In this episode, I get in over my head by rappelling into a technical slot canyon that seems easy, but can actually be pretty deadly.
I found this place in Zion National Park that looked like a good spot to film a dance instruction video. While I was filming, a small group of what appeared to be climbers walked past me carrying minimal gear, a short rope, and wearing wetsuits. I asked them where they were going, and they told me Keyhole Canyon, which is a technical slot canyon I was looking for.
For liability reasons. The rangers don’t tell you where it is. They don’t tell you what to prepare for. At the time of filming, there wasn’t much information on the internet either. It’s for good reason too. Just a few months after I made this video, 7 people died here due to a flash flood. I shelved the video because 1) It was one of my first vlogs, and I made a ton of vlogging mistakes and 2) it felt kind of inappropriate to make an adventure video given the circumstances.
As you’ll see in this video, it was my first technical slot, and I made so many mistakes that if there was a flash flood, I would’ve been toast.
I know there’s some rappelling, but I pop out into an opening and think I’m done because the information I found said it was a very easy slot canyon. I actually unsuit before finding rappel anchors.
Of course, being the brave adventurer I am, I send my partner into the dark abyss first. Unfortunately, it’s necessary since I can get us out from the anchors if anything should go wrong.
And right away, something does go wrong. My partner lowers into a dark pool of water, she can’t touch the bottom, and she’s freaked out about swimming across the pool. However, I convince her to swim along the edge of the pool until she reaches a section where her feet touches. But she can’t climb out now.
What happened was that the water level was low enough to form what’s called a keeper pothole – a pool that’s easy to get in but hard to get out of. Because the slot canyon is smoothed out by running water, the edge of the pool is also smooth and steep enough that my partner is stuck. The only way to get out is for me to go in and push her out and then have her pull me up.
I’m able to rappel down to a ledge. Myy partner is stuck, and the water’s freezing cold, so I have to work fast. By the way, another good way to get out of a pothole is to throw a bag on top, and to use the bag’s friction to help you top out.
Once I pull the rope, we’re committed to finishing the slot. It’s not obvious, but the next mistake is using a climbing rope. It’s twice the required length, it gets really heavy when wet, and I waste a lot of time and energy with rope management. For the next section, I go in first to scope out the pool of water and ferry our stuff across. This is the next mistake – my big backpack was a pain as it got stuck and wedged in the narrow canyon.
The second rappel wasn’t into a deep pool, but again, I waste a lot of time with rope management. It starts getting dark by the third rappel. It looks like you can walk across, the but you actually rappel into the toilet bowl.
The final section is all your worst fears combined into one. It’s really dark, and we’re freezing at this point. It’s a swim through the narrowest section of the canyon. It’s so narrow, you can’t see the end of the swim. In addition, you can’t touch the bottom of the water as you swim. However, you can push up against the walls, so there’s no real swimming at least.
Fortunately, it turns out to be a short swim, and we’re out.
In conclusion, it’s not a bad slot canyon. Lots of beginners to canyoneering do it, and in the summer, I bet it’s really easy. In the fall, however, it’s definitely trickier. I took much longer than I thought because of all the mistakes I made. Fortunately, we got out OK, and as with all things in life, I learned so much much from my failures. Obviously, don’t go in spring because of the flash flood danger. That last section was really narrow, and I totally believe it when news reports say the flow goes from nothing to a wall of water.