Cheat Sheet: Play the Slots

Ex­plore canyon coun­try safely.


THE EX­PERT Brett Sut­teer, owner and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at Moab Cliffs and Canyons, guides trips all over the world. He’s steered hun­dreds of first-time canyoneers through Utah’s slots and knows the ter­rain by heart— so much so that he was hired to do stunt work in the movie 127 Hours.


Years of flash flood­ing give slots their pol­ished beauty, but that’s not a process you want to see first­hand. Mon­soons typ­i­cally oc­cur from June to Au­gust in the South­west, so fall hik­ers should be in the clear. Still, select canyons with mul­ti­ple bail-out points, and check the fore­cast be­fore you go. Even far­away storms can feed your slot’s drainage, so post­pone the hike if you ex­pect rain­fall up­canyon. Mid-hike and feel­ing rain­drops? Get out of the slot be­fore the floods start. Too late? Find high ground shel­tered from fall­ing and cur­rent-driven rocks and de­bris.


Keep your feet above pooled wa­ter, cross deep pot­holes, and nav­i­gate short, steep drops in tight canyons with these tech­niques.


De­scend into or tra­verse wide, flar­ing slots by brac­ing your hands and feet on op­po­site walls. Keep three points of con­tact and avoid flat­ten­ing out, which takes more en­ergy.


For canyons 3 to 4 feet wide, put one hand and one foot on each side and ap­ply pres­sure to work your way up or down.


For skin­nier slots, use the coun­ter­pres­sure of your back against your feet or knees on the op­po­site wall. Keep your butt higher than your thighs to avoid get­ting stuck. Pack in the way? Lower it with cordage or hang it from a line tied around your waist. Don’t get too tech­ni­cal above a sketchy land­ing. More than a few feet of air be­neath you? Find a safer route.

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