This slot canyon is in a remote location just south of an area known historically as Robber's Roost. Angel Cove empties into the Dirty Devil River from the trailhead about 2 miles to the west. More technical details of this can be found here.
I did this route with three other ex-Intel engineering co-workers: Don Larson, Cliff Hall, and Don Van Dyke. Taking these canyoneering trips has been good therapy from all those years confined to a small cubicle in a sterile air-conditioned office environment. After working for Intel for about 29 years, I still have much outdoor rehab to work through before feeling balanced again :^)
Like many slot canyons of the southwest, the trailhead starts at the top of a relatively non-descript mesa with not much but dirt, rocks, and scrub in all directions. To the east there is a wash that you follow down a ledge into a slot as it empties toward the Dirty Devil River. Most of the geology in this canyon is a fairly uniform sandstone with limited crossbedding and textures that can be more conducive for photography. The tight slots are more limited, being only about 10~20 feet deep, with the taller walls up where the canyon tends to open up more. Thus reflected light opportunities in the middle of the day are correspondingly limited here.
As we descended down, there were a few short rapels, none that were too technical. The third rapel was the most dramatic as shown in figures 15-23. It consists of a free rapel about 70' in height. Given our maximum rope length was 120', we had to do perform a single line rap using a pull cord to recover the rope. Unaware at the time, but the rope that we used as supplied by Cliff had not been tried before. Don Van Dyke went first using his piranha belay device. He got an ugly surprise when on the way down, as he was unable to sufficiently slow his descent. Don landed fairly hard, trying to slow his descent with his gloved hands. Despite the gloves, the heat from the friction burned his hands enough to cause blisters. Apparently the rope was only 8.3mm in diameter, and had not been broken in, so combined with the fact we were on a single line, the friction being applied was insufficient for the situation.
Cliff and Don Larson went next without much incident, using the more conventional nearly new ATX-XP belay devices that have the teeth for higher friction. I went last, also using an ATX-XP device, but was unaware of the situation Don encountered as I was off away from the anchor point, taking photographs, and everyone else was down by the time I rigged up. The slippery behavior of the rope also threw me off guard, but reacted half way down by digging in hard by swinging the rope fully behind me in order to maximize the friction. I still came down fast and hot, but not enough to burn my hands.
We had one more rapel using a double line configuration before reaching the river. The route took about half a day, including the fairly steep climb looping back out to the trailhead via a path to the south. Along the way back, we spotted some cross-bedded teepees on the surrounding geography (see figures 26 and 27), reminicient of the Vermillion Cliffs region of northern Arizona.
After the incident on this day, we realized more experience was needed for situations like this, also paying more attention to the state of the rope. Some follow-on research by the group pointed out how to configure each of our belay devices to increase the friction for situations like this and identifying the various factors that can contribute to this. Back at home in the Cosumnes River Gorge, I also practiced rigging a prusik knot as another method for increasing friction on the line for situations like this in the future.
All content and images are property of Stephen Fischer Photography, copyright 2014. Last updated: 11/20/2014