Have you ever seen pictures of wavy, smooth walls of a slot canyon? The images are full of long, narrow gorges with soft layers of sedimentary deposits. They seem to have endless bottoms and skinny access points begging to be explored. You could hike in, or you could potentially rock climb but perhaps the most thrilling way to see these delightful slot canyons is by canyoneering right into the heart of them.
What Is Canyoneering?
Canyoneering is much like rock climbing, in that you navigate outdoor routes and trails by climbing, rappelling, hiking, and swimming.
My family and I are avid rock climbers but at one adventure, we watched enthralled as a fellow adventurer rappelled himself down a red, sandy smooth wall. Instantly I knew I wanted to try it. Since we had no experience, or gear, or any insight to where to safely canyoneer, I booked a guided tour with Nathan Mielke, owner of the Southern Utah based company All Ways Adventure.
All Ways Adventure is a relatively young premier Zion canyoneering and adventure guide small business started by Nathan in 2019. But Nathan has been climbing and exploring and leading as a guide for years prior. They really do all things outdoors. Besides canyoneering you can explore backcountry forest roads by off-roading, rappel, wander on remote hiking trails to the best secret, local spots, or rock climb.
A very cool aspect of All Ways Adventure is they truly value the importance of families in the outdoors. He offers tailor-made family adventures that are affordable for big families. The heart of the company is enabling everyone to access the great outdoors, so they have harnesses for all sizes, experience with special needs guests, and can make sure the guided trips are as wild or mild as you want.
Not only did we have the most incredible day canyoneering down long pitches into wavy, striped pink canyons – Nathan was kind enough to share all his wisdom on canyoneering and how you can try it too!
So what exactly is canyoneering?
Canyoneering is hard to describe. It’s like nothing else… Canyoneering is an adventure sport where the goal is to navigate a narrow, water carved drainage. Travelling in canyons typically requires a variety of techniques that may include activities such as walking, scrambling, sliding, jumping, rappelling, wading and/or swimming.
On our canyoneering trip with Nathan we got to explore a seven pitch route in a canyon near Kanab, Utah. On this trip we got to do it all! Rappel, some scrambling using ropes, jumping from ledge to ledge, and sliding on natural, smooth rock slides. Although we did not swim I can see us trying even that in the near future.
Can anyone canyoneer?
Canyoneering requires a variety of skills. Many of these skills are approachable and can be learned. Generally speaking, the only prerequisite is the desire to try.
When I booked with Nathan I had two requests: not kid friendly but I want to bring my kids. After a quick conversation on the phone I was even more excited that we were going to have a tour that was thrilling and challenging. While canyoneering, it became clear just how this sport can really be for anyone. Once you get past the initial fear of well, falling to your death, the adrenaline takes over. I watched every member of my family tackle each slot with more and more ease as the day progressed.
How do you get started canyoneering? Do you need special gear?
The path to getting started has many avenues. Common ways to learn is to go with a friend who has experience or hiring a guide. Common gear required is harness, helmet, rappel device, rope, cold water protection (ex: wetsuit) and of-course the knowledge on how to use this equipment. If you choose to go with a guide the required gear is taken care of.
My family and I love to rock climb for fun. Much of the equipment overlaps for canyoneering and climbing. We had helmets. We had ropes. We had a belay device. And we had harnesses. But we did not have the most important piece of gear. The rappel device. The rappel device grabs both strands of the rope to slowly use your body weight to lower you down. On our trip with All Ways Adventure, Nathan provided all the gear we needed and even drove us on the off road path to the beginning of our hike. He also made sure we understood how every piece of equipment worked. Hiring a guide was my preference because they know what they are doing to keep you safe.
What can you expect on a guided canyoneering trip?
Fun! The passion guides feel for their craft is contagious. The guides take care of all the unknowns, where do I go? What gear do I need? How do I use this gear? And all of the What if’s?
I admit, I usually am not a fan of guided tours. I am shy, want to go at a quick pace and do not really enjoy larger groups. But that is the best aspect of All Ways Adventure. They truly tailor make the tour for your individual group to fit all your adventure quirks. When experiencing a potentially dangerous new sport, going with a seasoned guide is your best bet.
What are some of your favorite spots to canyoneer?
I am a big fan of Southern Utah in general. I like the fact that there is so much variety in short drives. If I had to pick just one region, Zion area, I am a sucker for the scale here. Big beautiful canyons with large rappels is the name of the game here. The routes feel like adventure hikes that require a rope. It’s just plain fun!
Our canyoneering tour was through gorgeous, pink striped slots in Southern Utah right outside of Zion National Park. Southern Utah is world renowned for its deep canyons and colorful rock walls. Other places that are known for canyoneering in the USA are the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Antelope Valley also in Arizona, Watkins Glen State Park in New York, and Waimea Canyon in Hawaii.
What do you absolutely love about canyoneering?
There are just so many things to love! The scenery! The solitude! The way the canyons seem to have a way to bring out a childlike wonder in even the most “adult” people. The people you meet. Canyoneering are so interesting, all with their own stories of wild adventures and smiling faces.
Canyoneering is a unique and thrilling way to test your bravery yet approachable for absolutely everyone. There is nothing quite like descending into thin passages, walking on smooth walls, deep into an isolated wilderness. Pro tip: hire a private, locally owned, small business such as All Ways Adventure and you and your family will have a life long memory to cherish.
Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her tall one husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would be a forever home for all of them they were able to adopt their daughter buckets and are legal guardians of their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus.