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Canyoning

These notes are intended to assist the climber or scrambler who has already gained some knowledge of rock climbing and is fully aware of its risks but still wishes to delve into the arcane and dangerous world of Canyoning. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way. Ultimately climbing is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead!

Needle Sports is very grateful to Al Hewison, a very experienced canyoneer and climber, who supplied all the canyoning pictures and information on this page.

 
"Where the eagle glides ascending, there's an ancient river bending
down the timeless gorge of changes where sleeplessness awaits.
I searched out my companions, they were lost in crystal canyons...."
Neil Young
 

Now I don't suppose Neil Young has ever been canyoning, but its not a bad evocation of the beauty of these secret places. By their very nature canyons are inaccessible to most people and the pastime/sport of descending them is relatively new. The French call it "speleologie au soleil" but don't panic, it has little to do with the fairly masochistic English caving scene. Beneath the hot mediterranean sun and brilliant blue skies of southern France and northern Spain, rivers have carved narrow slots through the ground, creating deep twisting watercourses through the bowels of the earth.
 
Photo Left: Adele Newall emerging from the narrows in the Clue d'Aiglun, France.


The idea is to follow the water downwards: over drops into pools, down chutes and through deep water. This involves walking, scrambling, climbing and swimming. Vertical drops are either jumped or abseiled from in situ bolts. The situations are often breathtaking with dramatic unspoilt scenery, at times the sky can disappear from view as the walls close in above you, the water may take you through huge boulder chokes or even underground for a while. They can be long and arduous or easy and short but be warned they are all about FUN and are seriously addictive! What follows is a beginner's guide to canyoning.

Where? In Europe the classic areas are in France and Spain - Vercors, Provence and the Verdon, Alpes de Sud, Cevennes, Languedoc - Rousillon, Pyrenees, Haut Aragon, Siera de la Guara, Monte Perdu and the Odesa National Park. (There have also been more recent developments in the Alpine areas as a commercial activity in the summer months).

When? It really depends on the area, for the big mean ones you may need to wait for summer, but others can be dry/stagnant then and spring or autumn are better bets. Winter climbers please note: some canyoneers do it in winter and jump through the ice!!

Skills? You should be able to swim,abseil and put one foot in front of the other. (anyone who has climbed or caved should not have any problems)

 

 
Photo Above: What happens when you get it right - Soo Redshaw abseiling down the Big Cascade, Canyon de la Lluire, France.

 

Danger? You only have to gaze upwards at huge tree trunks splintered like matchsticks 20 feet above you, to appreciate that canyons are not good places to be in flood conditions! Common sense and "le meteo" should avoid this problem. Some canyons are very committing (i.e. no escape) so don't get too ambitious until you appreciate the problems that tiredness and exposure can cause to a group.The main danger is from sprains/breaks, usually from unseen boulders underwater. Shiny white plaster casts are not uncommon on canyoning campsites!! Golden Rule....Don't jump unless you're sure of your landing. Oh, and don't forget to watch out for snakes!

Frightening? Not really, although some of the jumps are guaranteed adrenalin rushes! (but you can always abseil).


Photo Above: Soo Redshaw wearing out her wetsuit, Clue de Maglia, France.

 

Photo Above: What happens when you get it wrong - Canyon de Bagnolar, France in full spate, a situation that can arise extremely quickly - be warned - Canyoning is a serious and dangerous sport!
Photo Left: Simon Cook taking the plunge, Peonara Canyon, Spain.
 
 

Photo Above: Al Hewison and Kate Cook going underground in Los Oscuros Rio Vero, Spain.

Personal Equipment?
Harness
Any climbing harness will do, but canyoning is particulary tough on harnesses and specialised Canyoning Harnesses are made of extra abrasion resistant tape. They also have a high clip in point which is safer and more comfortable for multiple abseils.
Descender

Any standard descender designed for climbing or caving will be fine, but the new Petzl Pirana listed below is designed to be clipped and unclipped from the rope without being removed from the harness - very useful when there is every chance of fumbling it with numb fingers and dropping it into a deep pool.

Boots or Trainers
Essential to keep your feet from getting damaged on sharp rocks. Even better are purpose designed Canyoning Boots such as the 5.10 Canyoneer (see below).
Wetsuit
The water temperature varies from area to area and even from canyon to canyon, ice-cold resurgences are not uncommon! Wetsuits also protect against nasty sharp/rough rocks.
Helmet
In some of the more serious areas such as the Vercors, oversuits and helmets are recommended.
Insurance Important in case of an accident as mountain and canyon rescue is not generally free in Continental Europe.

Group Equipment?
Rope
Two 50m ropes should be enough to get you down most canyons, and in many cases one 50m rope will be sufficient. Careful perusal of the guidebook will tell you what to take. Any standard climbing ropes or static ropes will do, however a rope that floats, such as a specialised Canyoning Rope, is much better than one that gets waterlogged, sinks and gets tangled round boulders.
Also Required
Caving/Canyoning Tackle Bags and Dry Bags for clothes, food and cameras.
Guidebooks
A few Canyoning Guidebooks are available, but nearly all are in French or Spanish (shock horror!). However much information is available locally in Europe, and on the internet.
Information
There are an incredible number of websites on Canyoning. Just go to Google and type in canyoning. For American ones do the same again but type in canyoneering.