What You Need to Know: Slot Canyons
In my adopted home of Utah we have so many canyons there’s even a place called “Canyonlands.” Typically we imagine the kind we can drive through, maybe if you’re adventurous hop in a boat and brave some rapids to experience (you’re lying if you say you’ve never wanted to raft the Grand Canyon). Something that a lot of us have heard of, most likely seen photos of people doing or as some screen saver and thought to ourselves “that would be really cool to do someday” is exploring a Slot Canyon.
What is a Slot Canyon?
If you type it into Google you’ll see that Wikipedia defines them as “a narrow canyon, formed by the wear of water rushing through rock. A slot canyon is significantly deeper than it is wide. Some slot canyons can measure less than 1 meter (3 ft) across at the top but drop more than 30 meters (100 ft) to the floor of the canyon.” Right off the bat, if you aren’t into tight spaces, this is something you should probably avoid. But, if rappelling sometimes up to 120 feet or more into canyons narrow enough that you can’t even stretch your arms out completely from the side of your body sounds like something that gets your blood flowing, then....let’s slow down and walk you through some things you should know before you recreate the basis for the film 127 Hours.
Where’s a good place to start?Living in Utah, I’m pretty partial to this state, and since we have an abundance of them this is a pretty good place to start. If you’re new to canyoneering, it’s a solid place to get some experience under your belt. The longest rappel you’ll have is 30 ft, which means you won’t have to go through the pains of packing a long, water logged rope through the entire canyon and the hike out (things I learned the hard way). The Subway requires fairly minimal equipment.
- A rope (don’t go full 60m climbing rope here, you’ll regret it on the hike out)
- Wet suits (at least 3mm) or dry suits in all but the absolutely hottest weather
- Repel device (ATC, Figure - 8, or whatever you prefer)
- Climbing Harness
- Rapid links (if you’re hiking it in high water season, these are great for crossing the river)
- Dry bag for change of clothes, food, etc...
Permits for the Subway can be hard to come across in the late spring and through summer, so reserve well in advance...or do what I’ve done and go in the middle of November, guaranteed no waiting for a permit that day, just walk up and get as many as you need. Just be sure to get a thick...really thick wet suit (7mm even felt a bit cold).
So, why would anyone do this?
That’s a totally fair question. Freezing cold water, 6-12 hours of hiking and half of it sopping wet and the other half carrying out your dry clothes. WHY? I was asked to try and answer that. Why go do this sort of stuff? You can visit loads of good websites that will tell you everything you’ll need for this trip (I really like this one). So, why listen to the websites, the reviews and visitors who leave reviews like “BEST TRIP EVER!!!!!”
Simply, because they’re right. You can google the photos of The Subway, you can watch endless GoPro videos of other people doing it, but that isn’t the real reason to go. The real reason to go is to jump into the freezing water, to wonder if you’re lost on the hike in (can’t stress enough how worth it, it is to buy the guide book at the Zion Park Ranger Station, it’ll help you avoid this part), you’re there to see how small we are in the big scheme. That seeing things, that climbing, rappelling, swimming, losing your breath in water so cold you can’t help but instantly flash back to being a kid and those times you’d jump in some freezing body of water just to say you did.
Becoming Indiana Jones!
Except this time you’re getting so much more than just saying you did. You’re getting adventure, the kind that you’ve watched and read about all your life. You’re finally Indiana Jones, Nathaniel from Last of the Mohicans, Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible, or personal favorite James Bond. A hundred and fifty years ago this was what hero’s were made of. Braving the west, mapping new lands. Risking literally everything to make it a couple more miles. Now, today, we have it readily available to us. We’re able to drive up, park, and explore lands that used to be so dangerous you had a higher chance of dying than making it back out alive from any number of things. Thousands of years of evolution have designed us, have designed me and you to GO. To run and jump over the desk we all find ourselves sitting at to save our lives, to carry everything we need to survive on our back and shoulders. You were made for these trips. Handcrafted, like any wine or whiskey people pay thousands of dollars for, so treat yourself like it. Spend the time and money on yourself. Thousands of years say you’re more deserving of the money than any drink - and I can promise sipping from a water bottle in the middle of the subway, staring at what millions of years of a steady stream of water can do will definitely be on the top of your list of “best drinks you’ve ever had.” We’re all running out of time. So drop in! Put on some epic music and ask yourself what you want to say you did twenty years from now, and I can bet it isn’t say “I always thought about doing that.”