What is Canyoneering
Put simply, Canyoneering (sometimes called Canyoning) is the sport
of descending a canyon. A route consists of navigating to the upper end of a canyon, dropping in where possible,
following the canyon to the lower end (or suitable exit point) then
navigating back to civilization. Navigating to and from the
canyon can involve driving (on or off road), hiking and climbing.
The 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 you 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. Even canyons within the Colorado Plateau
vary greatly. Each area will have a unique character that it
very different from canyons not too far away. Canyons in Death
Valley, Red Rock, Zion, North Wash, Cedar Mesa and Capitol Reef all
have very different characters from one another.
Canyons vary in difficulty requiring different skills. On the easy end of the
spectrum, a canyon route will involve hiking well established trails
to and from the canyon and offer an easy hike through the canyon.
On the difficult end of the spectrum, a canyon route will involve
navigating to and from the canyon in remote areas that may or may
not have established routes or trails. This makes map reading
or GPS use mandatory. Passage through a difficult canyon may require tricky scrambling or
sections of free climbing (some of it quite slick), rappelling,
abseiling (ascending a rope), squeezing through tight sections,
swimming long narrow slots of water and techniques for escaping
Canyoneering is a dangerous sport. Extreme temperatures make
hypo and hyperthermia possible dangers on the same route. Extreme heat can exist
in the surrounding areas, while extreme cold can exist in the lower
shaded and water logged sections of the canyon. Technical Canyoneering involves rope work for rappelling and occasional
climbing, which obviously adds the danger of falling. Some of
the potholes are referred to as keepers. These are generally
full of water, too deep to stand in, and sides that are too high and slick to climb out of. Without the
specialized gear, training or teamwork, you could find yourself
trapped in a keeper. If this happens you swim there until help
arrives or you go hypothermic and drown. Another danger is
getting wedged between the walls of a tight section in the canyon.
If this happens you may need to stay there and wait for rescue,
which may be next to impossible if you are in a difficult to reach
area. Flash floods are yet another danger to be aware of.
Keeping a watchful eye on the weather before going in is important
as is knowing when to abort a trip. Some canyons involve
running water with strong currents and water falls which require different
skill set to navigate. Before
getting in over your head in the dangerous sport of canyoneering
seek out experienced canyoneers or take canyoneering courses.
Canyoneering uses specialized gear. Some gear is similar to
climbing like harnesses, helmets and rappelling / abseiling devices.
Some gear is specialized for the sport like canyoneering shoes, wet
suites, ropes, ruggedized back packs, rope bags and modified aide
climbing gear. All this stuff has to be packed in with you so
it is there when you need it. If doing a long technical canyon
you will also need overnight gear adding to the load of what needs to be
Canyoneering can be a rewarding sport to those that get involved.
The scenery is unlike anything you will see elsewhere. Some of
the more technical canyons offer the opportunity to get far from the
reach of civilization. The mental challenges and camaraderie
developed between canyon partners are very
You can find a brief story of how I was introduced to canyoneering