In The Secret Knowledge of Water (I think), Craig Childs writes about canyons as enormous, beautiful machines for moving water. The desert’s plumbing system, if you will. Twists and turns and slopes and swirls, all carved, grain by grain, by water making its way downward, in unthinking efficiency. And the remnant of this dynamic fluidity, these rushes and trickles and torrents, are our canyons.
If you’ve never experienced a flowing canyon, it might be difficult to understand how alive a canyon can be, how someone could equate a flowing canyon to a living, breathing animal or being. And you might be GLAD you’ve never been in a flowing canyon, as most people equate flowing canyons with life-threatening flash floods, borne from summer thunderstorms. Every spring, however, as the snow melts from higher elevations and the saturated soils rejects spring rains, the canyons reliably flow, creating a wonderful world of water music, waterfalls, and raised voices, straining over the cacophony of running water.
While spring canyoneering often requires drysuits or wetsuits to fend off frigid waters, the fun it absolutely worth it. There is nothing like enjoying a good dousing while rappelling through a waterfall, or swimming in deep, fresh water between narrow skyward-stretching walls. And with warm sun generally waiting around the corner, it is usually possible to lay back and soak up some rays while enjoying a snack.
Spring conditions also bring fun surprises for guides, as canyons conditions can change dramatically under the influence of water. Log jams disassemble, leaving open hallways where a 15′ drop used to be. Enormous boulders move downstream, creating new obstacles to climb or rappel around. And waterfalls, depending on their size, always give us something to think about: Do we go through the flow? Around? Underneath???
If you’ve been canyoneering during the dry season, but never during spring, think about returning to Zion in April or May sometime to experience a completely different version of canyoneering with a Family Adventure Day, Canyon Adventure Day, or High Adventure Day. And if you can’t make it here during spring, don’t worry: some Zion canyons flow year-round. But the long hikes and burly ascents required to access these canyons make for rather extreme adventure.