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cnayoneering Utah's North Wash

Canyoneering: “Most people have no idea.”

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UTAH: Spending a day sliding, climbing and squeezing though a slot canyon no wider than an arm’s length might not sound like fun to some people, but to others it’s what fun is all about.

Canyoneers descending into a canyon in the North Wash.
Canyoneering: “Most people have no idea what I’m talking about,” said canyoneer Mark Oppegard.

Words by Brandon Mathis, Photos by Terrance Siemon

In an area known as the North Wash in the upper corner of southeast Utah, slot canyons slice across the landscape, cut by eons of erosion and rushing waters which then get topped off by wind and sand.

They call themselves canyoneers: part climber, part problem solver, all adventurer.

In canyoneering, anything goes, and does. North Wash, Utah.

“Most people have no idea what I’m talking about,” said canyoneering enthusiast Mark Oppegard, who has been exploring the North Wash and other slot canyons for 20 years. “I don’t think they have any idea what goes into it and all the different things you’re going to run into.”

Those things typically include hiking, swimming, down climbing, rappelling, experience with ropes and climbing gear, ice cold water, bizarre sandstone environments and impasses that will stop you in your tracks.

Utah canyoneering
“I don’t think people know what goes in to it,” said canyoneer Mark Oppegard.

Oppegard, an IT manager from Denver, said that sometimes the canyoneering information you have to go on is vague at best.

“The beta is typically the length of the rope, or it might be wet or it might not be wet, and then you’re just in it,” he said. “You know someone else has gone through there, but there’s no guarantee you’re going to make it, but probably, right?”

North Wash, Utah
Into the abyss.

With names like Monkey Business and Sandthrax, no matter what, you get the idea it’s going to be interesting.

“It’s a great playground for an adult,” Oppergard said. “Sometimes it’s wet, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s hot.  Sometimes it’s long, sometimes it’s short.”

“Your experience may vary, but it’s all just great fun.”

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