What is Canyoneering101.com?
It is has long been a labor of love of mine to create a resource that focuses on the niche sport of descending slot canyons, called Canyoneering. Other countries call it "Canyoning", "Gorging", and "Kloofing". Canyoneering is the USA name for the "sport".
Unlike other websites that offer little information on HOW to descend slot canyons, I wanted to provide a LOT of information that covers most, if not all, of the basics and a little extra! (But wait! There's more!) However, my ultimate goal is to *try* to establish unofficially a standardized learning platform where beginners to the sport can all be on the same page.
As of 2021, there is NOT a world-wide platform, let alone online, where one can learn the sport easily (and for free). My goal is to change that and am hoping this resource can be THAT starting point for beginners. To be honest, I'm not sure where this will end up, but I do know that it will evolve, become better and more user-friendly as the days and years go by. Right now, you are able to access these pages on your desktop computer, tablet, or mobile device. Everything on here is provided "as is" and will be entirely free of charge. There may come a time where I dabble into the commercial world for other canyoneering "services", but that is all predicated on how successful (or not) the website will be.
There are a lot of nuances that go into Canyoneering and those questions are best answered by replying, "it always depends on the canyon", or simply "it depends". Remember that! The specific canyon that you want to descend IS what determines the skillset needed by your group. So, don't think that just because you know how to tie the "essential" knots means you can conquer every canyon! You can't. In reality though, you will be able to descend a bunch of them after you learn a few skills, and buy the essential gear. But the ever changing conditions of the canyons cannot guarantee that. And as the adage goes, a false-sense of security is worse than no security! So to put that into canyon words, just because you think the canyon should be in "good shape" doesn't mean it actually will! What will you do if those rappel anchors you that you are expecting after reading a canyon description online, are NOT actually there? What's your plan then? You better know what to do in order to save yourselves and your group! What if a person in your group gets their hair stuck in the descender device thereby making them stuck on rappel. What are some options to free them? There is no cell-coverage in a slot canyon. You could be tens of miles away from a road or person. Also, to compound upon the realities, what if you get injured? I'm not trying to scare you away entirely, but rather to help you realize the scope and realities of this sport.
Sure, everyone shows you the best pictures on Instagram and YouTube, but do they often show you their mistakes, close-calls, the long approach and exit hikes, or other gaffes or mistakes during their canyoneering trip? Most likely not! Some have a ulterior motive - more likes, more subscribers, more clicks, more money from advertising or a sponsor, etc. I try to not to be too cynical of people's passions, desires, or intents but sometimes it's pretty obvious! If you are trying to make money, it's okay to say that you are trying to make money. At the minimum, those folks could be honest or transparent with their intentions. With that said, I digress...
The point is that this website will allow for an online platform that everyone can use and reference to start their canyoneering adventure. The audience who I am writing to is the beginner. The veteran or canyoneer who has been doing this for a dozen years may not find this website useful at all! That's totally okay! They are not my audience. Besides, they already know this stuff. Well, they should know it...
I have my own writing style, I speak openly and bluntly, and sometimes, yes, I can preach to the choir. My apologies if I'm beating a dead horse, but in my head there is a reason for repetition. It sticks.
After 22 years of Canyoneering, there has been no formal standardization to speak of amongst the sport. Rather, of what it has been is an informal, large concentration of the "canyoneering group", who have adopted the unofficial "canyon rating system", and peruse three once-active internet outdoor forums (CanyonCollective.com, Bogley.com, and Yahoo Groups) that discussed anything and everything Canyoneering. Just recently within the last 5 years, "FaceBook Groups" is where most of these same people have migrated to. FB Groups is great in some areas and severely lacking in other areas for discussion. For right now, I won't go into the pros and cons of FB groups, so just realize that is where most everyone within the canyoneering community has migrated to. (But the next logical unsaid question is, "where do we go after Facebook is gone?" That is left to be seen, but for now, this website is here for beginners wanting to learn more.)
Did you know, as crazy as this seems, that are unfortunately veterans of the sport which sometimes look down on the beginner?! As odd as that may seem, these same veterans think that the beginner (you) is out to hurt him/herself and ruin access to slot canyons! Truth be told, most canyoneering accidents or fatalities are done by the beginner. However, I have a different look on this - I think that it's NOT the people who are to blame entirely but rather the canyoneering system that has failed them and consequently caused them to make that mistake. Read the previous sentence carefully again. See my point? Some veterans do not want to teach it because of how involved it can be. They also do not want to discus their secret canyons, and they don't want to see yourself killed so therefore they do not help a lot of the times or answer questions, which is extremely unfortunate. What we see unfortunately common in the community is beginners teaching beginners.
My goal is to make canyoneering easy to learn and to provide context so that you can know the many nuances of the sport.
The "it depends on the canyon" is what makes this sport difficult to teach in a uniform way. I'm trying to introduce a way in doing that. There are many more knots than just the ones I have presented here on the website, but in my opinion, these are at the "core" of the sport. There are other knots to know can be quite helpful, but that is not the point of this website to explain the once in a year usage. If you are wanting to progress in your skills and go from beginner to intermediate followed by an advanced level, I will provide information on that progression in other modules and the "Canyoneering Resources" page. Maybe a commercial "Canyoneering Guide" is in your future?? By all means.
After talking to many canyoneers across my canyon career of 22 years, it is clear that everyone in the sport did not start on equal footing! A few have rock climbing experience, some have mountaineering experience, but for the majority most people do not have either, but hey, they know know to hike!
To be clear, just because you can hike for a while doesn't mean you can descend a canyon either. It most definitely helps, but that's not even where your skillset should be. Endurance, aka, "long days" are very much the norm in canyoneering! Fuh realz bro.
Social media makes it easy to share "trip reports" from people's canyoneering adventure to the world, but all the while, the silent followers see those posts and want to learn more about this curious sport and where all these amazing places are. However, when they read that is has rappels of 100+ feet, swimming into things called "keeper potholes", and how long of an approach hike and exit that canyon is, most will decide that it's not worth it to pursue. And maybe that's a great thing! But to those who want to take on that challenge to see the canyon's secrets - then this sport is for you!
People read the online hiking guides (called "beta" in canyoneering lingo) for that specific canyon and learn that it has some rappels and some hiking in the desert and think to themselves "how hard could rappelling be?" Well, to those who haven't done it - it's very scary! Leaning over a edge, remembering never to let go of your braking hand while on rappel, "will my body weight make me rappel faster or slower", and lastly, "how do you get this rope down?" are just some of puckering life and death questions beginners have. So many questions! And that's a good thing! This is YOUR life we are talking about here. Actual life and death.
That's what I designed this website for, as to help you to take away that initial scariness, to show you how to properly get into canyoneering, learn some of our lingo (aka "learn our language"), and show the essential knots and techniques that you can use to descend these slot canyons! But to reiterate, the canyon that you choose "all depends" on the skill-set you have thus learned, the weather forecast, the company you are with (and their skill levels), how much time you have, possible water sections in the canyon, and so on.
Some of the information found on this website *may* get you through. For harder canyons, it definitely will not! Those harder canyons contain techniques suitable only for advanced Canyoneers. Tackling them without that experience, at worst, will result in bodily-injury and you may even lose your life or someone else! At best, you escape but just barely and are dehydrated, famished, possibly hypothermic, exhausted, and/or MANY hours later than anticipated. This sport isn't for the "bros" to pick up ladies. This isn't a show-up at 10am meetup to go on this hike with random people who will not talk to each other. And having a "let's party" attitude will most likely end in a long, and exhausting day, with frustrated attitudes, and not least, possible resentment towards individuals in your party for not being adequality prepared, etc. (Truth be told - you - may be part of that problem too with not knowing how to do this sport but no one has the courage to say it to you.)
This website uses sections/modules to teach all about the sport. And it is designed to work in a linear fashion. First, start with "The Basics" and learn yourself through "The Essentials", followed by "Advanced". There are over 36 modules! There IS that much to cover! So, please take your time and read through them all in a linear way, starting with this page and moving next onto "Module 1 - What is Canyoneering?"
In the end, and all that really matters, is that beginners and veterans alike want to descend these majestic slot canyons safely. But having our feet on the same standardized platform is the first step that we all should take. We all need to speak the same language, know the same knots, and have the same attitude of safety, protection, respect (with of course, enjoyment) of these slot canyons! We are not getting any more of them anytime soon on Earth!
Thanks for sticking around and I hope that you find this website useful.
My fascination with slot canyons began back in 1994 when my mother took my siblings and I through a desert slot canyon called Little Wild Horse Canyon (found in the San Rafael Swell of Utah). For a 10 year old, it was "super cool!" and fun to walk through a slot-canyon where you could put both arms out and touch both walls. If you looked straight up, it looked like the canyon was as tall as a skyscraper. And in front of you was an endless path where the canyon would weave back and forth and every new turn was exciting because you didn't know what lay ahead...
After a few hours you would hit the open desert again and return back through another slot canyon (Bell Canyon), which was much wider and photogenic, back to your car. It was exhausting for a kid but incredibly amazing! Afterwards, I would think about the trip for the next couple of weeks and get me excited to explore around my neighborhood and nearby hollow for other fun outdoor adventures.
About 20 minutes from Little Wild Horse canyon is a Utah State Park called Goblin Valley, where we would frequent on a yearly basis around Easter time. This is where we would make base camp for a few days. Even in this remote place, they had hot showers at the campground which made this 10-year old pretty happy. Going to bed with sand all over me was something I dreaded, funny enough.
But I looked forward to these outings because 1) I love exploring and 2) seeing a canyon that I could touch with both hands was just "magical". At the time, Little Wild Horse wasn't too well known (including Goblin Valley) and so finding a place to camp was no big deal. There were practically no crowds. (Then, the internet came and ruined it all ;) )
But year after year of doing this canyon, my mind wondered, "what else is out there?" and "where are they?"
Several years later, as I was a part of the Boy Scouts, they wanted to take all 12 of us through a "hike" called the "Subway" which is found in Zion National Park. At the time, I have visited Zion NP and hiked to the top of Angels Landing, Lower and Upper Emerald Pools, and Weeping Rock. But the Subway sounded pretty fun, as it involved some swimming, and a 10-mile hike from what my scout master was explaining to us. Remember, this was before social media. And to me at this point in my life, the outdoors to me just meant hiking because that's all I ever did and know. I knew about rock climbing of course but it didn't interest me. But this "hike" (especially swimming through part a slot-canyon) at the age of 16 sounded great!
And, what I experienced, blew my mind!
I never knew that such a canyon could exist where it was literally 105+ degrees F in the summer, but deep in this canyon, perennial water was flowing which had numerous red-rock cascades, waterfalls in this incredible green oasis! And it was VERY fun with some challenging moments too.
That "hike" changed my life, literally, forever.
Then, I found out that this exploration of slot canyons has been going on since the 1970s and originally had the name of "Gorging". South Africans call it "Kloofing". Our European (and frankly the rest of the world) friends call it "Canyoning". But us Americans call it, "Canyoneering". Whatever it is named, we all seem to be connected by this fascination and obsession to the exploring and descending of these treasures that Mother Nature hides from us.
One day, I was doing a search back in the early 2000's and I was surprised to learn that there was no formal or standardizing organization for this "sport". I didn't know what knots to tie along with what other "types" of canyons are out there and their locations. There were some blog posts and websites that had a "primer" which gave a page or two of what do bring but details where lacking!
This started a quest of gaining and collecting everything that was out there about this new sport and hobby of mine. I read a few books about it (ones by Mike Kelsey), read the famous Freedom of the Hills, and sought out online forums where they talked about the sport. Surprisingly, there wasn't too much information on how to do it. There was several websites and books on where to go, but not too much on what was out there or to expect. Are all slot canyons the same? Do they all have same hazards or obstacles? No. And, "it depends".
There was a Yahoo.com group called "Canyons" that I discovered many years later where people of this same obsession where talking about but I never knew of them. The first website that talked about canyoneering in detail was climb-utah.com. This was created and is still maintained by Shane Burrows, or by what the Interwebs now refer to him as just "Shane". He had a bunch of good but lacking-in-detail information when it came to how to get started but his website had a LOT of locations. To me, the cat was out the bag. I FINALLY knew where almost a hundred slot canyons where. I quickly joined his "Circle of Friends" program to know exactly WHERE to go. I was very pleased. Shane published a lot of great beta that satisfied that craving, along with posting a lot of other non-technical hiking information for the various places in Utah. That again satiated that hunger for my hiking love. So, a lot of thanks goes to him and his website. And I'm sure I'm not the only other person who has found his information life changing.
Fast forward to 2012.
More and more websites were popping up and explaining what Canyoneering is and isn't and people were publishing canyons that were considered "show don't tell". Essentially, they would be happy to show people these "secret" canyons but it did require a blood oath of secrecy. They wanted to preserve the secret canyons that they had no "right" to in the first place. Sure, they discovered it and of course, they are under no obligation to share it. Basically, I saw it as as "hey look at me! Look at what I found and its the most amazing place, but I will never ever tell any of you where it is". That boiled my blood. It's similar to Instagram or Facebook posts showing amazing places but the author refuses to give up the location. Of course, that is their right not to reveal or share, but once the passion has settled, it comes to ego in my opinion of "look what I found and no-one has", therefore "I am better" than you. Well, that's the way I internalized it. (Maybe I should see a therapist??)
It irked me because I was frequenting canyoneering forums, learning more about the sport and was surprised with how little information actually taught you how to do it. And second, people were showing off these cool places but essential was giving everyone the middle finger. It's like the rich guy in town in his Bentley or Ferrari, driving very slow around our homes with loud music, etc. just so that everyone looks at him and admires his coolness (and his massive amount of debt) but isn't willing to let anyone drive it.
I decided at that point that I wanted to create a website that was free for everyone to learn more about the sport but not just focus on "get a harness and learn these knots and that's it". It's focus is on the ENTIRE sport but at a basic level. That way you can know the ins and outs of what's all involved.
In no way, does this website have the intention to replace professional or hands-on experience. Let me make that very clear! It's purpose is to set an unofficial community standard of what the "essentials" should be and ultimately everyone in the sport SHOULD know. I have been on many canyoneering adventures where the competent canyoneering person was group leader and everyone else had no idea what they were doing, let alone how to a tie some essential knots! What if that canyon leader got hurt or injured? What will the group do if they don't know how to tie any of the knots, how to rappel correctly, etc.? (Remember my questions from above?)
Regardless, when we are all on the same platform, you will know how to be self-sufficient and won't be a hindrance to the group. Additionally, you can now be able to pull your own weight through the slot canyon and make the trip enjoyable for yourself and those in your party.
One last point - the website name is important. It's suppose to be a very easy website name to remember. To your friends who want to learn more, you can refer them here without racking your brain. And rather than explaining what canyoneering is in-depth to them over and over again, just point them here and let me handle the basics for them. The harder questions and scenarios they may have, they then can ask you about them once they have a solid understanding of the sport.
Thanks for sticking around and I hope that you find this website useful.