This Thanksgiving, I am grateful to be alive. It could have easily been otherwise, spending two unplanned nights in the south fork of No Man’s Canyon. No Man’s Canyon is a remote slot canyon located in the Robbers Roost area near Hanksville, Utah. In an ideal world I would go canyoneering once a month, but I can only go when I can find other people to go with. It had been months since my last canyoneering trip, the last trip we hiked was Cable Canyon at the end of July, which was a fun hike. This would be my first time canyoneering without my brother John, who moved to Ohio for law school.
Four of us took the trip through No Man’s Canyon. There was Jason Matern, who I have known my entire life, he grew up in the house directly behind ours. There was Elroy Rigsby, he is a friend who I met in the Army. He recently moved to Utah from Texas. There was Chris Mosbacker, who Jason knew through geocaching. I met him one time previously and that was when we hiked Alcatraz Canyon.
Normally when I have gone canyoneering we have left early Saturday morning, around two in the morning depending on how long of a ride it took to get there. But the consensus view was that we would leave Friday and camp out down there. We left Friday, November 26th, the traditional canyoneering meal is Beto’s burritos, because their burritos are so huge that they can be used for two meals. On a Saturday morning trip one burrito would suffice, but since this was a Friday trip two burritos were purchased. That’s all I needed for food for my canyoneering trip was two burritos and my twelve granola bars. These burritos were smaller then I ever remember a Betos burrito being, I ate more than half of my first burrito on the car ride down, decided to purchase a banana in Green River. On the car ride down, we had the usual pre-canyoneering cannibalism discussion. Elroy informed the group that he resorts to cannibalism pretty quickly.
We arrived at our camping spot late Friday night, it was very windy. Despite Chris’ tent’s efforts to blow away we were able to set it up. Jason’s tent was taller and was too difficult to set up with the wind blowing so hard. Chris slept in his tent, which was making a lot of noise with assistance from the wind. Jason slept in his car. Elroy and I slept outside. I had a good nights sleep, only waking up a couple of times in the night. I was mostly warm with my sleeping bag inside a sleeping bag.
We got up Saturday morning around 6 in the morning. We discovered that the reason it was so windy was that we camped right next to a slot canyon on accident. We got into the car and drove to Angel’s Point, which was near where we planned to exit the canyon. Then we began our long hike to the beginning of the south fork of No man’s Canyon. The slot canyon took a lot longer then we thought it would. There was a lot of water in the canyon, but almost all of it could be avoided. We were able to climb over most of the water but it took time.
There were three rappels on this hike, the first two looked like it was possible to maybe climb down without rappelling but it was kind of iffy so we rappelled. On the second rappel, the rope got stuck. Jason had to climb all the way back up the rappel, to get the rope unstuck and then down climbed the rappel without rope. This took a lot of time. In hindsight it would have probably been better for us to just down climb that spot and forget the rappel altogether.
Towards the end of the slot canyon there was a pool of water that was unavoidable in which we had to swim to cross it. Jason had a dry bag in which we were able to relay our clothes across. I wore basketball shorts under my pants in anticipation of such an occasion and put my pants in the dry bag. Chris had the exhausting job of throwing the dry bag across the pool, Elroy and I filled it up with clothes and hooked it to a rope and it was pulled across. At this time Jason was investigating the trail ahead to see how much slot canyon we had left. The water was very cold. I did my traditional doggy paddle across the pool. Elroy decided to cross the pool using the same method that the dry bag did, that is by rope. He held on and we pulled him across. It was quite the site, it looked like he was on a wake board. At this point, I was wishing I brought a change of underwear. I took my basketball shorts off, changed back into my pants, but my underwear was soaked. I also kept my socks and shoes on because I didn’t want to step on any sharp things and hurt my feet.
We did have some more water to cross. I rolled up my pants to my knees, but apparently my rolling up my pants skills are lacking, as my pants unrolled and got soaked in the water. By the time we got to the final rappel it was dark. The last rappel was about 120 feet, it was the kind of rappel where it was impossible to keep your feet against the wall. So we would just get off the cliff and float down using the rope. It’s a very fun experience. By the time we were done with the rappel it was about 6 pm.
Now there was nothing to do but walk back to the car. We had five miles to walk to get to the exit crack out of the canyon. At this point I was wishing that I brought a flashlight. Jason and Chris both had lights attached to their head but Elroy and I had nothing. So I had to carefully walk so I didn’t hurt myself on the way. With .2 miles left until we reached the exit crack, I decided that it would be a good time to eat my last granola bar. When we arrived at the spot of the alleged exit crack we saw that we had to cross down into a canyon and then climb up a ginormous cliff. In the dark, we could not find a way down into the canyon. I was wishing that I brought a flashlight so I could have been of more help in finding a way down. I wanted to keep looking for the exit until we found it. Because I didn’t want to get rescued and also because I found not moving to be cold. But it was decided that we would sleep in this hole surrounded by rocks that Chris found and resume the search for the exit crack in the morning when we could see better. Our hole protected us from the wind but not the rain. It was a cold night, my socks and shoes were still wet. My pants were wet as well. I’m thinking how I should have taken my socks and shoes off and been more careful when rolling up my pants. It didn’t seem like as a big as a deal when I thought I was going to be in the car with a change of clothes that same night.
In the morning we quickly found the way down into the canyon. We climbed up to the other side. When we got to the other side, we still could not find our way out. We thought we would be able to walk to the car at this point but instead we were on an island surrounded by canyons. I wanted to try to get down into one of the canyons and across to another side to see if there was any way up. There wasn’t any way up that we could see, but I thought that there might be a way up around the corner that we couldn’t see. But by this time we figured that search and rescue was probably already looking for us. We thought that they were probably hiking through the slot right now to come and get us. When they found us we could hike out with them. So it was decided that the safest option would be to hike back to the bottom of the final rappel. Because it was a point in the canyon where we could not be missed and also the location of a geocache in which Chris had told a friend that him and Jason were going to find.
We spent hours waiting at the bottom of the rappel, Jason and Elroy were out of water. I had very little left, but I was very thirsty, trying my best to not drink the last of my water. Chris had a little water left as well. I hadn’t eaten anything that day. I sat down and pulled out my burrito wrapper. There were little pieces that were stuck to the paper. I was trying to take off those pieces and eat them, although I did accidentally eat some paper as well. It was delicious nonetheless. At this point Elroy pulls out an entire burrito. He hadn’t eaten it before because it had gotten soaking wet in disgusting canyon water. So we split the burrito in fourths. Chris also had this pineapple candy, in which I was able to eat one piece that day. So my Sunday meal was a fourth of a soggy burrito and a pineapple candy. All of us kept hearing noises. Thinking we heard a helicopter or heard people hiking through the canyon above us. But it turns out our ears were playing tricks on us. Much to our surprise and disappointment, nobody came through the canyon that day. I prayed to God that we would all get out of this situation in good shape. I promised God that when I got out of this I would live a better life and make certain changes in my life. Jason and Chris went and found the geocache. They also made an arrow out of rocks and spelled “help” with rocks for anyone to see looking down the final rappel.
We found a rock cave to sleep in. Chris, Elroy and I got in there around three in the afternoon. It was very windy so I wanted to be in there to protect myself from the wind. Jason tried to stay warm by walking around. Chris and Jason slept near the opening, while Elroy and I slept near the top, more narrow area of the rock cave. There were pointy rocks everywhere. We were trying to use each others body heat to stay warm, but it was impossible to get a good position. We were constantly adjusting from one painful position to another. I was starting to have a hard time breathing because we were in such a small space and also felt like I needed to throw up. I was exerting way too much energy just trying to sleep. So I finally decided to move down farther. There was a small space above Jason and Chris where I could sleep. It was colder because I wasn’t able to get up against anybody, but at least I kept accidentally kicking Chris in the head all night. It seemed like I didn’t sleep much at all. My feet and legs were the coldest. Occasionally, I would think that it would be a good idea to take off my wet socks and try to warm up my feet with my hands, but my feet were just colder when I did this so I put my wet socks back on. Both nights when I slept, I would put my arms and hands in my shirt to try to warm myself up. It helped a little. I had to get up at something like three in the morning to go to the bathroom. I got out of the cave into the freezing cold and went to the bathroom. I threw up my 1/4 of soggy burrito while I was out there. We spent about fourteen hours in that rock cave and I was glad to be out of there Monday morning.
It was cold at first, but warmed up as we started moving. There was paper and a pencil from the geocache, which Jason used to write a note. He wrote all our names, the date and wrote that we were out of food and water. He wrote the coordinates of where we were going. We were not as confident today that search and rescue was coming. We thought that we might be able to find another way out of the canyon if we went to the north fork of No Man’s Canyon. We got some water out of a pond, it wasn’t the cleanest water ever, but it was very clean by canyon standards. Jason and Chris had seen this water the night before, when they were talking about drinking water in the canyon, I was picturing much more disgusting water then this. I thought it would be safer to drink urine then canyon water. But when I saw the water, it looked way more delicious then urine, so I filled up my six bottles. We discussed funny things that could happen, such as if I drank some urine and the helicopter came right after I drank it. Elroy suggested that I would probably keep drinking it even after I saw the helicopter. I drank the last of my water, so that I could fill up my last bottle. That water tasted so good. I had been thirsty all night and didn’t even take a drink after I threw up. Although I took a small sip in the morning. To fill up the water I had to put my hand all the way under, the water was so cold. Jason drank some of the water, but the rest of us were not thirsty enough for that yet.
We started hiking down the canyon. It was not too long after that that we started hearing the noise of a helicopter. The others made some noise, while I tried to explain that they wouldn’t be able to hear us in the helicopter. After some time of the helicopter flying around, we saw the helicopter come around the corner in the canyon. We were at the perfect spot for a helicopter to land at the time, most of the canyon would have been much more difficult for a helicopter to land.
Chris stayed behind with two of the rescuers because there was not room enough for everyone in the helicopter. It was a short flight to Jason’s car. I saw John Matern there, I changed into different clothes, it was nice to get out of wet socks. We had to go in an ambulance to make sure we were okay. They took our blood pressure, we were all found in good health. The back of the ambulance was very warm and they had food and water. I had a banana, two donuts and some water. Delicious.
We got in Jason's car and I was trying to see if my phone had cell phone reception, I wanted to call my dad and tell him I was okay. I was imagining calling him and him not knowing that we were missing. But then I saw Dad come and look through the car window. I was happy to see him. Once we got cell phone reception, I was getting non-stop text messages from facebook updating me. Ever since I figured out how to update my facebook by text message I get texts updating me every time I get a notification. I have since turned that feature off. I was surprised by how many people knew about what was going on. I am thankful that I have so many good friends and such a loving family. I am thankful that we had so many people praying for us. I am grateful to be alive, I feel like every breath I take is a gift from God. I should not waste that gift, I need to live a better life, I need to live how God wants me to live.
Fargo by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
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