Maybe too much detail, but here you go:
You are generally correct that the main difficulties of the MFJO are just the steep loose rock. But it had rained pretty hard that Friday before we got there, and we could see evidence of radical instability–little ravines had opened up all over. Lot’s of drying mudflow. As it was drying, rocks from various places were being loosed into the main chute. Wind was also causing rockfall. It was as though the whole pace was alive. We witnessed a pretty massive release of rock from the north ridge.
I will try to load some pics–the very few I took as time was of the essence, as was focusing on the tasks at hand.
Before we began, we made RULE 1: Never go down anything we are not sure we can get back up. We entered from the south side (north facing slope), and descended into the main chute. The main chute snakes right, then left, then right again as you descend. For awhile, it is relatively easy, notwithstanding the rockfall issue. The first pinch point comes after a left turn in the chute. There is a little drop where the chute is only about 10 feet across. This looked doable. Following RULE 1, Milo dropped his pack and climbed down to make sure he climb back up. We had a short rope (to hang a bear bag) that I could use from above to help him if needed. He got up no problem. So we dropped in. Below that, the chute bent again to the right. Here, we came to another pinch point and a big drop–what appeared from above to be impossible to descend without a rope and impossible to obey RULE 1. (I really don’t know how anyone made it up this.). It just seemed a crazy risk to even try because we could see what appeared to be more drops below. We were close to an hour in at this point and less than 50 yards from the end! Totally defeated mentally. We probably should have just climbed back up at this point, but we decided to see if it was possible to get around via the north ridge (south facing slope). It looked like we could get up a sand slope and possibly over a ridge into another chute coming off the north ridge.
This is where the terror began. The slope was probably as close to the angle of repose as it could be. One step up, three back. We could not even stand still without sliding back. Any place that looked like rock was so rotten that any hold we reached for broke away. This was very stressful. Exhausted (I actually got the typewriter leg), we finally made it over a small ridge and into the next chute descending south down into the main chute. We knew the chute from Google Earth and knew there was one blind spot. Above that spot, we came to small drop–six or so feet. Milo went over first and in doing so covered all the rock with loose sand and rock. When I went, it was like standing on marbles. I began to slide uncontrollably and had to jump to the bottom into the sand. I was fine, but it was obvious at this point that we had just irrevocably violated RULE 1. We would never be able to go back up. And around the corner, of course, we came to a no-go drop–20 or so feet. There was a little ridge to the right–about 8 feet high. I took off my pack and looked to see if I could get over it. No holds, totally rotten rock. But no choice. I just did it. I’ve done a lot of scrambling in my days and have been in some sketchy situations. This little move, topped them all. On top, I found purchase enough to lay over the edge so Milo could hand the packs over. This was not easy as he had trouble getting enough purchase to hoist the packs over his head up to me (standing on marbles right on top of the drop). Milo was then able to get over. This little move was basically our life line–make it or hit the SOS button on my Zoleo device. Oh, and did I say, dark clouds were rolling in and the wind was whipping up.
But it worked! We were able to get back to the chute below the drop and connect back with the main chute.
I’m kicking myself now that once back in the main chute we didn’t go back up to check out what we had worked so hard to get around. But we were just so relieved to be down and still had quite a way to go to get to camp. We just got the hell out of there.