Into the Abyss

Forget the spa, these women are relaxing after rappelling to the bottom of a slot canyon in front of "Fat Man’s Squeeze." Left to right, Kelly Fried, Carol F., Anu Ramakrishnan, Cynthia Chagin, and Kathie Jackson Holland. 

 

By Cynthia Chagin

When I first suggested canyoneering as our “Annual Girlfriends Trip,” my friends were overwhelmingly unenthusiastic. Maybe because it involved rappelling to the bottom of a 150’ canyon that was subjected to potentially deadly flash-floods? Or the possibility we’d encounter pools of icy water and swim to underground caverns to breathe slices of air? Whatever the reason for their hesitation, their reaction shocked me: as these were not ordinary women.

These four women had eagerly hiked alongside me to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. They were the same women who wore a badge of courage emblazoned on their chests after our intense weekly runs which included shimmying logs bridging ravines and busting through foot-drenching semi-frozen streams. 

But in time, they came around.

Carol is excited to have finished her second rappel.

We flew to Vegas then drove to Utah to meet Trevor, our hired guide. Trevor allayed the tragic news of seven people killed in a flash-flood four days earlier by explaining how severe weather warnings had been issued but the group had canyoneered regardless—unguided. And today’s weather called for 0% chance of rain.

Before we could rappel into the canyon, we first had to climb to the top of a series of sandstone outcroppings. However, blocking our path was our first obstacle—a twenty foot rock wall. We each grabbed the rope Trevor had secured, leaned back and walked up—“Spiderman-style”—with our backs parallel to the ground. 

Our next feat was more challenging mentally than physically. A precipice suspended fifty feet in the air blocked the trail and the only way around was to walk along the edge…with nothing to hold onto. Trevor demonstrated how if we followed our natural inclination to lean towards the middle (towards apparent safety), we would slip over the edge as only the balls of our feet would maintain contact with the rock. But if we walked erect (ignoring thoughts screaming “DON’T DO IT! YOU’LL FALL!”), then our entire foot would maintain contact and we’d be safe. Wide-eyed glances between my friends and me communicated the one sentence we refused to utter, “What did I get myself into?”

A leap of faith allowed us to one-by-one walk the circular ledge then release a deep sigh upon stepping foot on the trail on the other side.

Kathie Jackson Holland eases into the canyon. 

Upon reaching the top of the canyon and our first rappel, sensing hesitation from my friends, I agreed to jump off first. Since my idea was what brought us to that point, I figured it only fair if someone were to die, it’d be me. 

I stepped off the cliff, feeling the security of my fist behind my backside, I pulsed my fist, gently slipping below the rim. The feeling of freedom, defying gravity, running my fingers over smooth walls accessible only while suspended mid-air filled me with indescribable joy.

We rappelled one more time before coming to the exit marked by the narrowest of slots, “Fat Man’s Squeeze,”—with a boulder blocking the entrance. A scramble to the top revealed a twelve foot drop maneuvered by turning sideways, pressing hands and feet on opposing walls and inching towards the sandy bottom.

At the end, we felt strong and brave having accomplished a feat few dare to try.