For months, a funny, brilliant group of ladies here have been planning a spring backpacking trip. Utah was always the destination as it offers a wide variety of hiking and camping when Colorado is still too cold (and/or muddy). We had previously planned on backpacking the Fish & Owl Canyon area, but an ominous weather forecast for the mid-April weekend and “impassable when wet” warnings steered us away. We settled on some good old-fashioned car camping in the San Rafael Swell area and our big trek to be the Ding and Dang Canyon loop hike.
The San Rafael Swell is amazing to explore and there are endless places to hike in the giant 2,000 square miles of public land. It’s about three hours west of Rifle, Colorado and south of I-70 with little services. We stayed on public land a little ways away from Goblin Valley State Park, which has established campsites, yurts, and facilities.
It was windy. And we set up camp in a totally exposed area. Beautiful, but exposed. And chilly. Did I mention the rain? That, too. Put it all together and what do you have? 8 ladies in a 3-person tent drinking wine. But I digress. Our main goal for the weekend was to have some slot canyon adventures! Slot canyons are seriously impressive and breathtaking. Such unique formations that require a good bit of dexterity to traverse. It’s super important to keep an eye on the weather when heading out since slot canyons are not the place to be when a flash food occurs. Luckily, the weather had cleared up for our Saturday Ding and Dang Canyon loop hike.
Truly, we could describe our journey through these canyons like Odysseus finding his way back home over the course of 10 years. So many triumphs followed immediately by more obstacles. One step forward, two steps back. In retrospect, our antics really could have been made into a great chick flick starring all the ladies from “Bridesmaids.”
Ding and Dang Canyon loop hike is about 6 miles long. “A comfortable, not too long hike” we all said. Little did we know that we would be in these canyons for 7+ hours. Our route started by going through Ding and then coming out Dang. This was highly entertaining to say the entire time. Unless you have some gear and are experienced at climbing/canyoneering, don’t do the hike in the reverse order. Thinking back, we really could not have turned around and gone back through Ding once we were in Dang.
Scrambling is such fun! Have you scrambled? There’s something quite carnal and slightly clumsy about hurling your body like a beached whale up and down rocks.
Ding was enjoyable. Nothing overly challenging, just lots of scrambling and contorting of bodies into interesting spaces. The most exciting part of Ding was the anchored rope and small drop we had to climb down. Intimidating since you couldn’t see where your feet were supposed to go, but really quite easy. Just the right amount of thrill. Unlike later parts of the hike…
We all got very comfortable with the art form known as “chimneying” or “stemming” while precariously hovering over water of unknown depth. Ah yes, the water. It’s been a moist spring and therefore, there was a great deal of water in Dang. Toward the end of Ding we did have to strip to our skivvies to go through waist deep water. We were so silly and cheerful then.
We were feeling great as we got to the turnoff to head into Dang Canyon having conquered Ding with gusto. We were getting tired and looking forward to finishing the hike strong with only about a mile and half to go. Dang was challenging. Deep water and quite a few narrow drops that required teamwork, yells of support, and a lot of stemming.
Unfortunately, so close to the end, we got caught behind a Boy Scout Troop that was very unprepared and the boys were looking a bit freaked out (which in turn, freaked some of us out). They were using rope to climb down a drop and made us wait about an hour until we could then move ahead to our blind drop into a water hole. Mind you, we had already dunked ourselves in a few water features and had stripped / re-clothed multiple times. What to do when the water’s murky and you can’t see how deep it is?
Get naked. Of course. We had to stay warm, somehow! Getting as little of our clothing wet as possible definitely kept us sane and warm since we didn’t know how much longer our hike would be. Who cares if there’s a Boy Scout troop of teenage boys right ahead of us? We’ll be dry and warm! Unfortunately, I flopped pretty hard at this point and went head under in ~45 degree water. I was feeling an exhilarating mix of anger, fear, anger, and WHERE AM I WHAT IS HAPPENING?!
Really, the most challenging part of the journey was the anticipation. Anticipating when we would get to a large, blind drop. Anticipating how cold the neck deep water would be. Anticipating what would happen next.
Yet, as cold and wet as I was, I noticed how much we were all laughing and joking. We pushed forward together and having that support system with you was what made this trip. We stripped down together, used critical thinking, and carried each other through the canyons in a rather entertaining fashion. Ladies, you’re awesome.
I would love to do this hike again…when it’s dry. A great challenge, both mentally and physically, and a good introduction to canyoneering to those who have never tried it.
The only question I’m left with after our grand adventure is…
When’s our next trip?
How to prep for a springtime slot canyon adventure
- Know where you’re going, what the terrain is actually like (talk to the local ranger station). Ask for advice, do your research. Don’t let your trip turn into 127 Hours.
- Layers. I was cold for the majority of this hike as it was around 55 degrees out, but when you’re deep in a slot canyon, it’s chilly. Rain jackets are great for wind! Remember: COTTON KILLS.
- Good, flexible hiking boots (not too stiff as that might hinder your ninja scrambling moves.)
- Water. Water. Water. All the water.
- Salami & a wedge of parmesan cheese. I’m pretty sure this is how we all survived this.
- Rope. You never know when it might come in handy, especially for lowering gear through tricky spots.
- Dry bags. Bring a couple. This is how my DSLR survived the trip.
This definitely accounted for hikes #17, 18, 19 of the 52 Hike Challenge. And then some. Oof.