Reflections on Raven and the Search for the Eye of the Beast | Trip Report

Flapbag Trip Reports

Reflections on Raven and the Search for the Eye of the Beast

The following is a trip report from my memory of Raven Canyon from almost two years ago. Although there are some good trip reports on Canyon Collective I chose to dig up this story for anyone who might solely look at RoadTrip (A mistake, as looking at both resources is a worthy endeavor, especially if you are newer and curious about where to learn more of this wonderful activity.) and want a bit more clarity before committing to a very memorable but dangerous canyon.

The pandemic put everything to the wayside, my canyoneering included.Two years in, I finally got out again with some friends on the Cedar Mesa and as always we gathered around the nights fire and read our favorite canyon betas to both get the fires of excitement stoking but also to scare ourselves with some of the harder descriptions. As always, we read the Smiling Cricket Beta, SandThrax and PINTAC but despite those canyons being more dangerous and a wonder to us (none of us has attempted them) we always come back to Ryan’s description of Shenanigans (my favorite canyon). As they shimmy and shake their way through the tight slots Ryan feels “The Eye Of The Beast'' awaken in him as he fears for his life and worries getting stuck, looks to his partner behind him and sees the “Eye of the Beast” awakening in him as well as they both confront, persevere, and use this Go-Mode-Fight-or-Flight to brave the canyon. It is this feeling that we all look for and also fear. Will we be crushed by the feeling or will The Eye of The Beast awaken and send us through the challenge? It was reading this beta again amongst friends under the desert night sky that brought to life my memory of the time I searched for and truly found the Eye of The Beast within which had now been two years ago in Raven Canyon.

Screen Shot 2022-06-06 at 2.14.35 PM.jpg

Time Travel back to 2020 right as everything was falling apart and everyone wanted one more epic mission before hunkering down to undertake the unknown of the Pandemic.

We had gone down to Escalante with a novice crew mostly looking for a good time. We stuck to Peekaboo and Spooky with our vacationing cohort. My friend Phil had suggested we stay a day longer and do Raven. We had never done an R/X- canyon before but felt very comfortable on Upper Stair and a few other R canyons so we figured this could be the jump to a new experience level. From the research we had done it was one of the less sustained X canyons and would probably be a good adventure. Our egos full after spending 2 days with inexperienced friends amazed at any level of stemming, we said our goodbyes and started down the road just Phil, my girlfriend Juhl, and I.

After passing a loaded up Sprinter Van decked out in Instagram Influencer decals that was #stuckinthesand, we continued on in our forrester to the trail head. A sedan might not have made it through the sand… dont be like the Sprinter Van, pick a good car. We packed our things, applied enough sunscreen to kill a horse, answered some confused hikers' questions “what do you mean you are not hiking coyote gulch?”, and descended. We left our lunches and Juhl at a pleasant waterfall covered in shade, an eden all to its own. After some trouble route finding, Phil and I found the entrance to Raven. The first obstacle is immediate and sobering. The canyon begins with a very very short but almost full stemming position (I am 6’1) over a sandy pothole. I am sure this could be navigated with a pack toss or something but at the time we were not confident in the technique… and well… we came to stem. I went first and upon being laid out completely horizontal and contemplating a possible direct belly flop from 10 feet up I realized that this canyon might be full on for our skill level. A not so hard move but the head game was now creeping in. Phil followed my lead and once our feet were back on the ground we looked at one another and without saying anything we both knew there was no going back. We continued down canyon with some walking, hopping, and sustained, but very easy, high stemming. The first exit as mentioned by Ryan was made available. We felt confident and from my memory we were having so much fun tackling the high and secure stemming that there was no way we were leaving just yet. For those interested in a good and mostly safe time getting acquainted with high stemming I would recommend going to this point to try it out. 

Screen Shot 2022-06-06 at 2.14.53 PM.jpg

We continued further down canyon and came to the second notable crux, a long stretch of canyon that requires stemming up about 30 feet to enter a crack in the canyon wall big enough to fit through. Like a fool I took the stem too high too early and gassed myself out pretty good only to watch Phil gingerly stem across the more narrow bottom before ascending the 30 feet to my location. Little did I know, exhausting myself at that point would slowly but surely start to impact my mental game. The sharpness of my memory of the area immediately after is dull, likely meaning it was more enjoyable stemming but the clarity comes raging back as the canyon narrows to about shoulder width and finally opens to a very memorable and at the time alarming silo pit. Upon arriving at the pit my nerves began to grow - my palms sweat, and my pupils expand. I look back at Phil, who is looking over my shoulder realizing the severity of the silo obstacle. I can begin to see The Beast twinkling in his eye but he is keeping things bottled up. Phil had gotten what he had come for, The Beast had been awakened. The issue at hand was that the section of canyon we were in was so tight and the transition to the very open silo was so quick and dramatic that it felt more like you were stepping out into thin air and the hole was sucking you down. We knew from the beta that there was a little ledge on the side that would make the transition easy despite the heady nature of the silo. Even knowing this information we sat and deliberated for a while on how best to attempt the crossing. Fear in both of our voices we came to the conclusion that I would cam myself in the narrow section of slot and belay Phil out and over the Silo laterally so that if he would fall he would just swing down and get injured instead of a possible fatal plummet to the bottom. To this day I am unsure if this was the smart thing to do but it felt like the best option we had because of our fear. We called the technique the corpse catcher and Phil wiggled his way out of the crack and into thin air and settled in securely to the stemming position over the hole. A huge sigh of relief was let out, it was actually pretty easy once you commit. Phil moved across and then set up a similar corpse catcher type belay for myself and I crossed and experienced the same relief. To this day it is one of the more memorable moves I have done. We packed up the rope feeling good that we had passed up what was supposed to be the hardest part. We even stemmed over a hissing and pissed off owl at the side of a silo. The owl was an obvious sign from the canyon that what awaited us was easy street and the hissing danger of the canyon was behind us. Or it was just an owl. What proceeded in the beta was more high stemming, pot holes, and some “climbing like moves”. “climbing like moves” to me sounded in my head a lot like high stemming, so I was on the lookout. We finally got to a section of canyon that was a bit wider and then began to descend. Strange? I thought we would need to do more stemming, descending was not on the mental menu. The descent was one that if we were to go down it would be incredibly difficult to get back up because of the slopey non featured nature of the rock. If we descended would we be stuck at the bottom unable to return to our high point? Were we supposed to continue high stemming, but like really really high wide stemming? At this point we were tired, exhausted, and thirsty, we did not want to do further decision making. I looked up at the possible stemming route we thought we might have to do. Phil was obviously not keen and we decided if we did it I would stem up, trail a rope, and then find a safe place to belay him up to keep it safe. The indecision and unknown of the route awakened The Beast inside me. Failure on the stem accent would not be an option, completely laid out and unable to see when it stopped. I was emotionally at the height of fear but my body and mind was in Go-Mode.

Screen Shot 2022-06-06 at 2.15.24 PM.jpg
Screen Shot 2022-06-06 at 2.15.43 PM.jpg
Screen Shot 2022-06-06 at 2.16.27 PM.jpg

And this brings me to my favorite thing about canyons, even well beta’d canyons, canyons with GPS from Ryan… You never really know what it is going to be like. Decision making becomes paramount. It is not always about physical mastery but the mental solving of the puzzle. Had I gone and stemmed up the section we were preparing to, likely there would have been nothing and it would have been too far gone to return back to the ground safely. It would have been the height of stupidity and we would have become a statistic. We could have become a headline on one of the lesser read KSL stories. “Ameature canyoneer and local loser Flapbag fell on a canyon hike in southern utah this weekend and sustained massive injuries”. But cooler heads prevailed. We took a deep breath. Despite being ready to stem, we thought it would be completely crazy for them not to mention this section of difficulty in the beta. How stupid and inept could we be?. The Beast resided. We descended, a small pool awaited us that was surmounted by reaching around a blind corner and performing some “CLIMBING LIKE MOVES”. So obvious, so much safer. We were done, the canyon eased up, less a feeling of accomplishment and more the holo feeling of realizing how close we were to doing something truly stupid and it feeling more like we had gotten away with something. A little like coming to the stop sign by your house that you roll stop every single day but then for some reason you feel an inexplicable sense to actually stop all the way for once and sure enough someone comes screaming by in a dump truck through the 4 way stop and you realized that if that had happened on any other day you would have been evaporated.

We shambled back to the creek to meet Juhl and proceeded to take a shower in the waterfall. One of my more memorable days was now over.

Screen Shot 2022-06-06 at 2.16.47 PM.jpg

What did we learn? What could have been done better? The most glaring thing to me looking back is that I wish we would have been more experienced with pot hole escapes. Had we been more versed in using them we would have been less likely to seriously consider the potentially devastating stemming moves above. The thing I was most grateful for was having a partner who kept their cool and was someone that I truly trusted. I think we were both happy to have found “The Eye of the Beast” that Ryan had talked about in his Shenanigans beta and to this day I have not experienced it again, and I would like to keep it that way… for now.

I hope that this story will help anyone who decides to do Raven or anyone who is about to make a poor judgment call when transfixed by The Beast. 

Thanks to Mountaineer on the Canyon Collective Forums for his Raven trip report. 



Want to make a comment? Login and let yourself be heard.
Flapbag Trip Reports