Canyoneering takes slot canyon hiking to the next level―literally. "The hiker encounters an obstacle and has to turn back," says Nick Wilkes, an instructor with Zion Adventure Company. "The canyoneer has the tools to go on."
Wilkes is the maestro of my one-day basic canyoneering course near Zion National Park. Of the five students, three of us have zero experience and admit to some fear of heights or water. We will confront both. We dress in drysuits, then Wilkes explains the anchoring systems, webbing, ropes, and knots we'll be using. In 90 minutes, we're ready to attempt the first rappel, a 40-footer that first requires a swim to reach the lip of a cliff. It's good that none of us can actually see the drop until we're out there, on the brink. It goes well enough, and the second rappel, a mere 25 feet, is a confidence builder. The third, however, plunges 105 feet.
"I try never to put anyone in a situation where they feel forced," says Wilkes, who notes that Zion Adventure Company has ushered students from age 4 through 85 through this canyon. "That would be disrespectful. If somebody's scared, we talk about what we can do to manage that fear." I manage by switching my mind onto autopilot, thinking only about technique, instead of the swarming "what ifs." And at the bottom, I become a living testimony to something Wilkes told me earlier: "I've never had anyone finish the day feeling less self-esteem."
INFO: Zion Adventure Company offers half-day to three-day courses ranging from $149 to $495; 435/772-1001.