Friday, February 10, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Larry Canyon (Utah)

My husband first introduced me to canyoneering (or canyoning, as it's called in his home country of Australia), having descended several of the narrow sandstone gorges in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.  Of course, the wet, lushly vegetated canyons of the Blue Mountains, full of waterfalls and glow worms, are quite different than the arid, sculpted slots of the American southwest.  But the idea is the same: you start at the canyon's head and work your way down, rappelling down any drops too steep to downclimb, squeezing over and under obstacles, and thrashing your way through "potholes" still holding water from the last flash flood.  Utah and Arizona have countless remote, beautiful canyons with slots so narrow you have to turn sideways to squeeze through, where the rock has been sculpted by erosion into a fantasia of swirled patterns and knife-edged fins. 

For today's adventure I'm sharing a few pictures from a trip my husband and I did with a friend to Larry Canyon, deep in the remote Robber's Roost area of eastern Utah.  (One of the wonderful things about southwest canyoneering is how remote and wild many of these canyons still are.  You can stand under a fiery sunset looking out over a twisting maze of canyons, and know yourself the only human for miles; feel the vast, ancient silence of the desert, that's as inspiring as it is humbling.)  Larry is one of those canyons with a wonderfully surprising start: one minute you're slogging along a broad, sandy wash, wondering when it's going to get interesting; and all at once, the ground drops away into a deep, narrow slot.
Me rappelling into the slot of Larry Canyon

Then you've got a whole series of mini-rappels, downclimbs, and chockstones to chimney over.  
My husband Robert setting up a rappel
Eventually the canyon widens out into a cathedral-style, sandy-bottomed slot with towering walls.
Deep in Larry Canyon

There's one last optional set of rappels before the canyon broadens out to become a simple hike.
Robert and our friend Jason setting the final rappel
Once in the broad section, you get to climb out the slickrock back up to the plateau above, and find your car again.  (I used to mock people who used GPSs.  Navigation just isn't that hard in the mountains.  But oh man, a GPS is so useful for finding your car again in the undulating maze of slickrock country.)  
Me and Robert climbing out of Larry Canyon
If you want to see any more pics from the trip, you can visit my photo gallery at


  1. Ah, very different than your usually snowy and mountainous pictures.

    That pinkish rock is really photogenic. And I bet that last shot would look even better at sunrise or sunset to offset some of the harsh light...

  2. And here I thought walking on the treadmill today was exercise.

    But really, what a place to climb. And might we be seeing more of this area in the Bolthole Mountains?

  3. Paul - yes, the rock is stunning, though photography is annoyingly difficult in slot canyons. Light is very low in the slot, contrast is huge between sunlit rock and shadowed depths, and the fine desert sand is horrendously hard on expensive camera gear. (Not to mention the risk of getting your camera wet while swimming a pothole. Either you keep it in a drybag and have to keep packing and unpacking it, or you have a special waterproof housing like divers use, which then promptly fogs - or you use a cheapo waterproof camera and suck it up with the quality of the shots. Sigh.)

    Maine - I'll say this: if there's a book 3, there will be desert-style canyoneering in it. :) Originally I'd thought to work a little of that into book 2 (via the Boltholes, as you say), but decided for various plot reasons to hold off. (Instead, there will be a nasty ice climb. And glissading. I used to have a glissading scene in Whitefire and was sad when I had to cut it. Hopefully the one I plan for the latter part of Tainted City will survive.)

  4. Thanks for the preview! When Dev looks back at the Boltholes and mentions the sandcats, I thought, ah, bet we’re going to be seeing them in book 2 or 3, and those photos looked perfect for it.

    But glissading sounds cool, too. I actually had to look it up, and thanks to a video of someone going down Mt. St. Helens, I found it’s basically making like an otter, but on your butt. I wish every mountain had such an enjoyable way down.