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Trust The Rope

August 15, 2016

I don’t remember an element of death. I grew up in Western Washington. You can think of it as Seattle, although it was actually a town called Lacey, a suburb of the capital Olympia. I spent a lot of time in the outdoors. I eventually earned an Eagle Scout badge. I went on many scout camping trips. And in all of them, I don’t ever remember being told “Do this wrong and you might die.”

I spent this last weekend in Southern Utah with a dozen Boy Scouts. We hiked the Narrows and Orderville in Zions National Park. But, before that, we hiked Kanarraville Falls. Kanarraville is about 30 miles north of Zions. The canyon is much smaller, and there’s a dusty, hot mile long walk to get to the mouth of the canyon. Once you reach the canyon it is unlike anything like anywhere else in the country. 

However, I enjoy Kanarravile more than the more popular Zions Narrows. Kanarraville Falls has far fewer people, and unlike The Narrows, there are two waterfalls that hikers need to traverse. These falls are the reason it’s called Kanarraville Falls and not just Kanarraville Canyon. 

Someone has set up bridges to allow the hikers to get up and down the falls. Bridges might be too strong a word. They are little more than logs with some crosspieces attached. The first bridge gets the most traffic, of course. It has a fairly stable set of iron cross members secured to what looks like an old telephone pole. It’s fairly easy to scramble up the 15 foot waterfall. 

However, the second bridge is a different story. It’s also a telephone sized pole, but it has only a couple of wooden cross pieces spaced far apart. The log is slick from the constant spray from the falls. Scrambling up is a daunting endeavor. We were taking 11 boys, some for the first time. 

These are slot canyons. That means just what it sounds like. The water has cut a narrow path through the rock. The walls are very close, sometimes only an arm’s spread wide. The canyon rim was high above. In Kanarraville, the walls were 100 feet tall in places. At Zions they were easily double or triple that height. 

Along the side of the bridge, someone had secured a rope to the wall. Actually, it was a series of ropes in various stages of disrepair. In order to get up the second bridge, a hiker must become a climber. You brace your feet on the bottom support, take a firm grip on the rope and use the strength of your arms to pull yourself up. If you have people to help, they use their hands to create additional braces for the climbers feet. 

Falling means a 15 foot drop to a riverbed of rock. Do this wrong and you might die. Going up we were fine. We had three adults to shepard the boys up. We put a leader on top to help them up and one on the bottom to brace their feet. However, we were planning on splitting our group and I would start back first with only part of our troop, I realized I was going to have to manage that bridge on my own. 
Don’t do it wrong, you might die. Or worse yet, injure one of the boys. 

Our trip back down was uneventful until we reached the upper waterfall. The first decision was where to position myself; at the top or the bottom of the log. If I went first, I could brace the boys feet better. But, if one of the boys got too nervous to move forward, I’d be on the wrong end of the bridge to provide moral support. 

I opted for a position at the top. An older scout went down first and offered to hold their feet. I provided an arm to grab for the first few feet, but there was a big gap in the middle where the boys were on their own. Wet slippery tennis shoes, a smooth log and a long drop to the bottom. But, they also had a rope. And that was the difference. The rope was small and had big loops that made it difficult to hold on to while keeping their balance. But, the rope was firmly anchored to the canyon wall. 

Trust the rope.

As each boy took tentative steps out on to the log, I repeated my advice. 

Trust the rope. The rope is secure.

Very carefully, each boy edged out farther and farther down the log. Some exuded confidence. Others appeared to question the wisdom of a hike up the slot canyons. Eventually they all safely traversed the bridge and beamed back up at me standing at the top of the ladder as if to say

I did THAT!

I was the last one to come down. Carefully, I positioned my feet on the slick log and took a firm grip on the rope. 

Trust the rope, I heard myself say inside my head. Not just advice for boys.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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  1. Eric Scott permalink

    A good to review the chorus of “To Nephi, seer of Olden times”….. ,”Hold to the [rope], the [tiny rope] ’tis strong and [wet] and [looped]….”

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