A few years ago, I was a fresh-faced adventurer taking on the wild west for the first time. Not too far off from a Filipino Alexander Supertramp, I sought to conquer the great outdoors while being entirely unprepared to do so. Not even a week after dropping acid on my first dispersed camping trip, I went off the beaten path to explore some of Southern Utah’s slot canyons. I didn’t have the foresight to book Antelope Canyon in advance, so I would have to settle for Spooky Gulch and Peek-A-Boo Gulch in Grand Staircase – Escalante.
Let’s start off with pictures because it’s only going to be all downhill from here. For those of you that have read a few of my other posts, you know I usually drop the bangin’ photos at the end. The photos are like the big payoff like an epic view at the end of a hike. However, akin to Alexander Supertramp, I could have ended up wasting away alone in the wilderness. Enjoy these pictures, because it’s only a downhill spiral from here on out.
For those of you that haven’t seen 127 Hours, slot canyons are not to be f***ed with. As gorgeous as they are, they are also potentially very dangerous. The two I decided to go to were a bit off the beaten path, and attracted me as a destination because it seemed like not too many people knew about them. When I say not too many, I mean practically no one. I was one of maybe two cars in the parking lot when I went.
That should have been a sign for my panicked mind that maybe I shouldn’t do this hike in the sweltering desert with only one or two other hikers in the vast sandy expanse. I wasn’t supposed to do this hike alone, but my friend hit a deer on his way to meet me. That was yet another ominous sign, but I was determined to make the most of my time in Utah. I optimistically chugged along in my Chevy Cruze along Hole-in-the-Rock Road’s 26 miles of bumpy dirt road towards the trailhead.
I made it to the turn-off at Dry Fork and pushed my car to the parking lot next to the trailhead. It would save two miles of hiking, and despite the narrow, bumpy road, my car made it just fine.
Here we go, y’all.
Hiking down to the slot canyons of Peekaboo Gulch and Spooky Gulch was relatively uneventful. It was sizzling hot, but aside from how much of a pain it is to trudge through sand, it was pretty straightforward. There were plenty of cairns, 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 enter through the front. I went around the back and followed the canyon until I found a place that was dry enough for me to drop in from the top. It was absolutely beautiful, and seeing how millennia of erosion carved its way through the canyons was a sight to behold. Do I genuinely believe that? I think so. 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. 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 climb my way through while being ten feet off the ground.
Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Eventually, I got to a point where it was 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. 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.
I scooted my way up that canyon until I reached the top. It 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 the second slot canyon, Spooky Gulch, should have been close by. I went after it instead of just going back. They were only a short hike away from each other, and it was stilly early in the day. I somehow ended up stumbling into Spooky Gulch, not entirely sure how. I even saw people along the way to the second one!
Seeing those other people boosted my confidence enough to convince me that I was totally Bear Grylls and that I didn’t need to follow the cairns back. After all, how lost could I possibly get on a 3.5 mile roundtrip hike?
Turns out, I was no Bear Grylls.
Anyway, I was lost in the desert for the next few hours, and I’m not even exaggerating. Although I was in the desert, there were a significant amount of steep 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, after turning around a few times, 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. My aimless wandering brought me back to familiar territory, and I was able to figure out my way back to the trailhead. 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.
“What did it cost? Everything…”
Was going to Spooky Gulch and Peek-A-Boo Gulch worth it? Absolutely, but be smart about it. Do not go hiking alone. 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 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 100 degrees, 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. It is way, way, way out there and you won’t have any cell service to call for help if anything 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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