Five Tips for Summer Canyoneering
t was around seven in the morning that we pulled out of Denver, beginning the six-hour drive that would be the start of our four days of canyoneering.
A friend of mine is the experiential education director of a school in Colorado, and we were heading out to map a new route for his class trips. Some of the canyons in southeastern Utah were among the last areas to be surveyed in the U.S. because of their isolation from civilization and lack of water. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, but I knew that whatever it was would be an adventure.
Once we arrived, we began the seemingly relaxed venture down the beginning of the canyons, the sandstone around us wearing raw anything it touched. Soon the canyons began to cut deep and narrow, and then deeper still, widening as the rivers joined together.
It’s unlike any other landscape down there — you navigate seemingly un-passable narrows on your way down, one leading to another drop, as the sliver of sky up above you slips farther away. As the light is finally fading, then you hit the water; a quite unnerving thing, rappeling down into an unknown pool of water, especially with all your camera gear on you. So is the path down into the canyons of Utah, a beautifully isolated and mysteriously unforgiving place.
Canyoonering is an amazing experience — one that requires lots of knowledge, skill, and good instincts. Here are five tips for making the trip as safe as possible.
Number One: You must have extensive climbing experience with setting anchors and rappelling. You also need to be able to navigate well, because getting lost out here isn’t very forgiving. If you don’t know where you’re going, hire a guide.
Number Two: You live with water. Take at least three liters carrying capacity of water with you. There are spots to refill in the canyons, but research beforehand where those might be and know that they will change depending on weather. Chlorine tabs or a filter should be used to treat the water, as it can be stagnant.
Number Three: You die with water. Rain is uncommon in the summer but if you do get rain it can be deadly. A flash flood can leave you in the path of thousands of gallons of water rushing through the slot canyons, not a good thing. Always check the weather forecast for rain and camp well above any dry river beds.
Number Four: Don’t take unnecessary risks! Everything here needs to be calculated. One slip while down climbing a small narrow or a misstep onto a loose rock can find you stuck in a tight spot. Again, know what you’re doing or find someone that does. Getting yourself out of the canyons, even with the help of friends, can be a sticky situation.
Number Five: Perhaps the golden rule of outdoor adventuring — always let people know where you will be going and what your timeline is. It could save your life. Case in point: ever seen 127 Hours? [H]
Images © Paul Vincent