What is Canyoneering

Put simply, Canyoneering (sometimes called Canyoning) is the sport of descending a canyon.  Obviously this basic answer does not convey enough about the sport.  Canyoneering routes range from a simple walk through canyon to long route facing many difficult technical challenges.

Each time I am asked "what is canyoneering", I try to find an answer that will give people a good idea of what canyoneering is and what is involved in descending a canyon.  I have found each person connects with a different answer to the question.  Sometimes when I think I got the concept properly conveyed, I later find the other person still isn’t clear on what is involved.

After explaining canyoneering I often hear the person say; oh so its like climbing?  Canyoneering can be technical and involve ropes, but it is VERY different from climbing.  Climbing is the closest thing a lot of people can think of; and that's all it will be to them until they get out there and try it.

The real answer is just as it is with many things........... "it depends".  Different areas are geologically different forming very different types of canyons.  The canyons within a specific area can differ greatly as well (even if they are right next to each other).

Canyons may be technically easy or difficult, skinny or wide, have big rappels or no rappels at all, have many downclimbs or be an easy walk through, involve high stemming or pothole escapes, and many other differences.  The answer you get about what canyoneering is can greatly depend on who you ask, what area(s) they are familiar with and the specific canyons they have visited.

With so many possible different answers, I can only give try to convey what canyoneering is to me based on the areas and canyons I am familiar with.  If you ask someone who canyons overseas, or in areas of the US I am not familiar with, you may get a very different answer.

While canyoneering can be non-technical, that is not what is generally meant by the term.  In most cases people talk of canyoneering routes that are technical and involve getting past some obstacles along the way.  Those obstacles may be simple downclimbs, rappelling (sometimes in or next to waterfalls), stemming, escaping potholes, climbing, swimming and many other obstacles.

Another aspect of a canyoneering route is getting to the location.  To get to the desired canyon you may need to hike a short distance or lug your gear many miles on steep difficult terrain.  At times you will also need some good navigation skills using maps, compass or GPS to find your way to a place with no signs, roads or trails leading there.

Canyons are generally carved from thousands of years of water erosion and vary greatly in geologic make up depending on what part of the country or world they are in.  They vary in width, depth, rock composition, vegetation and amount of water.  One of the more popular areas to canyoneer in the US is the Colorado Plateau and is popular for the beautifully carved sandstone canyons.  Each area will have a unique character that is very different from canyons not too far away.  Canyons in Death Valley, Red Rock, Zion, North Wash, Ticaboo Mesa (one of my favorite places) and Capitol Reef all have very different characters from one another.  If you have descended multiple canyons in only one or two areas, you may have a good feel for what canyoneering is for that area but your overall view of canyoneering is limited.

Deanpaul created a file to help describe what canyoneering is to the new people he introduces to the sport.  Part of that file was a collection of pictures showing some of the things that can be expected in the sport of canyoneering.  With his permission I used his idea as a framework and collaborated with him to create the following pictorial layout.  The intent is to give a quick mental picture of what you may encounter in the sport of canyoneering in the areas I am familiar with.

Enjoy the images and brief explanations below that are an attempt to introducing you to what canyoneering is.  Pictures with a few words can convey more meaning than trying to explain it. 

To truly understand what canyoneering is - get out there, have fun and find your own meaning through your canyon experiences! 

With Time and experience, you may find that your own answer of what canyoneering is will change over time!


Picture section for this page is under construction..............................

Picture section for this page is under construction..............................

Picture section for this page is under construction..............................

Picture section for this page is under construction..............................




Canyoneering can be a dangerous sport - even more dangerous if you don't know what you are doing.  Before getting in over your head in the sport of canyoneering take the time to seek out someone who can show you the ropes (pun intended).  If you know someone who is experienced see if they will take you on routes with them and learn from them.  Another option is to take a canyoneering course.

Helpful hint for new people going with friends or acquaintances. 
If you want to be invited back to play again, be willing and eager to help and learn.  Ask questions, offer to try some of the things you are learning be willing to help in little ways.  By doing these things you will learn more, connect better with those around you, be more prepared for your next outing and above all you will begin making friends faster than you ever though possible.  It is amazing how quickly this sport can kindle friendships!  One day you may be the teacher.

You can find a brief story of how I was introduced to canyoneering here.