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Slot Canyon

Canyoneering in Southeast Utah

  • mm elaine

When Osprey, the backpacking company, reached out to Mountain Chalet to join a small group of specialty outdoor retailers to “talk shop” on an adventure in the canyonlands of southeast Utah, no one jumped higher at the opportunity than the shortest person in the shop. Store co-owner, Elaine Smith, got to spend five days in early April exploring a beautiful part of the great American Southwest.

Here, Elaine shares a bit about her trek in Gravel Canyon, her experiences with the new Aura pack from Osprey, and some notes on gear she found most useful in the canyon.

Headquartered in Cortez, Colorado, Osprey invited a number of retailers out to play in their backyard – the wondrous canyonlands of southeast Utah – to meet members of the Osprey team and use Osprey gear in a perfect setting for real-life testing. 

 

Outfitted in Osprey packs with the requisite supplies, our group of 13 headed out from Cortez for our 3-day/2-night trek through the expanses and narrows of Gravel Canyon.  A tributary of White Canyon, Gravel Canyon is rated as an intermediate hike in terms of technical terrain, rope work, and time commitment and considered one of the canyoneering ‘classics’ in the Cedar Mesa area. 

Instead of the warmth and sunshine I had hoped for from prior trips through Utah, we started out under gray skies, a light rain, and cool temperatures.   While our guide assessed the impact of the weather on our route, I stewed about the impact of these conditions on me, since I’m ALWAYS cold, and I really didn’t want to be cold and wet! 

In the canyon, our ragtag group found iconic scenic beauty – water-sculpted rock basins; towering multi-colored rock walls; undulating flows of tumbled gravel; and the ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans – as well as the ‘tricks or treats’ of nature – bus-sized boulders to scramble past; ice water pools to swim across; shoulder-wide sandstone slot openings, folding back and forth like giant curtains, to navigate through; and short cliffs to rappel.

After a wet and cold beginning to our hike, we successfully navigated and walked out of the canyon in the sparkling warm sunshine I had hoped for, just getting into the groove of trekking and feeling ready for more.

For the trip, I used Osprey’s Aura 50 (W-XS) with the new Anti-Gravity System.  I carried a bit under 30 lbs, but being only 5 feet tall and 87 lbs., the structure of this pack, unfortunately, seemed a bit too stout for my slight frame.  The pack easily fit all of my gear with plenty of places to stash the things I wanted quick access to.  I still whole-heartedly recommend it – the continuous mesh back panel is fantastic for ventilation and comfort – but it’s just not right for me.  (Besides considering a kid’s pack, I plan to try the Kyte next since it has a more slender frame.)

In addition to the beauty of the canyon, half the fun of the trip is using the gear.  Here’s a short list of my favorite pieces that I found worked very well on this trip:

Western Mountaineering’s “Alpinlite” Sleeping Bag: 

This “Made In The USA” 3-season bag helped me feel warm again after my icy swims and kept my feet toasty throughout the nights.  The construction around your head is just perfect – snuggly yet roomy and it has a great down collar sewn in to warm the back of your neck.  It also only weighs 1 lb 13 oz!

Sea-to-Summit’s “Comfort Light Insulated” Pad: 

It’s perfect for those cool nights (+/- 40 degrees) for someone like me who is always cold.  Good warmth (R Value 4.2)/weight (20.5 oz) trade-off. Simple to inflate/deflate and easily rolls back up to fit in the bag it came in.  The nylon fabric was a little noisy right out of the box, but it didn’t keep me from getting a great night’s sleep under the stars.

Berghaus’ “Vaporlite Hyper Smock” Jacket: 

This is one of my favorite pieces of all time…SUPER LIGHTWEIGHT, supple, quiet fabric; packs down smaller than my fist.  At 3.5 oz, it’s considered by many as the lightest waterproof jacket in the world.  Besides keeping the wetness out, it also helps keep warmth in.  Over a down sweater (or two), it was just the perfect layering piece when the canyon was cool, wet, and windy.

Osprey’s Dry Sacks: 

A light-weight, versatile waterproof essential if you’re going to encounter rain or possibly go swimming.  With the cool temps, I needed dry clothes (and electronics)!  Just be careful because the canyon’s sandstone is no friend to these valuable items.

Garmont’s “Dragontail MNT/GTX” Shoes: 

A dream for canyoneering (or wet weather in general).  This approach-style shoe is light-weight with firm, sticky Vibram rubber soles that provide great friction and performance on the slick rock in the canyon.  The 1.8 mm water repellent suede coupled with the Gore-Tex Extended Comfort Footwear kept my toes comfortable and dry in the cool, wet conditions.

Arc’Teryx’s “Sylvite” Pant:

This was (and is) the perfect pant for varied weather.  Even with a trim fit, the performance stretch material and gusseted crotch allowed me to wear a light-weight baselayer underneath.  It features supple but resilient fabric – these pants stood up to the wickedly fierce sandstone in the canyon without a rip or tear and plenty of opportunity to get one!  They’ve got a great fit for scrambling, hiking, and trekking.  And they dried out overnight, even in the cool temps.

I definitely loved my introduction to slot canyoneering (with the Osprey team taking great care of the group).  The next time I go, I would consider packing these items as well:

Sea-to-Summit  “DryLite Towel”: 

I already had one, but I could have used a second towel.  Because of the cool temps, it took a while for it to dry out completely and we encountered more water than expected.  These towels are super absorbent and they have an anti-microbial treatment to keep bacteria and germs away. 

Black Diamond’s “Spotlight Bivy”: 

At the last minute, we decided to leave the tents behind and sleep under the stars, so it would have been nice to pack the bivy to serve as protection from the sandy/rocky floor or the possibility of rain during the nights.  Made from Nanoshield fabrics that have the highest water repellency rating of any breathable, single-layer shell, this ultra-light bivy weighs barely a single pound.

mPowerd’s “Luci Light”:

These solar-powered, waterproof, inflatable lanterns would have been a perfect substitute for campfire lighting.  The ten LEDs can boast up to 50 Lumens, covering about 150 sq ft.  Weighing a hefty 4.4 oz, it’s not a hard decision to add it to my pack.

Mountain Chalet offers all of the pieces of gear mentioned above, except for one, which we’ve now decided to stock based on this trip!

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