Gap: Canyoneering in Bears Ears National Monument

By Norah Adler, Joey Biehl and Liana Eisner. 

The place: Jacob’s chair region of Bear’s Ear’s National Monument. The time: “spooky season.” The people: stoked! 

It was around 8pm when we rolled into Gravel Crossing–a parking lot off of Gravel Canyon. Despite the day darkening, we were all giddy with excitement to start our next adventure. We slept under the stars, finally being able to appreciate the 98th percentile designated dark zone, and woke up the next morning to beautiful blue skies. 

Over the next few days, we hiked with our heavy packs, participating in some “stunt rappels” to prepare for our full day of canyoneering: Urban Cowboy. Typically the driest canyon in the region, our group encountered ample water at the bottom of the slots. Utah received ample rainfall during the monsoon season this year and in the few days before our arrival. While more water means finding water to drink is easier–it also means that the slot canyons can become more adventurous swims.  The first slot canyon we lowered ourselves down into took our breath away.  We got to practice a brief amount of swimming in the icy water that had pooled in the steep walls of the slot. The rappel took longer than usual as we were all still getting used to the process, but the new experience made Traverse excited for the rappel to come! 

During our first layover day at the confluence of Gravel Canyon and Cowboy Canyon, a WILD rainstorm made Traverse pull an all nighter as we huddled in our tents, braving the storm. It was very windy and very rainy, but we all breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing the blue skies the following morning. 

Our next rappel was on Halloween! We woke up to the soothing, melodic tones of Doses and Mimosas by Cherub as Nicholas and the Leaders of the Days–Molly and Emma Mitchell–danced around the slick rock above the confluence of Fry and White Canyon. During breakfast, we put the first aid kit to good use— making our costumes out of medical tape, trauma shears, and the pages of our course reader. As we repelled into Fry Canyon we stuck with our characters–a unicorn neighed all the way down. At the next rappel of the day, we descended next to an Olympic size swimming pool of frigid canyon water. The cavern of water was gorgeous. Many of us participated in some good old-fashioned “type 2 fun”— a polar plunge! We concluded the Halloween festivities with a dance party at “ze hottest club at ze top of Fry Canyon” that could be heard all throughout southern Utah. We danced Salsa, and screamed the lyrics of our favorite songs while a chorus of nearby Coyotes joined in. 

The days seemed to fly by too fast –between environmental studies classes on “Wilderness: For Whom” where we discussed equity in the outdoors industry, a productive community meeting lead without the instructor team, a re-ration day, and countless nights under the shooting stars, we finally arrived at our last rappel. As we sped through the rappel into Notch Canyon, we could feel our skills solidifying- some of us even had fun fooling around at the bottom and swinging around!  At the bottom of the rappel, we had a discussion on the land dispute controversy over Bears Ears National Monument. It was a good old-fashioned day of Outdoor Education full of adventure, laughter, challenge and learning! 

The canyons expedition was filled with many giggles, splashes, free range cows, and growth. We can’t wait to raft the Grand Canyon aka “The Big Ditch!”