A day of
 

CANYONEERING

Every canyon in the world is different. This variety, and unpredictablity, is what makes the sport of canyoneering so exciting. While there's no such thing as a "typical day" of canyoneering, this description will give a sense of what you can expect if you go canyoneering with a guide who's familiar with the canyon.

With a knowledgeable local guide, canyoneering is an exhilarating, sometimes scary sport, but the actual risks are lower than they may appear. It's also possible to go canyoneering without a guide. On that level, canyoneering requires far more advanced skills and judgements.

This site is sponsored by Alyson Adventures, which offers outdoor adventure travel for gay men, lesbians, and friends. Our trips in Australia and New Zealand include opportunities for canyoneering (or canyoning, as it's called in those countries.) Here's what you can expect if you try this exciting new sport. This description of from our Boomerang! trip in Australia. Similar techniques are used in other canyons.

Rappelling -- the art of sliding down a rope, with a mechanical device to control your speed -- is one of the most common canyoneering techniques. In some cases, particularly if the first rappel in the canyon is tricky, you'll practice rappelling on dry land.

A long rope is looped around a tree or other secure anchor, near the edge of a cliff, with both ends dropping to the ground below. You, as the rappeller, put on a harness, consisting of a rugged waistband and leg straps with a loop in front. You can comfortably hang in this harness, suspended on the loop. (You've seen it done in movies.) A metal carabiner, or clip, goes through the harness loop.

Now, with the guide watching to be sure it's done right, you attach yourself to the rope in such a way that, with a simple hand motion, you can control the rate at which you slide down the rope. You can easily bring yourself to a complete halt, as you descend, any time you want.

The moment of truth comes as you back off the edge of the cliff. The first step, committing yourself to the rope, is scary. Then, it's all downhill. After a couple more practice descents, it seems like second nature. Now you're ready to go canyoning.

Like so many adventures, canyoneering begins as you wiggle into a wetsuit. You'll be in and out of water through the day: Except in the warmest of climates, the evaporation would leave your teeth chattering if you weren't wearing a wetsuit.

Besides that, the wetsuit provides protection against abrasions as you move through the canyon. The first canyoneers used wetsuits designed for diving, surfing, or other water sports. More recently a few specialized companies have begun manufacturing wetsuits that are reinforced in the areas where canyoneering creates the most wear and tear: Elbows, knees, butt.

Outdoor sports sandals are the usual footwear, and a helmet is generally considered a must. (Guides typically provide the helmet and wetsuit, and you're responsible for footwear, but ask in advance to be sure.) The rope and any other necessary equipment is generally provided by the guide.

We regroup in a pool of water at the bottom of the canyon. Those who got hot during the hike, and peeled off the top half of the wetsuit, now pull it back on. Everyone puts on their helmet.

Just downstream is the top of a small waterfall. We walk over: This looks like a good chance to use those rappelling skills.

But we're not gonna. This, the guide announces, is a natural water slide. Over the centuries, the steam has smoothed out a channel, and the falling water has created a pool at the bottom, deep enough to absorb our plunge. The guide goes first. "Push off, then just keep your elbows in," he advises, and one by one, we follow.

At the next waterfall, we use a different technique. The water at the base of the waterfall is shallow, the guide explains. On this one, you balance on a rock at the top of the falls, then jump out, into the deeper water. This time, he stays at the top to help steady us, and he goes last.

More waterslides and jumps follow, each one different. One particularly long slide is particularly daunting: Because of the way the rock curves, you can't see the bottom until after you've pushed off and started down. Happily, the guide goes first here.

Occasionally you dogpaddle through deeper pools. Other times, you walk over sand bars or maneuver through rocks that have long ago tumbled from the canyon walls. The canyon gets deeper and darker. Occasional rays of sunlight streak the narrow, undulating walls.

One small waterfall rushes over a boulder. It's too short for a normal rappel, but the guide sets up a rope to help you get down.

Finally, we reach the spot where our narrow canyon ends, midway up a cliff. You sit in a pool of water and admire the ferns and convoluted stone patterns above, as the guide sets up anchors for the longest rappel of the day.

One hundred and twenty feet! You make your way over to the end of the canyon, and clip into a safety line that will protect you should you slip. You look over the edge. This is nuts! is all you can think. If there was some other way to get to dinner, you'd do it. But there's not.

So you clip into the harness, pull back with your brake hand so that you won't start your descent till you're ready. You step into the stream, lean back, and begin rappelling.

The practice sessions were a good idea! The rock is slippery here. Water splashes your face. Ten feet down, the cliff face recedes and you're briefly hanging free. But you can control your speed, and the guide has a safety line as backup. Slowly you make your way down... down... and then, you finish.

After everyone is down, you learn why a double rope is used for rappelling. Everyone takes hold of one of the ropes and pulls. The other end is pulled up, toward and through the anchor, and a moment later, the entire rope has fallen to the base of the waterfall, ready to be coiled and carried back.

 

More on this site:

On related sites:

  • Try a day or two of canyoneering on our trips in Australia or New Zealand.
  • Our hiking site includes a FAQ page about climbing ropes, and other useful information for canyoners.
  • Go to Alyson Adventures site for details of forthcoming outdoor trips.

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