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Body Bridging the Dangers

Schoolyard Opinion

Or, never kick a fresh turd on a hot day.


Written by: Shane Burrows
January 2004

          Cassidy Canyon still lives in my memory. It was the premiere canyoneering adventure when I was a kid. A tortuous chasm so deep and deadly that mothers wept upon seeing it. Local authorities tried desperately to have the canyon placed off limits but could never succeed since the canyon was on federal land. Still, successful route attempts witnessed by the local authorities always resulted in a tenacious tongue-lashing. Unsuccessful attempts raised more pressing concerns.

          No one knew for sure how the canyon got its name. Schoolyard opinion was evenly divided. Half figured it was named after the infamous outlaw who once wrecked havoc on the western frontier. Half speculated that it was named after the first person who attempted the slot and suffered a head injury so severe it left him with an IQ that hovered around room temperature.

          The canyon started with a brief hike that crossed under a railroad trestle. Shortly after the trestle you were deposited at the top of a 100-foot rappel down a dryfall into a dark slot, followed immediately by two keeper potholes easily capable of creating skeleton soup. The two potholes being back to back always seemed to magnify the difficulty involved.

          Next it was essential to traverse a two hundred-yard section of unprotectable mae west slot with a 70-foot fall potential that ended in a wicked bomb-bay. If you survived to this point you were still obligated to swim nearly 1/4 mile in icy water down a dark passage. Avoiding hypothermia during the swim just meant you were still alive to dash down the narrow defile where the nest of poisonous vipers lurked. At the end of the defile it was necessary to hurriedly rig the 50-foot exit rappel before the extremely aggressive vipers slithered to life and attacked.

          One time a famous European canyoning guide came to attempt the route. He was still alive two days later when search and rescue fished him out, but judging from his behavior when the ordeal ended he is probably still in therapy. Needless to say, the local rope guns no longer respected his chest-thumping attitude.

          The first female to solo the route reaped both praise and scorn. After all, this feat was done in the ancient time before Title IX. Back in the day when a woman was supposed to do what she was told and not conquer a canyon that had a nasty habit of chewing people up and spitting them out. Everyone who had attempted the canyon admired and appreciated her abilities. A few of the posers without the talent to duplicate the feat labeled her a lesbian in an attempt to build their self-esteem.

          No official records were ever kept of the Cassidy Canyon route, but it was well known among the thriving local canyoneering community that the route had claimed several lives and was responsible for countless rescues.

          Cassidy Canyon was the measuring stick by which I judged all future canyons. I have canyoneered in three countries and 14 states; nothing comes close to the ferocity of the Cassidy route. I have come closer to dying in other canyons. I survived a massive flash flood in one of the Zion trade routes. I once was forced into the chimney position for over 12 hours, 80-feet above the deck, in an Escalante mae west. I have been hunted by marijuana growers armed with automatic weapons after accidentally stumbling into their fields. But afterwards, the adrenaline rush of having survived those canyons was never as intense as a trip through Cassidy.

Icy Swim Deep, Dark Narrows

          I eagerly traveled to Cassidy Canyon several months ago with the plan of descending it one last time before old age reaps anther victim. Maybe it never was ......

          The death trap I remembered from my youth nearly 40 years ago was nothing more than a nondescript slot in the sandstone. The railroad trestle had somehow shrunk to a footbridge. The 100-foot entrance rappel was an innocent 30-foot 5.4ish downclimb. The two skeleton soup potholes were only chest deep and could be avoided altogether with a simple body bridge. What I remember as a mae west section was a tight squeeze, but nothing that would force a canyoneer to gain altitude to escape. The 1/4-mile swim in icy water was a 150-foot waist deep wade. The defile occupied by poisonous vipers amounted to a couple of sleepy watersnakes attempting to sun themselves. The exit rappel was a meager 15-foot drop that you could handline down.

          I rapidly returned to the trailhead, tossed my helmet and rope into the back of the truck and quickly drove away before the magic of youth vanished completely.

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