Introduction to Canyoneering

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Canyoneering is the act of travelling through a canyon.

What it is

Canyoneering usually involves descending a canyon, and often requires a variety of techniques and skills, including hiking, scrambling, climbing, rappelling, jumping, and/or swimming.

A typical canyoneering trip may consist of:

  • The approach: hiking up or along a fairly well-established trail then branching off the main trail to descend into a drainage via a smaller, more difficult trail (the drop in). These trails are often very steep.
  • The descent: hiking downstream in a drainage, usually without any established trail. This usually requires scrambling over and around rocks, trees, and other natural features. Class 3 canyons and higher also involve the mandatory use of rope to rappel down waterfalls and other steep drop offs. There are often other special challenges as well.
  • The exit: reaching and then following a trail (often well-established) back to a vehicle


Like other hikes, canyoneering involves the inherent risks of outdoor activities. These include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Remoteness (no one nearby to give or find help should something happen)
  • Exposure (heat, cold, etc)
  • Water and food availability

Canyoneering also involves additional challenges and risks beyond normal hiking -- these usually occur during the descent phase when the canyoneer is within a drainage. The ACA rating system attempts to communicate the major types of challenges and risks present in a particular canyon. Perhaps the most important differences for an experienced hiker just starting canyoneering are

  • Inability to reverse: Many jumps, slides, climbs, and rappels are irreversible. Once a canyoneer has passed one of these obstacles, he cannot return the way he came if he encounters a more difficult obstacle further down canyon.
  • Rope work: In addition to needing the appropriate skill and gear to descend vertical drops, a canyoneering group must also know how to anchor and retrieve the ropes used for descent because most canyoneering trips are one-way down the canyon. Furthermore, canyoneers must be sufficiently familiar with these skills to perform them well even when cold and exhausted.
  • Water: In addition to hypothermia concerns in all canyons with water, class C canyons present special challenges and make most other challenges more difficult.
  • More dangerous locations: Flash floods are a substantial danger in most canyons, and there are usually other dangers associated with the nature of the terrain such as falling rocks and uneven terrain.
  • Time management: Simply being able to perform certain tasks (like constructing an anchor or rappelling a drop) is not enough; these tasks must be performed in a timely manner to avoid exposure to a number of other risks. For instance, in a canyon like Cerberus with around 30 rappels, if each rappel took an extra 5 minutes for each of 6 people in a group, the length of the canyon would more than double.
  • Flash floods: While flash floods can be dangerous outside of canyoneering, being in narrow slots with few or no escape options increases the risk due to flash floods substantially in most canyons.





Analysis and research

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