Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts

The Utah Bucket List: Canyoneering the Escalante
Bucket List » Grand Staircase-Escalante offers a unique canyoneering experience.
First Published Jun 30 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:34 pm

This is the seventh in a series on The Utah Bucket List, a collaboration by The Salt Lake Tribune and KUED listing must-do and must-see experiences.

Escalante » While many of Utah’s grand outdoor adventures require investing in pricey equipment, canyoneering could easily start with a trip to Deseret Industries or another local thrift shop.

At a glance

If you go canyoneering

Utah has many commercial canyoneering guides. If you go in a private group, make sure you have the proper permits from land-management agencies and check the weather. Never enter a slot canyon when heavy rain is expected.

Rick Green, of Excursions of Escalante, who is also a search-and-rescue volunteer, suggests slot canyon adventurers have the proper equipment and, most importantly, know how to use it. You should also have a good map, something to signal would-be rescuers in the air with, something to start a fire with and lots of water.

Also, be sure to leave details on where you plan to visit and when you plan to return and stick to those plans.

The Utah Bucket List

View a video trailer of “The Utah Bucket List,” which premieres Aug. 1 on KUED-Channel 7, at http://bit.ly/19tPLWx.

See a video of canyoneering in Utah on The Salt Lake Tribune’s YouTube site www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD7lhCKi1Ps.

Check out the list’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/UtahBucketList and tell us what you think should be on The Utah Bucket List.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Simply put, canyoneers shred whatever they are wearing.

"I hope you wore your best underwear today because there is a chance we might be seeing it," Rick Green, owner and guide at Excursions of Escalante told the group preparing for their first slot-canyon adventure on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

As it turned out the only underwear exposed that day was mine as sliding on the sandstone proved too much for my old shorts.

Sandstone does, after all, start with the same word as sandpaper.

While canyoneering — also known as canyoning, gorging and slotting — has been done around the world as a matter of daily life for centuries, the activity has seen a major boom in recent years. Naturally, Utah has become a popular canyoneering destination.

From the famous Subway and Narrows routes in Zion National Park to the countless side canyons running into Lake Powell, Utah is zig-zagged with slot canyons galore.

One caution that experienced canyoneers emphasize: Never enter a slot canyon when heavy rain is expected. Check the weather and keep an eye out, when you can see the sky from the depths of the canyon, for developing weather.

Carl and Kristin Wold traveled from Portland, Ore., for a chance to experience a new way to enjoy the outdoors.

story continues below
story continues below

"This is something completely different than anything I have tried before," Kristin Wold said while deep in a slot canyon on the national monument. "And this was one of the premier places to try it."

Canyoneers describe the often tight confines they are attempting to navigate as a more intimate experience than the typical wide-open spaces of desert landscapes.

Kristin Wold agrees.

"It is all over you literally," she said, having given up much earlier on trying to wipe off the dirt and dust from her clothing. "This is just a whole new landscape and a whole new perspective on the desert that I’ve never had before. The beauty is just in stark contrast to most desert landscapes. Seeing it vertically, as it were. There is a surprise around every corner. Not being able to see very far in front of you is very exciting."

Canyoneering is different from simply hiking a slot canyon because it typically requires gear — ropes, harnesses, helmets and sometimes wet suits when water obstacles line the route.

"The rigging is relatively simple, but it is very important that it be done correctly," said Green, who also serves as a volunteer on search-and-rescue missions in the Escalante area. "Once you get that dialed in, it opens up so much country. There is so much to see in Utah that is unbelievable."

The biggest issue most newbies encounter is learning how to rappel. Many people don’t like having to rely on themselves so much in a new experience. Green and fellow guide, Jim Clery, took plenty of time to make their clients comfortable with the initial 40-foot descent into the canyon that began our adventure. They also pointed out that they had some rope control — on belay, they could stop or slow someone’s descent — in case anything went wrong.

"Being on the edge of the cliff was fairly terrifying," Kristin Wold said. "I was not sure I had made a wise decision. When I trusted Rick and Jim I realized I was perfectly safe. Halfway down I was surprised how stable I felt; I didn’t feel like if I made a false step that it would kill me."

The rappelling, as Green pointed out, is just a means to allow people to reach places they otherwise could not go.

"Lots of folks show up and see the ropes and start thinking rappelling is the big thing, but it really is just a means to move us along in the canyon," he said. "Really, when the fun starts is when you are sliding on your butt or you have your back on one wall and your feet on the other."

Green taught us a vast collection of body manipulations — which reminded some of us of the game Twister — he uses to get through canyons.

Bridging, wedging, starring and sliding, to name a few. My favorite was smearing, which is basically rubbing any part of your body available against the wall to help keep your weight distributed in a manner to make it easier to move safely in the right direction.

Friction is the real means of getting down the slot canyon; and destroying clothing.

Next Page >

This is the seventh in a series on The Utah Bucket List, a collaboration by The Salt Lake Tribune and KUED listing must-do and must-see experiences.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.