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Progressing in Canyoneering

Section 29

Once you have done your first slot canyon and catch the canyoneering "bug", soon after you will desire more canyons.  Even some of those canyons that are rated hard or sound extra-challenging may entice you a bit...

This is a normal reaction as we humans want to challenge or push ourselves to the limits.  But in canyoneering, this can be disastrous if you over-estimate your skill and under-estimate the canyon.  This happens often where it is a concern!  Frequent canyoneering forums and you will see the "near-miss" accident reports, or even read the Zion Search and Rescue blog to read about their canyoneering reports! 


Regardless and admittedly, even some veterans do this, because they get complacent.  "How hard can it really be?" they may say.  "I've done ones similar to this."  But remember, the discerning part of the sport is that EACH canyon is different and unique.  

Some of these advanced canyons are hard and physically exhausting!  Can you imagine a 12+ hour day for going through a slot canyon?  What about a 16+ hour day?  While some canyons are not THAT long in length, those hours are also accounting for the approach and exit hike.

Some of these tough canyons will physically exhaust you where you don't want to walk any more and then you have a 3+ mile exit in the dark back to your campsite or car.  It's not fun where you just want to collapse on the hiking trail but reality hits and you have an hour or more of bushwhacking, walking on uneven terrain, and going up and down hills with heavy packs on. That's the true reality that instagram and FaceBook doesn't show you.  Sometimes even in trip reports, people will most ONLY the highlights and don't account for the the slogs, the lull on the hike out, how most of the group ran out of water so they had to share, etc.  But in their eyes they call it an "epic".  Epics are definitely memorable, but at that stage, just realize that you are using borrowed time and that at any moment, one little mistake can turn your trip into a survival or search and rescue one.

With the harder canyons not being done as much as the easier "trade" canyons, you will need to load up for "bear". In other words, bringing multiple ropes, a plethora of carabiners and 50 ft of webbing for every person, potshots to escape out of keeper potholes, ascending equipment in case a rope gets stuck, pothole escape tools, thick wetsuits, water purifiers and a bivy (in case a unplanned night occurs).

However, these harder canyons will probably be the most memorable adventures you will ever have in your life!  But some of the most intense, challenging and fun obstacles will lay inside and serious planning and preparation is required!

If you just want to stay within the easy realm with some minor to moderate obstacles, then most "trade" canyons will satiate that craving.  But doing those easier canyons has a few negatives - possibly more people, possibly dealing with fees and permits, and less of a "wilderness" experience.  As I have said in the previous sections, those "negatives" are okay too - as long as you know that's the expectation going into them.  We shouldn't judge of the canyon choice, as the most important thing is that YOU (and your group) know what you are getting yourself into.

The more remote canyons will most likely not see other visitors for days, weeks, or even months so you MUST go in being prepared for everything and anything.  Carrying 30-50 pound packs is the norm.

You will also being new tools or methods that you may have not heard of: aiders; entriers; sandtrap; waterpocket; 2-ring releasable; toggle; fiddlestick; smooth operator; capture methods; bollard, deadman and marginal anchors; butterfly knot; show don't tell, and a dozen more similar words.  These are expert tools that need specialized training. won't dive into this deeper tools as that is beyond the scope of this page.  It doesn't hurt to know what they are, but using them in actual real-world experience requires exactness in skill and you should seek out those people who are willing to show you how to use them.

Also, these harder canyons are typically listed as a "V" from the Canyon Ratings, with an "R" and "X".  There is some ambiguity in the definition of those ratings, because as I have mentioned it before, every canyon is different and unique from each other.

Some canyons may be suitable for most intermediate canyoneers, but the canyon may contain one hard obstacle or some high-stemming for a couple hundred feet and thus get the higher rating.  Then comparatively, another canyon may have long periods (hours worth) of stemming and is more physically demanding then the aforementioned canyon and thus will get a higher difficulty rating.

One of the weaknesses of the Canyon Rating system is that it kind of blurs the harder canyons and lumps them all together and so people can mistakenly think "well, I have done Heaps Canyon now, surely I can do the King Mesa slots or Egypt 4, Raven, etc."   The problem is that again...each canyon is different and presents its own problems unique to itself.

My recommendation for doing harder canyons is GO with someone who has done them previously, everyone in your group is self-sufficient, plan on a LONG day, and do research on each canyon individually and read about its obstacles and commitment.

That's really the only way on how to "progress" in the sport. 

Additionally for further reading, the A.C.A (or American Canyoneers Association) has published a "skills checklist" to those who want to progress and including perfecting their canyoneering skills in a formal setting.  They have published their guides for free and can offer a starting point, but as with advanced skills, they really should be taught where a hands-on course can happen by a A.C.A. qualified leader:

In their hierarchy, they have the following checklists:


 As these are free to the general public to access, I will post some snipetts of what's contained in them.  (Although, I haven't done them myself, I will one day.  I'll like to go all the way down to Canyon Leader 2.)


Also, one the "Additional Reading" page at the top, I have handpicked forum topics from and where they have been talking about Canyoneering long before you were born.

The topics apply to everyone from beginner, intermediate and expert.  

And of course, you are encouraged to join both forums and share your trip reports, ask deep questions (that FaceBook groups) cannot support well, discuss gear options, etc.

Click here to go to the "Additional Reading" page directly.

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