Utah

Canyoneering a Slot Canyon with East Zion Experiences

Southern Utah has the highest concentrations of slot canyons in the world. Several of the most accessible are located near the town of Kanab. During a recent trip to Kanab, we participated in two different slot canyon adventures. Last post, I wrote about driving UTVs to Peek-A-Boo Canyon. Our second slot canyon adventure was even more intense. We spent a half day canyoneering Ladder Slot Canyon with East Zion Experiences. I’ve been trying to push myself slightly out of my comfort zone in recent years when I travel. And I’ve mentioned negotiating with my fear of heights several times already in this blog. Rappelling for the first time, down 60 foot slot canyon walls, sounded like great fun. And I figured that since the heights weren’t crazy high, I could manage my anxieties without too much trouble.

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East Zion Experiences – Our Guides

I found our canyoneering adventure at East Zion Experiences. They are located in Orderville Utah – near the east entrance to Zion National Park and 22 miles north of Kanab.. EZE has several guided canyoneering tours to choose from, each of varying length. I chose their 4-hour tour. They indicate on their website that this is the “Most Popular” tour.

I have no official canyoneering experience. In fact, before booking the tour, I checked on the official definition of canyoneering – just to be sure I was up to the task. Canyoneering is defined as exploring a canyon using a variety of techniques including hiking, scrambling, jumping, sliding, and rappelling (also called abseiling in much of the world). I decided that this sounded like the perfect way to explore a slot canyon. East Zion Experiences does indicate on their website that no experience is necessary. And that they take kids 4 and up. I figured that if a 4 year old could rappel, so could I.

Gearing Up and UTVs

On our canyoneering day, we started at the EZE main offices. Here we met our guides – Jack and Noah. They fitted us with our gear – a rappelling harness, helmet, and gloves. Then, along with two other couples in our group, we loaded into UTVs and were driven to the mouth of Ladder Slot Canyon a few miles away.

UTVs parked at the entrance of Ladder Slot Canyon near Orderville Utah

The 15 minute drive back and forth to the canyon is certainly part of the adventure. For much of the way, the road is sandy, rutted, uneven, and passes through several dry river beds. Ladder Canyon isn’t reachable with anything other than a UTV or high-clearance 4×4.

Adventurous UTV ride on our way to go canyoneering in a slot canyon with East Zion Experiences
Look closely at that road ahead. It’s definitely part of the adventure!

A Steep Hike To The Top

When we arrived at the mouth of the canyon, we didn’t enter. Instead, we first hiked around the side of the canyon, to its top. Once there, we would be canyoneering down its length. And unlike our hike through the relatively flat Peek-A-Boo Canyon the day before, Ladder Canyon is not flat. I’m guessing it gets its name from the series of drop-offs that occur through its narrow walls. It would be impassable without ropes. Our hike up and around to its top was approximately 0.5 miles.

Hiking to the top of Ladder Canyon prior to our experience canyoneering down this slot canyon
Noah leading the way on our hike to the top of Ladder Canyon
Steep hike to the top of Ladder Slot Canyon
The hike was quite steep at times

Ultimately, we reached the sandy top where we were met with views of a sandstone peak called Sugar Knoll towering above us.

Hiking near Sugar Knoll in Orderville Utah

First Rappel

Geared up for our canyoneering adventure with East Zion Experiences
Ready for some canyoneering action

Our first rappel was about 50 feet, down into the canyon. There was another group ahead of us and so we had to wait about 20 minutes for our turn. Theoretically, a long time to spend fighting a racing heart. But despite my fear of heights, I wasn’t anxious at all. I watched the other group’s guide patiently work with each of their members, including two young kids, and quickly surmised that I could do it. I knew I wouldn’t fall. The worse that could happen would be a slip and getting a little banged up against the wall. I could accept that.

While we waited, Jack and Noah gave us a quick lesson on our equipment and how to use it. It was all pretty simple, and they were always there to help us hook up to the ropes each time.

Once it was our turn, I actually wanted to go first and get it over with. For this first rappel, they hooked up two ropes, and Mrs. TT and I went down in tandem. Consequently we weren’t able to get pictures of each other during our first rappel. My initial form wasn’t pretty I’m sure, but Jack and Noah were patient teachers, and I successfully walked backwards down the wall, learning to trust the harness and lean back. I was too busy trying to make sure I was doing things correctly to worry much about the drop below.

Guide preparing the ropes for our firsts rappel while canyoneering in Ladder Slot Canyon
Tony, the other group’s guide, at the top of the first rappel
Rappelling into Ladder Slot Canyon near Orderville Utah
One of our group members on the first rappel. Jack is coaching him from the bottom.
Looking up at the ropes hanging down into Ladder Canyon
Looking up at the ropes from the bottom of the first rappel

Rappelling Down Ladder Canyon

Because Ladder Canyon is stepped, the only way back down to its mouth was through a series of 6 more rappels. These were of varying heights. Some were only 10-20 feet. The longest was 65 feet. Each required slightly different footing techniques and body positioning. Jack and Noah continued to offer patient guidance throughout.

Rappelling in Ladder Canyon near Orderville Utah
Rappelling with East Canyon Experiences through Ladder Slot Canyon
Preparing to descend while canyoneering in Ladder Slot Canyon

The 65 foot drop happened in one of the canyon’s most picturesque spots. Look close in the next picture and you can see Jack coming down through this drop-off.

A canyoneering guide descends along a 65 foot drop in a Utah slot canyon

Here’s what this rappel looked like from the top as I photographed Mrs. TT

The top of a 65 foot rappelling adventure in Ladder Canyon
Halfway down the longest rappel in Ladder Slot Canyon
Near the bottom of a 65 foot rappel in a Utah slot canyon

And here’s what it looked like from the bottom as she photographed me.

The Thorough Tripper starting his descent in Ladder Slot Canyon
The Thorough Tripper continues his descent in Ladder Slot Canyon
Rappelling in Utah's Ladder Slot Canyon
Near the end of a 65 foot rappel in an Orderville Utah slot canyon

More Canyoneering Skills

But our day canyoneering through this slot canyon wasn’t all about rappelling.

We had to slide…

Sliding along the sandstone while canyoneering in a Utah slot canyon

Descend steep sandstone chutes…

One of the East Zion Experience guides runs down a sandstone chute in Ladder Slot Canyon

Shimmy under rocks….

Sliding under a rock while canyoneering through a Utah slot canyon

And squeeze through some pretty tight spaces…..

Squeezing through tight places while canyoneering through a Utah slot canyon

All great fun!!!

Slot Canyons Are Beautiful

Plus, the whole time we were canyoneering our way through this slot canyon, we were surrounded by the overall beauty of the place. Slot canyons are awe-inspiring.

The Thorough Tripper standing in a Utah Slot Canyon while canyoneering
Looking up in Ladder Slot Canyon near Orderville Utah
One of the passageways in Ladder Slot Canyon in Southern Utah
Walking through Ladder canyon near Orderville Utah

Final Thoughts and Tips

Our entire adventure did last the full 4 hours as advertised. About 2.5 hours was spent canyoneering through the slot canyon.

Despite my fear of heights and lack of canyoneering experience, I never felt any significant anxiety at all.

Jack and Noah were outstanding guides. Their calmness and experience certainly went a long way towards preventing any anxiety.

It was a cold day. We started the day with temps in the mid 40s and ended in the mid 50s. Layers were useful. It is always cooler down in the canyon, too.

I was a little sore the next day, but not as much as I expected. My lateral hips hurt most from the repeated pressure of my full weight against the harness. Upper body strength was not required. I will be the first to admit that I do not have much, and I did fine.

The cost was $159 per person and well worth it. It’s an experience we will not easily forget. You can easily book this tour through Viator by clicking here

Canyoneering this slot canyon ended up being my favorite travel experience for 2021. You can click here to check out all my other favorite Food and Travel of 2021.

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