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Wes's Story: Just Imlay and Heaps In A Day

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Two guys wearing two Imlay Canyon Gear backpacks each and spinning in circles
Just dudes being dudes

I received a phone call one afternoon in September, I step out of my office into the hallway to hear Braxton open with “Wes, are you crazy?” After agreeing that I might be a little bit, he proposed the idea to attempt the Zion Trifecta. This includes some of the three largest and most technical canyons in all of Zion: Heaps, Full Imlay, and Kolob. To put this into perspective, the Heaps Canyon beta has an overall time of 12 hours to 48 hours (many bivy near the canyon head), Imlay Canyon (Full) takes around 13-24 hours, and while Kolob Creek Canyon might be the little brother of these two other beasts, it still takes 8-12 hours to complete. Braxton proposed we attempt to finish in under 24 hours, so of course, I agreed without hesitation. Not necessarily because I am crazy, but because I had been considering this impressive feat for months at this point, along with many conversations about how this could logistically be pulled off.

At the time Braxton and I felt physically capable, as we both had been training for other adventures throughout the summer (e.g., summiting the Grand Teton together, a 50k, long backpacking trips through Buckskin Gulch/Paria canyon, as well as many many runs through various canyons in the southwest (including multiple runs on heaps and Full Imlay)), however, we feared not being ready regarding logistical preparation and contingency plans. Hesitantly, we pushed the date back to November 11th. Quickly the stars aligned, in less than 24 hours Naomi Ogden, a film student at Southern Utah University, reached out with ideas of creating a canyoneering short film documentary to submit to the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2024. Braxton reached out to Tom Jones, the owner of Imlay Canyon Gear and we asked him to support us with our efforts for the film. He was graciously willing to go all in and support us (i.e., working through planning the route, advice with gear, and he offered to sponsor us with ropes and packs). Wow, this idea was quickly becoming reality. We upped our training mileage, and even started running with packs fearfully anticipating those hard miles with heavy packs. Braxton met with Tom again to pick up the gear, measure the ropes to the exact length needed and to stuff all the bags (we would need multiple bags per person). Midway through October we were unfortunately notified that the Kolob dam was suddenly being released into the canyon. Up to 35 cfs was now indefinitely blasting down the canyon, leaving it impassable. Feeling deflated at having to cancel all plans and preparations, we instead resorted to shifting our plans to

running JIHAD (Just Imlay and Heaps in a Day). These two canyons back-to-back in one day have only been completed by two groups previously, and so this was still going to be our biggest single-day adventure ever attempted, and would hopefully be a great experience to be able to better prepare for the full Trifecta next season.

 As the day approached, I felt stronger physically, we felt more prepared logistically, and the temperature continued to drop significantly. The week of JIHAD we ate more food, got as much sleep as possible and drank so much I was consistently peeing every 30 minutes. We found ourselves mentally running through the route over and over, considering a variety of potential situations, and imagining what it would be like and how we would feel. Friday (11/10) Naomi the film director, Braxton and I met up in St. George and headed into Zion. We first stopped at the Zion Wilderness Desk to snag the permits and a yellow pass so we could park at Temple of Sinawava. It was totally understandable, but the park rangers working the desk seemed greatly hesitant to issue us our reserved permits. Not only were they worried about giving Heaps permits in mid-November, but then adding Imlay on top of that in the same day, it must have sounded like a joke. In desperation to get the permits we launched into explaining the many well thought through logistics and the amazing support we were to receive. They called us “crazy”, nothing new there haha, and reluctantly handed over the permits. We sped over to Zion Adventure company and picked up some drysuits. This was one of the many decisions we had to make in the process of preparing, but we decided that running heaps in basically winter would be about the dumbest thing we could do, so we agreed on renting drysuits. This was an issue because we are very unfamiliar with drysuits; how to put them on quickly, how to move efficiently in them, and what to wear underneath were all things we had to figure out. We hoped this would not add too much time the next day as transitions seem to eat up the most time. But the water temps would be high 30s when we dropped into heaps and so this was our one and only option if we wished to continue. We tested out the drysuits in the store and it was ridiculous. We were about to do the most hardcore legendary adventure, and were looking as if a marshmallow, a sumo wrestler and a mechanic all had a baby together.

We drove to Lambs Knoll, hopped out of the truck into the freezing night, popped on our headlamps and got to work. We packed bags for the next hour. It was difficult packing two bags at once, making sure we had all the appropriate gear. If we were to forget the contents of one single thing such as my right neoprene sock, a water bottle, or the correct ascending gear, it could completely blow the entire operation. I quickly lost feeling in my hands as the temperature dropped to 10 degrees. Oh boy, the reality of the cold was starting to set in. Braxton came up with this ingenious idea to unclip the straps from one bag and clip them back together in an “X” across the other pack. We put them on and could hardly believe the weight (70+ lbs), my legs were trembling just standing there for a couple seconds, in an instant I had just added

1/3 to my total body weight. All muscles had to be completely clenched just to not topple over if a change in direction was made at all. I felt like Aunt Fanny from the movie Robot: YouTube.

We both slept terribly. My mind was racing. I counted way too many sheep that night, taking hours to fall asleep and then waking up well before our 2:00 am alarm. 

I rolled out of bed feeling foggy brained and unrested. We chucked our stuff into the truck and sped up the rest of the mountain to Lava Point, sipping on cold mate and staring through the window into the pitch-black night. I was overwhelmed with this feeling of the actuality of nature: relentless, brutally unforgiving, and raw. The only topic of conversation being how awful we slept, and encouragement to get food down. We pulled into the Lava Point dirt parking lot; I didn’t want to get out. “Welp,” I said, “remember this feeling, it's going to be a while until we feel warm again.” We groaned as we pulled our heavy packs from the trunk and placed them onto our backs, the body felt stiff as I tried to stand upright with the weight. We penguin hobbled to the trail head and stared down the dirt path not fully knowing what lay ahead for us that day. This will be a day we remember for the rest of our lives, for better or worse. I have had this feeling often, it’s the feeling of standing on a starting line (literally or metaphorically), the mind is racing, the stomach is churning and there are even hints of nausea. Then you take that first step, and the whole world disappears, all thoughts/feelings fade, and it's just you and the present moment. The watch hit 2:55 and we started running (well I’m not sure if it was really running, maybe more like super speed walking as it was difficult to lift the legs with all of the weight) and the time started flying.

The first few miles were rough, we were sucking freezing cold air at 7,500 ft of elevation and the joints ached. It was as if the body was in shock, thinking, ‘wait no! take me back to my sleeping bag’. Nevertheless, we continued onward, headlamps only illuminating the next two steps. Two miles in and we were overheating, we made a speedy pitstop and ripped off some layers. As my body warmed up I felt stronger, feeling my legs powerfully push all that weight forwards with every step. We shouted in shock when we stumbled upon the Potato Hollow Trailhead sign (4:00am) a little over 5 miles later. We quickly stashed our packs in the bushes off trail, drank some ice water (literally our water bottles had iced through) and slung our (now 35 lb) pack over our shoulders. We screamed into the night in excitement as we continued down the trail feeling light as air. Shouts of excitement quickly faded and shifted to heavy breathing as we hit the first massive hill. We busted through it, sprinted downhill, and then busted out another massive hill. 

At the top, Braxton leaned over dry heaving, we were both feeling very nauseous, his

being to the tipping point of throwing up. I turned on my GoPro giggling. In my mind I wanted this adventure to be a positive experience. Every moment, even the painful and miserable, I was going to face with a smile on my face. The hardest battles are fought in the mind, and I was ready to battle with myself, knowing the instant the mind gives in the body gives up. In this moment I was happy to be with Braxton knowing his constant positive and lighthearted attitude. Mentally we would push ourselves, and when struggling to do so we felt comfortable enough to have our partner carry us emotionally through that until recovered. Unfortunately for the film, Braxton's nausea passed, and we continued running. I guess karma was out to get me. A mile later down the road while running uncontrollably down the rocky trail, my toe clipped a large rock, and I hit the ground like a brick. Tumbling with my big pack in the dirt. Adrenaline kicked in and I immediately jumped up and continued running without hesitation. As I did a

quick body check to assess the damage done, I noticed blood starting to run from a massive fingernail sized gash in my right palm. Otherwise, I was unscathed. 

We arrived to Phantom Ridge at 5:00am. We threw on our harnesses; I rigged a quick block to the tree and Braxton flew down the rappel with the plan to run and set up the next rap. I followed quickly after, stuffed the rope and started heading down the ridge following a faded social trail. We were ahead of schedule! After about 7 minutes of bushwhacking (a canyoneers favorite pastime) I realized I was absolutely going the wrong way, I blasted back along the edge of the cliffs and met up with Braxton who had come back to ensure I was safe. What a good friend*crying face emoji. I felt silly for losing us so much time, of course these issues would happen, but so close to the beginning was disheartening. We quickly rapped into the valley and skirted along some rock formation for a while, feeling it in our knees. Braxton has a 6th sense which is being able to find the quickest way from point A to the canyon head. We arrived at 6:10am. Right on time!

We struggled for a bit, pulling on our Drysuits. We had been slacking with our water and food intake, and so we started forcing anything down. Putting anything in my body was the last thing I was wanting at this moment. I felt quite sick, but I knew that in the long run we could not maintain this physical intensity if we didn’t take care of our bodies. We dropped into the canyon around 6:30 am. I stepped my legs into the first canyon water and even though they did not get wet, I could feel them immediately tighten up from the cold-water temps. We came to our first pothole. Oofta. The water level was low, and the lip was at least 4 ft above the water.

I jumped in and went for it, pulling off some awkward stemming moves to get up and out. Braxton, right below me, passed me his pack and grabbed my planted foot to heave himself out onto the small lip with me. It was at this point that we knew we were gonna be in for a very long day. One more rappel, check. We swam through a wide corridor before arriving at a massive pothole just before a bend in the canyon. I looked down into this pothole and my stomach dropped. This was much lower than anticipated. In fact, I had run hundreds of scenarios through my head during the weeks previous, and I still had never imagined this. I dropped into the pothole, swam across without being able to touch and looked up to the 4-5-foot smooth vertical wall. I gave a couple attempts and was not able to hook due to all the holes being blown out in the past.

After 15 minutes of freezing temps and failed attempts Braxton dropped in with me (he is the pothole escape king). He got on top of our bags as I swam pushing them into the wall, he reached high, putting as much of himself on the wall as possible (we love friction), and slowly inched up. Braxton pulled as much as he could on nothing as I had the pleasure to push his butt from beneath. I handed up packs, Braxton hauled me up. And I lay on the lip of the other side of the pothole panting. What would have taken 30 seconds to swim across in the right conditions took us 20 minutes. Heaps was indeed in hard mode.

It quickly became obvious that we were not going to be able to break the record of 14:38 for jihad. At this point I was worried about even being able to complete it in 24 hours, but regardless heaps was a blast. Braxton and I were flowing through the canyon with more efficiently than ever before and it felt good to move so quickly through so many obstacles and through so much beauty. The sun rose while we were in the canyon, having never been in a slot canyon that early before I had some new experiences. We came to a halt, standing in shock for a moment trying to take in the beauty and perfect lighting of the green room and later the iron room. It illuminated colors in a way that warmed my chilled body.

Throughout the canyon we jumped as many rappels as possible to save time, becoming completely submerged in the ice-cold water at least a dozen times, the rush of adrenaline pumping keeping us warm. Since the water levels were low, we were jumping between 15-30 feet into water that was often only about 6 feet deep. Because the jumps were shallower than we hoped for we would chuck our bag, give a high pitch “woop!” and then leap out leaning backwards to land our butts right on the pack. At the same time, we would flail our arms and legs to ensure we made as much body to surface-of-the-water contact as possible. Landing on our backs, plus landing on our buoyant packs, plus having drysuits full of air made it so much easier to jump big rappels with minimal water. At one point we looked over a 20+ foot ledge, scoping out the pothole below. Braxton, who was on the mossy edge, slipped, and was forced to jump. I watched slow motion as he chucks his backpack between his legs (football hike style), spins in the air and basically cannon balls right onto his pack barely missing the canyon walls and the shallow section of the far below pothole. Our enthusiastic voices echoed in relief throughout the canyon walls. I eased towards the ledge and pushed my bag over the edge. “Careful man, it’s so slick!” Braxton yelled up at me. I take a step and instantly replicate a cartoon character slipping on a banana. I also am forced to jump out, aiming for the narrow safe landing pad, my pack. We moved on laughing in relief. Now the biggest challenge throughout Heaps was not even the potholes necessarily, but rather the unexpected cramping. Running 10 miles on the approach with crazy heavy packs on little food and water caught up much quicker than expected. This was exacerbated by the freezing water. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but we quickly got wet under our drysuits with all the pothole jumps. 

Even if we were not wet, the long winding corridor swims are where you really feel the cold-water temps, even through the many layers of protection. It was hours of clenching muscles while swimming, and then forcing them to stretch in weird ways while climbing out of potholes.

Only 1/3rd of the way through Heaps my legs were feeling super tight from the cold, I take a long step over a large canyon feature and my right leg (not just one muscle or area, but the ENTIRE leg: quads, hamstrings and calves) spazzes out. I dropped my pack and

dropped to my stomach, seizing on the ground as one does when they cramp up. Braxton stemmed over me and continued to rig the next rappel, so comical. This was the first of many cramps for me in Heaps, and I do not exaggerate when I say that these were the most painful and most debilitating cramps I have ever had in my life. Braxton’s started up soon after as well, making us the perfect duo. What it looked like was that we would drop into water and start swimming, the cold water would force the legs to tighten up, the longer the swim or amount of time in the pothole the worse. Through this, our legs were weightlessly floating, but the instant we attempted to climb out of water using those muscles, they quickly would cramp up. So many times, we would find ourselves halfway out of a pothole, and then completely cramp up, not on only one but two legs. We were then forced to fall backwards into the discouraging cold and wait for it to pass before another attempt. It was frustrating, but also surprisingly funny. I vividly remember cramping at the top of one pothole, my body gave up and I started sliding back in. Braxton, my savior from above, grabbed the back of my harness and heaved me up next to him like a rag doll. I lay incapacitated on the lip of the pothole yelling and laughing at the same time. I am sure that if anybody were to listen in on the canyon echoes, they would hear murderous screams and manic laughter and be quite confused. Because the canyon was so dry, we were able to run the long sandy corridors pretty quickly. If I’m honest, because of the weight, it most likely looked more like quick speed walking. We took a 180 degree turn in the canyon and shouted for joy recognizing the notorious log jam that needs to be climbed over. We only had about 30 minutes left. We flew through it with smiles on our faces and cramps in our legs. After some rappels and swims, we made the final climb up to the top of the rappel sequence. Braxton threw down a rope to me since I didn’t feel comfortable making the 30-foot solo climb in my wobbly legs. We set up the first rappel and I started to ease myself over the ledge, as I squinted down to the Zion canyon floor 500 feet below, I could see the Upper Emerald Pools. The little sandy beach was dotted with dark specks, before my eyes could adjust, I heard a roar of cheers hitting like a gust of wind. It was surreal. 

Braxton and I met up at the first tree, pulled the rope, got some tangles (per usual), and then went down the next sequence. I met Braxton on the puny bird perch, still hearing the cheers below. 300 feet of air sat below us and the first checkpoint. We accidentally dropped a smooth operator straight off the cliff that we had packed with some amsteel to use in case we stuck a rope. Whoops, hopefully we wouldn't end up needing that. After about 20 minutes on this wall, I was shaking hard all over. I was sopping wet, not moving, in a harness, my body was exhausted, and I was lacking food/water. I blazed down that last rappel, metal quickly heating from the friction. “Off rappel!” 10:40. After some more rope management, Braxton was right behind at 10:50. Heaps took us 7:55 from start to finish. Could we have done if faster in better conditions, absofreakinglutely, but now was not the time to dwell on that.

Our family and friends waited with the supplies we needed. I could only think of NASCAR, and the ‘bzzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz” of everybody helping the car fill up and throwing on new tires. This takes seconds and then it’s peddle to the metal again. The whole-time, cliff bars, PBJs, jerky and trail mix was being shoved into my face from all directions. I would just open my mouth and be fed something. This was much appreciated as my hands were well occupied in stripping. We were frantically stripping off layer and after layer, realizing we were soaked to the bone underneath. Families dressed in fall puffies watched as we stripped to our underwear and threw on running shorts and a light t-shirt (we knew we would quickly warm up). My amazing mom handed me a bottle of pickle juice, which I ravenously

chugged. After a few pictures with our families, we snagged our hiking poles and charged down the trail filled with new motivation and energy. We left our heavy wet canyon bags, feeling light as air with a small running pack (1 liter of water and some GU packets). We ran down the Kayenta Trail, battling the hordes of people on veterans’ day weekend. After a mile or two we hit the Grotto and started heading up the West Rim Trail where we started cranking up the steep incline and endless switchbacks to Scout's lookout.

Our running slowed to a long stride/quick walk. Braxton slowly pulled ahead, and I pushed as hard as I could, still falling behind. For the first couple miles my cramps were teasing me, coming on and off, and I was insanely nauseous. I ate two cliff bars and a Gu packet hoping they would suffice until we could make it to our stashed packs. I found myself stuck in my head fighting off the desire to take a break, every step feeling like we had our 75 lb. packs on again. My legs were like lead, and my head pounded. We passed group after group, many of which gave me strange looks. I smiled, laughing to myself; how ridiculous we must have looked hauling butt past these groups with nothing but trekking poles and helmets (which we wore all the way up). Everybody most likely thinking that we were ready to face the renowned Angels Landing courageously yet safely in our helmets. We made it to the top of Scouts lookout in about 40 minutes since we left Upper Emerald Pools and took a hard left not slowing, the West Rim still towering forever above us. The crowds dissipated. It was hot, sunny and we were moving as fast as we could (15-minute pace) with the steep incline and thick sand. I found myself out of water about an hour and a half up the trail. I begged a group of passing backpackers for a liter of water and got shut down two times. The third time I almost cried

when a man whipped out an extra water bottle, happily jogging over to me to fill my camelbak. We moved into the final long switchback sequence. I was suddenly filled with energy again, super happy to have pushed past that miserable wall (emotionally and physically), I stuck with Braxton until we summited the West Rim (Strava tracked over 4,500 feet of elevation at this point). This was about 2 hours since we had left the Pools. The terrain waxed and waned in difficulty for the next couple miles. While I was suddenly feeling amazing (well as amazing as could be expected), Braxton switched places with me and began feeling nauseous and experienced crazy cramping. This forced us to take more breaks than anticipated as we impatiently awaited the cramping’s to pass. We were only a few miles from Potato Hollow, with the majority of the difficulty behind, but we moved at turtle speed. Braxton’s cramping was so bad he could hardly bend his legs, but he pushed through the pain which I was blown away by. It is one thing to push through something physical when the brain doesn’t want to, but it is completely different when you push through something physically when the brain wants to, but the body can’t. 

At last, we made it to Potato Hallow, we snagged our bags from the bushes (I felt so much relief holding that thing in my hands) and slumped to our butts at the drop in rappell of Full Imlay. On the way up we had decided that if we were going to finish this thing, we couldn’t keep pushing our bodies into the ground, we needed to take the appropriate break and get sufficient food into our bodies. I felt anxious cutting into our precious daylight time just sitting in the shade and eating trail mix, but retrospectively it was one of the smartest decisions we made throughout the day. In twenty minutes, I put on my 7mm wetsuit, downed a liter and a half with two liquid IV packets, and ate as much food as my shrunken stomach could handle. The adrenaline faded for the first time that day, if we would have sat for 30 more seconds, I am not sure if I ever would have gotten up again. We blocked our fresh rope around a tree and zoomed down the first two-stage rappel into the shaded canyon at 2:45pm. Our feet stepped into what we thought would be water in the first pothole, only to realize it was a half-inch of ice on the surface. I quickly inhaled, gasping at the shock of the unexpected cold. Looking up, the walls were covered in nothing but thick ice. Oh boy.

The next 30-60 minutes were breaking through icy water, this was done by taking big steps to stomp down on it or I would punch it down with my fists if it was too high (nothing swimmable). I did this because the ice was actually really sharp and stabby, hurting quite a bit. Throughout this process I fell multiple times, not only were my legs exhausted, but we were walking over unstable icy terrain, it was incredibly slick. I couldn't believe how difficult it was to rappel on ice. After some frustrating icy battles we made it to the two-stage rappel. The first rap is 65 feet to a ledge with a couple of bolts, after we both locked in here, we

pulled our rope and I sped down a steep 165 foot wall. An icy waterfall colored the wall beside me, I glanced behind me on rappel to overlook the entirety of upper Imlay, and was able to appreciate a moment of blissful peace. The golden glow of the lower sun lit up the massive red canyon walls, contrasting well with the far below colors of changing yellow fall leaves. Zion truly is transcendent. Braxton and I pulled and stuffed hundreds of feet of rope together, down-climbed to the end of a ridge, then scrambled off the right side down steep dirt into a wash. We went down a small rappel and I charged ahead leaving Braxton behind to stuff. At this point I kind of zoned out, not very aware of time. I ran for a long time, hoping over rocks and logs, and trying to not twist an ankle on the various loose rocks. The wash meandered through the canyon, and then every once and a while there was a 20 foot downclimb where I would wedge my body tightly between two walls and adjust where I put pressure to allow myself to do a slow, semi-controlled slide down to the ground. I would hit the ground and continue running.

 To be honest, this was my favorite hour (ballpark guess) of the whole day. I sunk into this deep focused state of mind. Braxton was nowhere in sight, it was just me and the canyon for the moment, few rappels, perfect temps, long corridors, and numerous downclimbs. While I had no thoughts cross my mind I became hyper aware of all sensations. The sun continued to get lower, lighting the sky pink far above. The clinking of flailing metal on my harness. The warm fast beating chest. The quick breathing. The legs pounding the ground powerfully. The cold stiff fingers which I opened and closed slowly. And the smile on my face because I felt truly grounded and peaceful. I felt so small in such a big place, and that is a powerful feeling. I would set up a rappel and wait. Braxton would arrive soon, with a nod of our heads he would fly down the rappel and continue on, clinking gear fading until I again was in complete silence. I would quickly stuff and follow. The pools got deeper as the canyon progressed. And soon we arrived at the crossroads (where Imlay Sneak enters from the canyons right). We sat in the dirt and assessed. The sun was now setting, and by the time we would be in the dark narrow corridors of the next section it would be impossible to see without headlamps. In addition, temps would be dropping rapidly. Lastly, the unknown canyon conditions of this technical section scared us. We had contingency plans, but if push came to shove would we still be able to escape massive potholes in our current physical condition? On the other hand, since our bodies were exhausted, miles and miles of hiking out through the Sneak Approach seemed much more physically taxing. We had been sending update messages through Braxton's Garmin to Tanner, but for some reason we felt unsure if he was receiving them. The plan was to call Search and Rescue if we were not out by midnight. We would be lucky to get back by then if we went the Sneak Approach due to our utter exhaustion. In my mind we were on the final stretch, it was quicker and we had the proper gear/contingency. Exit through the sneak approach or bust it out through Imlay, we agreed upon the latter.

We dropped into the narrow section of Imlay, it is beautiful, dark, and heavily sculpted. The next 2 hours consisted of the most taxing, strenuous and relentless moments. Braxton and I knew that every millisecond counted from this point until we could see the Narrows below us (Imlay rappels into the Narrows). We jumped, we climbed, we downclimbed, and we set dozens of small rappels, over and over and over. The temperature continued to quickly drop now that the sun was down, and I feared what lay ahead as I looked at my neoprene gloves which now had many holes in the fingertips and my left palm (I had gotten a little too aggressive on some of the elevatoring/downclimbs). But to my surprise there had not been too many long swims or difficult potholes. After a while the canyon relented and opened up briefly. We jogged, excited for the opportunity to warm up a little. Then we dropped into the second extreme narrow section (the Terminal Narrows). We rappeled over and over (20-60 ft) into pool after pool (Imlay has around 23 raps). Each time I would rappel into the water it got worse. I could literally feel my body temperature plummeting, I lost all dexterity in my fingers and I started shaking uncontrollably. I knew I could not stop moving for even one second or I’d freeze.

Braxton and I began double stranding the rappels for the sake of time and now that I was getting so cold. I stopped locking my carabiner in fear of not being able to open it back up with my stiff fingers while in the water. We then arrived at what we feared: a swimming pothole with at least a 5-foot slick vertical bowl surrounding all sides. Braxton yanked his hook and etrier out of his pack, chucked his bag and and rappeled into the water without hesitation. He swam across the pothole breathing sharply and painfully. Getting to the towering other side he pushed his pack beneath him, reached high as possible and set his hook into a tiny divot in the sheer rock. Holding the hook close to the rock with one hand and pulling up with his other hand, Braxton raised himself up to place his foot on the first link of the etrier. Splash. The hook had popped out. Again he attempted and again it did not hold. The third time Braxton sunk deep down and then blasted up, pulling with one hand and kicking with the legs, launching himself as high as he could aiming for a tiny hole. He stuck it! Even with the perfect hook, you have to stay close to the wall, pull as much weight as you can on nothing and fight the water. Every inch up is a battle as it feels like the water is trying everything in its power to keep you in that pothole, sucking you down. But he did it and our cheers of relief echoed through the dark canyon walls. I then would have the privilege to drop into this lovely 35-40 degree water. Swimming across I would push/carry all of the bags while gasping for air (the cold truly sucked it out of you). I would get to the other side and hand the water filled bags up to Braxton’s foot. Hooking the shoulder loop around his foot, he would pull, and I would push with all my might while getting showered from the icy water that poured from the bag. Four bags later it was my turn.I would grab Braxton’s leg (not too comfortable for him) and slowly work my way up the wall. Once higher he would offer a hand or grab me by my harness, pulling me the rest of the way up. I was beyond grateful for him at this time, as I felt incapable of hooking out of keepers due to my fingers being completely exposed to the water and their feeling being gone. This process (keeper potholes) happened a total of four times here at the end of Imlay, each pothole getting bigger and more difficult, each time Braxton fearlessly dropping in to conquer the beast of a keeper pothole escape. 

We could now hear the Narrows faintly in the distance. The wind picked up, rushing through the canyon as it blew towards the Narrows. How ironic to now think that we had gone around 27 miles at this point, but had the potential to be stuck in a canyon only a couple hundred yards from the exit. Again during this time I experienced little thoughts or emotions, but rather the sensations of raw relentless nature. It was what I had experienced this morning in the truck looking out the window, but now I truly was in the thick of it. It was what I had experienced at multiple moments throughout the day, but now it was much more uncomfortable. But I found myself easing into it and accepting it. Fear of what could happen shifted to what I could do in the moment, panic shifted to focus and uncomfort shifted to acceptance. It was brutal, I knew we were testing our limits, but for some reason I never doubted us being able to pull it off. Little was said between Braxton and I, honestly no communication was needed at this point, we knew what needed to be done and it was just taking that one step, one rappel and one pothole at a time. At last we reached the final large ledge overlooking the North Fork Narrows. Looking down I could not even see the canyon floor, it was so dark. We screamed into the darkness “Wahoooooo!”, this was muffled by the loud canyon water roar. I felt ecstatic, and shook with excitement....or the cold. Braxton got on rappel, a big smile on his face, and disappeared into the darkness below. I zipped down the last rappel of the day and we stuffed our rope bags into our packs not needing them any more. We pulled out our trekking poles (we knew we would not be able to trust our legs and did not want to sprain an ankle) and started stumbling down the Narrows. It was pitch black so every foot planted was in blind faith, the uneven slick mossy rocks and rushing water did not help out. 

While at times hours in the canyons felt like minutes, the hour we spent hiking the two miles out of the Narrows felt like a year. Now that we were out of danger and the brutal rigor of these technical canyons I felt my adrenaline and energy plummeting. I got very dizzy, and every step was a challenge. I remember looking over at Braxton and he wasn't doing too peachey to say the least. “We should take a break”. There was no argument there. We were only 10 minutes away from the trailhead, but we sat down on a small dry island and ate the rest of the contents in our packs. The canyon was ominous, yet strangely beautiful at this time of night. Light conversation started up between us and I was overwhelmed with a euphoric mixture of our accomplishment and the thought of us being the sole individuals in this wonderful canyon. As we ate, food had never felt so powerful, the flavors were overwhelming and I felt it instantly give me energy. We finished eating and just stared into the distance. “Let's finish this”.

Small lights flickered in the distance, as we got closer we could hear the cheering. Family waited at the end of the Riverwalk trailhead, they were all bundled up in coats and blankets and had the biggest smiles on their faces. Tanner ran up and bear-hugged us in our sopping wetsuits. Wow, they had all waited in this cold for hours, such amazing support. We walked down the Riverwalk trail in relief and jumped into explaining the many events of the day. Naomi met up with us in the parking lot excited to see us. This had been a very long day for her as well, she explained that she had returned to the truck at 3:00am after sending us off and the battery was dead due to the cold. She called Tanner who was able to make it there by 6:00am to jump it. I applaud their dedication and truly deeply appreciate their support, even through

the many hiccups. For example, the GoPro batteries died while in Heaps, and the backup ones that were being held at the Emerald Pools had also been drained from the cold that night, leaving no film for the majority of the adventure. Naomi stayed purely positive, just happy to be in those moments with us. Braxton and I lay on our backs in the parking lot at the temple of Sinawava physically pushed to our limits and feeling all of the emotions. Our final time: 19 hours and 20 minutes. We were beyond proud to pull off this feat in these conditions. What a day.

I remember driving back down the Zion scenic drive looking at Braxton in a daze and saying “that was insane, I’ll leave the full Trifecta to the real professionals”. Fast forward 4 days, Braxton and I are still so incredibly sore. We are spending a fun night together with some awesome friends, but find ourselves only being able to talk about how we could have done it more efficiently. We quickly shifted from the hypothetical to actually planning the logistics of the full Trifecta. A switch was flipped, I was filled with confidence and motivation to be the first team to truly pull it off in under 24 hours. If we could do Heaps and Full Imlay in these conditions, I only wonder how fast we could do it at the proper time. Think about it, with the right weather conditions, more daylight, more training, full potholes and Tanner joining the crew, it seems feasible to complete the full trifecta.

JIHAD was amazing, and ultimately the perfect step to be more prepared for the full experience. Look out 2024, because Braxton, Tanner and I are going to crush the Trifecta.

Special thanks to our Families for all of the emotional support and maté on the day of our attempt. Thank you Naomi Ogden, without you, we might not have actually executed this crazy idea. So excited to see the film. Thank you Tanner for being the best friend anyone could ask for, your confidence in us was comforting and the logistics would not have been manageable without your competence and help. Lastly, thank you Tom Jones and Imlay Canyon Gear for sponsoring us and providing the packs and rope. Your gear could not have worked out better.

-Wesley Beck


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