Ep 3: Canyoneering, climbing and exploring the hidden adventures of Zion National Park

Canyoneering and Rock Climbing with Zion Rock and Mountain Guides

Note: This is a blog summary of our podcast episode, some of the flow of the podcast has been edited and information has been added to provide context/links and to create a written format of our chat. I hope that you find this to be a helpful resource. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments. Enjoy!

How long has Zion Rock and Mountain Guides been around?

Zion Rock and Mountain Guides has been in business for over 20 years and the people that started it were mountain climbers, more people were coming to Zion for climbing canyoneering and doing hikes in the park and doing the Narrows and they opened the business up to facilitate this to be available to other people. 

What was the inspiration behind starting ZRMGs?

People coming here from different places didn’t always not know the area. They may not know what to do. They need skills, they need equipment and so it was set up to facilitate the ease of travelers and to help them find locations. Each person may have a different preference or different idea of where to go and what to do. This is where they need a guide to have somebody who can help them to locate that area of interest and activity. 

Most people come to us for Canyoneering. 

What is the difference between Canyoneering and Rock Climbing? 

Rock climbing is when you go to the base of the cliff and you climb up and down in one spot. You climb up, then you rappel down and you climb back up again and it requires a fair amount of skill and energy, and strength. 

In canyoneering, you walk to the top of the area of a cliff and we put some rappelling equipment on you and you rappel down to the bottom of the canyon. 

The canyons we take you to are slot canyons. Some of them are 2 to 6 ft. wide others are 10 to 25 feet wide and they’ve been carved in the rock by millions of years of water flow and weather. The amazing thing I love about canyoneering is just you get to see things that you can’t see from the surface. It’s like you’re diving beneath the earth’s surface and coming back out and then doing it again. You’re going into the underworld and walk you out again. Some people feel that they may be claustrophobic, but the canyon is open and clear to the sky. 

The Canyons on both sides of you can be anywhere from 30 feet to 200 feet above you. To walk from one area to the other you may have to do some hiking or scrambling. 

Scrambling is when you may have to get on all fours to climb up the incline and stemming is where you put your feet on one wall in your hands on the other wall and climb up and do the section that way. It’s nature’s version of American Ninja Warrior. 

In fact, one of our guides here four years ago actually won the Ninja Warrior, Issac Caldiero. He comes back here for canyoneering in the summer. It’s his most enjoyable thing that he likes to do, is be here. 

Canyoneering, backcountry, and team building

NASA sends their astronauts to the canyons in the area to teach them how to cooperate, solve problems and work together to get through obstacles. The team building that comes out of the outdoor experiences really can’t be experienced in many other activities. 

What does a typical team-building trip look like?

In our team building trips, we can do anywhere from 2 nights, 2 days – 1 night, and up to 20 days -19 evenings, where we go camping, cook food for everybody. We have campfire discussions each day and will either do different canyoneering trips, hiking trips, mountain climbing, mountain biking, road biking or whatever the suits the needs of the individuals and it gets them away from their humdrum life and helps them to escape for a moment where they can stop and think and share their experience with fellow canyoneers at the time. 

We discuss issues that are important to them and try to put people together and we try to put people together that have similar interests that they can share and grow from. The goal is to get people together, learn and grow, share information and share stories with each other. 

What are some of the things that you have to plan for before going out for a canyoneering trip?

Before any canyoneering trip, we plan carefully for the weather, as far as flash flooding, we watch the weather very closely. We have areas where if there’s any chance of rain or flooding, that we avoid those and go to areas that are safe. 

What is the biggest challenge that keeps someone from trying canyoneering?

The biggest thing that we have is people need to work on overcoming their fears. 

My cousin came through last month and she’s 67 and she went and did a canyoneering trip for the day and she broke out in tears twice and then she came back and broke out in tears again because she was so happy and so amazed at what she was able to do. She was so impressed with herself.

Her daughter runs an NGO for Oprah and says this is where all the kids need to come here. This is the most amazing thing they could do. This is how they can unite, get back together and get away from the stress of the world. 

Overcoming that fear, and the power that you feel, and the confidence that comes with it is a powerful thing.

You may be overlooking a 75-foot drop and you have to trust that your guide has you, you have yourself, and that you’ve done all the things that you control. 

What’s a common misconception that keeps people from trying canyoneering?

It’s a common misconception that it’s only for the most extreme outdoor enthusiasts but it seems that you can take kids along or even somebody in their 60s or 70s can even go out on a trip. 

We took our one family up that grandfather was 75, and he walked up to the first rappel and thought it might be too hard for him. So he was going to walk back down, but when he realized it took more energy to walk back downhill than to canyoneer you, he went ahead and did the rappel and he finished off the rest of the day and said, oh this is easier than walking. 

What are some hidden adventures around Zion National Park?

Climbing Tooele Tower

Tooele tower which is a monolith that goes a thousand feet in the air and overlooks the valley and Zion. You can see it from Springdale,. It’s over at Eagle’s crag. So it’s a part of this point on Eagle’s Crag. It stands up in the air and so is the official name is Toole Tower. 

And looks like a jar of syrup kind of if you look at it from the right angle. But it’s a thousand feet straight in the air and it’s probably like a hundred feet by hundred feet at the base and goes on up to the top. We took a 72-year-old lady on this climb and she climbed that and had no problem. 

It’s one of our climbing trips, there is one little section that’s a little bit difficult and takes a little bit of effort to go through but there are only a few difficult moves and the rest is fairly easy to get up like some stairs going up the mountain. 

How do you put a group together? Is it all private and customized or general groups?

We don’t do random groups. The only groups we do our people that know each other or have a general purpose together.

Is Zion too busy to visit now? How have the crowds impacted the park?

How has that impacted Zion National Park, 4th most visited park in the United States with 4.4 million people visiting in 2019. 

It’s like going to New York City and spending your whole time in Times Square. Zion National Park is larger than New York City and the “buildings” (mountains) are four to five times taller than the ones in New York City. Yeah, so it’s just like you have so much more to explore. 

I believe where you went canyoneering was on the west side of the park in Lamb’s Knoll and 1/3 of that area is in the park and 2/3 or outside the park. 

They don’t direct people there. And so nobody sees it. There’s also just further north, there’s even more amazing places that go hiking and camping. And so there are tons of areas. You can do things all inside Zion, outside of Zion on the east side of Zion. 

Hiking Hidden Zion Slot Canyons

On the northeast side we have Birch Hollow and Williams, you can go and it’s a two-mile hike and then 120 ft rappel and you walk two miles through a narrow slot canyon that’s three or four feet wide and it goes 500 or 600 feet up in the air. 

Yeah, and that’s just one rappel, and the rest of the time you’re going through a really narrow slot canyon, which is gorgeous. And just so fun to explore, even just hiking through. 

Escape the Crowds in Zion

On the northwest of the park there are areas that we can take you to on our hiking tours that are pretty remote and extreme – it takes a little bit of hiking to get into them. And once you get into the canyon you just have to go through the whole thing to get out, but it’s gorgeous and beautiful and so these are gorgeous canyons, beautiful formations and we can adjust these trips to fit any person. 

Why should I go canyoneering with a guide?

You should know a few things, canyoneering is not just a regular hike there’s a lot of dangers involved (not to do a safety talk), but there are things that you should be mindful of when you’re exploring these slot canyons. Flash floods, hypothermia, and many other factors. 

  • Learning how to use ropes and friction devices is the most important thing. Then you also have the device at the top that you tie your ropes onto and when you get down to the bottom of the canyon, you need to disconnect those ropes. 
  • And if you don’t know the special knots and everything else that you have to do, and if you set it up wrong, you can get injured or dead. 

So, as long as you know how to set things up, tie the knots, and they’re secure and it’s also different from doing it yourself and then doing it for other people and to keep them safe. It takes really years of skill and experience to know how to use the ropes, tie these things down and you also have to know where many of these links on the top of the canyon are and have been set there for years. 

Our guides know where they are and every time they go they double-check and make sure they are secure, make sure the stuff hasn’t worn out, it’s safe and if you don’t know that then you don’t know where to go. 

So you need somebody to show you how to find things, how to look for them and how to use them. 

Thinking of getting into canyoneering? Here is where to start:

We have courses that go anywhere from one day course through five-day courses where we teach people the knots. We take them about the different types of canyons and have them rappel and have them lead and give them directions so they can do it safely. 

What are some things to look for in terms of weather? 

Well at different times of the year, we have different conditions. First, we have snow melt. It will be gradual unless it rains the day before and then this no can build up quite rapidly. And also the in the fall of the year, we get extreme rain, it could rain an inch in one hour. It’s called The Monsoon and the winds come through and all that could create these extreme conditions. So we also have to double-check the weather real quick and rapidly, 

But, we have canyons we can take people into no matter what the weather is. It’s safe. We have some Canyons that have a sandy bottom, the water that reflects there and there’s no flooding from the upper area because all of that has changed eons ago. So we can take people there, we’ve taken people on Christmas day and it started snowing in the middle of the canyon and the people were excited because they had been praying for snow. 

How can we lose the crowds in the Narrows of Zion National Park?

Narrows hike in winter

By visiting during the winter seasons and renting drysuits and gear that will keep you dry in the Narrows. One of our favorite experiences was to hike the Narrows but in the winter and it was incredible. There was snow everywhere and you saw these ice sculptures being created on the side of the red rocks and to be able to experience that in the winter was definitely worth “suffering through” the winter conditions, but really it wasn’t that bad. 

I definitely recommend it to anyone that’s looking to beat the crowds or get away to consider an off-season trip to explore Zion in the winter. 

Yes, and the water during those times a year is warmer than the air. Yeah, you’re actually better off staying and in the water than trying to freeze to death in the air. If you just dress warm and wear jackets and don’t go into the area where you can be over your head in water. 

And, in the Narrows going from the bottom up, it is really easy to control where you go and when the water starts to get too deep for you, you just go to one side or the other of the river or just come back down. No matter what, it is gorgeous and beautiful. 

So everyone if you’re thinking about exploring Zion, if you want to use a trip or not use a guide whether you want to rent your own gear, you can just stop in and get expert advice before you just jump in. 

Learn an extra few things and then you might even find yourself wanting to explore some of those things outside the park that Larry mentioned earlier.  There’s so much to explore at Zion, it’s probably only going to get busier and busier. 

Recreating Responsibly in Zion

Question:  What are some of the things that we can do to recreate responsibly Larry, as the crowds grow? What are some things that users need to keep in mind while recreating in the area to maintain what we have and not love Zion to death? 

Well, whatever you bring in, you need to bring out. So, be aware of what you are bringing in with you and have the ability to bring it back up. The advantage of having something like a camelback to carry water compared to a plastic bottle, with the camel black when it’s empty, it’s flat and especially in the backpacks. 

With plastic bottles, it’s really easy to think, I can just throw this away and the amount of trash that can build up just makes it difficult for the others to enjoy the beauty 

You don’t want to start carving your own name in rocks. It’s just distracting the beauty and this is kind of a problem we’ve had recently, is that the rangers have been limited because of covid so there are some areas of the park and the upper Narrows where people have been leaving graffiti there which can be cleaned but it just takes a lot of work. 

That’s a great call out because on the rock, it is tempting to leave your own pictograph, but we don’t need those anymore. 

Yeah, real we have Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, we can live our links there. 

Larry is one of the most interesting people I have ever met in my life, and I wanted to learn more about him and some of his techniques, thoughts on life. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

Can you tell us about your secret to speed reading? What’s your process for taking in lots of information and also being able to retain it?

Well, the thing is that we were all born with the ability to read over 4,000 words a minute. We’re all born with a photographic memory. Just like The Wizard, of Oz Dorothy, the wizard sent Dorothy home, scarecrow brains. Like I encouraged him to have a heart. Afterward, they were told that my dear you had this all along. 

And The Wizard of Oz was actually written by a man, Frank Baum, who marched on Washington in 1893 with 10,000 other people protesting the gold standard because the gold standard was destroying the economy. 

Maybe today they think that gold is the only true value. But, yet I had a friend of mine who wished that everything he touched turned to Gold. So one night the gold fairy rained him with her wand, he got up in the morning and grabbed a cup of coffee, it turned into solid gold. 

Then he grabbed a bagel that turned into solid gold, and then his daughter ran and went to hug him and she turned into a golden statue. Needless to say, he died three days later hungry, thirsty and lonely. So the only thing that’s valuable in life, everything that we have

On social media platforms, we’re getting a lot of fake news. And how do we decide what’s fake news? And what is it? Well if you can figure out how to read four thousand words a minute. 

What are some practical steps that can get us there? What are some apps, some technology that you use that you can share with us to get us even 10 percent of the way there. 

Oh, you’ll get a hundred percent. One app that I like is, it’s called Speeder CX, and it’s like $30 to 45 dollars and you can put it on five computers with five different email addresses. There are four books in the app it’ll flash one word to 10 words per line. And then one line to ten lines down at whatever rate you want and within a month, you may start at two or three hundred words a minute at the end of the month, you’ll be two or three thousand. The faster you read, the more you remember interesting you which is so counterintuitive, right? Yes, we’ve been lying to is called sandbagging. 

So if you’re going to if you’re going to go on a hike again people and they put a 50 pound bag of sand in the back packs of two of the people, 30-pound back in another one and one person has no sand in their backpack just a water food, which one’s going to get to the height easiest. 

So in life, we’re obviously highly competitive. We’re trying to be better than other people and there’s three ways to do this. One when you can put people down. The other one, you can pick yourself up. The third way is to become better than other people is to lift them up. 

And as humans were in all three states at one time. So, whatever energy you put into putting people down or gossip, and the Greek word for gossip is Diablos. Where we get our word for devil, it means to gossip and then we can do the human state like Tony Robbins beat yourselves up by your bootstraps, and then we can go into the god or goddess date, which is lifting other people up. And as humans, were never going to eliminate any one of these states. 

But it is what percent of your energy you spend in each. So, if we gave everybody a photographic memory and taught him how to read four thousand words a minute. We wouldn’t have student debt any longer. . 

So the more information you get it is easier to discern if something is fake or not.

Check out Larry’s book, The Human Condition.

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