The manifold and subtle canyons of the Roost are one essential Colorado Plateau experience. The super tight slots are another. Knowing we were two days into a two week trip, and not in what one would call canyon shape, we headed south from Hanksville to North Wash, and Shenanigans.


The story of how the canyon got its name is worth reading.  North Wash has good, free camping close to a paved road, and a number of scenic, easily digestable slot canyons.  Rolling in at dusk on a Saturday in October I expected a crowd, but was taken aback by the two dozen cars.  We were full of burger and fatigue, and luckily neither of us have trouble falling asleep near noisy people.  We had a warm-up canyon on the menu for tomorrow.


The main fork of Leprachaun was intended to get the wheels turning and promote a smooth run through the longer Shenanigans. Instead, the physical beatdown had us rethinking our plans. M in particular, as she recalled not having been through it before, and suffered more bruising due to her bonier frame. I had my own concerns. I’d hiked Shenanigans at least twice before, probably thrice, and my first trip down had been solo. As the aforementioned story details, the crux of Shenanigans is an uncompromisingly narrow slot right at the end. You can’t turn your head once in it. I recall cruising through on previous trips, but years of backpacking had thickened my shoulders and chest, and years of office work and the sltoh it promotes had thickened my gut. I was damn close to the 180 pound limit for transit of the slot at ground level.

We walked back to camp, dried gear, ate, and took a dayhike to a swimming hole (which the recent floods had filled with sand and murky, organic soup water). Eventually, we decided to go for it. I sold M on the scenic value of the canyon, and we both felt that the opportunity of our visit should not be squandered.



We were not disappointed. In addition to the usual profusion of narrows, squeezes, and downclimbs, Shenanigans has several sections which hold your memory of it apart from other slots. Two are pictured above (M photos, both). The first is a deep, dark slot slanted right at around 25 degrees. It’s a good 12-16 inches wide, if not more, and the hard part is thus not fitting through but in the shoulder walking necessary to make progress while dragging a pack. Some tiems the floor is flat and sandy, more often it is bare rock and pinches to nothing, squishing feet as they grope blindly for purchase. On my solo descent, I recall the overhanging side being covered with spiders that ran away from the force of my exhalations as I crept along.

The second section is the grim crawl of death. Arriving, you downclimb a 20 foot, sinuous chute to a dark ledge, only to find that after a brief pause the floor vanishes into shadow, the floor barely visible 30 feet below. An awkward, and easy but intimidating crawl leads to the boulder picutred beyond me and a rappel to the ground. Another move where falling is not likely, but exposure has you contemplating all eventualities.

In between these section are some of the most radically fluted and twisted narrows I’ve ever seen, complete with a natural bridge to crawl through. How violent water must be to carve such things makes your hair stand up a bit no matter how good the forecast.

We don’t have pictues of the final slot. I made it through, but with at times disconcertingly little room to spare. Never before have I had to tilt my chest up, down and diagonally to fit through just that right spot. Focus and fear precluded stopping to get the camera out. It is the longest 150 yards I’ve ever walked (shuffled).

At the end the bottom drops out and a short rap leads to a tense disconnect on a greasy foothold right above a murky pool. The rest of the canyon is pretty dry (we had one armpit deep wade, and were glad to not be overheating in wetsuits), and thus a delicate traverse on slime ledges is required to keep dry. We both just made it.


At this point M decided that she had done this hike before, with the slime traverse of all the unique features jogging her memory.

There is an unmatched feeling, after having exited the narrow slots, of returning out of the dragon or leviathan to the land of the living. Not only does little live in these canyons, the menace of flash floods and the cloistered geometry lends them an inhuman intrigue even alpine winter cannot approach.

For that reason we felt light and free as we completed the bushwacking down the stream post-rappel, and then the nasty, fourth-class gully exit. A quick fifteen minutes of walking through the sage plains and we were back at the car.

Another essential, ineffable experience in the bag.

2 responses to “Shenanigans”

  1. Rad trips Dave. I miss Utah. I get out there once a year for a few weeks but have yet to do any canyoneering.

  2. […] and be able to read and run with only a few pronounced nervous moments, just like it is disturbing to return to a slot and barely be able to fit through.  The world doesn’t tell us anything other than about […]

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