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.
WATCH THE WEATHER
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.
BUST A MOVE
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.