Introduction to Technical Canyoneering.
So you want to start getting into the sport of Canyoneering? Well this month I’d like to give you some info to point you in the right direction. I’ll include links to websites with lots of detailed information about starting in the sport, but this should give you a place to start. I’ve also included a 10 minute compilation of various canyons in Utah to give you an idea of what kinds of canyons you can explore there.
First and foremost is location. In the United States the most popular place for Canyoneering is the Colorado Plateau, an ancient plateau that houses some of the most incredible geologic formations in the world. It is home to famous National Parks like the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Arches and more. About 2/3 of it is located in Utah, 1/3 in Arizona, then small portions in Colorado and New Mexico. If you don’t live near this area it does not mean there are no canyons near you, they just haven’t become as popular as Utah yet. Canyon explorers are finding good canyons in the mountains of California and some of the most amazing canyons seen in the U. S. are being discovered in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia). There are others finding canyons that look really good in the Colorado Rockies.
Once you find your way to whatever area you are interested in you need beta (information on where the canyon is, how many rappels, how difficult, etc…). There are many ways to get beta. Guidebooks, websites, and word of mouth are all good ways. The “bible” of Colorado Plateau canyoneering comes from Michael Kelsey. Another Technical Canyoneering book is Canyoneering 2 – Technical Loop Hikes in Southern Utah which details seven, week long canyoneering trips. Tyler Williams has a book on Canyoneering Arizona which includes many canyons not featured in Kelsey’s “Bible” and Tom Jones has just released a new guidebook on Canyoneering Zion National Park, probably the most famous and popular area for Canyoneering.
There are some really good web sites that include both free and beta for sale. The two most popular for Utah canyons are Tom Jones’ www.canyoneeringusa.com/utah site and Shane Burrows’ pay site http://www.climb-utah.com/. Both include excellent info and Shane’s Climb Utah site includes canyons also not featured in Kelsey’s “Bible”. For the Pacific Northwest there is a fantastic site set up by the pioneers of the sport in that part of the country http://www.canyoneeringnorthwest.hopto.org/. Some day in the future the Pacific Northwest will at least be near Utah in popularity, if it doesn’t surpass it.
Another great way to get beta is word of mouth. Don’t know any canyoneers? Not a problem. The Internet has made it possible for Canyoneers from all over the country to converse about the sport, trade beta, and hear about current conditions. There are some very active online forums that give endless amounts of info. For people interested in Utah there are two major forums that get a LOT of activity and have some VERY experienced guys and gals providing input. They love the sport and spend much of their working day escaping from the grind by reading and responding to posts. A general outdoor forum run in part by Shane Burrows of climb-utah.com called UUTAH will give responses from Shane (goes by iceaxe) and many other experienced guys. Yahoo has a forum run in part by Tom Jones and Steve Ramrus (Ram) two of the most seasoned canyon travelers in the sport (especially Ram, he’s been doing canyons since the 70’s, he goes by adkramoo) that can be found here. The third Utah forum is found at home of the American Canyoneering Association (ACA). This is run by a man named Rich Carlson, also one of the most seasoned people in the sport, he teaches search and rescue teams across the country and has been canyoneering since the 70’s also. If you have ANY gear or technique questions, he is the man to ask and he responds frequently on his forum (he goes by rcwild).
A new yahoo forum for canyoneers in the Pacific Northwest has been created that I’m sure will eventually become more and more popular, but many of the pioneers descending new canyons every summer up there hang out in the forum and would be happy to answer any questions.
OK, so you’ve decided where to go, you know how to get beta and suggestions from experienced guys online. How do you get started? The best way in my opinion is to pony up some cash and take a class, especially if you come from a background that doesn’t include ropework. If you come from a rock climbing background, I still highly suggest you take a course. Many climbers just jump into the sport, but there are many canyoneering specific techniques that are much more efficient and many times safer than what most climbers would do. The most affordable classes I’ve found are given by the American Canyoneering Association, this is where I got my start. Rich Carlson is a fantastic teacher and a wealth of knowledge. Other classes include Zion Adventure Company out of Springdale Ut, etc…
If you don’t want to pony up the money to take a class, then at least find some experienced guys to go with for your first few trips. People can be found on the forums listed above. Be careful though, some people can pose as being experienced but aren’t, most will be upfront about their skill and you can most likely verify their competence with other members of the forum that have been out with them.
Canyoneering is an awesome sport that can be enjoyed by young and old. It’s a great way to add to your enjoyment of the outdoors. For even more information on getting started, check out Tom Jones’ excellent article here:
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