What exactly is canyoneering?
Canyoneering is the sport of exploring long, deep, narrow clefts in the Earth’s surface through a variety of techniques. It is fun, exciting and transformational in nature bringing out the child in each of us. Imagine yourself hiking and scrambling over a variety of awe-inspiring slickrock cliffs, domes and dryfalls, splashing through streams, rappelling down waterfalls and negotiating your way around keeper potholes. We call them “keepers” because they have been known on occasion to trap unprepared travellers from escaping their smooth, sandstone walls. Potholes, dryfalls, waterfalls, cliffs and boulders are but a few of the myriad of obstacles that must be negotiated for one to travel safely through a canyon. Problem solving skills for negotiating a complex array of obstacles is one of the great lures for canyoneers all over the World.
What type of equipment is involved in the sport?
This varies depends on the specific type of canyoneering. Many canyons in the U.S. are rated on a technical scale of one to four. One is the easiest and involves relatively easy canyon hiking. A Class 2 canyon is the next level and is classified by easy scrambling or climbing that does not require the use of technical gear. A Class 3 canyon requires complete technical canyoneering gear including ropes, harnesses, helmets and rappel devices. Class 4 is the most difficult level of canyon to negotiate and requires advanced technical climbing skills in addition to specialized climbing or canyoneering gear.
In general, basic hiking gear including a good friction-soled hiking shoe and small backpack are all that is required for Class 1 and 2 canyons. Class 3 and 4 technical canyons require specialized climbing gear as noted above.
For the bold and daring “upper classmen,” what are some of the best brands people can use?Due to the relative newness of the sport in the U.S., there are very few companies that make canyoneering specific gear. A few notable ones include Five-Ten who currently makes one of the few canyoneering specific shoes, BlueWater Ropes who manufacture a great selection of canyoneering-specific ropes, and Imlay Canyon Gear that manufactures specialized, abrasion-resistant backpacks. Other suitable brands include climbing-specific manufacturers such as Black Diamond, Petzl, Trango and Mammut.
Do people require lessons or specific skills before they join tours?
No previous experience is generally required to negotiate Class 1 and 2 canyons. All that is typically needed is a healthy sense of adventure and the desire to have a whole lot of fun. For Class 3 and 4 canyons, I definitely recommend hiring a guide service to lead you through your first canyon. You can also take a variety of technical canyoneering courses to teach you the ropes. I lead Basic and Advanced Technical Canyoneering courses as well as Canyoneering Leadership courses for individuals that aspire to lead independently. Regardless of the level of canyon that you choose to explore, wilderness navigation and route finding skills are also essential. We teach a variety of basic wilderness education classes that prepare outdoor explorers for their next adventure. These skills include trip planning, gear selection, navigation and route finding, teamwork, hazard recognition and avoidance, problem solving and crisis management.
Is it safe to travel solo?In most cases I don’t recommend travelling solo in canyons. All on has to do is to look at the epic and tragic story of Aron Ralston who got his arm stuck in Bluejohn Canyon in 2003. One of Aron’s greatest mistakes was travelling alone in an extremely remote wilderness area. We lead tours through Bluejohn and a myriad of other canyons in Southern Utah and Western Washington. Personally, I would never travel alone in most of these areas and in general do not recommend this to others.
Can a person become an expert at canyoneering?
Becoming an expert canyoneer like many other things in life takes training, time, dedication and lots of experience. Once a person can safely navigate, problem solve and negotiate 30-40 canyons, they are likely well on their way to becoming an experienced canyoneer. Becoming an expert, however, is somewhat intangible. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word expert as “having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience”. By definition, canyoneering is a sport that requires “special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience”. Is this all it takes to become an “expert” canyoneer? Personally, I don’t think so. While special skills and knowledge are requisite for becoming a canyoneer, this alone does not necessarily make one an “expert.” In the world of wilderness canyoneering there are but an elite few that I would regard as experts. While part of this is due to the relatively short time that canyoneering has been practiced as an actual sport in the U.S., the remainder is due to the reality that no specific guidelines have been established to make a decision as what it takes to become an expert canyoneer.
What are some of the hottest places to Canyoneer in the states?Unquestionably, the Colorado Plateau region, which includes both Southern Utah and Northwest Arizona are home to some of the best canyoneering on the planet. Other areas that have started to gain some attention include the San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains and the Pacific Northwest.
What is your favorite canyoneering destination?As a guide, I feel I travel to the most beautiful, rugged and unexplored regions of the Colorado Plateau. We operate in areas that few other guide services go including the Dirty Devil/Robber’s Roost Wilderness, Fiddler Butte Wilderness, Maze District of Canyonlands National Park, Goblin Valley/San Rafeal Swell and the hundred mile long Waterpocket Fold.
For those international globe trekkers, where can they go?
For international travelers, popular canyoneering destinations include Europe, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Australia, Madagascar, South Africa, Japan, Mexico and India. Canyoneering was actually first recognized as a sport in Europe where it is referred to as canyoning. The sport goes by a variety of other names throughout the World. It is known as kloofing in Africa, River Tracing in Japan and was originally referred to as gorging in the area of Zion National Park.
Chris Hagedorn is Canyoneering is Founder, Leader and Instructor at Get In the Wild, located in Washington State. To learn more information about Chris and his company please visit: www.Getinthewild.com