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Since I saw one of the last EOFT-films I am really curious about trying canyoneering, but I can´t quite figure out how to get started. What would you suggest to try it? What would be the minimum of equipment needed for that?

Some background on me:

  • I am a student, so (expensive) guided tours are basically no choice.
  • For the same reason I would like to spend little money on equipment - at least in the start, till I know more
  • I don´t have any mountaineering or climbing experience - all I know (related to canyoning) is swimming
  • I live in northern Germany
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I put the climbing tag since no tag exists for canyoning and I am not allowed to create it and I think climbing is probably the closest. I find canyoning a lot more appropriate, though. –  Paul Paulsen Apr 24 at 20:22
    
Changed the title to canyoneering, which is what I think everyone calls it, not canyoning. –  Ben Crowell Apr 24 at 22:00
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@Ben I disagree with that, e. g. in the link I posted. But this could be an issue with BE vs. AE... –  Paul Paulsen Apr 24 at 22:14
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It's called canyoneering in North America and canyoning most everywhere else. –  manoftheson Apr 24 at 22:18
    
I created tags for canyoneering and canyoning so now it's tagged properly. And by the way, welcome to The Great Outdoors! –  manoftheson Apr 24 at 22:40

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Although theoretically one can do canyoneering alone, in reality it's not something you can safely start doing all by yourself, especially since you don't have mountaineering or rock climbing experience. So the first thing to do is to try to locate someone more experience with whom you can go. Canyoneering can be dangerous, basically because it involves lots of rappelling. If you read Accidents in North American Mountaineering for a randomly chosen year, you will see lots and lots of rappelling accidents. Canyoneering is also difficult to do safely because a trip down a canyon is committing. Once you've done the first rappel, you generally have no choice but to complete the remaining rappels. If you get to a certain rappel and find that the anchor is unsafe, you have a serious problem. Wet canyoneering adds to the danger. For all these reasons, it would be extremely foolish for someone with your skill set to try to do this without guidance from someone who is going to be there with you.

Assuming that you're going with someone else who is more experienced, the minimum personal equipment you would need for yourself would be a climbing harness, pear-shaped locking carabiner, rappel device, helmet, cordage for making a backup Prusik, and some kind of Prusik (such as a Texas Prusik) to carry on your harness in case something goes wrong and you need to ascend the rope. The other person would presumably provide rope, rope bag, webbing for anchors, extra oval carabiners for misc purposes, and other shared equipment.

To build up a minimal set of skills, it would be a good idea to do a little rock climbing, either at a gym or outdoors. You should buy the standard textbook on mountaineering, called Freedom of the Hills, and study the chapter on rappelling extremely carefully. You also need to learn how to ascend a rope on a Prusik and how to stop a rappel with a leg wrap.

There are some additional skills that your leader might have, but that it would also be good for you to have. These including building an emergency rappel setup and building an anchor. Anchor building is an extremely technical skill. Although you may intend to go on canyoneering routes where all the anchors are supposed to be pre-built (e.g., there are bolts at every rappel station), in reality you can't assume that they will all be OK. If you get there and the anchor is damaged or appears unsafe, you need to know enough to deal with the situation.

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Quite simply, find someone else who is doing this and has been doing it for a quite a while and is willing to teach you. This sport is quite technical, and you can't do it (safely) alone anyway.

One possible way is to find a company that guides canyoneering trips and get a seasonal job with them where they train you. At the very least you could make a connection with someone that works there that will help you. And if you get such a job then you also get to make some money while learning, which is always a good thing.

In the meantime you can look for books on the subject to help increase your knowledge base once you find a canyoneering partner/teacher. There are many online resources as well to learn basic concepts. Many of them seem to be geared toward canyoneering in the US, but the same principles apply anywhere. This site is one such example.

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In the case you don´t have an experienced friend who can help you get a start and you don´t have the luck a company will pay you for learning it, you can try the following:

Look out for a canyoning association or club. Since these are non-profit organisations they often offer low-cost workshops, sometimes with equipment-rent included. Also, they are likely to have a strong community which can help with further steps.

A useful link for Germany: German Canyoning Club

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+1 for "Join a club"! The people in the club will have skills, gear, local knowledge and instructional ability - all of which will be available to new members. –  Greenstone Walker Apr 26 at 13:44

All the above are relevant and good answers. One thing I would add that is missing is the Environmental impact. Cannonying is (generally) very bad for river ecosystems and requires specialist knowledge on where and when to do certain activities. Some examples include:

  • In the UK you should avoid protected rivers or Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • Groups should not be overly large
  • Stick to well established areas, remember you tramping through a river system causes significant environmental damage (removes important algae, etc.). Sticking to well established rivers (which are already trashed) limits this impact. If you do enter a new river, be very wary of the damage you are causing and try and limit this as best you can, do not return until some months later, when the river has had time to recover.
  • Stay off the banks (this is where the most erosion is caused) keep to the river channel where the water limits the erosion you cause

Generally organised groups and companies stick to well established rivers, this limits the impact to a few rivers (which do actually suffer quite badly for this but at least it's only a few rivers and not lots of rivers!). New rivers are not and should not be advertised, if it attracts large groups it can cause severe damage to the ecosystem.

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This actually makes me reconsider if I really want to spend a lot of time on something I might not want to do at all...thanks for the point. –  Paul Paulsen Apr 28 at 17:02
    
Very good point @Liam. While reading this thread and the linked pages I got interested but you really have to think if it's worth the struggle. Still I guess it's lots of fun. –  EverythingRightPlace Apr 28 at 17:30

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