Descent Into Beauty

The tail of the rope made a snapping sound as it hit the ground after being pulled from the anchor.  I glanced down canyon, a rush of excitement and anxiety mixed in my stomach.  Once that first rappel rope was pulled, the only way out was down and through.  We gathered the rope, distributed the gear and, in a single-file line, our team of canyoneers stepped into the slot canyon.

The features of the canyon created a playground:  Down-climbs, chimneying, crawling low, stemming high, squeezing through narrow slots, and rappelling down long drops into pools.  With technical slot canyons, there was an element of the unknown that lay ahead.  Though we had come prepared with beta from previous canyoneers, after every flash flood things can change significantly in a canyon.  The level of the ground can shift up and down, anchors can disappear, and potholes can be swam through one day and deemed “keepers” on another.

At one point, the canyon deepened and led to a drop off.  I attached the rope to my rappel device and began the descent into a dark abyss.  The slot became narrower the lower I went.  I felt the temperature drop as I came to the ground, landing with a muddy sploosh; I was standing at the bottom.

“Off rappel” I yelled up.

It was dark down there.  It was silent.  I could feel the coldness of the rock, so close to my cheek.  I wondered, “Why do we do this?”  I had just voluntarily dropped myself into a deep, dark narrow avenue of rock.  I could see nothing ahead, leaving only hope that it went through.  I set my faith on the word of others who had come this way before.  Taking a deep breath, I headed down the narrowing path, that forced me to walk side-ways, slogging through the knee-deep water.

I looked around at the curvaceous walls of the canyon, thinking of the water that had come before us.  Centuries-worth of water raced and flooded through red sandstone carving out smooth round potholes, twisted paths weaving back and forth, and beautiful arches.  In some areas it was dark and deep, where daddy-long leg spiders danced around as you passed.  But the canyon opened up too, allowing a glimpse of sunlight.  And it was there that streaks of fiery red, orange and yellow colored the delicate face of the rock.  It was stunning.  I was reminded of a quote I heard from a Scottish hiking guide – this was ‘beauty that hurts the eye’.

The canyon continued to widen until I stepped out into a jungle of flora, outlined by mammoth walls reaching straight up to the blue sky.  The rest was easy-street, merely a hike back to camp, where, after we had strewn our wet, muddy, and stinky, clothes and gear upon the rocks to dry, I sat back and felt that gentle fatigue that accompanies a satisfied adventure.