New to Canyoneering?

Ok so technical canyoneering interests you but you have never enjoyed a canyoneering route.  Where do I start may be a question you ask yourself. 

As a first choice:
I highly recommend going with someone experienced.  You can gain knowledge of the basic skills, but also pick up some finer points.  An experienced canyoneer can also introduce you to others who may become future partners.  Canyoneering is a group sport with a growing community involving people from all over.  Canyoning with various people can introduced you to multiple styles and provide opportunities to learn varied skills.  You can also enjoy the friendship while being introduced to some of the unspoken ethics and common courtesies.

As a second choice:
If you do not know an experienced canyoneer, you can try looking at various online canyoning communities.  There are outdoor forums, meet up groups and canyoneering specific online communities.  If you don’t already know someone personally, these online communities are a great way to meet someone.  Join one, let them know you are new and hope to find someone who can show you the ropes.  The canyoneering community can be very welcoming.

As a third choice:
You can try taking a course to get the required skills.  While a course can offer you skills, it is in my opinion not as beneficial as tagging along with someone experienced.  Courses can be expensive.  When you are done with the course you are on your own and few people remember all the finer points of what they were taught in one course.  People who learn first from a course can sometimes be hesitant to later consider skills or methods that differ from what they were taught.

Keep in mind courses can be VERY valuable.  But you will likely get the most benefit after you have gained a little personal experience.  Then you will be able to mentally absorb more of what was taught and have an understanding that what you learn is only one of many possible methods.  You may also be shown things that your experienced friends haven’t shown you yet.

As a fourth choice – not recommended:
Books, web sites and other sources can offer how to tips, route information and more.  As informative as these sources may seem, they will likely fall short of fully preparing you for your journey.  Nothing compares to person to person learning in this sport.  This is a good way to start getting information, but may not be enough to prepare you for a safe and fun journey.

If you are a climber or mountaineer type who is already comfortable on rope, you have a head start and may be tempted to get some route info from a source and just go for it.  I urge you to reconsider this. While climbing and mountaineering both involve ropes and prepare you with a lot of outdoor skills and knowledge, canyoneering is a different sport with skills specific to it.  Getting info from a book or web site then heading out on your own also robs you of the potential benefits gained from the company of fellow canyoneers.  

New to a Canyoneering Area?

Every area has a unique character and along with that there may be specific skills or ethics for canyons in the area.                

Death Valley generally has wide almost ravine like canyons involving a lot of down climbing, natural anchors and generally dry.  Zion is in sandstone and generally has wide to semi narrow canyons with a mix of down climbing and rappelling, a little pothole escape and a lot of the anchors are bolted.  North Wash and areas around it (The Greater North Wash Area) are in sandstone but significantly different than Zion Canyons.  The North Wash canyons usually have shorter rappels, a whole lot more down climbing, natural anchors, some pothole escape and some narrow slots requiring one to squeeze through or stem high up over the canyon floor.  And the list goes on with each area having its own unique flavor with specific skills and ethics to go along with it.

The best place to start would be asking a canyoneer who knows your skills and the area.  Better yet, see if they will show you around.  If this isn’t an option try asking in an online community.  Or you can try to pick them on your own.  Read on if you intend to choose your own.

When getting acquainted with a new area it is best to start with a few simple routes to get a feel for what is in store for you as you play there.  A canyoneer who has experience with a wide range of skills may do well by simply picking a level 3 canyon and going for it.  This may not be the best approach for someone having limited skills required for the area.

On the surface it may seem that simply picking a few level 3 canyons is all you need to do.  Assuming all level 3 canyons are created equal can lead to some epically long or difficult days!  The canyon rating system is helpful but inadequate to properly convey what a canyon has to offer or challenge you with.  Pretty pictures from a trip report can also get new people into trouble if it lures them into a place they are unprepared for.

For example Hard Day Harvey in the Ticaboo Mesa area is a level 3 canyon while West Blarney in North Wash is also a level 3.  To a beginner there will be a HUGE difference in these canyons.  Due to the combination of the length of day and the skills required, Hard Day Harvey could go epic for a new person, but it would be very difficult for West Blarney to go epic.  

When picking your first few canyons in an area new to you, try picking canyons that are level 3, have a short time requirement and are preferably not too far out in the back country.

On the note of choosing an easy canyon; don’t just grab a map and go, be sure to read some information about it first.  For example a canyon may require high stemming, difficult down climbs or difficult anchor challenges.  These and other factors are good to consider when choosing canyons to familiarize yourself.

Know your skills and try to choose canyons within your skill set.  After completing the routes, check your total times with the times stated on various sources for the canyon.  Canyoneering is NOT a race.  But comparing your actual times with the times given by various beta authors, can help you make a more informed decision when choosing you next canyon.

As you gain confidence with the area and the skills required you can branch out and enjoy all that the area has to offer.