A Swim through Black Hole Canyon

Words | Emma Renly
Photos | Noah Ferriera
Issue II, July 2018

A story of how Type II fun turned into Type III fun in a never-ending desert canyon.

The day started out like any other. Our group of six (four humans + two dogs) met ealy in the morning to begin our long drive down to Hanksville. Got ourselves burritots. Got ourselves gas. Got on the road and on our way.

Our choice of adventure was the Black Hole Canyon, a deep crevasse in the Earth’s surface where the only way out is to keep going forward. Our collective knowledge of the area was slim, but canyoneering couldn’t be more difficult than climbing, right? Ha.

The hike into the canyon started out simple. Loose dirt floors expanded into rocks of different colors, shapes, and textures. The walls of sandstone were smoothed out by hundreds (thousands?) years of flash flooding, leaving behind a silty canyon in its place. I was stoked on the geology and at every rock, I’d exclaim, "These rocks look so cool!"

Not too far along, we found the first of many puddles to wade through. They were not quite deep enough to put on wetsuits, but nice to cool off from the relentless sun.

We soon came upon the first water hole with an endless horizon line. It stopped us in our tracks. For ten minutes, our conversation went something along the lines of:

“Do you think we need wetsuits?”

“It’s kinda cold!”

“Can you touch the bottom?”

“There goes Chance the dog.”

As we crossed to the other side, a new question arose amongst the group. Do we take our wetsuits off? In this heated internal debate between comfort and practicality, practicality won. The next handful of pools were above head-high, keeping the wetsuits on proved to be a wise decision - probably one of the only smart decisions we made that day.

A duo from Michigan that passed us along the way commented on the wetsuits.

"Wow you guys are crazy!"
"For what?"
"Wearing wetsuits in this heat!"

We all looked at each other and shrugged. Accustomed to 100+ degree days of heat, the icy water was a stark contrast. 

After a mellow combination of walking, swimming and taking way-too-many pictures, we came upon what we believed to be the crux of the canyon. A short fifteen-foot drop into a black hole of doom. Unlike previous mandatory drops, this one was significantly higher. The pool at the bottom looked shallow, so we couldn't just jump in or downclimb.

Anna set up a simple hand-line we used to rappel down the drop. Was it sketchy? Yeah duh Anna set it up. Did we all survive? Yes.

We hesitantly entered the water. It was freezing from a lack of sun exposure, but that wasn't the worst part. The water was completely jammed packed with rather creepy logs that floated up and down as we passed. It was a "Watch out for the log that I just pushed down because now it might hit you!" Kind of vibe.

We could have completely bypassed the log-jammed water section. But at this point in the canyon, we were stoked we made it through the totally avoidable 'crux.'

We ate some lunch and took our wetsuits off, thinking we had completed the last of the canyon’s water wading. Nope. When we resumed our treck, we were greeted with more sketchy downclimbs, narrow canyons and endless cold water.

The dogs had it rough...

The next portion of the canyon - the entire portion - was  the crux. There were multiple non-avoidable 'black holes' that we had to downclimb into. Managing the dogs added a hefty amount of valuable time and energy that we no longer had. Plus, we stupidly brought only one drybag that was extremely heavy and difficult to move around.

We were tired.

It was hot out.

We didn't want to wear wetsuits.

We didn't want to swim anymore.

The canyon walls kept us moving forward - the only possible way to exit was to keep going.

We finally finally reached a wall that looked open enough to scramble up, not knowing if it was truly the exit. At this point we had run out of water, one dog was in my backpack and we were slowly entering type III fun territory. 

Prehaps it was the lack of water, but it felt like we were scrambling up for hours. Was the road anywhere near us? Were we even going in the right direction?

At one point, Anna left us the hevy yellow drybag and forged ahead to hitch-hike back to the car before the sunset. From a distance, we saw Anna getting picked up by a silver Subaru. This was prehaps one of the most joyous occasions of my life.

We had been walking up and down this canyon for twelve hours.

All I wanted to do was sit down and gulp water.

After over twelve hours of slightly hell-ish scrambling, swimming, downclimbing and squeezing ourselves through rocks, we made it back.

Would I ever do it again?


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