Kam goes: Canyoneering in Utah – Birch Hollow Canyon

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The biggest reason for our recent long weekend in Zion National Park was the opportunity to go canyonnering. And that’s exactly what we did the entire Friday we were in Utah.
What is canyoneering? Essentially it is decending and exploring slot canyons. The Zion area of Utah has amazing sandstone slot canyons, and we were able to explore one of them on our trip. 
For those looking for a less technical recap of our canyoneering adventure:
“Did you pack everything you think we’ll need?”
“Yep, and an extra knife, just in case 
I have to cut off my arm, or something.”
Why wouldn’t we make some sort of morbid joke about an upcoming activity involving lowering ourselves deeper and deeper into a canyon that could flood at any instant? Not really, but still, what we were doing was more dangerous than just walking around on the paved paths of Zion National Park. We were excited, kind of nervous, but ultimately, we knew the experience was worth it.
All in all, we were in a slot canyon for about 6 hours and hiking/driving to/from the canyon for maybe two hours. This is something we’d love to do again and hope to eventually become skilled enough to go on our own! 
The next time we’re in Utah, we hope to contact Zion Mountain School to do more a ‘skills’ class than an ‘adventure’ outing so we can move toward doing this on our own one day!
Now, if you’re looking for more information about what we actually did, read on!

Alex booked a full-day canyoneering trip outside of Zion National Park with the Zion Mountain School. While these trips are usually a private experience (unlike other outfitters in the area) through a series of flukes, we were matched with another young couple for our adventure. They were a blast and the experience was just that much more fun with them.

An early morning meetup at Zion Mountain School lead us to find out that Alex and I did not dress warm enough for our adventure (prAna Women’s Audrey Pants* to the resuce!), but after a quick change, we were able to get on the road and on our way to Birch Hollow slot canyon.

Birch Hollow is rated 3B IV, which means that you should expect to be out in this canyon for a full day (especially if you continue down The Narrows like many people do), it considered an intermediate canyon, and you should expect water at certain points. There are a total of 10 rappels (the first one being between 80 and 100 feet) and a few downclimbs.

We did the “quick day” version of this canyon trip, it looks like a few people finish the Birch Hollow canyon and then continue down into Zion National Park via The Narrows (which would be turning left as you exit the canyon). We turned right out of the canyon and went to the trailhead where hikers park for a full trip of The Narrows. The Birch Hollow canyon is very narrow and very pretty. If you’re claustrophobic, you may feel a little extra closed in, but you’re so focused on the next rappel that you may not even think about it.
I’ve done a small amount of rappelling prior to this trip, so I was excited to be the first to go down the ropes first. It was great to have several of us taking photos from different angles, and I’m working on figuring out the best way to share some of these photos with the other couple. Some of the skills we learned included how to put the rappel gear together, how to weight the rope to test if we’re safe, how to belay somebody as they come down, and how to belay ourselves if we are the first person to rappel down (my favorite part!).
What is great is that the Zion Mountain School offers many times of canyoneering activities, so it really can be fun for the whole family. We were able to do this canyon because everybody is relatively fit and strong. If you’re concerned about the hiking part (which, honestly, somebody needs to carry me next time!) let your guide know ahead of time. If you’re ever in south Utah and are looking for an adventure (be in canyoneering or climbing) call Zion Mountain School or visit them online and see what they can do for you.
If you’re thinking of going canyoneering for the first time, here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Hire a guide – I can’t say this enough: Don’t be dumb. Also, while you’re at it…listen to your guide!
  • There are very few places to visit “the little adventurers room” while in these canyons — Go before heading out.
  • It’s cold – bring extra layers, including a hat and gloves
  • Bring extra lunch, you’ll be hungrier than you think! – or somebody may forget their lunch, like our guide. Thankfully, Alex and I packed extra tuna and pita and were able to share. Bring things with lots of calories, you’ll be burning them in no time. Also consider what protein you’re bringing with you, make it worth it!
  • There’s no drinking water – so bring your own and about 1.5-2L of it.
  • Stagnant water is gross. I landed in some and it was so stinky! I think my brand new boots survived, I’ll have to do a follow up.

Have you gone canyoneering before?
When you go on vacation, do you take ‘tours’ or book ‘experiences’?
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