Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

April 11, 2017

Secret Slot Canyon, Southern Utah

I love the idea of slot canyons.    Beautiful smooth rock carved by water into gorgeous shapes and textures, a little adventure in finding them, and a physical challenge to get through them.  Right up my alley.    I kinda think of them as America's answer to Europe's Via Ferratas.   No two are alike, they have varying difficulty levels, and some of the best ones require being far off the beaten path.   Add in some rock scrambling and route finding and that's why I find it all so fascinating.  Oh, and they are both a little dangerous, and very weather dependent.  

So I do love the idea of slot canyons, but the reality of them is that they are quite tricky to both find and enjoy.   The best time of year to go through them (spring) is also when the water is super cold.  And most of them have water obstacles of some sort, although wading in ankle-deep stuff is a lot different than swimming through murky stagnant water.  Unfortunately, we can't make more of them as is done with via ferratas.   And I'm not terribly good with technical rope skills which means a lot of slots are way out of my comfort level.  

Skinny Secret Slot
I've been eyeing the slot canyons down Hole In The Rock road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for years.   Amazing slots.  Fairly easy to find, albeit navigation is still important.   But this year was a very wet winter, and the normal slots have higher than normal water levels.  Having waded through hypothermia-inducing water in Little Wild Horse slot canyon, we weren't excited about swimming.

Enter Keith of Earth Tours.    Without much experience in slots, we decided to hire a guide...the plus being that he would show us some slots off the beaten path.  Boy, did we ever.  Not only did we not see any other people the entire day, but we barely saw any other footprints!  At least, human footprints.  What we did see were animal prints off all sorts, including fox, turkey, coyote, rat, bobcat, and mountain lion...amazing.

Moki Marbles
The 6 mile loop hike with Keith was slower than our usual breakneck pace, which allowed us to look for prints, enjoy the scenery, and check out some really unusual rock formations.  Keith was a geologist and was able to explain the layers of rock and how they formed, as well as knowing just about everything else about the desert, including the plants and animals.

I was most fascinated but the Moke Marbles, round balls of iron ore, which somehow leach out of the sandstone, group together, and then pop out of the softer sandstone as it erodes away.  We saw thousands of these things all over.   Tempting to pick one up and take it home...but no...we left them for future visitors to enjoy.

We also passed by some really delicate balanced rocks.  A harder layer of rock had broken off from the mesa above and fallen down on the slick rock.  As these boulders somewhat sheltered the sandstone they landed on from rain and weathering, many of the boulders were now precariously balanced on delicate slivers of sandstone.  A toddler could have knocked them over, but it was a testament to how isolated an area we were in that they were still pristine.

Of course, the highlight of the route were the slot canyons, several of them.   One of them, Keith was surprised to see, had a small rockfall where he typically stopped for a lunch break!  He hadn't been through since last fall, and each year rainfall and floods bring changes to the canyons.   The rockfall now formed a small pool instead, but we were able to navigate around it and continue on.

The final slot of the day was appropriately the deepest and longest and most challenging.  So challenging, in fact, that we left our packs behind to avoid dragging them and getting stuck in the rocks.   We would walk back for them later.   The slot had enough challenges for us even lightened of our packs...in fact, I got the idea that most of Keith's clients weren't able to get all the way through the slot, turning around to backtrack at a fallen log blocking the way.  I wasn't going to be deterred, and we inched our way high above a pool of water to continue on.   Of course, the question with slots is that you never know what's coming ahead, and whether you will need to back track.  Without a rope, we knew we always needed to be able to reverse course to safely escape if necessary.

The slot tightened into a really enjoyable deep crevice.  We used all of our recently acquired slot skills, and stemmed, bridged and chimneyed our way along the dark crack.   Eventually the bottom of the slot dropped about 10 feet, with no easy way to work our way down.   This is where we all regretted wearing shorts and t-shirts on such a warm day...we had no clothing left to save our skin!  We wedged an elbow here, a knee there, and with minimal damage and Keith's helpful shoulder, were able to do a controlled slide down to floor level.   Now we were committed to the slot, as getting all three of us back up again would have required a lot of teamwork and a bit more loss of skin!  Luckily that wasn't necessary...the slot ended shortly afterwards into a sandy wash.

Jim and Keith wedge themselves high against the narrow walls to avoid a pool of water
I tried to pare down my photos of the day, but we saw so much amazing scenery that I couldn't decide what to get rid of!   Lots of animal prints and balanced rocks made the cut.  

Keith and his extensive knowledge of the desert terrain made the day very enjoyable.  Plus the weather cooperated and gave us the warmest, sunniest, calmest day we had seen in weeks.

AND....we kept our feet dry!

Where were we?   Keith swore us to secrecy about the location of his slot.  All I can say is that we were somewhere in Southern Utah.   If you do identify where this slot is, please do your part to keep this off the beaten (Internet) path!

Turkey dragging feathers
Rat prints on a sand dune
Mountain Lion

Balanced rocks

A young slot canyon

Frog eggs in a reflective slot canyon pool

Moki Marbles
Moki Marbles in an evaporated pool

Keith and Dawn head into the canyon

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