So you like 'em skinny, eh?
Spend some time in North Wash, and you'll get a plentiful dose of skinny canyons. Some people refer to any canyon who's bottom is less than your arm-span as a slot. What do you call a canyon that is not as wide as your arm?
There are a variety of adventures available in the area. North Wash canyons are cut into very soft Navajo sandstone, and vary from narrow to very narrow; and from friendly to not-friendly at all. Somewhat surprisingly, the nastier slots seem to have smaller drainages, but cut to the same depth - and thus are skinnier. You want to see skinny: take the 10 minute walk to the end of Sandthrax, where a quite substantial drainage exits through a 2" crack. Ominous. There's something for everyone with an emphasis on fun! The canyons themselves and the moves involved in climbing through the bowels of the earth are fun, when you are mentally and physically prepared for the experience. There are fun things to do in a few hours, with or without a rope, and routes that will keep your attention all day. Most routes involve quite a bit of climbing, and many will test your ability to conjure up a zen-like calm - even when you really don't want to.
Skills & Local Ethics
North Wash is one of Utah's more adult canyoneering areas. Self-reliance is the name of the game, which makes this a poor place for beginners to hone their skills. Visit with a North Wash veteran, and work your way into the harder slots. In the last couple of years, two parties have been lucky to escape with their lives when they under-respected the canyons of North Wash.
Please practice a No Bolt Ethic when visiting North Wash. The area yields easily to natural-anchor techniques, though this may mean using deadmen, cairns, carefully-placed chockstones or other advanced techniques. Bring some webbing, and welcome the challenge of playing by natural-anchor rules. ALL the canyons in the area have been descended, so it is possible out a natural-anchor solution as your predecessors did.
Management-wise, most of the North Wash canyons and drainages are within the BLM, managed from the Richfield regional office and a field office in Hanksville. Canyoneering is still slightly new here and there are not strict rules for group size, permits or campsite use…yet. Practice minimal impact skills and respect the canyons to keep this area pristine and wild. There are endangered Mexican Spotted Owls nesting in some canyons, so please be cautious and respect wildlife. Like everywhere in Southern Utah, it's not uncommon to find archaeological or rock art sites; as always, keep you impact minimal when taking in these historical sites.
There's a saying among through-hikers on the Appalacian Trail: "Hike Your Own Hike" - it applies here.
How big are you? I am 5'10" tall, 170-180 lbs, HWP, chest about 42. My descriptions are written from MY point of view. If you are bigger than me, you will have to work harder than me to get through or over stuff. In some places, a LOT harder. There are places where the width of the canyon does not increase going up, therefore, if you don't fit through, you are going back. The route Shenanigans in particular does not allow chimneying over. The canyon is 12" wide for at least 80 feet upward. I sure hope that bit of sand in the bottom does not wash out, 'cause that thing'd be a bear without that sand there forming a floor.
Some people really like this stuff, some people don't. Being small helps. Being fit helps. Being into it helps. Being able to ignore pain helps a lot. Having the appropriate techniques and traveling with the right people helps an awful lot. So be careful, and make your own decisions. If the canyon does not match my description: GET OUT! Keep track of places you can exit the canyon. Other people in your party might be having an entirely different experience. As one might say: "Squeeze Your Own Slot."
Fall, winter and spring are the best times for exploring North Wash. Just too darn hot in the summer. March, April, October and November are usually good times, and sunny days in the winter can be very nice indeed. North Wash sits in the rain shadow of the Henries, and often has the best weather in the area. It is also low in altitude. That said, being caught in a rainstorm in a North Wash canyon would not be very pleasant.
Though there are year-round pools in a few canyons, in general these canyons dry out quickly. One advantage of visiting in chilly weather is the opportunity to wear more clothes that both keep you comfortably warm and provide protection from abrasion.
Sometimes less is more.
A small pack behooves you when squeezing through North Wash slots...
Skinny slots tear up both you AND your gear. Bring as little stuff as possible. What you should bring:
Protective gear: a North Wash essential
You'll want gloves, knee pads, long sleeves, and cruddy clothes that you don't mind tearing up...
HELMET - Bring one. In addition to protecting your noggin, it can also sometimes be used as a "cheater rock" to attain a crucial couple-a inches upward in a tight slot.
CLOTHES - you'll want some of these. I usually grab a bunch of old, cotton clothes from the back of my closet for a weekend in North Wash - and throw away half of it when I get home. It's good to wear long pants and knee pads if you have them, plus a long-sleeve t-shirt and a heavy cotton sweatshirt. This will provide protection to your knees, butt, elbows and shoulders - the parts that take the most abuse. When wearing a wetsuit, it can be wise to throw an old pair of shorts on over the rubber.
SHOES - climbing-type approach shoes or 5.10 Canyoneers work really well here. You'll be doing a lot of pushing, edging and wedging, so your shoes and feet will get beat up. Neoprene socks are good to wear in North Wash. Full swims are unusual, but getting the feet wet is not.
GLOVES - Like your hands? I like mine, so I wear gloves in these slots, to keep my hands from getting chewed to, uh, gerbil food. A simple $5 pair of leather gloves from the Stan's Chevron work just fine.
HARNESS - most of these canyons have only a few rappels. I usually bring my lightest-weight, most-beat-up-already harness for North Wash, and sometimes just use a Swiss Seat. Taking your harness off between rappels works well if you have a belt for a bunny strap.
A MAE WEST BUNNY STRAP is a sling used for hanging your pack below you when chimneying a slot. Smart canyoneers have one figured out in advance, rather than rigging one in the field. I like an over-the-shoulder sling girth-hitched to my pack, and another sling girth-hitched to that. I can clip this with my Spelegyca to hang it 6' down, or clip the first sling to hang it 4' down. When pushing sideways through narrow slots with a smooth floor, I just drop my pack on the ground and let it drag behind me. Use of a bunny strap requires wearing a belt or a climbing harness.
SLINGS - bring a handful of slings, and a couple long pieces for rigging anchors. Two or three twenty foot pieces could end up being real useful.
A PACK - A small one. Bring as little gear as possible, and pack it as compactly as possible. Your pack will also get chewed up, so bring a well-loved (read: worn) pack.
Camping & Services
North Wash has a two-lane highway running through it, and qualifies as the middle of nowhere, with good access. Hanksville is 26 miles to the north, and has a couple of gas stations, a couple of motels, and a few non-gourmet restaurants.
There is a nice primitive (meaning no bathroom, no water, and free) campsite between the mouth of Leprechaun and the mouth of Sandthrax. Please help keep it nice. Don't drive on the vegetation - stay on the established roads. Please camp in places that have already been mooshed by previous campers rather than making new tent site. Bring your own firewood rather than collecting the little brush that is out there.
Don't crap in camp! (Yes, that means you!)
Either take the short drive to the Hog Spring vault toilet, or...well, take the short drive to the Hog Springs vault toilet, or bring your own toilet (or use a bag).
There's a vault toilet down at the Hog Spring picnic area, 5 miles south down the highway. Well worth the short drive.
Water, Store, Phone, Ice, Rescue Services: all available in Hanksville.
North Wash Canyons
Canyon profiles are available for the following areas
WEST FORKS OF BUTLER