me and we spent the next few hours taking photos, exploring, and making friends with lizards. Eventually we made the trek back to the car, which during the day was an absolute breeze and we made it there in no time. One more stop at Devil's Garden completed the trip and then we were on our way home. Dinner was Chuck-a-rama on the way home. Jake still hates me for that one. Not because it was bad, because he's a fat kid at heart and overate and couldn't control himself. The end.
NOTE THERE ARE TWO PAGES OF PHOTOS SO DON'T FORGET TO SCROLL TO THE SECOND ONE!!