10 Tips for a Happy and Safe Canyoneering Adventure

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By Clare Reda
Clare in the Leprechaun

With special contributions from Jill Yarger.
Jill With a Big Smile

Photos unless otherwise stated: courtesy Clare Reda

1. Bring an old, small backpack and minimize it’s contents. Think Ultralight!
Big packs run the risk of getting stuck in the slots, inducing fatigue, and slowing the group’s progress.

Do the team a favor and leave what is not essential for survival at home. Of the 10 essentials, maybe pair it down: a big black trashbag, headlamp, tube of Neosporin, various drugs for fever/pain/sinus probs, small wad of tp, matches, a whistle, compass/gps device, sunscreen, and duct tape. Consider taking one first aid kit for the team vs. everybody carrying their own.

If possible, take a backpack no bigger than a grocery bag. If there is a need to carry a rope, carry it separately and outside the pack in a coil or in a thin rope bag attached to your harness.

Come Hither
Erin Made a Custom Protective Sleeve for her Pack!

2. Wear protective gear and Sticky Climbing Rubber Soled Approach Shoes
Who cares what you look like! This is all about being comfy and minimizing bruising and pain. Pads help to reduce, or add friction, depending upon how much pressure is exerted against the rock.

Having approach shoes will improve traction on the rock, allowing one to control movement up or down. Unwanted slips can be scary if not dangerous. Climbing rubber is best, so even if you have an old pair of hiking shoes…get ’em resoled with your favorite rubber!

Clare Jumping Keeper Pothole
The Author Jumping Over a Keeper Pothole (Picture by Byron)

3. Wear old clothes!!!
Again, it’s not a fashion contest. Everything will get ripped, worn down, and get sand ground into it. Wear stuff you’ve been meaning to get rid of, or be expecting to when the trip is over!

Fred Ready for the Next Challenge
Fred Wearing An Old Bronco’s Long Sleeve

4. Bring plenty of water and snacks
Don’t be skimpy on food and water, it’s the one thing you should have extra of in your pack!

Fried Chicken & Mashed Potatoes
Is that a bucket of fried chicken? Hey, anything goes in canyoneering!

5. Protect your electronics in a case and don’t let it get banged up.
I had my GPS and camera strapped to the outside of my pack. Big mistake, both were broken! Protect your electronics by keeping them inside your pack. If you need to throw your pack, then take them out and put them safely on your harness or in your shirt.

Erin on Approach to the Leprechaun
Carry the Camera in a Case! When you throw your pack, keep the camera with you!

6. Check the weather, not just for the immediate spot, but for a 100 mile radius.
If there is a chance of rain anywhere in the water basin of the chosen canyon, don’t enter the canyon! A storm 50 miles away can cause a flash flood in your canyon. Better safe than sorry!

A Rappel In Hog Canyon
You Don’t Want to End Up at the Bottom of a Puddle (Picture by Erin Thompson!)

7. Have several different and updated sources of information about your canyon.
Canyons do change over time, and some authors include seasonal pictures or hints about the crux anchors. Please do as much research as possible and be prepared for the scenery to change. It will!

Get recent information on the canyons. Again, a past flash flood can wash out key features that turn an easy canyon in to an expert or impossible canyon.

Map 30 of The Hogs Canyons USGS The Hogs Canyons
Guidebook and USGS Topographic Maps

8. Do get GPS coordinates for trail head, drop-in, and exits and check them on the map!
These can definitely help to ensure you have a successful day. Combined with a map, there is no better way to solve a navigation problem! Expect the hike out from bottom of canyon to be significant, when everybody is tired, it will feel like a long time to get back to the car and it may be the most arduous aspect of the trip.

Expect to make navigation mistakes. Canyon drop-ins look very similar and the information you get from books and web sites are often incomplete. After a flash flood has gone through an area, the terrain can be completely different.

Don’t be a herd animal just following the fastest hiker–check for yourself.

Jill and Clare Taking Waypoints
Jill and Clare Confirming Waypoints with the Map

9. Teamwork: Everybody in the team need to do the whole canyon!
Canyoneering is not top roping at your local crag. So, work in a team to move efficiently and support each other as progress is made down the canyon. Use hip belays, spotting, passing gear down so people can downclimb w/o the packs, meat anchor back ups on all iffy canyon anchors for first rappeller, protection to keep the rope out of the sand, efficient rigging/unrigging of rappel device, bring spare rope, and know how long a rope is required.

If possible have a “basecamp” supporter. Somebody not going into the canyon, but who can alert the authorities should something go wrong. In the very least, tell somebody back at home when the return date is, what canyons you are doing what days, and give instructions about what to do if something goes wrong. It also helps to tell them your make/model of vehicle and where the TH is, if possible.

This information could save your life! Rescue transmitters can’t be relied upon to get a signal out inside a tight canyon. The location information, even if the signal gets out, could be seriously off, so rescuers won’t necessarily know which canyon to enter. If you do have a device, though, take it. There may be wider spots of the canyon where an accurate signal can get out. Again, better safe than sorry!

Jill Down Climbing Miss Piggy
Erin Spotting Jill on a Down Climb

10. Research canyoneering blogs and trip reports prior to the trip!
Upon entering the canyon, review the information gathered about the canyon start from multiple sources (book, web sites, gps, map..) and make sure it is the right canyon.

Retreating from technical canyons is difficult (or impossible) once the wrong canyon is entered and the rope from the first drop has already been pulled!

Thus, as the team is entering the canyon drop-in, look back over the approach hike and take a mental snapshot (and/or take a real picture, for back up!) of the faint approach trail and terrain surrounding the entry. Upon exiting the canyon, this will help to locate the way back to the car, or trailhead. Finding the car a the end of the day is a common problem.

Byron and Jill Scoping Out the Hogs
Jill Scoping Out Our Canyon…Looking for Miss Piggy!

Tom’s Utah Canyoneering Guide, Courtesy CanyoneeringUSA.com
Todd’s Desert Hiking Guide
BluuGnome – GPS Waypoints and Pictures!

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