The Pucker Factor – Waterholes Canyon, Arizona

PUCKER FACTOR: A term used to describe the tightness of your sphincter following a close call.

I tie a knot in the end of the rope, the last thing that will keep me from plummeting to an almost certain death if something fails on my rappel device and self-belay.

“Rope!” I yell out of habit even though I can see exactly where the rope will land and no one could possibly be hanging out there over the next drop.

After setting up on to the rope and triple checking everything I step backward and weight the anchor. “Oh God! Please don’t fail bolts!” is all that is running through my head. The next 60 feet are a tight, awkward rappel leading to a ledge before I have to drop about 10 feet to a set of bolts placed over a 300 foot void in the canyon with barely enough ledge for my big feet to have a place to stand.

My large frame sticks in the narrow slot. My heart starts to beat faster as I get closer to the 300 foot drop and I’m struggling to fit through, having to fight to get out. As I start to lean out over the last ledge to look for the bolts down 10 feet on the huge wall my mind starts to play tricks on me.

“Damn it!” I say to myself, trying to calm restless mind (cursing helps!). “I let to much slack back through my device and now I have to get all the stretch of the rope back into it.” If you don’t know what that’s like you’re missing out on a funky time. Imagine that first few steps of a rappel, how awkward they are as you weight the anchor and drop down; but instead of being able to lean back and weight the anchor you have to simply drop until the static rope stretches under your weight (Yeah, static lines have a lot of stretch). Not only that…I’m doing it over a ledge that has me staring straight down a 300 foot wall, the stopper knot in my rope in site a few feet past the bolt station.

I get to the bolt station, my butt is hanging out over the void and the only thing holding me is my hand, if that fails a VT Prussik, if that fails I will fall to the end of the rope — about 15 feet — and hit the stopper knot.

“The bolts are all intact,” I yell to Chris. “There’s SOOOOO much webbing here. Clean out your garbage people!”

I clip my PAS in and lock the carabiner. Now that I’m safely attached to this bolt station I take myself off the rappel. I get to hang out here and help everyone with the transition from 70 foot rappel to 300 foot rappel. I make myself comfortable on the “ledge” and lean back in my harness.

“OFF ROPE!” And Chris makes his way down to me and then down the 300 foot rappel.

As I watch him go down the big drop and disappear over a ledge, vertigo kicks in. I have to grab on to the bolt station and breath a bit. It was a weird feeling, but I quickly feel better.

Keith Howells standing on ledge of 300 foot rappel in Waterholes

Chelsea tells me that this is, “Bat-shit crazy!” as she transitions to the 300 foot rope.

Dan asks me, “What the HELL are we doing?” As he clips into the bolt station.

After an hour all five look like ants down there below me.

Now it’s my turn…

…no one here to double check me.

…no one here with words of encouragement.

…no one to ensure I’m doing everything right.

Except that stupid lizard scrambling down to see what these stupid humans are doing.

I weight the 300 foot rope and start the descent.

It’s the coolest feeling in the world to be a speck on the side of a wall in the middle of nowhere. All the pucker-factor and anxiety don’t mean anything as I slide down the rope.

Free! Stoked! SO DAMN HAPPY!

Celebration After the Big Drop

Now, a collection of photos of canyoneering Waterholes Canyon, Arizona:

Wildlife in Waterholes Arizona Down climbing in Waterholes Canyon Rappelling in Waterholes Canyon Chelsea Howells Rappelling in Waterholes Chris Jones stoked in Waterholes Susan Lynn rappelling in Waterholes Chelsea Howells poses in the slot canyon of Waterholes Canyon, Arizona Stemming through Waterholes Canyon Local Flora of Waterholes Arizona Chelsea on Deuter Guide in Waterholes Dan swims in Waterholes Chelsea Howells Drops the Big Drop in Waterholes Keith Howells standing on ledge of 300 foot rappel in Waterholes Dan Lynn on Big Drop Waterholes Arizona Celebration After the Big Drop

2 Replies to “The Pucker Factor – Waterholes Canyon, Arizona”

  1. Tom Jones

    Nice! Did you guyz clean up the pile of webbing on the edge-of-the-world anchor or just complain about it?



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