“Dont let go,” I muttered, a full pitch higher than my normal range. I was trying to keep my voice from completely submitting to the mounting panic, but as the words came out I realized that I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. Neil tightened his grip on my arm, cutting off circulation to my fingertips. I didn’t care. My face was smashed up against the log, and as I breathed out a huge cloud of dust blew up and settled onto my wet face. For a moment I was lost in a thought about Hollywood movies, and how I had seen this scene so many times before, with the hero hanging from some building, their hot breath enveloping them in soot and dust.
Shaking my head a bit and dislodging some of the bits of hair that were trying to get into my eyes, I focused on the situation at hand. I was bear hugging a log, legs dangling in the air, with a pothole of unknown depth below me. It was full of black, foul smelling water, and sharp looking logs breached the surface like upturned jousting poles. Neil was above me, in a safe spot on top of the log and hanging on to my arms to further help them stick to the wet, slick surface. His long legs meant he had had less trouble with this crossing, and my desperate grab on the log tightened, this was yet another time when being short was not an asset suited for canyoneering.
I swung my legs with all my might towards the sloping wall to my left. Canyon walls are full of cracks and holes and other water-born features, and thankfully, my foot caught in the small low crack I had been aiming for. But this is the scary part, folks. “Don’t let go” I muttered again, which of course was totally un-necessary and more for my benefit than his. Of course he wasn’t going anywhere. With my foot still wedged, I put all my weight into my right arm, and pushing off the log without letting go, shoved my body towards my extended foot. This successfully swung me onto a small shelf. My second foot caught the crack and I leaned forward with everything I had, away from the looming hole that was now behind me.
I got my weight settled, leaning into the wall and still halfway hugging the log. I stood, lodged in the crack, for a second, letting the adrenaline settle my nerves. From there, it was an easy matter of swinging myself up on top of the log that I had now (in my head) named, given a life story, and thanked profusely for being there. Sitting astride the top of it, I scootched (technical term) my way forward until I could properly stand, gain balance, and proceed the rest of the way down the canyon.
Many times, canyons are a mental game. There was really little danger here, especially with a partner helping. But getting around your own screaming brain for long enough to think properly while in a situation like this – that’s the part that sticks with you. Das Boot, you weren’t my favorite canyon in the world, and I certainly had a hard time appreciating your beauty. But I’ll always remember you.