One does not simply “go canyoneering”.. or do they..
..So how do I get into canyoneering?
Entering a new sport is difficult. Entering a new sport where the basis of information sharing is typically by word of mouth is even more difficult. Entering a new sport where the necessary skills are typically acquired while engaging in said sport makes this seem rather impossible.
So, you ask, CAN it be done? Where IS it done? WHO should I hang out with? WHAT information should I know to start out? Let’s break it down..
1. Skills. There’s something to be said for having a base knowledge to help ensure you are not a liability.
2. Community. Where you meet people can decide many factors of your overall canyoneering experience.
3. Resources. Learning through experience is great. Yet sometimes opportunities don’t present themselves, so how can you stay freaky fresh?
4. Ethics. There exist some basic principles to help you help yourself.
In rock climbing, you can take a course at a local gym. It can be quite evident the need to continue to practice in the gym prior to applying your newly acquired knots and techniques outside.. and why not happen to be around a wealth of knowledge every time you practice? Canyoneering does not have this luxury. And there are approximately 395792 ways to do a canyon task, so observing other groups is not the best use of your mental storage. Please be responsible for yourself. Please stay humble. And please ask questions.
Courses: As it’s difficult to find canyoneering gear reviews, updated canyon beta, and resources to all aspects of safety (do you know what how bolts work, for instance?), this is easily the best bang for your buck. For your highest likelihood of success, consider having the below: .
- A plan. Where are you going to apply the skills? Find a canyon you’d love to be able to descend safely. Learning skills for learnings sake eliminates the mental exercise of imagining the use of the skills in an actual canyon environment. .
- Outdoor skills. Understanding Leave No Trace practices and environmental ethics in the area you’re looking to go canyoneering.
- Outdoor limits. Along with the above, putting yourself into an environment of so many unknowns can make you a liability. How long can you handle heat? Cold water? Technical rope skills? Carrying heavy stuff? Perfect practice makes perfect. So know before you go.
- Friends. Or foes. Persons with whom you are conformable adventuring responsibly together. Some basic aspects of a great team include humility, logic, risk management, endurance, and social grace. Social grace? Huh? Trust me. It matters. Especially when the goin’ gets tough.
There are many companies in canyoneering hotspots that also offer courses. I’m partial given my connections, but I also like to think I have empirical reasons beyond personal connections. Companies change, staff learn and leave, and it’s all conditions dependent. If you’re in the Zion National Park area, I’d recommend Zion Adventure Company, around Moab, Cliffs and Canyons. Typically a googley search will help you out with the rest.
Meet les peoples! Facebooks, instabrag, festi-fools, for-ums, oh my! Let’s see if I can provide the beta as concise as possible:
Facebook groups that exist:
- Canyoneering Chicks,
- Canyoneering Utah (gear forums, reviews, trip reports, etc.),
- Utah Canyoneers (for beta, conditions, rendezvous, trips reports, etc.), .
- ACA (American Canyoneering Association)
- Canyon Collective, a very tight-knit and discerning group of folks and their opinions on everything you could possible conceive imaginable that relates either directly or indirectly to canyoneering. It’s a forum. You’ve been warned ;)
- North Wash rendezvous, complete with learning new skills.
- Zion Canyon rendezvous, it’s quite a production
- Ouray Canyon Festival, if you’re looking to get your feet wet. Literally.
- Dark Horse Leadership: they help put on the NW and Zion rendezvous.
- All others can be found by combing through the Facebook groups and forums on a weekly basis.
Other Social Media:
In an effort not to rant.. There are Instagram meet ups that exist for canyoneers big and small. Sometimes it’s for the photos. Or the likes. Or to learn. As stated earlier, consider your options, needs, desires, and helpfulness in sharing your experiences in this way.
*Groups change, recommendations are fluid, and it might take a minute and a half to get a feel for where you fit. Expect some growing pains, but we’ve all been there, so find those who understand that concept as well. Oh, and have a blast. There’s more to life than drama, and canyoneering is one of the more special not-sports that exists.
In order to enhance and keep up with your knowledge and skills base, there are some forum threads and websites that lay out some wonderful techniques and reasons that may help.
- Gear and Tech Tips discussion on Canyon Collective.
- Canyoneering USA. I cannot emphasize this site enough. Tom has put in half a lifetime of knowledge into easily digestible articles, reports, rants, images, and videos for those like you. Under “Resources,” you can find guides to knots, new gear, and links to guide services.
- When in doubt? Ask a guide, phone an expert, email a guru. There’s no harm in asking, and there’s potentially more harm in not knowing.
This can be a rather abstract concept, as it doesn’t exist in many other outdoor sports to the same extent (except perhaps caving.. the other secret sport..). Why does it matter if many others descend a canyon I just found? Why shouldn’t I geotag it? Why shouldn’t I even post it somewhere?
Here’s the skinny: Canyons exist as their own environment. They house birds such as the canyon wren or the endangered Mexican spotted owl. Given their geometry, they provide shade and access to water for native plants and especially certain mosses. Also, given the amount of snakes and squirrels I’ve seen, canyons are also a cool respite for creatures. FROGS? I’ve never seen so many frogs. And I’m from the Midwest. Now humans come along, like they do, and drill holes, stomp through, take photos, tell their buddies. Traffic alone not only stamps out plant life (which already has it quite hard in the desert), it can increase erosion by allowing water to flow faster through a space, which can also create a less habitable place, and thus plants are less likely to repopulate. Get my drift? It’s not like climbing. It’s not like hiking. It’s more like mountaineering.. only more tropical.. and perhaps less elevation gain.. unless you’re in Death Valley..
Take a breath. Relish the fact that we can be in a city one day, and transport ourselves to a location where few have gone and seen! CraZay! Within canyoneering, one should understand the concept of access, respect, and sharing.
- Access: It is your responsibility to research ownership of canyoneering locations. Do you need a permit? A pass? A rancher’s ok? An application to do all of the above? For instance, Navajo Land requires you to submit a permit application. For the Grand Canyon, you have to send in your itinerary a while in advance. Zion permits can sell out within hours, and permits open three months in advance.
- Respect: The above hints at it, and can also fall under this category, but to flesh it out even more.. Respect simply refers to the understanding behind minimal impact. Some concepts to consider: how canyoneering effects the natural environment & how canyoneering can effect each other. We slings trees, hang on ropes, drill holes, park on brush, make noise, yada yada. What trumps caring about these concepts as they happen is anticipating them beforehand. Some tips: bring a knife to cut out old webbing, give other parties 1-2 rappel’s worth of space, ask the locals, do research, and enjoy!! Canyoneering USA has wonderful articles regarding minimum impact.
- Sharing: is caring, right? Maybe. Sometimes not. Regarding social media, geo-tagging (revealing the location that a photo was taken) can be a threat to natural spaces, as outlines by many sources, including the NYTimes. Think about it. It’s difficult to ensure that others will respect a place. So why risk it. Think. Think again. Self-aggrandizement is not worth nature’s needs. Sounds apocalyptic? Seems harsh? Wow Rachel, why so protective? I’ve seen multiple canyons close due to “over-use,” or “too many rescues.” Well.. I’ve seen large amount of bolts placed in and around a single canyon simply for the sake of rescues. Rescues!! Goodness. I’ve come across more trash than would fit in my backpack. So yes, I’m a little protective, but it’s not for my personal enjoyment, for preservation & conservation. Will you help me?
Phew! You survived! Congrats!! I truly hope this was informative and helpful in your quest to get into the sport. Drop me a line if you think I’ve missed something, and see you in the canyons!