You toss the rope off the edge of the canyon wall and listen to it whistle as it cuts through the air on its descent to the canyon floor. You approach the anchor and attach yourself to the rope noticing that your heart is beating wildly with anticipation. You start to approach the edge and your excitement builds as you wonder what beauty and challenges lay ahead of you in the canyon below. You take a deep breath and push off into the unknown.
This is canyoneering, defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as the sport of exploring a canyon by engaging in such activities as rappelling, rafting, and waterfall jumping. But what is a canyon? As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, a canyon is a long, deep, narrow valley with steep cliff walls, cut into the Earth by running water and often having a stream at the bottom. Canyons are carved out and intricately shaped over millions of years by the weathering and erosive forces of water. Each canyon develops its own unique personality based on a variety of factors including geography, rock type, and climate. Canyons are in a constant state of evolution due to the dynamic environment in which they are formed. To help inform adventurers, a canyon rating system has been developed which classifies canyons based on difficulty, presence or absence of water and type of water conditions, estimated time to complete the canyon and additional risks present.
Canyoneering can be classified as non-technical, which does not require specialized gear, or technical, which requires specialized skills and technical equipment to travel safely through the canyon. The sport of technical canyoneering started to take off in the United States in the late 90’s and its popularity continues to grow steadily. It’s practiced throughout the world going by a variety of names including canyoning in Europe, kloofing in Africa and river tracing in Japan.
Canyoneering is an integrative sport combining hiking, scrambling, rappelling, wading, swimming, climbing, squeezing and more. In addition to the physical aspect, canyoneering offers mental and personal challenge through navigation, problem solving, team work and leadership. Think of it as nature’s obstacle course. Technical canyoneering trips require specialized gear including a harness, rappel device, carabiner(s), anchor building tools such as webbing and quicklinks, helmets, appropriate shoes and rope. Wet canyons require wetsuits, rope bags and dry bags.
Canyoneers are drawn back to the canyons over and over again for many reasons. Part of the appeal is exploring remote, unique and beautiful destinations that few human beings have the opportunity to see. There is a seemingly endless global playground of canyons that offer fun and challenging adventures in off the beaten path locations. As each canyon is different and ever changing, the allure of exploring the unknown speaks to the explorer’s soul within canyoneers. Canyoneering is a great workout, too. Any first-time canyoneer will be able to affirm for you the total body conditioning that happens as you climb, crawl, squeeze and shimmy your way through the canyon. Perhaps most importantly, canyoneering helps build resilience in life. Unlike some sports and adventures where you can stop or turn around if you need to, with canyoneering, there are many canyons that once you rappel into a certain point, you cannot turn back. You have to keep going forward no matter what obstacles lie ahead.
While canyoneering is a beginner-friendly activity for participants, there are many challenges that may be encountered in a canyon, including hydraulics, flash floods, keeper potholes, hyperthermia and hypothermia, narrow slot canyons, navigation challenges and more which is why beginners should go out with an experienced and educated canyoneer.
Due to the challenges you may encounter, the skills required to lead a group through a canyon, and the specialized gear, we recommend hiring a guide or taking a course for your introduction to the sport. Get In The Wild offers half-, full- and multi canyoneering adventures in Utah and Washington as well as beginner and advanced canyoneering courses and workshops.