Moab, Utah, surrounded by Arches National Park to the north, Canyonlands National Park to the southwest and the La Sal Mountains to the east, is a hub for desert adventures from rafting to mountain biking and so much more.

For some visitors, the act of squeezing through narrow canyons, rappelling into open pools and clawing through loose dirt and bushes — canyoneering — is one of the most memorable and scenic ways to enjoy the area.

The views in Pool Arch Canyon (also called Rock of the Ages).

The views in Pool Arch Canyon (also called Rock of Ages). Photo: Courtesy of John Lloyd

All you need is a guide (or plenty of gear, knowledge and experience) to spend an epic day scrambling and rappelling through canyons in the backcountry and then cooling off in the isolated pools.

Entering these canyons in eastern Utah is like stepping into a time warp — not more than a 10-minute drive out of town and you’re on a narrow path leading to a huge rappel behind a 90-by 80-foot arch.

With the rope sliding through your rappel device acting as a time machine, you lower into a prehistoric world surrounded by red towering cliffs.

Pool Arch Canyon: Canyoneering

Jason Reese from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides told GrindTV that he’d been down it 50 times. “You can take most of the public here,” he said as we cut left from the entrance trail at Pritchett Canyon and into the slot heading toward Pool Arch (also called “Rock of Ages”).

He also said some people “freak out.”

Moving through a loose gully, he communicated the importance of staying close together: “Don’t give the rock time to pick up speed and hit someone.”

To climb over a 25-foot section, we jammed our hands into cracks, wiggled up a chimney and grabbed a dry, splintery tree to reach Pool Arch.

Pool Arch is near a 100-foot rappel on overhanging rock leading to a v-slot drainage system.

Lower on the descent, we held packs over our heads as we waded through chest-deep murky water. As clouds built overhead, we took note that we were traveling in flood terrain.

More rappels, more sloshing through water and scrambling later, we reached the final 100-plus-foot rappel. It was positioned over the gaping maw of a dry waterfall. This marked the end of the canyon.

Extreme Hiking on Parriott Mesa

Scrambling on Parriott Mesa is a bit like climbing via ferratas in Europe, except that instead of traveling over slick limestone, you’re maneuvering through a 3-D land of slots and chimneys for 350 vertical feet in Castle Valley.

It’s a gradual- to steep-uphill hike leads to a talus field and then the vertical wall. Here, steep hiking and scrambling on slabs and steps, sometimes over “bowls” in the rock, lead to an airy 25-foot traverse.

“If you fall, you’ll die, so stay clipped in,” states one topo regarding the importance of using the fixed ropes and cables attached to the wall.

The crux follows this, a 40-foot chimney in a no-fall zone. This part is protected by ropes (that is unless they’re too tattered for use).

Extreme hiking on Parriott Mesa.

Extreme hiking on Parriott Mesa. Photo: Courtesy of John Lloyd

Eventually the chimneys end and a short scramble later you’re on the 800-foot summit overlooking the 12,000-foot La Sal Mountains (Utah’s second tallest) in the distance.

Also front and center is one of the state’s most famous towers, Castleton, perched on top of a 1,000-foot expansive cone of sandstone.

Parriott Mesa is a BASE jumper’s dream: huge launch spots, plenty of air below you and even a natural diving board to leap from.

For the rest of us, the only way off is reversing our steps.

Guiding is available in this area by Jackson Hole Mountains Guides, Windgate Adventures and many more.

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