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Canyoneering is a relatively unknown activity, so it's understandable - even expected - that people ask lots of questions. We answer many of the most common questions here regarding both canyoneering in general and Desert Highlights.

· What is canyoneering?
· What climbing or rappelling experience is required to go on a trip?
· What kind of physical condition do I need to be in?
· Is canyoneering safe?
· When is the best time of year to go on a trip?
· How do I make a reservation for a trip?
· What is your cancellation/refund policy?
· How many people are usually on a trip?
· What do I need to wear and bring?
· What does Desert Highlights provide?
· How long have you been in business and are permits required?
· What's your favorite trip?

If you have any questions or concerns that aren't addressed here, please let us know. We'd love to hear from you!
Desert Highlights Logo
50 East Center St.
PO Box 1342
Moab, Utah 84532
(800) 747-1342
(435) 259-4433

  What is Canyoneering? Back to Top
The term "canyoneering" basically refers to exploring canyons, though it is most commonly used to describe canyon hikes in which ropes and basic climbing skills are occasionally required to completely get through the canyon. These canyons are called "technical canyons" due to the special skills and equipment required. The canyon country of southern Utah contains many breathtakingly beautiful canyons which are very rugged and often require the use of ropes to fully explore. Typically, canyoneers will hike down, or "descend," a canyon since it's often easier to rappel down the canyon's steep drops than to climb up them. Once we've negotiated the canyon's technical challenges, an easier side canyon - sometimes with its own unique set of obstacles - is then hiked up in order to get back to the start. Rappelling is necessary in every canyon that Desert Highlights visits.

The beauty of all this is that canyoneering skills allow people to venture into places out of reach from regularly equipped hikers. As a result, canyoneers frequently find themselves in the lesser visited - and oftentimes more beautiful - parts of a canyon.

  What climbing or rappelling experience is required to go on a trip? Back to Top
For the most part, no previous climbing or rappelling experience is required to go on a trip when accompanied by an experienced guide from Desert Highlights who can offer you proper instructions. Rappelling is the obvious source of apprehension among folks who contemplate our trips. And that's a good thing because rappelling is not for everyone. It is, however, a very easy skill to perform for those who are interested in learning. We have safely guided many folks who have never rappelled before into very technical canyons and we are always eager to show beginners the necessary techniques. What a treat it is for us to share the excitement of an exhilarating new experience for people - Never a dull moment! Keep in mind, however, that we view rappelling as more of a "means to an end" rather than an end in itself. By that we mean that ropes are used here as a tool for exploration rather than merely a tool for amusement. Though we're sure you'll be amused, too!

Also understand that these trips are not designed to teach you all the canyoneering skills required to go out on your own and safely descend a canyon requiring rappels. The trips offered by Desert Highlights are suitable for beginners because they are led by very experienced, safety conscious guides who do all the rope rigging.

Throughout the trip descriptions on our One Day Adventures page you'll see references to "fourth class" and "fifth class" climbing. This classification of climbing difficulty is called the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS; not to be confused with your library's Dewey Decimal System!). The YDS categorizes the various challenges of traveling over terrain into five classes:

YDS Rating What to Expect
First Class Easy walking on smooth terrain, like strolling along a paved path. A walk in the park, so to speak. Obviously, first class stuff entails the most casual of travels, especially if it's describing your airline flight to Utah.
Second Class Hiking over rough, but easy terrain. Most of the designated trails in the National Parks are in this category.
Third Class This is where things start to get fun. Third class terrain includes steep rocky slopes, though not so steep that you'll need to use your hands. Walking up or down a flight of stairs, while dodging your kid's toys strewn about, is akin to third class obstacles.
Fourth Class This is where things really start to get fun! A fourth class obstacle is steep, often requiring you to use your hands, though mostly for balance and not necessarily for pulling yourself up. Ropes are generally not used when overcoming fourth class obstacles - especially short obstacles - despite the fact that a fall could really hurt. Beginners or those terrified of heights may want a rope and we, without question, gladly cater to such requests. Climbing up or down a ladder propped against your house's roof is a good example of a fourth class challenge.
Fifth Class Fifth class infers steep terrain - though not necessarily vertical - in which ropes are almost always used for safety. Hands are frequently used for holding your body to the rock, rather than just for balance. You may hear rock climbers talk of a climbing route being a "5.9" (say "five nine," not "five point nine;" lest you might sound like a complete flatlander!). They are refering to the YDS' fifth class level. Fifth class is broken down into sub-levels ranging from 5.0 to 5.15:

5.0 to 5.6 - This is considered easy fifth class climbing. Nearly anyone on the planet with a bit of adventurous soul can overcome easy fifth class obstacles. Being able to pull up your bodyweight is not required on climbs in this range. Climbing a vertical ladder, as opposed to the one propped at a steep angle against your house's roof, is similar to an easy fifth class climb. All of the trips offered by Desert Highlights which have fifth class climbing would, ahem...fall into this category.
5.7 to 5.10 - This range includes challenging climbs which appeal only to rock climbers using special equipment. Though this level of difficulty is within the limits of some fit beginners, none of the trips offered by Desert Highlights have climbing of this level.
5.11 to 5.15 - Climbs in this range are way gnarly heinous difficult. Typically reserved for various reptile species and a handful of humans half your age. Thankfully, none of the trips offered by Desert Highlights have climbing that even comes close to this degree of difficulty.

  What kind of physical condition do I need to be in? Back to Top
If you are visiting the area with the intent to hike, not just sightsee, in the national parks, you're probably in good enough shape. However, the canyoneering trips offered by Desert Highlights are often a bit more difficult than the designated trails in the parks. Greater elevation gain and loss, uneven trails, deep sand and more are all to blame. Some trips, Dragonfly Canyon and Medieval Chamber for example, are rated easy because the trail surface is fairly level with no significant elevation gain.

  Is canyoneering safe? Back to Top
All outdoor activities involve some degree of risk, especially when ropes are involved. Steps can be taken, however, to manage the risks and to create a safe environment for an enjoyable trip. None of the information below is meant to scare you or lessen your enthusiasm for these trips. We're offering this info because we want you to know that our guides are well aware of these risks and know how to recognize and avoid them.

The primary hazards of canyoneering which can be a threat to life - inadequate rigging for rappel anchors, flash floods, and dehydration - can all be avoided if you are accompanied by an experienced guide who can recognize and prevent potential dangers.

Inadequate rigging for rappel anchors: There are many ways to rig ropes for rappels and many different types of anchors from which to rig. Our guides enjoy explaining how the ropes are rigged at each rappel and, more importantly, why they are rigged that certain way. Going over the anchors with our guests offers both confidence to the first time rappeller and is a fun way for the guides to double check the anchor systems.

Flash Floods: This is a serious hazard when in narrow canyons, but it can almost always be avoided. Most of the trips offered by Desert Highlights

Sometimes Dry...   Sometimes Wet
Flash Flood in Lomatium Canyon
More Incredible Photos! The following trips had flash floods:
•  June 26th, 2004 ... Tierdrop Canyon
•  April 7th, 2004 ... Lomatium Canyon
•  October 10th, 2003 ... Lomatium Canyon
•  July 19th, 2003 ... Tierdrop Canyon
•  March 17th, 2003 ... Medieval Chamber
•  Nov 9th, 2002 ... Medieval Chamber
•  Sept 12th, 2002 ... Lomatium Canyon
•  July 26th, 2001 ... Tierdrop Canyon
•  July 1st, 2000 ... Sun Dance Canyon
•  Sept 19th, 1999 ... Lomatium Canyon
are in canyons where, if a flood were to occur, you could quickly and easily find and scramble to higher ground and wait for the water to pass. This allows us to watch and admire the flood from a safe perch rather than fear it. They are a spectacular sight with the waterfalls they create! Keep in mind that not all floods are a serious threat. In fact, most of the ones we've been in rarely rise to more than a foot deep and only last an hour or so. Flash floods are most common in the afternoon during the late summer months of July through August.

Dehydration: It's kinda odd that you have to worry about floods and dehydration at the same time, huh? That's the desert for you. In any case, dehydration is easy to prevent. Dehydration usually doesn't become a serious problem if the early signs which are fairly easy to recognize are acted upon. Left untreated, dehydration can sometimes lead to heat exhaustion which is also not life threatening unless ignored. As we drive out to the trailhead on a Desert Highlights trip in the hotter months, we will all be drinking lots of bottled water. Extra bottled water - among other refreshments - in a cooler will be left in the car for our return. We take frequent breaks throughout the day to drink. Gatorade is brought along to drink later in the day when our bodies need to replace the electrolytes lost in our sweat. Dehydration is always a concern, though heat exhaustion generally only crops up during the summer months.

There are other hazards out there which are not necessarily life threatening nor exclusive to canyoneering, but need to be recognized. They are the same hazards you'll find on the established trails in the national parks and can be avoided with common sense - things like loose sand on slickrock making footing slippery, sunburn, cactus spines, extremely large scorpions and so forth.

  When is the best time of year to go on a trip? Back to Top
A lot depends on the trip. The following paragraphs and table will give you an idea of what trips are possible, and more importantly enjoyable, at various times of the year.

The spring and fall months of March through May and September through November are typically the most pleasant temperature-wise. The spring brings blooming flowers and longer days which are always a treat. The fall sees stable weather and the cottonwood trees speckle the redrock canyons with brilliant yellow leaves. These two seasons are, in general, the best times of the year for canyoneering.

In the hot summer months of June through August, Entrajo, Tierdrop, Medieval Chamber, Lomatium canyons are fine trips due to the shortness of the first three and the abundance of shady canyons in Lomatium Canyon. Afternoon trips into Tierdrop and Entrajo canyons in the summertime are really quite pleasant, since the sun goes behind the canyons' walls at that time. As a result, we're in the shade for most of the time. Pleiades Canyon is of course a great trip due to the abundance of cool flowing water. Dipper Creek Canyon and Fry Canyon are refreshing, indeed, and can be great places in the summer. Granary Canyon is definitely unbearable during the summer months.

Oh boy, the secret's out! The winter months of December through February can be a fantastic time to explore Utah's backcountry. As a bonus, lodging rates in Moab this time of year are extremely low. And though it's true many eating establishments are closed during the winter, the one's you want to eat at anyway, such as the Moab Brewery, are open year round!

Month Avg Hi Avg Lo Avg Rain Avg Snow Canyons you DO NOT want to be in this month (and why).
January 41F/5C 17F/-8C .67"/1.7cm 4.5"/11.4cm Entrajo Canyon (too cold), Dipper Creek Canyon (too cold/long), Granary Canyon (too long)
February 51F/11C 24F/-4C .63"/1.6cm 2"/5.1cm Entrajo Canyon (too cold), Granary Canyon (too long)
March 61F/16C 32F/0C .79"/2cm 1"/2.5cm  
April 72F/22C 40F/4C .76"/1.9cm - Dipper Creek Canyon (Dipper bird nesting season)
May 82F/28C 48F/9C .7"/1.8cm - Dipper Creek Canyon (Dipper bird nesting season)
June 93F/34C 56F/13C .3"/.76cm - Dipper Creek Canyon (Dipper bird nesting season), Granary Canyon (too hot)
July 98F/37C 63F/17C .8"/2cm - Granary Canyon (too hot)
August 96F/36C 60F/16C .9"/2.3cm - Granary Canyon (too hot)
September 87F/31C 51F/11C .7"/1.8cm -  
October 73F/23C 39F/4C 1"/3cm -  
November 56F/13C 27F/-3C .65"/1.7cm .4"/1cm  
December 44F/7C 20F/-6C .8"/2cm 3.5"/9cm Entrajo Canyon (too cold), Dipper Creek Canyon (too cold/long), Granary Canyon (too long)
Month Avg Hi Avg Lo Avg Rain Avg Snow Canyons you DO NOT want to be in this month (and why).

  How do I make reservations for a trip? Back to Top
Trips are scheduled on an "as requested" basis. Call us up or send in an email and tell us what day you'd like to go - it's that simple! A minimum of two people is required to guarantee a trip. Also, there may be space available on a trip that is already scheduled so please call us to find out availability on existing trips.

If three or more people are on a trip, then everyone on that trip receives a 10% discount. There is a 15% discount for returning guests on trips with more than three people. A 100% discount applies to guests who don't return from trips.

A deposit of $20/person is required to reserve your spot (see below for our cancellation policy). When you make your reservation, we will e-mail you a confirmation and invoice. The balance is due the day of your trip.

We accept a wide variety of currency - All major credit cards, personal checks, traveler's checks, money orders, bullion, beads, barter...even cash! Give us a call at 1-800-747-1342 or email us at

Group sizes are kept small so trips sometimes fill fast. It is highly recommended that you make your reservations as early as possible, especially if there are four or more people in your group or if there is only one specific day you can go on a trip.

  What is your cancellation/refund policy? Back to Top
All of your money (including your $20/person deposit and all other payments) will be refunded if you cancel prior to one week before your trip date. If you cancel within one week of your trip (and have a note from your mother) all of your money will be refunded less the $20/person deposit except for cancellations made the morning of the trip in which case no money will be refunded (regardless of note from mom).

Full refunds are given if your trip is cancelled due to bad weather. Our guides will make the final "go/no go"decision based on the weather. We'll often go ahead with a trip even if it's raining lightly in the morning since most canyons we go into have little flash flood risk. Also, weather around here changes quickly and more often than not the day's weather turns out great despite a dreary morning. We assume that you'll arrive with raingear that makes light rain and winds tolerable. If you decide not to go on a trip even if the guides make a "go" decision, you will not receive a refund. If it's raining cats and dogs when you show up in the morning and the weather does not appear to become tolerable or safe that day, we'll probably cancel the trip in which case you'll receive a full refund. If your trip does go out the door, yet gets cancelled or modified in some way mid-trip due to a change in weather, we will negotiate a fair refund with you.

Please realize that safety is our primary concern in regards to the weather (remember, we're in the canyon with you, too!). We're not even remotely interested in taking a chance with bad weather if our safety will be in question. Do realize, however, that we make "go/no go" decisions based on whether or not it's safe to go, not necessarily based on whether or not it will be the most pleasant to go. If the weather is so-so, yet safe enough to go, just be sure to bring raingear and we'll have a pleasant trip regardless.

  How many people are usually on a trip? Back to Top
Technical canyoneering trips demand a very low guest to guide ratio. We typically go out with three to six guests and one guide per trip. In fact, most of our trips are essentially private trips where it's just your group and the guide. Some of the more demanding trips, such as Pleiades and Granary canyons, are limited to three to four guests per guide because time constraints and even space constraints in some of the narrow passages and ledges just don't allow for large groups.

  What do I need to wear and bring? Back to Top
Fortunately, you don't need to bring much on these trips. You don't even need to wear much, but we'll leave that decision to you! Some clothing recommendations are listed below depending on the season. These are only recommendations! Bring all types of clothing with you on your vacation (rain gear, warm clothes, hat, gloves, etc.) regardless of the season. Weather in the desert can change drastically from day to day. You can always leave clothes in your car or room if it doesn't look like you'll need them that day. Following the clothing recommendations is a list of items you may want to bring.

During the spring and fall months of March through May and September through November the daytime temperatures are generally very comfortable and a pair of shorts and a T-shirt are all that's needed. The mornings and early evenings can be chilly, so a fuzzy pullover or sweatshirt is nice to have. Maybe even a warm hat during March and November. Pants are fine as long as they do not restrict your movement. Some people like pants because they offer some abrasion resistance while rappelling and shimmying on, around and under rocks. The spring months can be very windy, so a windbreaker type jacket is nice.

We'll be honest here, the summer months of June through August can be brutally hot. That's not to say that it isn't a good time of year to visit Moab, but you'll have to adjust your clothing accordingly. A loose, light colored, long sleeve cotton shirt will help keep you cool during these months. Pants are great only if they are loose-fitting and light colored, otherwise they will restrict your movement when it comes time to scramble on the rocks. Dressing with loose-fitting, full coverage clothing will keep direct sunlight off your skin. Whatever you do, dress in light colors to avoid absorbing heat. If you're planning to hike Dipper Creek Canyon, Dragonfly Canyon or Entrajo Canyon, wear shoes and clothing that you do not mind getting soaked! Without a doubt the absolute best canyon to be in during the summer months is Pleiades Canyon.

That said, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt are OK if you're not sensitive to the sun, but bring plenty of sunblock rated SPF 15 or higher if you choose to wear these items. Keep in mind that many of these trips are more than a mile above sea level and the UV rays here are more intense than in your hometown. We also recommend a brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face and neck. Important: Afternoon thunderstorms in the late summer can be so common that you can sometimes set your watch by them. They only last an hour or two but can be very fierce! If you are traveling into the canyon country during this time, bring good rain gear. At least a good rain top. These storms will quickly make a joke out of those cheap, discount store ponchos. Decent rubbery-type jackets can be had inexpensively at most sporting goods stores. The brief duration of these showers and the short amount of time we may spend in our rain gear doesn't warrant the need to buy expensive, "breathable" outerwear. If prepared, being in canyon country during these storms is magnificent! The waterfalls from accumulated runoff are spectacular!

December through February can be a wonderful time to visit Moab if you're properly dressed. Daytime temperatures are usually perfect for hiking. Shorts and a t-shirt aren't out of the question when we're moving in the sun, but loose pants and a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt are preferred. During the wintertime, our trips often begin the day in near freezing temperatures, so a fuzzy warm jacket, hat and gloves are mandatory till the sun warms us up. Keep in mind that a fair bit of time is spent in shady canyons with little body movement (rappelling). You'll want something warm to wear while you wait for your buddies to come down the ropes. And finally, those who bring a thermos seem to be the happiest - and most popular.

Below are the items and knick-knacks you'll need or may want to bring regardless of the trip. There are several stores in Moab where you can purchase these items.

· Soft hiking boots (very extremely definitely highly recommended) - Heavy, stiff-soled boots are horrible for hiking over the steep slickrock slopes and uneven terrain that's so prevalent on our trips. The trendy, lowcut, all-terrain type hiking shoes work best, as do their Payless counterparts for a fifth of the price.
· Camera (Optional) - There are numerous photo-ops out here in the canyon country. We always bring one. If you bring your's, make sure you have a camera case or something similar to pad it. Small drybags are highly recommended if you're bringing them into Entrajo Canyon. Consider using a disposable camera if you're worried about it getting banged up. As always, carry cameras at your own risk.
· Sunblock (Optional) - Bring at least SPF 15 or higher. The need for this varies with season and skin sensitivity.
· Chapstick (Optional) - It is very arid out here.
· Sunglasses (Optional) - Obvious.
· Hair ties (Optional) - Those of you with long hair will want to tie it up so it does not tangle with the rappel device at an inopportune time. The straps in our helmets kinda help contain long hair, but a tie is much more effective.
· Climbing equipment (Optional) - You may bring your own harness and helmet if you like. Your harness will probably fit you better than the adjustable harnesses we have. We may ask that you use our equipment depending on what you have.
· Necessary medications (?) - This seems obvious, but if you require any kind of medication (insulin, albuterol, etc.) please let us know and bring them. Bringing a little extra is always a good idea. Also determine if the meds will affect your ability to go on these trips. For example, some antibiotics make your skin more susceptible to sunburn.

  What does Desert Highlights provide for each trip? Back to Top
A generous lunch is provided on all full day trips. You will be building up quite an appetite out there in the canyons and we do eat very well! Lunch typically consists of deli meats, cheeses, avocados, tomatoes, peppers, hummus, wraps for making sandwiches to satisfy both meat lovers and vegetarians. Apples and granola bars round out our wilderness lunch hour and for snacks while on the move. Different lunch items may be requested...within reason. Plenty of bottled spring water is provided. Anti-bacterial wet-wipes are brought and used assiduously 'cause your hands will be dirty by lunchtime. Our lunches have received very high marks over the years!

Durable daypacks made by Metolious Climbing (Sentinel haulbags and haulpacks) are provided for everyone. These bombproof packs are made of heavy-duty urethane to withstand the rigors of technical canyoneering. Everyone will be carrying a pack. One or two other people besides the guide will need to carry a rope in their pack. Ropes are generally the heaviest items. Everyone else will be carrying lunch supplies, personal water, etc. Packs usually end up weighing around fifteen to twenty pounds, depending if you're carrying one of the ropes or not. All technical equipment is provided, including ropes, harnesses, locking carabiners, rappel devices, helmets, gloves, drysuits, wetsuits, etc. You may bring your own harness or helmet if you like, though we may ask that you use our equipment. We also carry an extensive first aid kit for basic mishaps. All entrance fees for trips going into fee areas are included. Last but not least, Desert Highlights provides very experienced and knowledgeable guides.

  How long have you been in business and are permits required? Back to Top
Desert Highlights has been in business since 1997. Canyoneering has only recently become popular in the United States and we have been at the forefront of guiding technical trips in the desert southwest.

Permits are required to conduct guided trips in the National Parks and backcountry surrounding Moab. We have permits with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS) and the State of Utah (SITLA), all of which require their permittees to be insured.

  What's your favorite trip? Back to Top
While each trip is incredible, they do have their differences. What's important is matching you with the trip that will become your favorite. The chart below may help you with your selection depending on what you'd like to get out of each trip. A score of 5 indicates that the trip is the "best," or "most" of a particular category while a score of 1 indicates the "least." Of course, you could try them all and rate them yourself!

Solitude 2 5 5 5 4 4
Coolest Rappels 5 3 5 4 3 3
Fun Climbing 1 3 1 3 4 4
Photos for bragging 5 5 5 5 5 5
Best for kids 3 4 3 2 4 2
S-s-s-scariest! 4 3 3 3 3 4
Awesome Arches 4 2 1 5 1 1
Narrow Canyons 2 4 5 4 5 5
Flash Flood Danger 2 4 3 3 5 5
Guide's Favorite 5 5 5 5 5 5
Price/person $120 $95 $170 $200 $140 $195