What is canyoning?
This a question we get asked a lot and it is a very understandable questions as Canyoning is still very much under the radar when it comes to outdoor adventure activities. People come across our website and canyoning activities in various ways, like through local accommodations partners, local websites, activity websites, through searching alternatives to white water rafting, through word of mouth and more.
Most people will have a general awareness of what canyoning is, the purpose of this articles is to give you the main information on canyoning.
Alternative names for Canyoning
Canyoning is sometimes referred to as canyoneering, gorge walking, torrentismo & kloofing but the main term that ultimately defines canyoning is “Canyon”.
At the heart of Canyoning is a Canyon
A canyon (the word comes from the Spanish: cañón) also know as a gorge is a deep split between cliffs or mountain / hill side ridges, this split or canyon is due to corrosive activity, usually either made by water or ice over thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of years. Canyons within mountains, or gorges that have an opening on only one side, are called box canyons. Narrow canyons that often have smooth walls are called slot canyons. Canyons vary in size from the might of say the Grand Canyon which reaches depths of almost 2000 meters and widths of 29 KM to a slot canyon that maybe 50 meters deep but only 2 meters wide. Each canyons has there own character and unique beauty to explore.
Canyoning is exploration
Canyoning is essentially the exploration of the route that the water makes through the canyon. The canyoneer (the name given to an individual that is participating in the activity of canyoning) starts at the top of the canyon and descends following the water as it flows through, around and over everything in its path. The main features which varies between canyons is the width of the canyon, the height of the canyon walls, the steepness or vertical descent over the length of the canyon, the water volume of the river or stream flowing through the canyon and the length of canyon or the length of canyon section being explored.
Initial explorations of canyons require a fair amount of technical equipment. The basics of which are – equipment for descending, which is similar to climbing equipment but adapted for working in the water environments. Below we have listed what we consider to be the key canyoning equipment for exploring a new canyon.
Canyons are wet and naturally slippy environments. There are a number of brands that now offer specific and specialised canyoning boots. The key thing to look for is soft rubber and ankle support. Canyoning Boots
Neoprene socks can be used to keep your feet nice and warm but make sure your footwear is a size bigger than normal or your feet may be squished tight with the extra thickness of the neoprene socks.
The wetsuit is worn in Canyons that are cold, wetsuits are made from neoprene rubber and comes in a variety of styles. There are specific wetsuits for canyoning, including a full length steamers that come with reinforced knees, elbows and buttock layers for extra protection when bumping and sliding over rocks and other debris found in the canyon.
A traditional climbing harness is fine but look for one that will not suck up the water and become heavier when wet. Specific canyoning harnesses are available and provide an extra layer of protection around the buttock area to protect the wetsuit.
An extremely important piece in the canyoneers toolkit, the descender allows the canyoneer to descend the rope safely when abseiling in the canyon. Like most technical climbing equipment there are many different styles.
Equipment when combined together gets really heavy, really fast. Aluminium carabiners are almost as strong as steel carabiners but with less weight. Carabiners are used regularly and therefore should be checked regularly for signs of excessive wear and tear. They are used for a variety of purposes one of which is conecting your harness and therefore you to the rope.
Rope is an extremely important component to canyoning. Unfortunately traditional climbing rope will not do for canyoning. Canyoning rope is static rope meaning it has very little stretch in it, most climbing rope is dynamic rope, which has stretch component to the rope. The other main feature of canyoning rope is its weight and ability to float. This is done via the treatment of the rope to make it water repellent and therefore lighter or it is made with a hollow core allowing the rope to float.
Another key component to canyoning is the helmet. Keeping your head (the decision maker ) safe is crucial in a canyon. There are many dangers in a canyon from falling debris to falling over etc. Make sure your helmet is safety rated and make sure it has drainage holes and is designed for use in water.
A simple pair of gloves can give the wearer some protection and an extra layer of warmth in a cold canyon. Stay away from any material that swells when wet, synthetic materials are best.
Vital in an emergency, knives can be used and will be used in many situations in the canyon when canyoning. Make sure it is secure, accessible and sharp.
Key for communication when canyoning, a whistle can be used to relay key commands when the volume of water etc make regular communication hard or impossible.
A mobile phone allows for communication in case of an emergency, just make sure that there is coverage from your chosen network provider in the general area of the canyon being explored.
Cows tail / Safety Line
A safety sling is key for moving safely around exposed areas. Allowing you to clip in and out quickly and safely.
Tape slings are excellent for creating anchors for abseiling, slings can wear fast so make sure you are regularly checking your slings.
Prusik loops are a classic of the climbing world and can be put to many tasks when needed including ascending the rope.
A waterproof dry bag is a great piece of kit for carrying anything that needs to stay dry, like your lunch, cameras, spare batteries, medication, first aid kit, mobile phone etc. They come in a variety of sizes and have back straps for easy carrying.
First Aid Kit
Every canyoning expedition should have a basic first aid kit available to them.
Even if it is beautiful well light and sunny above the canyon can be a dark place with corners of some canyons never seeing daylight directly. Make sure it is waterproof.
Always have a map and compass and more importantly know how to read / use them. Again make sure the map is waterproof or carried in a waterproof map pouch.
Canyoning can be a physical, keep your body going strong with a supply of water and food. Also crucial in an emergency / survival situation until help can be summoned.
It is always good to have a camera in the canyon to not only record your experience for social media but to document the route taken, to highlight any unique features that you came across and to help build a report for those who will come after you.
Once it has been explored.
After a canyon has been explored by the dedicated canyoning professional the canyon can then be assessed for its commercial potential. The Canyon features as described will all be taken into consideration as well as the accessibility . Assessing a canyon for a potential professional canyoning site means assessing and managing the risk that the canyon potentially presents. This is done by creating a risk assessment, creating location specific training and finally bolting or adding permanent features as required to facilitate access, abseils etc . Another key factor in determining if a canyon is suitable is access, good access by road with minimal walk in makes a good commercial canyoning venture.
Hopefully we have answered most of your questions with regards to canyoning, look below at our list of excellent canyons and we will hopefully see you suited and booted ready for some adventure.