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Updated on January 30, 2014

Learn The Basics of Canyoneering

Canyoneering (aka canyoning) is the exploration of canyons. It is more than just hiking down a canyon, it is a technical descent down a canyon and involves rappeling, ropework, technical climbing, down climbing, technical jumps and sometimes technical swims.

Canyoneering is frequently done in remote and rugged areas that often require miles of hiking just to access, navigation skills, route finding and other wilderness travel. Narrow gorges with numerous drops, artistically sculpted walls, sometimes waterfalls and beautiful pools are some of the features most desired by those who enjoy the sport.

The populatirty of canyoneering is rapidly growing and in some places, commercial canyoneering trips can be arranged for tourists. There are two types of canyons - dry and wet, and many different difficulty levels, from a simple walk through to a rugged highly technical descent.. This page will briefly discuss each, some great locations to go canyoneering as well as the gear you need for a successful trip.

Photos on this page were taken by my good friends, Michael and Dianne Dalin on a few of their many canyoneering adventures. Enjoy!

Exploring Dry Canyons - Utah And Beyond

Zion national Park, The San Rafael Swell and Escalante (all located in Utah) provide some of the best canyoneering opportunities in the world. The topography ranges from lush to dry and barren. Scupted walls, narrow slots and rock swells await.

Dry canyoneering involves descent through a canyon with no water element. The desert landscape in Utah provides a perfect opportunity for this type of canyoneering. Some canyons however, such as those in Zion, may have water at all times or just certain times of the year and therefore the experience differs greatly depending on the time of year you go. The canyons cut into stone in the San Rafael Swell are remote, dry, desolate and intriguing. Most are done as day hikes and range in difficulty from a simple hike to highly technical. The best time of year to enjoy canyoneerinng here is spring and fall in order to aviod the sweltering summer heat. The Escalante area has numerous long and featured canyons that make this area great for multi day canyoneering trips.

Although some canyon descents may be no more than a simple day hike through a beautiful canyon, you must be prepared when you go and aware of possible hazards. Getting lost is easy to do as you are navigating by landmarks to get to your destination rather than on a nice designated hiking trail. Dehydration and stroke can be common. Plenty of water - 4 quarts per day minimum is required. There is almost always an element of flash flood danger and this can be avoided if you learn to read the weather and know when no to go into a canyon.

What You Need For Canyon Exploration

Dry canyoning gear includes climbing hardware, static ropes, helmets, specially designed shoes, packs and rope bags. Wet canyoneering gear includes the same type of gear - climbing hardware, static ropes, helmets, specially designed shoes and rope bags that dry canyoneering does but it also requires the use of wetsuits, dry bags, river running gear.

Exploring Wet Canyons

In most parts of the world canyoning is done in mountain canyons with flowing water. We call these wet canyons and wet canyons are simply those that have a water element that you need to navigate through or around in some manner. Rappeling down gushing waterfalls is one way to descend as is jumping from one pool to the next over the waterfall. Sliding down natural slides is sometimes an option as is stemming (a rock climbing technique where you span the two sides of the canyon walls with your legs).

In most cases a wet suit is often needed as many pools, due to the narrow nature of the steep canyon walls, do not get warmed much by the sun. In addition you need to have a backpack with holes at the bottom to drain water or a dry bag to carry your gear in to keep it dry as you go.

Canyons with significant water flow may be treacherous and require special ropework techniques for safe travel. Hydraulics and undercurrents have been known to pin people down and drownings have occurred. As mentioned earlier flash flooding and hypothermia are also a risk.

Some wet canyoneering, especially in sandstone slots, involves escaping from large potholes (see photo). Also called "keeper potholes," these features, carved out by falling water at the bottom of a drop in the watercourse, are circular pits that often contain water that is too deep to stand up in and whose walls are too smooth to easily climb out of. Several unique and creative devices and techniques are used to escape potholes, including hooks used for aid climbing attached to long poles and specialized weighted bags that are attached to ropes and tossed over the lip of a pothole. Standing on each others shoulders for a partner assist is also a fun tactic.

A Wet Canyon Adventure In Northwest Australia

Canyoneering: A Guide to Techniques for Wet and Dry Canyons (How To Climb Series)

Canyoneering: A Guide to Techniques for Wet and Dry Canyons (How To Climb Series)
Canyoneering: A Guide to Techniques for Wet and Dry Canyons (How To Climb Series)

This book equips all levels of canyoneers with the technical skills needed to enjoy a clean canyoneering experience and to avoid dangerous mistakes. In Canyoneering, all the basics are covered introducing readers to the hazards and risks of the sport, the highly-specialized gear, belaying, anchors and anchor systems, and ascending and rappelling. More advanced information addresses pothole escapes, methods for navigating wet canyons, and canyon rescue.


Reunion Island - Eden Awaits


Reunion Island is a canyoneers dream and a place I hope to one day get to to explore. A French territory located several hundred miles east of Madagascar, it consists of three major cirques which contain huge walls covered in lush vegetation. The mountains rise almost 10,000 feet in a short distance - just a few miles. This makes for steep, very large canyons, 70 in all.

A vast array of waterfalls, from small cascades to plummeting 1,500 foot drops exist within the canyons as the basalt rock, porous soil and thick vegetation capture water rather easily. This makes for some fun wet adventures - long waterfall rappels, sliding down natural slides and jumping into numerous pools.

Not many know about Reunion Island and this makes canyoneering's Eden all the more appealing. The photo above, taken by John Hart and many more stunning images as well as a detailed description on canyoneering on reunion island can be found HERE

Thanks For Visiting - I would love to hear from you

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    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 5 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I'm from Australia, now live in Reunion island but have never been canyoneering (even though I wrote about it on my Reunion lens). You make me want to, though!

    • profile image

      cragface 5 years ago

      Planning a trip to Zion this fall. Thanks for your great lens!

    • profile image

      ActiveNewZealand 6 years ago

      Just got back from Canyoning in Zion and it was incredible - what a place. What a sport!

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 6 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Another excellent lens right up my alley. I'll be doing some canyoneering this weekend -- a team-building out for our tech rescue team -- in a canyon near Flagstaff called Babe's Hole. I wonder if you've heard of Waterholes Canyon near Page, Arizona, at all? That's an impressive one. I haven't actually done it yet, but we've had rescues there. (Although MANY more people get through it just fine than need rescue.) Anyway, excellent lens. Another blessing from me.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      This looks like a lot of fun!

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 8 years ago

      What an incredible journey. the photos are spectacular. just beautiful.