Canyons are some of the most beautiful and intriguing landforms you’ll ever come across. While mountain hiking often provides open vistas, canyons can hide what’s coming up, adding an air of mystery to your hike. But before you head into a canyon, consider several factors.
Some canyons can get really tight—like a few feet across or even just 10 inches. People carrying a little extra weight around the midsection, or those who don’t like tight places, should not attempt slot canyons without first checking on how tight the narrows are.
A canyon is quite simply a water drain, so before you venture out into canyon country, make sure you know the weather in the area. That means the specific area where you are and the larger watershed that drains into your canyon. Rain many miles off in the mountains can make it down to a canyon pretty quickly, even when it’s dry in the canyon itself. If rain is in the forecast, think twice before entering a slot canyon. Flashfloods have been known to wipe out hikers, trees, and anything else in their path.
Navigation in a slot canyon is pretty simple: when you’re surrounded on two sides by 100-foot walls, you can only go up canyon or down canyon. But it’s a different story above the canyon on the flats. Landmarks can be few and far between, and the landscape is often repetitive and sparse. Determining which drainage is actually the one you’re looking for can be difficult as well. Different canyons can look very similar at first glance, so being able to distinguish subtle differences on the map and in this terrain is essential.
Technical canyoneering is generally understood as canyon travel that requires “more than just hiking.” It is a serious undertaking that often involves strenuous hiking, multiple rappels—from 15- to 300-plus feet—cold-water swimming, scrambling, climbing, and expert navigation. If you are considering hiking in a canyon with technical challenges, make sure you are really up for it.