During the summer, Arizona is hot, dry, and bright. That’s when you head for the cold, wet, and dark places of the state. Canyoneering is the activity of descending canyons using any means necessary: hiking, wading, swimming, rock climbing, and rappelling (the use of technical ropes systems to safely descend cliffs hundreds of feet (dozens of meters) tall).
Part of the magic of canyons is when they narrow into “slot” canyons that can be as narrow as 18 inches (45 centimeters). Of course, the more water the better. Even in June or July in southern Arizona, water can be so cold that a 3 mm wetsuit is mandatory, and even then hypothermia is still a prevalent and serious concern. For all my years ski racing in Minnesota winter, I’ve never been colder than in a canyon in Arizona summer.
One of my favorite descriptions of canyoneering is that it is very similar to climbing a mountain. Except it’s inside out, upside down, without satellite phone reception, and without any possibility of retreat. Once you’re at the bottom of the first rappel, you’re committed to finishing the canyon. This level of commitment means lots of preparation and careful evaluation of current conditions and your abilities.