Magazine article Sunset

On the Rocks

Magazine article Sunset

On the Rocks

Article excerpt

Sunset's editor and her daughter test themselves in the slot canyons of southern Utah BY KATIE TAMONY

I'M NOT AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. That's what I tell myself as I grip the rope and back slowly toward the 300-foot drop. My 16-yearold daughter, Caitlin, has already taken the plunge. How could I have let her go first? What kind of mother am I? Turns out the kind who can appreciate that my daughter has a lot to teach me.

Caitlin and I have come to Utah to learn canyoneering-exploring slot canyons, the narrow, deep passageways formed by water and wind rushing through rock. Caitlin has always been a don't-tell-me-I-can't-do-it kid. When I decided to take a two-day canyoneering trip here, I knew she'd be the perfect partner.

We're going with Rick Green, who owns Excursions of Escalante, at the heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Rick's résumé was reassuring: He's guided tourists here for 10 years and works the search-and-rescue team.

We meet Rick and his girlfriend, Amie Fortin, at their office/cafe/natural-foods store in Escalante. And we meet our fellow hikers, Bob and Robin Rabinowitz, from New Jersey. All four of us novices are excited and nervous as we look at the photos of luminous canyons lining the office walls.

I watch Caitlin for signs of anxiety, but she listens raptly to Rick. He begins with safety, specifically weather. Flash floods are a desert phenomenon that can be fatal for hikers caught in these fast-filling crevices. Explore only when there's no threat of rain, Rick emphasizes. The minute we get outside, I look uncertainly up at the sky.

We head out on gravel roads to the Grand Staircase and our first canyon. We'll start with a 60-foot descent by harness and rope. Rick sends his assistant down first to show how it's done. Then he asks for volunteers. I surprise myself by raising my hand.

The hardest thing about descending is letting go of fear. You plant your feet against the rock and walk backward and down into the canyon, trusting the harness to hold you, trusting your own hand on the rope to guide your speed.

As I step backward, I glance at Caitlin. She rewards me with a look of wonder I hadn't seen since she became a teenager.

When all of us-including Caitlin, who descended easily-are safely down, Rick shows us the right ways to maneuver in the canyons. First, watch where you step, because a twisted ankle here is a real bummer. Also, at many points, the canyons are only 2 to 3 feet wide but more than 100 feet deep, with their floors boulder-strewn or otherwise impassable. …

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