Drop slots like it’s hot

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).

Standing atop the narrows section of Wilbur Canyon, Mogollon Rim, AZ.

Standing atop the narrows section of Wilbur Canyon, Mogollon Rim, AZ.

A still pool in the narrows of Bear Canyon, Mogollom Rim, AZ.

A still pool in the narrows of Bear Canyon, Mogollon Rim, AZ.

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.

The dry narrows of Bear Canyon, Mogollon Rim, AZ.

Myself in the dry narrows of Bear Canyon, Mogollon Rim, AZ.

Myself looking out over the 1000 foot (300 meter) waterfall. Palisades Canyon, Mount Lemmon, AZ.

Myself looking out over a 1,000 foot (300 meter) waterfall. Palisades Canyon, Mount Lemmon, AZ.

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.

Just after the 18 inch (45 cm) narrows section in the stupendous Black Hole of White Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Just after the 18 inch (45 cm) narrows section in the stupendous Black Hole of White Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Utah. The walls here are over 400 feet (200 meters) tall and unclimbable. One feels very small here.

The rappel of the phenomenal Salome Jug, Sierra Ancha Wilderness, AZ. My first canyon, this canyon is a mega classic and a great introductory canyon.

The rappel of the phenomenal Salome Jug, Sierra Ancha Wilderness, AZ. My first canyon, this canyon is a mega classic and a great introductory canyon.

The narrows of Left Fork of North Creek. More commonly known as The Subway for a round section with two parallel groves down the canyon. Zion, Utah.

The narrows of Left Fork of North Creek. More commonly known as The Subway for a round section with two parallel groves down the canyon. Zion, Utah.

The infamous White Box of West Clear Creek on the Mogollon Rim, AZ. This is taken in the middle of a 1/4 mile (400 meter) swim while wearing a wetsuit and a backpack with 400 feet (120 meters) of rope.

The infamous White Box of West Clear Creek on the Mogollon Rim, AZ. This is taken in the middle of a 1/4 mile (400 meters) swim while wearing a wetsuit and a backpack with 400 feet (120 meters) of rope.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s