Exploring Slot or Narrow Canyons
Nothing compares to the beauty, serenity, and mystery of slot canyons. The color and formations of rock combined with the play of light and water are an unforgettable experience. Exploring a slot canyon can involve anything from a short, level walk starting from a roadside parking area to a backpacking trip of several days requiring route-finding, rappelling, rock climbing, and strong swimming skills. Slot canyons can be dangerous places. Often these canyons have sudden, sheer drops of several feet/meters with the potential for injuries by falling, jumping down, or becoming trapped and unable to climb back out. Other dangers include rattlesnakes, deep pools, hypothermia, and quicksand. However, most fatalities in slot canyons are from flash floods.
Rain falling even many miles away can collect together, become channeled down one course, and turn a dry canyon into a fast-flowing torrent of water and debris in seconds. This is what happened in Lower Antelope Canyon Arizona on August 12, 1997. Twelve hikers were caught in a flash flood that filled the narrow canyon with water that reached depths of 50 feet. Only one hiker survived. Probably the hikers did not recognize the flood danger until it was too late because the storm that caused the flood occurred miles away. While such fatal accidents are rare, most flash flood fatalities can been prevented when the following precautions are taken:
To prevent hypothermia, wear wind and water resistant outer clothing and synthetics capable of wicking moisture away from your skin. Wetsuits may also be necessary for canyons with deep pools. Fatigue makes you more susceptible to hypothermia. Know your abilities and equipment. Overestimating these when crossing or swimming through large or deep pools can be fatal. It is important to eat high energy foods and plenty of fluids to increase your body's resistance to the effects of cool temperatures.
Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, poor muscle control, and careless or illogical behavior. If symptoms start to occur, remove wet clothing, wrap in dry, warm material, and apply gentle sources of heat - such as skin-to-skin contact.
See our Severe Weather page for more weather related information and links. Contact the Visitor Information Services in the area you are traveling to for information about commercial slot canyon guides and equipment outfitters.
This information is designed for educational use only and is not a substitute for specific training or experience.