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Deep inside the cavity of a slot canyon, I started to believe that anything was possible.
Maybe it was because my slight acrophobia was no longer a threat, or maybe it was because I led myself to believe that a rope, carabiners and a harness could prevent me from falling into the dark depths of a canyon.
Whatever the reason, abandoning all sense of fear was exhilarating.
Blanketed by a rugged red-rock landscape, towering cliffs and massive canyon walls, I was in Zion National Park in Utah, perhaps one of the best backdrops for a memorable outdoor experience.
Located in the southwest corner of the state, Zion is an outdoorsman’s paradise. It’s nicknamed the “Heavenly City of God,” and once I stepped inside the park this past summer, it was easy to see why. Thousands of years of flowing water from the Virgin River has carved picturesque canyons in the Navajo Sandstone. Here, plateaus soar thousands of feet above the ground, and it’s as if these massive peaks kiss the sky and heaven itself.
A growing sport in Zion is canyoneering, a test of nerves that involves rappelling down deep and at times skinny slot canyons. For my first-ever canyoneering trek, I worked with Zion Adventure Company, one of the most reputable outfits in the area with expert guides specializing in tours in and around the park.
Chad Eaton, marketing director for Zion Adventure Company, says there are three types of newcomers who book a canyoneering tour: the super-adventurous; the completely unadventurous who are attempting to prove they can conquer their fears; and friends and family members of the aforementioned two who were roped into the adventure.
It’s a good thing Zion Adventure Company caters to all of the above.
While I’d like to think that I’m the first type of rookie canyoneer, nothing could have prepared me for looking down a canyon with a height equivalent to a five-story building, and then realizing I had to rappel the steep slopes using only carabiners and ropes. But that’s exactly the point: to catch a thrill and leave your comfort zone behind.
To make for a comfortable expedition, Zion Adventure Company guides get a feel for each participant’s sense of adventure prior to departing, customizing the trip to his or her comfort level. Some basic information is needed when booking the trip, such as one’s experience level and fearlessness. From there, the guides group like-minded participants to enhance the overall experience. In my case, I couldn’t have asked for a better group. We all shared the commonality of wanting to live life on the edge (well, at least with the assistance of some heavy-duty rope).
The first thing clients should know about canyoneering is that they, along with their clothes, will get dirty. Very dirty. After all, canyoneering consists of scooting on dusty boulders and stepping into sometimes waist-deep water.
Eaton and fellow guide Bill Westerhoff led our tour. Between the two, they’ve logged countless canyoneering expeditions, both as participants and guides. As Westerhoff puts it, his job as a guide is “to be there more as a backup for the participants.” Everyone is taught the basics of knot tying, rappelling and downclimbing, and guides are ready to assist.
As is true with most things in life, the hardest part of canyoneering is taking the first step. But a canyon’s bark is much bigger than its bite, and as I began trusting my rope and harness, the rappelling became nearly as easy as walking on flat land. Each step down reaffirmed that yes, anything is possible.