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Alcatraz Canyon

Escape from Alcatraz

Scott Patterson

          Mike Kelsey, the popular guidebook author, and I descended Alcatraz Canyon. It wasn't the difficulty of the canyon that trapped us; it was the fact that we were unprepared.

          We first spotted this canyon when we did Larry Canyon all the way through several years ago. We scouted out an exit route, but that was it. We came back in mid summer 2000 or 2001 to finish the descent.

          Mike had scouted out the canyon, and he came to the conclusion "It looks like a short and easy canyon with one high rap at the top, then one or two other short raps below".

          Unfortunately, I bought into his story. I drove down to the canyon after working late and without any sleep and arrived at the head early in the morning. We started on a hot summer day with shorts, T-shirt, 2-quarts of water, some snacks and three 50 meter ropes.

          One 50 meter rope was left behind at the first drop. We went down the canyon admiring the beauty of the place. There had been a recent storm and the canyon had a lot of mud in it. We went over the semi-keeper pothole and did the short rap and pulled our rope. This was a big mistake, as we couldn't retreat up the canyon if we wanted to. The canyon below got narrower and darker as we went along. It wasn't overly difficult to descend, but reversing the route would be very difficult.

          We got to a place where I knew if we climbed down there would be no chance of climbing back up. The canyon was getting really tight and with shorts and a T-shirt we were getting scraped up, and we didn't bring any headlamps. It was a very hot day, and the canyon was filled with slippery gooey mud. We didn't have any beta about the canyon below and we were starting to worry that it might become a keeper slot.

          We decided to retreat and made the arduous ascent back up the canyon. We lost a little skin and slipped a lot in the gooey mud. We eventually reached a sloping 70-75 degree wall about 120 feet high that we thought we could use hooks to climb out of the canyon. I am against using hooks 100% unless it's an emergency. Because of our situation, we thought it prudent to use them. In all my canyoneering trips, this is the only time I have been forced to use them.

          We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening climbing up that wall with no protection. The top was overhung. We were out of water and it was very hot, I had some bad heat cramps.

          We reached the top of a bench late in the evening. The only problem was that the bench pinched out and the only exit to the rim was on the opposite side of the canyon. Mike had to rappel back into the canyon, but just above the semi-keeper pothole, and jumar back up the rope that we left at the head of the canyon. He then exited and came around and dropped a rope off the overhanging rim so I could jumar out of the canyon and to the rim.

          We had escaped Alcatraz! It was after dark by the time I got out. I think I drank a gallon of water when we got back to the vehicle. We did No Mans Canyon the next day.

          Later we found out that we were very close to finishing the canyon, and we could have easily finished if we had gone on, but we didn't know.

          I learned my lesson about pulling ropes in tight slots. With beta, canyons become much easier since you know what to expect. This is not the most difficult canyon I've been in by any means (but it still is very challenging), we were just simply unprepared, and got into a difficult situation. I imagine that people who descend the canyon may laugh at the problems that the renowned Mike Kelsey and another dim wit got themselves into.


Related Links:
Alcatraz Route Description
Alcatraz Route Description (Members Only)

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