Canyoning has many different difficulty levels. From the dry sandy canyons to glacial fed monsters, there is a huge variety in the skills and techniques that are required. Canyons can often be underestimated, so it's our job to make sure we never stop learning!
While you may not need advanced skills for your local canyons, conditions can quickly change, so it is beneficial to be prepared for all things, even if you think that you'll never need it!
It's all about being prepared.
Canyoning Techniques and Skills You Need to Learn!
1. Rope pull down
Even experienced canyoners can make the mistake of not checking the path of the rope pull-down! Getting the rope stuck or jammed should not be a surprise.
You can always manage the rope to make it come down smoothly. It is a planned task and one that is vital to master quickly in the sport of canyoning.
First of all, watch the terrain traps. These can be V grooves, cracks or even just an odd angle that can jam the rope. If using a double rope technique, ensure the rope is not twisted. Keep both strands neat. And think about how the knot will pass over the edge.
Ideally, the first person down should do a quick pull test, pulling a meter or two, to ensure the rope runs smoothly. The last person down should be experienced enough to place the rope in the correct spot.
Always communicate with one another as to what to watch out for and places it may get stuck.
Of course every now and then it may just happen despite all your preparation. But by consciously following procedures of checking, you will rarely have any trouble.
2. Sharp Edges
While we are on the topic of ropes, there should be little reason a rope gets damaged with a torn sheath from everyone bouncing down the rope like a berserk ape (also known as canyoning commandos)! Be gentle as you abseil, and point out sharp edges to others. Don’t just aimlessly follow on abseils.
And to manage a sharp edge without adding rope protectors or bags as padding is to creep the rope. What is that you ask?
Read on for point 3!
3. Learn SRT
SRT stands for single rope technique. In canyoning, this refers to methods used to descend a single line.
While adding a little more complexity over the standard double rope 'toss and go' method, at least initially until its mastered, it actually allows for greater freedom and safety in managing abseils and environmental hazards. And once proficient, is actually much faster than double rope techniques.
While the entire scope of the SRT is too broad to cover on this post, here are some things it is really useful for:
- Lowering an abseiler at a moments notice (like an emergency) and also allowing the rope to be purposely set short to just above water so no one is struggling to get their descender off the rope while treading water. By setting the rope a foot above the water, everyone can just plop off the end and swim away. In high flow canyons, this is especially important and can be the only way to rig some waterfall drops. Also prevents a canyoner stuck on the rope (example: hair caught in descender) being ‘stuck’ for very long.
- You can creep the rope, like lowering in rock climbing, to prevent the rope getting damaged on sharp edges. It distributes the wear on the rope over a longer distance as opposed to the rope rubbing on it statically.
- Raising a stuck canyoner (example: from foot entrapment) is also equally as easy and efficient.
- Rope is kept neat and stops it tangling in swirling water (via setting it short).
- An extra length of rope is available for emergency use or other tasks like ziplining bags down.
- Setting up multiple short safety lines, guide lines, or abseils, all off the one rope, are now easy to do.
So if you haven't looked into the single rope technique, now is a good time. I highly recommend this book, ‘Canyoning technical manual’, as it's one of the best books on canyoning techniques I have ever seen.
It is very clearly done with great pictures and examples.
Always make sure you receive proper instruction before trying any new techniques. Used improperly, they can be fatal.
4. Rope bags
Going hand in hand with SRT are rope bags.
Specially made ones can be found for $30-60 and are well worth getting.
It keeps the rope neat and tidy, and feeds out seamlessly avoiding tangles. The rope end is always tied to the loop inside the bag, also reducing the chance of loosing the rope (from sinking).
Ropes can now also be thrown easier and also float (if bag is made including flotation).
If you are not willing to get a rope bag, using your pack can also work. It is recommended you have a canyoning pack as these are easier to use as an alternative rope bag, having the correct attachment points and stiffness to allow easy use.
5. Canyoning packs
If you go canyoning around water filled canyons and you don’t have a special canyoning pack yet, you will be quite familiar with water logged bags and struggling to get out of the water.
You may have even tried improving the situation yourself by installing grommets to drain the water a little better.
But nothing beats a proper canyoning pack!
The water falls out almost instantly. No more struggling. These packs are also made to be durable, have the correct attachment points (like using the pack as a rope bag), and minimise loose webbing and straps which can get caught in things and create nasty situations.
My favourite pack is the Mesh expedition bag from Access gear in New Zealand. Custom made specifically for canyoners, these bags have lasted me years and are amazing to play with!
6. Develop communication
Developing good communication is vital in canyon environments due to the sound dampening effects of rushing water and steep drops. Having a few whistle signals will go a long way in keeping things safe and efficient.
To get you started:
1 BLAST: Stop/attention
2 BLASTS: Off rope/ OK
3 BLASTS: Give more rope (lower/down)
4 BLASTS: Take up the rope! The rope manager at the top should immediately start hauling.
5 BLASTS or continuous BLASTING: Help! In big trouble!
You can also develop hand signals to go with them, and remember to always make sure everyone knows the drill before starting a trip.
7. Use teamwork
Canyoning is a team sport. Everyone is there to work through the challenges together.
Make it a habit to contribute to the group, and always ask if you are unsure what you could be doing. Everyone has different strengths & weaknesses.
Using single rope techniques or even with double ropes, you will find plenty to do with re-stacking ropes and assisting on white water hazard management. No one should be standing around. This has an added benefit of keeping everyone warm. And if cold is an issue, there is a yummy way to keep warm that I can highly recommend…
Yes, you can bring as much chocolate as you want! Eating chocolate is a quick, easy way to get warm, and also boost morale. After leading dozens of groups on canyoning trips, it's my tried and tested method for warming people up and improving moods.
Keep a few fun sized chocolates for each team member in an easy to reach place, and perhaps even designate one person as ‘team medic’ who can watch and distribute the fun packages when people are feeling cold.
Also works as an incentive for getting tasks done I might add.
Of course, remember to carry all wrappers out, and leave no trace!
9. Group sizes
I see many beginners head out with friends in groups of 10 or more. This should be avoided for safety and environmental impact reasons.
Stick to 8 participants or below, with the ideal number being 4. Two teams of two, each carrying a rope, makes a perfect balance between speed and safety in numbers.
Larger groups get colder quicker, and are always the ones walking out in the dark. Avoid potential epics and keep the group sizes small!
10. Place bolts by hand
You should already know all the ways you can make natural anchors. Now learn to place bolts by hand. This is important in canyoning areas with high water levels and lots of rain.
Bolts will get damaged and even sliced clean off in floods. And you may be the first through there since it has happened.
A great hand drill to use is the Petzl Rocpec.
Make sure to carry an extra drill bit as the first one will go blunt after a while. Use an adjustable wrench to tighten bolts.
TIP: Practice on a rock at home and use cheap hardware store bolts of the same diameter. There's no point wasting a good bolt on a random rock for practice!
They generally take 20-30 minutes EACH to drill. If you have to place one in a canyon and it is easy enough to do so, rotate the task between the team to keep everyone fresh.
Important: Placing a bolt requires knowledge and responsibility for what you do. You should learn off someone that is experienced in bolting, and only after practising extensively, do them yourself!
Always carry a spray or shell jacket. In windy canyons or when the cold is getting to you and you have no chocolate left, a jacket is a great way to add extra heat. Emergency blankets are important to have as well, but they lack the mobility of a jacket. Carry both to be safe.
12. Common sense
Most importantly, use common sense when having fun in canyons and keep your wits about you. Always think before you:
- Throw the rope
- Pull the rope
- Start the canyon
Checking water levels and weather should be an automatic process. Make it a habit. Take the canyon environment seriously and respect it.
The canyon will always be there tomorrow, so if you are unsure of the weather or skill level required, leave it for another day!
As more and more people head out to have fun in canyons, it's up to everyone to accept responsibility for their safety and ensure they have the skills to complete the canyons safely.
If you would like more information, get this book: ‘The Canyoning Technical Manual’ and use various websites like the Rope Wiki or Canyoneering USA to help further.
If you have any other tips, feel free to comment below, I'd love to hear what everyone else is doing. After all, the knowledge is there to be shared.
Enjoy the canyons and stay safe!
Rope sports are dangerous. Mistakes can be fatal. The information in these pages is based on my own opinion, experiences and research.
I have no formal qualifications in the field.
The information is not formal instruction, nor is it any substitute for formal instruction. You should not trust your life to anything that you read in these pages. You could be seriously injured or even die. People who rely on you could die. You should at the very least do your own research and testing, get formal instruction and/or read appropriate literature. All advice or track notes or trip reports are for use by appropriately qualified and experienced people.
No responsibility or liability is taken for any harm, death or loss of property that may result in what you read on this website or these pages.