This past weekend two of my friends Joe and Sara and I went on a Canyoneering Trip. For those who are unfamiliar with Canyoneering, it can be described as traveling into slot canyons via hiking, climbing, rock scrambling, repelling, swimming, etc. (and let me tell you, we did all of those things). Leaving out my time hiking in the Grand Canyon simply by trail, I have only actually hiked and somewhat rock scrambled my way around in one other canyon with Sara. This weekend was totally different.
We started out in a crowded trailhead at the end of a long dirt road; my friends remarked how disgustingly crowded the area was as they reflected back on the last few times they had been at this specific spot. Thanks to the internet and social media, the spot where we started our venture is now extremely well known. We thankfully hiked away from the crowds heading the opposite direction of everyone else. Backtracking on the dirt road we came in on, my friends led me down into the brush via a trail I could never exactly locate myself. Thankfully I was with two Canyoneering pros as both Sara and Joe had done this specific canyon numerous times before. To say the least, I was in good hands and followed along. Descending into the slot canyon over large rocks, sliding down sand, and hopping over Poison Oak, we made our way to the canyon floor.
Hiking within a slot canyon is not like hiking on a long-distance trail, your following the route of floodwaters which means sand, streams, boulders, logs, and other debris have built up from rushing waters. Ultimately, you’re constantly moving this way and that trying to find the best footing and the easiest route. There were even a few sections we had to navigate by squeezing between boulders; my back up against on boulder and my legs and arms “spider-woman-ing” out to the other boulder until I either slide, got stuck (which I did a time or two, picture the Grinch in the chimney) or landed on both feet on the ground. The ropes hadn’t even come out yet and my arms already felt like noodles.
Having done this specific canyon before, Joe and Sara finally announced it was time for wet suits. Now keep in mind we have been traversing a canyon for about an hour so we were pretty sweaty and putting on a wet suit dry isn’t always the easiest thing. After pulling, grunting, sweating more, and sucking everything in, I finally was stuffed completely into my suit. We continued on a little further until we came to what is known as a “Keeper Pothole”. A Keeper is a smooth and very deep bowl of water that has been eroded into the bedrock walls of a canyon. It gets its name since it typically “keeps” most anything that falls or descends into it. This one was no different as Joe spotted a dead animal floating in the water before us.
Joe swam out into the Keeper’s icy water first making it to the other side where our first repel was waiting. As he started to set up our ropes, he gave the word and I swam out into the water which instantly took my breath away. The cold was shocking even with a wet suit on; less than thirty minutes before I was sweating bullets. I doggy paddled and bobbed over to the other side of the Keeper careful to avoid the dead floaty in the water with me. As I reached the other side a quick pang of panic reached me as my first attempt to get out of the Keeper failed, then my next and the next. I suddenly realized I was probably doing the same thing as the dead animal had done before me but with direction from Joe, I was able to finally get enough grip with my trail runners and noodle arms to pull myself up and out of the Keeper’s hold.
Once on the safety (which means I was leashed to the canyon wall), Joe repelled down. I heard Sara splash into the Keeper and suck in air as the coldness hit her too. Once she made it over to the other side, she helped me ready my rope for my repel. Safety off, I focused on my feet and made sure my brake arm was secure. I then let my equipment do the rest of the work as the rope and by bodyweight led me down to the next level of the canyon. I made it to the bottom excited and thrilled I had done so with no fear!
The practice Sara and I had done previously in a more controlled environment had assisted in fighting off the initial fear and along with the comfort of her and Joe’s guidance, I felt delighted in my first real repel in a slot canyon. After a few more cold water Keepers, another repel, and some more rock scrambling, we made it out of the canyon. We found a beautiful spot around a stream bed to have a snack and basked in the beauty of the canyon and my small victory before heading up and out to the trailhead.
Moral of The Story: Learning a new skill and challenging oneself is exhilarating. I might be able to hike and run successfully but canyoneering is not my strong suit. Being open to learning and realizing you may not be the “best” at something can be fun. Needing to learn from others with more experience is very humbling and can be a bonding experience with the right people.
(Me, Sara, and Joe)
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