WHAT to expect in a Slot Canyon?
Before I answer that question specifically, first I have to get this out of the way in order to set the appropriate context to answer that question.
1) Why are YOU wanting to do this? (IE Challenge, beauty, fun, long days, exercise?)
2) WHO are you going with? (IE your friends, family, co-workers, a Meetup.com group?)
3) WHEN are you going? (IE the time of year: spring, summer, fall, winter)
If YOU are doing this because of a number reasons, then I imagine you doing this for a while. If you are doing this because your friends or significant other "made" you, then you may not last too long. But if you keep an open mind and willing to be adaptable, then that can go towards a LONG way for canyoneering and will later contribute to a healthy and long-lasting passion for the sport.
If you are doing this because you are being "forced" to, I ask you to please be on your best behavior for the enjoyment of your group (although you may be cold and tired). And please refrain from leaving trash or vandalizing rocks out of spite.
WHO you are going with also makes a big difference in your expectations. If I am taking older folks down a canyon, then I can expect to be more hands-on, taking more time, and may not be more engaged in risky behavior (like jumping).
If I am going with my group of canyoneering friends, then I can expect us to have a later start (since no-one wants to get up early), but at the same time I can expect them to be self-sufficient in the canyons and at rappels. I won't need to be more involved as I can be a little more relaxed. And I can also expect my friends to be quite fast in the canyon and more willing be more adventurous. (IE jump from a edge into water).
Finally, WHEN you are going makes maybe the biggest difference in canyon conditions. In the spring time, typically you can expect more water to the be the canyon due to snow melt-off. In the summer, you can expect it to be drier and therefore less gear will be needed, like dry-suits. And in the fall and winter, you can expect less green and shrubbery and much shorter days (daylight) and therefore need to carry headlamps and flashlights. But, you will also need to carry thick wetsuits or dry-suits due to how cold that water will be! It all depends.
That leads us to our next logical question, what does a "technical slot canyon" look like? Do they all look the same - as in once you see a slot canyon, you've seen them all? No! Not in the slightest. And the quick answer to that is - it depends! And, in addition to "it depends", the group dynamics you are going with also makes a difference in what expectations may present themselves.
My first canyon was the Subway found in Zion National Park of Utah and I instantly fell in love. If you did a canyon that was completely over your head or was a lot of work for such a small technical canyon, you may have an opposite opinion than my original one.
So take a grain of salt and know that EVERY canyon is unique. Most canyons found on the Colorado Plateau are not flowing with water. The ones that do hold water can range from just recently rained to months old stagnant water! Sometimes a canyon that may have been awesome, because of the water levels found within that trip, will now be entirely different on your next trip. Canyons do change!
In addition, those same obstacles (conditions) in that canyon will either be of 3 things: the same, easier or harder.
You may be swimming in "clean" water OR really nasty, rotten-egg sulfur-like water! There could be a dead cow or deer lodged in that canyon that you have to literally climb over (or through)! Or those potholes that you were once swimming through are now completely covered over in sand. Most of the time, based off what I have seen through the various online canyoneering communities, is that you most likely will have blue skies and have a perfect canyoneering experience. That being said, you should always plan for just that! Go on blue skies days. Don't go when rain is forecasted for that canyon.
People sometimes have no specific canyoneering plan, who rushed things and their plans, or was stubborn/foolish and decided on a canyon in inclement weather. Now, that predicament you put yourself in could literally transform that adventure into a surviving-for-your-life event!
If you are getting worked up just thinking about those terrible situations - just remember that you CAN (and should) do these canyons with appropriate, well thought-out planning.
Remember - The canyon will always be there; you will not!
Again for emphasis, you should always plan your trip on blue-bird days. Everyone in your group should know how to rappel, know how to tie the essential knots, and be self-sufficient. Just because one person is "fine" half-way through the trip, doesn't mean that everyone else is. It's a team sport after all. You can't finish until every one else does too.
All of those weather related scenarios aside, you should expect a unique trip! That's what makes repeat trips possible. Even multiple trips through the same canyon will yield different results. What once took you 2 hours now only takes you 45 minutes. Or what once took me 9 hours for the Subway when I was 19, now takes me 6 hours. At most rappels I come to now, I look for safe opportunities to down-climb due to my skills and confidence increasing.
Every canyon trip I now go on, I have this frame of mind - "it all depends". That's the bottom line. I have done the Subway over 30 times in the past 20 years and each trip is different and it IS still fun! Crazy as that may seem, yes, it still is a LOT of fun for me.
I look for new things that I haven't seen before or I let the beginners "guide" the trip. I let them figure out the canyon, to be the first to round the corner to see the waterfalls or cascades or the potholes, or try to let them "experience" it without me narrating the canyon.
I try not to be egocentric and think that I always have to be in guide-mode and give them the ranger-guided experience, but rather, to "be still" and let them explore it and feel it without me getting too much in the way. I would suggest to others that they do the same.
And when I am still, I can hear and see more but more importantly, be in the moment. Serenity Now!! (Seinfeld quote)
Once the canyon is all said and done and everyone is back at their normal jobs in the following days, it's a great feeling to reflect back a moment and think just how lucky I was for visiting such a unique place.
Weeks or months later at a friends house or at a party, we tend to reminiscence together about the canyon trip and say "remember that one time Ian did this" or "do you guys remember that 300-foot waterfall!". "Do you guys remember how windy and how much it sucked to camp on that one spot"? This is all being said where everyone is laughing and remembering the comradery and good times we all had together that on that trip. And while material things don't last forever, these "canyon memories" do!
To whet your Canyoneering appetite, below are some pics of what to expect in some slot canyons: