What Is Canyoneering?

June 14, 2021

Canyoneering. The word invokes a sense of adventure all on its own. However, while many mountain sports offer an exhilarating thrill and rush of adrenaline, canyoneering is special. Instead of going up, it’s all about enjoying the ride down.

But what is canyoneering, exactly? In this quick guide, we explore canyoneering and generally what you can expect as you rappel your way down a canyon. So shimmy on your helmet, grab your climbing gloves and let’s explore this mountain sport further. Also, canyoneering offers impressive views, so if you choose to take up this breathtaking sport, don’t forget to pack your DSLR, protecting it in your camera hard case as you make your descent.

What Is Canyoneering?

Using various techniques, such as hiking, scrambling, sliding and rappelling (among others), canyoneering is a bit like bouldering or rock climbing in reverse. Instead of climbing up to a summit, you start out higher and make your way down. Exploring a canyon, you are strapped up to a harness and a rope system, along with a helmet for safety, and slide your way down a canyon crevice.

Is Canyoneering Dangerous?

rappel your way down canyon

Remember the helmet we mentioned? Well, it’s there for a good reason. Canyoneering, like any outdoor activity, does come with inherent risks. That’s what makes it a fun adrenaline rush and an outdoor sport that enthusiasts have come to love.

Essentially, canyoneering asks you to walk backward off a cliff, which is scary in itself. It can be an eye-opening experience and a teachable moment in self-trust, to say the least. However, as long as you go with an experienced and professional instructor who knows how to spot dangerous situations and straps you in securely, it’s absolutely safe. The chances of something happening to you are no greater than they are riding river rapids.

Actual risks of canyoneering are flash floods and rockfalls, which instructors are knowledgeable in and know how to spot signs, getting you out of harm’s way in the event of an emergency. Instructors will check weather reports before each excursion and will always require you to wear a helmet. Even a smaller rock can cause quite a headache.

When it comes to perceived risks, many are totally controllable and in your hands. For example, canyoneering asks you to reach great heights and if you are afraid of that or have a fear of falling, it can be scary. Still, with a sturdy rope system and other safety devices designed to support your body weight, you can rest easily if you are strapped in tight and secure.

Canyoneering Steps: How to Descend a Canyon

Canyoneering requires you to get to the top of a mountain first, which means you’ll probably need to set up camp. But after you awake the following day, your canyoneering adventure begins. Here’s what you can expect from your first canyoneering trip:

  1. Eat a hearty breakfast. Make sure to grab some breakfast and coffee before your descent to provide plenty of nutrients and carbs.
  2. Slip into some canyoneering clothes. After all, you will be descending a canyon, so wear something you don’t mind getting a little dirty and chewed up. Also, unless it’s your skin you want dirty and scratched, wear long sleeves and pants. Be sure to pack extra layers in your pack and a hands-free LED headlamp for those darker, chillier canyons, too.
  3. Pack your gear. For each descent, pack at least two liters of water. Make sure to grab a helmet, harness and lunch or snacks, too. Someone on the team should also carry a first aid kit, just in case.
  4. Check the technical gear. Make sure the technical gear and harnesses are in working order before you make your first rappel.
  5. Attach the anchor. If you are a newbie, your instructor will show you how to attach the anchor to your harness and lower yourself. If it’s your first time, they can strap you into an additional rope until you gain more confidence.
  6. Now, rappel. As the instructor waits below, you will begin your descent, rappelling downward. As a beginner, you might find yourself nervous, rappelling in small drops until you get the hang of it. That’s okay. Take your time. However, give yourself a solid drop to feel the thrill. Before long, you’ll be rappelling like a pro, Mission Impossible-style.

As with any outdoor activity, such as hiking or camping, remember the Leave No Trace principles. Except when trekking through a canyon, take it a step further. Even leaving footprints along a canyon can cause erosion, so it’s important to take care of the canyons you explore. When canyoneering, follow the general rules, but also be sure to stay on designated paths and established trails.

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