What is canyoneering?
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.
Check out our guided canyoneering tours here: www.deserthighlights.com/moabcanyoneering
What is the difference between a canyoneering tour and a rock climbing tour?
During a canyoneering tour, we travel over terrain throughout the duration of the trip. We are hiking, scrambling (easy climbing) and using techniques like down-climbing and rappelling to navigate through an area that is otherwise inaccessible. Rock climbing tours are more focused on simply climbing. We visit one area (called a “crag”) where your guide will set up a rope high on the cliff (called a “top-rope) that will be used to protect you from a fall (called “belay”) while you’re climbing up to the anchor. Once you’ve arrived at the top, you will be lowered back down to the ground and repeat on another route at the same cliff.
Do I need any climbing or rappelling experience to join a trip?
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.
On every rappel, there will be two ropes used. You will be controlling one of these as you descend into the canyon. The second rope will be controlled by the guide. If you lose control, go too fast, or get scared and let go of your rope, the guide will stop you immediately and can take over control at any time. This second rope is what allows us to take beginners rappelling. You’re never 100% on your own
How hard is the hiking on the guided tours?
Throughout the tour descriptions 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:
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 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, as is our Medieval Chamber half day trip.
Third Class: This is where things start to get fun. Third class terrain is often referred to as “scrambling”. This inclused steep, rocky slopes. Typified by the occasional use of our hands, the terrain becomes more engaging and requires some focus on our hand and foot placements. Entrajo Canyon, Granary Canyon and Dipper Creek involve moving through third class terrain.
Fourth Class: This is where things start to get really fun! A fourth class obstacle is steep, requiring you to use your hands to pull yourself up. Ropes are generally not used when overcoming fourth class obstacles – especially short ones – 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 a roof is a good example of a fourth class challenge and we encounter a few of these obstacles in Zig Zag Canyon, Plieades Canyon, Blarney Canyon, Shimrock Canyon and Constrychnine Canyon.
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 “5.9” (say “five nine”, not “five point nine”, lest you might sound like a complete flatlander!) They are referring to the YDS’ fifth class level which 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?
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, such as Medieval Chamber, are rated easy because the trail surface is fairly level with no significant elevation gain. Check out our individual route descriptions to learn why we’ve rated them as easy, moderate or difficult.
Is there an age limit for your trips?
We do not have an age limit for most of our trips. We can recommend different trips based on age and ability, and we can certainly accommodate everyone in the family. Canyoneering is a great family adventure and we don’t think that anyone should be left out.
Our only requirement for kids (and adults!) is that they have a sense of adventure and a willingness to try something new. We love getting kids excited about climbing and canyoneering, and we believe that with a little extra patience and attention, we can guide anyone of any age safely through our routes.
Are climbing and canyoneering safe?
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.
Our guides are well-versed in the American Mountain Guide Association industry standards and have passed the Single Pitch Instructor Course and Exam.
When is the best time of year to go on a trip?
A lot depends on the trip. The following paragraphs 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 red rock 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, Medieval Chamber and Pleiades canyons are fine trips due to the shortness of the first two and the abundance of water in Entrajo and Pleiades. Afternoon trips into Entrajo Canyon 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 is refreshing, indeed, and can be a great place 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!
How do I make reservations for a trip?
Since all of our trips are private (meaning just your group and your guide!), trips are scheduled on an “as requested” basis. If you know which trip you’d like to do and don’t have any questions for us, you can book online. If you’re seeking advice and guidance (we know the many options can be overwhelming!), we’d be happy to chat with you via phone or email to help you choose a trip that is best suited for your family or group.
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 – Most major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express), personal checks, traveler’s checks, money orders, bullion, beads, barter…even cash!
Give us a call at 435-259-4433 or email us at [email protected]. It is highly recommended that you make your reservations as early as possible, especially if there is only one specific day you can go on a trip.
What is your cancellation/refund policy?
Groups of less than 10 people: All of your money (including your $20/person deposit and all other payments) will be refunded if you cancel prior to two weeks before your trip date. If you cancel within two weeks 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 within 48 hours of the trip. If you cancel within 48 hours of your trip, no money will be refunded (regardless of note from mom).
Groups of 10 or more: A 10% deposit is required at the time of booking. This is non-refundable unless our guides cancel due to weather. The remaining balance is due within 48 hours of the trip date.
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 rain gear 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 rain gear and we’ll have a fun trip regardless.
If you have a trip booked with us and do not show up because you’ve booked the wrong date on accident, you will be charged in full. If we are able to switch your booking to another date, you will still be charged a $40 fee that goes directly to our guide who showed up to work on time and ready for your trip.
Should I tip my guide?
A tip can be a very nice way to show your guide how much you’ve enjoyed a fun day out in the canyons. Though not required, gratuities are very much appreciated. The amount is at your discretion, but 15 – 20% of the trip cost is common.
How many people are usually on a trip?
All of our tours are private, so it’s just your group plus your guide! For most canyons, we keep a 6:1 guest to guide ratio. For many local Moab canyoneering trips we are limited by our permits to a group size of 15 (including guides), so your group must stay at 13 people or less. Otherwise, we’ll have to split up. Give us a call if you’re wondering if we can accommodate your group – chances are, we can!
What do I need to wear and bring?
Fortunately, you don’t need to bring much on these trips. 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 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.
Please see the FAQ section on individual tour pages for more about what to wear and bring.
What does Desert Highlights provide for each trip?
We provide all canyoneering, climbing and/or packrafting gear, an experienced guide and transportation to and from the trailheads. We do not provide food or drinks on our canyoneering, climbing or packrafting tours. We do provide food and drinks on our National Park hiking tours.
Please bring an appropriate amount of food and water for your trip – half day trips typically require snacks and 1-2 liters of water, while full day trips require a lunch, plenty of snacks and up to 3 liters of water per person.
Durable daypacks made by Metolious Climbing, Black Diamond and SLOT are provided for everyone. These bombproof packs are made of heavy-duty material 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 personal water, food, 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.
What’s the best way to get to Moab?
Flying into Salt Lake City, UT is likely your cheapest option. This is about 4 hours of beautiful driving to get to Moab. Grand Junction, CO also has an airport that is only about 1.5 hours from Moab, but this can often be more expensive. The Moab airport offers direct flights to and from Denver, CO. This is the most expensive option, but lands you about 30 minutes from downtown Moab. For information about parking at larger airports, you can visit ParkFellows.
How long have you been in business and are permits required?
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 does it take to develop and guide a new canyon?
As Moab’s oldest Canyoneering Guide Service, we at Desert Highlights have established the vast majority of the Moab area canyons that are considered “canyoneering” routes. If you go out with a different company, chances are you will be running through a Desert Highlights original! Developing new routes is time consuming and takes a lot of passion and commitment to explore Utah’s rugged canyon country with little to no information. The fun part is seeking out exciting new routes via foot, bike, packraft and sometimes even from an airplane! Once we’ve found a new route, the real work begins. To add a new canyon to our roster, we must first submit a written request to the land management agency in charge of the area we hope to visit. This includes submitting a map highlighting our intended route. What if the canyon crosses land managed by multiple agencies? Well, the work load just doubled. We must take the Bureau of Land Management (and/or other land managers) through the canyon to ensure there will be no resource damage. This often includes an archeologist as we occasionally travel past archaeological sites. An Environmental Assessment must also be completed in order to evaluate the human impact on the proposed environment. Finally, the route can be approved! Lucky for other companies in town, once all this work is completed they can simply request that the same route be added to their roster without any extra work on their part.