Friday, August 10, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Leprechaun Canyon (North Wash, Utah)

Since last week's adventure was among the heights, this week I thought I'd plunge into the depths...of a slot canyon, that is.  My husband and I love canyoneering, because it combines climbing, hiking, orienteering, adventure, and problem-solving in a way few other sports do. Plus, you get to visit some seriously remote areas - it's pretty neat to stand looking out over a vast panorama of slickrock desert and see not a single sign of human habitation (no trails, nada).  And yes, I'm happy to report there are still plenty of places in the US with zero cell phone coverage, where it is impossible for even the smartest of phones to check email or access the internet.  (Even satellite phones don't work in deep canyons!)

Leprechaun Canyon (the slot is so skinny and deep you can't actually see it in the photo, only the more gently sloped upper walls of the canyon)
Of course, that means when we go canyoneering, we are never, ever blase about safety.  Neither of us ever attempts a canyon alone - in fact, we prefer a team of 4 or more people; that way if someone gets injured, one person can stay with injured party while others go for help.  (4+ people also means you can use "human pyramid" techniques to escape particularly nasty potholes or other obstacles in the canyon.)  We carry a bolt kit (only for use in emergencies, since we agree with the "no bolt" ethic favored by most U.S. canyoneers), and we always arrange a "drop dead" time with a friend back home - if we don't contact the friend by this time, they call the local search and rescue.  (Much as I admire Aron Ralston for his guts in sawing his own arm off, the whole ordeal would never have been necessary if he'd taken any of the basic precautions most canyoneers do.  For a story of how experienced canyoneers get out of a sticky situation, check out this tale from an attempted descent of Sandthrax, an extremely dangerous/difficult canyon not far from Leprechaun.) 

Leprechaun Canyon is a relatively short but strenuous little slot adventure in the remote North Wash area of southeastern Utah.  You drive out to the middle of nowhere and car-camp in a sandy wash:

Car-camping near Leprechaun. (We had 5 people on this trip: myself, my husband Robert, and our friends Khurrum, Catherine, and Jason)
Then you hike across trail-less slickrock up to the canyon's head:

Robert and Khurrum navigating across slickrock to Leprechaun's head
Once at the head, you scramble down into the canyon.  Sometimes by rappelling, sometimes via simple "stemming" - a climbing technique where you brace opposite feet & hands against the canyons walls, as shown in the picture below:

Khurrum shows off his stemming skills near Leprechaun's head
From there you squeeze and wriggle and squirm through the canyon:

Khurrum and Catherine squeezing through the slot
And occasionally rappel drops that can't be downclimbed:

Catherine rappeling a drop
(The rappeling is where the problem-solving part most often comes in: you need to figure out a way to anchor the rope safely without using bolts (which don't hold well in soft sandstone anyway). Looping the rope around chockstones, rock protrusions, etc, works best; or in a pinch, you can even bury a pack deep in the sand to use as an anchor, or use body-anchor techniques).

And as a reward, you get to see cool stuff like this:
Sculpted narrows in lower Leprechaun

Standing in Leprechaun's "subway" section: Catherine, Khurrum, Robert, me
And to top it off, once back at camp you get to see sunsets like this:

Sunset after a long day canyoneering
I tell you, I can't wait for our son to be old enough to travel technical canyons with us.  (He's already old enough for us to hike through non-technical canyons...we're hoping to do a family trip out to Little Wild Horse canyon in the San Rafael Swell this fall.)


  1. I love that picture of the lower Leprechaun.

    1. Yeah, that style of narrows is my favorite. I only wish I had better photography skills (or a better camera!) to truly capture the beauty of it. (Canyoneering photography is HARD. There's so little light, but you don't want to bring a super-nice camera lest it get wet/sandy/damaged.)

    2. There are photographers who can really capture that sort of place (for example:

      But he's a real professional of which I am only a pale shadow...

    3. Ooooo. Thanks for that link, Paul - I went from there to Harold's website & galleries, and found all sorts of gorgeous stuff. (Think I like the canyon pic in color even better! Though the B&W one does bring out the rock texture amazingly well. Oh, and he's got a lovely one of the Owens Valley/Sierra Nevada ("Whitney Crest")...can't link to it directly, but I must include the gallery link for anyone happening along later to read these comments!

  2. Yeah, I've been following Harold's work for years, and own a couple of his books, too. When I saw your Canyon picture, my mind went to his slot canyon stuff. But yes, he has plenty more than just that shot as you saw, more in California than elsewhere.

  3. I think I blacked out somewhere between "drop dead" time and "sawing his own arm off."

    But really, cool shots, and thanks also for that photographer's gallery.

    If you didn't see it, "From the Edge With Peter Lik," that photography show on The Weather Channel, did an episode on slot canyons that's worth checking out. TV Guide says it's on again Aug 15 at 2 am.

    1. Oh, that show sounds cool - too bad we don't have a DVR! (We ditched our cable & such when our son was born since we figured we wouldn't have much time for TV watching anyway - now we just watch stuff off Netflix. Maybe I can find the show there (or Hulu or something).)