For experienced canyoneers, the Black Hole is one of Utah’s best hikes. It is a slot canyon, with long swimming stretches, located east of Hite, UT. About 20 years ago, two friends, two teenagers, and I hiked and swam down White Canyon through the Black Hole.
I few days before our adventure there had been a flash flood down the canyon, stranding several hikers for a time, and leaving lots of water for us to navigate. If my memory serves me right, we took life preservers with us. It was a fun hike; the group had a good time. The most difficult part for me was our exit route which involved some mild stretches of exposure to heights.
Last year while returning to Provo from Blanding, I took Highway 95 (the Centennial Highway) which parallels White Canyon for quite a distance. It had been raining off and on and there was a flash flood roaring down the canyon. It was a very impressive sight. It was a good time not to be in the Black Hole.
Jeremy Miller, writing about his hike through the Black Hole with the notorious trekker Michael Kelsey, explains (HCN, 11 Oct 2010, p.10):
“Do not attempt the Black Hole descent,” reads a sign posted behind bullet-riddled plexiglas. The warning, erected by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management andd the San Juan County sheriff’s office, displays photos of a gothic canyon choked with mud, tree limbs, and logs.”
Six year ago, a flash flood filled the canyon’s narrowest sections with debris and made safe passage impossible. The warning was posted to discourage people from entering one of the most beautiful–and potentially treacherous–of Utah’s slot canyons. But Kelsey, who is credited with naming the Black Hole back in the 1980s, has inside information. He explains that a more recent flash flood, in 2006, cleared the debris from the gorge.
It’s clear that Kelsey feels he has a job to do here, a bit of truth-telling on behalf of the hiking public.
Areas like the Black Hole need to be open to the public, as long as the hikers understand the risks. Obviously, experience in easier slot canyons is important before tackling the more difficult ones like the Black Hole (and the Upper and Lower Black Box in Emery County). And alway get the latest information on weather and canyon conditions before entering.
For those who haven’t driven the Centennial Highway, it is a beautiful stretch of highway. But that is for another blog entry.