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How to explore slot canyons safely

Exploring non-technical slot canyons in Utah can be a fun and exciting event as long as you take precautions, know your limits and understand the dangers of flash floods.


Thunderstorms can dump a tremendous amount of water in a short time. Since there is little vegetation and soil, there is just rock that does not absorb the water, it is all going to run downhill. Remember, that beautiful tight slot canyon got that way from rainwater and lots of it.


As breathtaking and fun as canyoneering is, you must take proper precautions to avoid being caught in a deadly flash flood. People do die too often in slot canyons.

How to explore slot canyons in Utah safely


Never enter a slot canyon when:

  • It is raining, you would think this would be common sense, but people get over-confident with their skills, don’t canyoneer in the rain!
  • When there is a forecast for rain at the area of the slot canyon and even near the slot canyon, it can be raining dozens of miles away and drainages that are hundreds of square miles will be collecting and sending all that water into the canyons nearby. 


Things to think about

  • Statistically, Spring and Fall are your best times to explore slot canyons when it is drier. Monsoon rains occur between July and September.
  • Use your eyes – do you see signs of high water marks in the canyon you are in? Do you see debris high up the walls? This is evidence of how high the water has risen in the past and can do so again.
  • Calculate Risks -Consider how fast or slow progress is in the canyon you are going to be in.
    • Are you rappelling and carrying a lot of gear? Both will slow you down
    • Does the canyon have a lot of technical sections that will slow you down?
    • Is the canyon very popular and there are a lot of people in it who will bottleneck progress?
    • How long is the canyon, are there ‘outs’ along the length, or once you go in you are committed to a long trek with no ‘outs’?
    • Consider that canyons are typically divided up into different sections, entering a certain section may make you committed to completing that section before you will again have access to a safe spot.

Slot canyon guide, to safely explore them


Flash flood warning signs:

  • If you are in the canyon that has water running through it and you notice it rising, turning brown or muddy, or see twigs, leaves, or needles start appearing, this is a warning sign that things are happening upstream.
  • Listen – do you hear something like hissing or rumbling in the canyon walls? This could be water coming your way.
  • Listen – do you hear thunder? That is a storm building
  • It is raining – get out! If you are in a slot canyon and it starts raining, this is a warning to head to the safest exit or high ground. Even climbing a few feet could save your life.


Other precautions

  • Some slot canyons are technical, meaning you need gear, skills and ropes to get through them. Research where you are going and be prepared, don’t get literally over your head. 
  • Build your skills slowly and safely, go with someone who knows the canyon and the anchors
  • Go with a buddy, if anything happens, you could be hurt, a buddy can be your lifesaver
  • Be prepared to spend the night, bring a light, bring food and water, prepare for what you think will never happen
  • One of the real dangers is down climbing an obstacle and not being able to get back up it. Not knowing the canyon and not having enough rope for the longest rappel can leave you stranded after already doing the other rappels
  • If you think you are going to traverse the canyon in one direction and you keep downclimbing obstacles that you won’t be able to get back up can be a disaster if you don’t know the canyon and you end up cliffed out and can’t keep going and can’t go back the way you came.
  • Let someone know where you are and when you should be done, cell service in a remote canyon is not likely. Plan ahead for the worst-case scenario, what happens if you get immobilized?

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