Saturday, September 1, 2007
Slot canyons are among the Southwest's most iconic photographic subjects, but they require proper preparation and attention to the potential hazards
During the late 1980s, a group of friends and I turned our attention to exploring slot canyons on the Colorado Plateau, which were only accessible with the aid of climbing equipment. On these adventures, we discovered not only some of the most beautiful canyons we had ever seen, but every once in awhile, due to the lack of climbing slings, bolts or other devices left behind by previous parties, we realized that we were the first people to travel through some of these canyons. The opportunity to create photographs of subjects that had never been seen before due to the difficult access motivated me to search out and explore scores of canyons across the plateau.
Back then, there were no canyoneering guide books or Internet sites providing detailed descriptions of how to locate and navigate these remote slots, so we had to find them ourselves. During this same period, I photographed much of southern Utah from the air, and it was on these flights that I located many of the canyons. I made notes during the flights and pulled out topographical maps when I returned home to pinpoint locations. My friends and I scrutinized the maps to ascertain entry routes near their headwaters high on the mesas and plateaus.
While some of these canyons can be traversed in one day, many require overnight trips. For these expeditions, all gear must be kept to a bare minimum in order to reduce the size of the load carried through these awkward-to-negotiate narrows. My goal is to make everything other than my camera equipment fit into a pack no larger than 2500 cubic inches. The pack is lined with a waterproof river bag to keep everything dry in the icy pools of water encountered along the canyon floor, and wetsuits are required to prevent hypothermia. On one trip through a narrow slot in Zion National Park, where the outside air temperature was 114 degrees, I remember plenty of teeth chattering even with full wetsuits as we negotiated countless water-filled potholes.
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