Exploring Slot Canyons in Southern Utah

For those of you that haven’t seen 127 Hours starring James Franco, slot canyons are not something that you should f*** with. As gorgeous as they are, they are also potentially very dangerous. With that being said, I totally went to a lot of them while I was in Utah. The most famous slot canyon in the world is probably Antelope Canyon in Arizona, which apparently you need to reserve tours months in advance if you even want to get within ten miles of it.

Since I couldn’t do Antelope Canyon on my spontaneous road trip where I booked things maybe 10 seconds in advance, I had to settle for a few less poppin’ ones in Utah. Although The Narrows at Zion National Park are absolutely fantastic and breathtaking, everyone already knows about them so I’m going to cover two that apparently very few people know about: Spooky Gulch and Peek-a-boo Gulch in Grand Staircase – Escalante. When I say very few people know about them, I mean practically no one because I was one of maybe two cars in the trailhead parking lot when I went.

That should have been a sign for my already panicking mind that maybe I shouldn’t do this hike in the sweltering desert where there are probably one or two other hikers in this vast sandy expanse. I wasn’t supposed to do this hike alone, but my friend and his family hit a deer on their way to meet me, which also should have been an ominous sign for me to absolutely not do this hike.

Hiking down to the slot canyon was relatively uneventful. It was sizzling hot, but aside from how much of a pain it is to trudge through sand, it was simple enough. There were cairns to follow, and you should absolutely 100% follow those cairns even if you think you know a shortcut or know the way yourself. Trust me, I’ll tell you why later. The gulch was still pretty flooded when I got there, so I couldn’t even enter through front. Another warning sign that I totally ignored. I went around the back and tried following the canyon until I found a place that was dry enough and low enough for me to drop in from somewhere in the middle.

It was absolutely beautiful, and seeing how millennia of erosion carved its way through the canyons was definitely a sight to see. Do I genuinely believe that? I think so, but I also want to justify that putting myself through one of the stupidest, most dangerous days of my life was worth it. If you’re claustrophobic, maybe slot canyons aren’t your thing because they get really narrow. There were many instances where I couldn’t walk through a narrow part so I had to go Spider-man and try to climb and scoot my way through while being about ten feet off the ground.

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You can’t really tell how high up I am, but it wasn’t fun.

Eventually, I got to a point where it was just completely impassable. Slot canyons have two entrances: in and out. The way in was flooded with water, so there was no way I could backtrack through that. The way out was about three inches wide, and no amount of dieting could get my body through that gap. Have you ever seen the Emperor’s New Groove? Because that was me, but I didn’t have a llama to help me up.

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I had to scoot my way up that canyon until I reached the top. It really wasn’t too difficult, but it was definitely a “what did I get myself into” moment. I made it out no problem, but with the sun beating down on me and a severe lack of any idea where I was, I should have tried heading back.

However, I knew there was another slot canyon nearby, and I stupidly went after it instead of just going home. I did somehow stumble upon it, and I actually saw people along the way!

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Worth the cool pics, yo.

It boosted my confidence enough to convince me that I was totally Bear Grylls and that I didn’t need to follow the cairns back. I got lost in the desert for the next few hours. Although I was in the desert, there was a significant amount of canyons there. I found myself wandering in between the canyons for a few hours because I couldn’t see anything except these stupidly tall towering rock formations. I aimlessly followed the path between the canyons until hitting a dead end. With half a water bottle left, no phone signal and a storm looming, I decided that I was probably going to die there.

Fortunately, I somehow ended up at the entrance to the first slot canyon. I wouldn’t even have recognized it if I didn’t stop to consider drinking the mud water to quench my thirst. After an hour of climbing sandy inclines, my feet were dead, I was dead, and the parking lot was even deader than before. I was the only one left out there, and if I hadn’t found my way out, I probably would have had no one to save me. I don’t know if I’m being overdramatic but that was some scary stuff.

It was 118 degrees according to my car when I got inside, and twenty minutes later, it started pouring. Slot canyons are notorious for flash floods that just wipe out groups of hikers. I felt #blessed but that day taught me to never underestimate nature. Was going to Spooky Gulch or Peek-A-Boo Gulch worth it? Absolutely, but be smart about it. Do not go hiking alone, and always let people know where you are beforehand. If you’ve seen 127 Hours, just know that it could end up exactly like that. Bring a lot more water than you think you’ll need, and check the weather before you head out. If it’s going to storm, just don’t even bother going. If it’s over 90 degrees, don’t even bother going. If you are extremely out of shape, don’t even bother going. If you are like me and are out of shape and decide to go on a stormy day when it is 118 degrees out, consider yourself lucky to survive. You may think I’m exaggerating a little, but this is one of those hikes that you need to take extra care to make sure that you are ready for whatever happens.

If you decide to take on these two beautiful slot canyons, best of luck! Enjoy, because it is definitely an unforgettable experience.

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Smiling through the despair.
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