Water splashes around your body as you swing through the waterfall. Seconds later you drop into a pool of deep, clear water. Looking around, the high rock walls are beautiful after thousands of years of flowing water has carved them into stunning curves, shapes and colours.
This is canyoning!
This awesome outdoor activity involves the descent of narrow waterways, which are often inescapable, with a variety of challenges to overcome. Water flows through these rocky passages and creates a playground of fun for the adventurer, beginner and experienced alike!
So you want to give it a go, where should you start?
1. Take a guided trip
If you have no prior experience, it is highly recommended you take a guided trip first. In many places around the world there are paid guided trips, and, if you look a bit more, there are also groups of canyoners that may be willing to take a beginner out for a beer or two.
There is no harm in asking, so check places like Facebook groups and websites like Meetup.com, or of course use Google, and see what's around.
2. Rock hop
Before starting any guided trips, a great way to get some canyon movement skills is to rock hop along open creeks. This gets all the small muscles working that you generally don’t get to use.
It'll also increase your balance which is very important, and it’ll help you get a feel for what types of rocks are slippery and how to get over them.
This is just a fun way to get in the mood, and being outside is always a good thing!
3. Its all about the feet
Once you have your first trip under your belt and a thirst for more, you might be wondering about gear. One of the big things in the wet canyon environment is having footwear that has lots of grip. Expensive canyoning shoes are great, but are a huge overkill unless you will do it frequently. Save some cash until you've done a few trips and use Dunlop volleys or trainers.
The soft rubber has excellent grip and will give you lots of confidence in moving swiftly over slippery rocks. Avoid clumsy hiking boots!
4. Learn your knots
Hit the books and get practising! Learn those knots! Check out the Oz Ultimate website for a good list of knots.
Always check with an experienced person if the knots you are doing are correct. Some can be tied incorrectly without you knowing. And always check knots twice and buddy check before committing to them.
If you are unsure of learning them yourself, take a canyoning or rock climbing rope skills course, or, join a club.
5. Learn your anchors
Just like knots, learn all the different anchor types you can utilize. Canyoning will be about problem solving the challenges in front of you, and the more knowledge you have, the better equipped you will be. The Dye clan has a good section on anchor types to get started. Some anchor types are advanced skills. Research thoroughly before using them and get proper instruction.
6. Get fit!
Canyoning, like any outdoor activity, involves lots of physical movement. This can be walking in on the approach and scrambling, swimming, jumping, balancing and climbing in the canyon itself.
Be prepared and maintain a good baseline of fitness. Keeping active most weekends is a good start, and squeeze a session or two during the week for the best fitness.
Of course, compared to many other sports, canyoning can be done recreationally and doesn't have the learning curve of, say, rock climbing. The emphasis is on fun, aesthetics and technical challenge.
And if you can't swim, you should definitely make sure you can do that before you go!
7. Learn the Tripod
On your first trip, you will inevitably abseil down something that seems difficult. This can be scary if you haven't done it before. Just remember to relax and always hold onto the rope below the descender device and let it take your weight. You need to learn to trust it, and yourself, by never letting go of the rope with your brake hand.
One good tip I always teach the people I take abseiling is to use the tripod method on abseils that feel difficult going over the edge. I guarantee that going over the edge is the hardest part, after that it's all easy from there!
To use the tripod, always keep three points of contact. One hand, and both feet. Using the hand that is not holding the rope, place it where it's needed to give you balance. It will feel sketchy at first as you are used to holding the rope with both hands in some form, but adding the extra hand on the rock will greatly improve your balance and confidence in going over an edge or overhang.
You can also get on your knees if you are still feeling unbalanced or scared. It's OK to do!
Getting in closer to the edge stops the unbalanced feeling and makes it easier.
If you are not on a paid guided trip, request a fireman's belay from someone until you feel confident.
8. Tie long hair back
To avoid getting your hair caught in the descender, take any long hair, especially those strands on the front that come loose all the time, and tie it all at the back of your head.
There's nothing worse than having to deal with something caught in your descender while under a waterfall. In fact, it can be very dangerous!
The same goes for any loose clothing flapping about. Keep it well away from the descender!
9. Wear a wetsuit
Going on a paid guided trip, wetsuits will be provided for you. However if you are meeting up privately with a group, you will need to source your own.
Always try on a wetsuit before buying, and make sure it's not choking you on the neck, or pulling in your shoulders to hard. Do some squats and circle your arms to see how the wetsuit affects your movement.
They are always tight, but the idea is that you can stay in them all day if you have to. Make sure there aren't any big airy spaces as the idea is for it to be against your skin almost everywhere. Ask shop staff for assistance on this if you aren't sure.
A 3mm wetsuit is ok for most places, but I always recommend checking with locals to see what they say. You can always beef them up with extra thermal layers underneath.
So why do you need a wetsuit?
Any time the canyon has constant water, it will be cold. It can be 30°C outside the canyon, but inside the water is always cold, and the lack of direct sunlight means you will be too. Any delays or standing around magnify this.
Wetsuits trap a very thin layer of water next to the skin, which rapidly heats up, and provides a warm thermal layer to keep you from getting too cold.
So trust me on this one... wear a wetsuit!
10. Keep an eye on each other
Canyoning is a team activity. You all need to look after on another and keep each other safe. Never go alone and never let people go on ahead, or fall behind, by themselves.
A great idea is to use the buddy system.
Stick with the same person the whole way through, helping each other. As a beginner, an experienced person should stick with you to help you learn and guide you until you can eventually pass the same information on to another beginner.
With these tips you are well on your way to going canyoning independently. Once you have mastered the basics, check out my post about advancing your canyoning skills, it has lots of great tips!
You can also check out the Canyoning wiki for more information on canyoning.
And to finish off, here is a good equipment list for you to get you started after your first guided trip:
-Figure 8 descender
-Canyoning shoes (Dunlop volleys)
-Spare anchor tape
-Dry bags (two of, one inside the other)
-First aid kit
-Backpack (Add grommets yourself for better draining ability)
-60 meter static rope
-Local guidebook if available
Have fun out there!