What is Canyoning? | A Beginners Guide to Gorge Walking
A complete beginner's guide to gorge walking
Canyoning is a sport that mixes adrenaline and natural beauty in equal measure. Trekking through gorges, waterfalls and giant rock pools, canyoning lets you get waist deep in nature and experience it in a brand new way. So if you're looking for your next outdoor adrenaline fix what exactly is Canyoning and how do you get into it?
What Is Canyoning?
Canyoning (also known as gorge walking) is probably best described as white water rafting without the boat. Canyoners navigate their way down water filled gorges by swimming through rock pools, sliding down chutes and clambering over the rocks and other unique features of the canyon landscape. This pastime combines elements from different outdoor disciplines including scrambling, abseiling, cliff jumping and swimming and requires local knowledge and rope rigging skills to be done safely.
Gorge walking is usually done in remote and mountainous areas where water has cut unusual patterns and shapes through the rock. While there are some fairly technical canyoning trips around, most focus on fun and beautiful locations with plenty of big jumps and natural water slides that are accessible to all.
What Equipment Do You Need To Go Canyoning?
There's loads of different gear that can come in handy on canyoning adventure, depending on where you're canyon is and how tough the descent will be. Specifics aside there are a couple of essential bits of canyoning equipment that will be useful on nearly any canyoning adventure:
Helmet: Canyoning is a dangerous sport and the risk of injury is ever-present - a helmet is the first essential first piece of gear you'll need for gorge walking. Make sure you go for a model that's built to withstand getting wet and is a bright colour to make you easy to spot in the water.
Rope: Even if you're not planning a really technical descent a good length of climbing rope will always come in handy while gorge walking. Rope can be used to help the less confident members of a group down steep gorge sections and can be used for rescues if needed. Plus at the end of a trip a good old fashioned rope swing is always a good laugh!
Wetsuit And Buoyancy Aid: When you canyoning you're going to get soaked, so a wetsuit will protect you against chill from getting in and out of water and keep you warm enough to keep on gorge walking. Buoyancy aids are also a good idea, reducing the effort of any long swims and keeping your head out of the water if you have an accident.
What Do I Need To Know Before I Go Canyoning?
Canyoning can be a pretty dangerous sport so there's a few things you should check out before you go to give yourself the best chance of a safe and fun time. With organised tour groups this stuff will be taken care of for you but it never hurts to have an idea of what to expect.
Know Where You're Going: Most canyoning trips around the world are organised by guides who know the area well. This is one of the best ways to experience new canyoning spots for the first time, even if you have the skill and experience to go gorge walking on your own.
If you are planning an independent canyoning trip then make sure you've read up all you can about the canyon and local area before you arrive so that you're as familiar as possible with all the quirks and danger spots of the spot you're going to tackle. It's also a good idea to check the weather report for the whole week surrounding your trip date to make sure there isn't any heavy rain coming in which could cause dangerous rapids or flash floods.
Get The Right Skills: There are some basic canyoning skills that everyone you're heading out with should know. All gorge walkers should have a good basic level of fitness and be able to swim. If you're going on an independent trip you will also need to have at least one person who knows how to rig ropes and it helps for group members to have some abseiling experience too.
Stay In Touch: Canyoning can be a dangerous and remote pastime, so it's not something to get stuck into without a bit of planning. Mobile phone signal can be a real issue at the bottom of a canyon but make sure you've got some way to call the outside world because on the off chance it works it could really help to get you out of a sticky situation. Also make sure that at least one person not on the trip knows where you are going and when you will be back so that if you get into trouble and can't tell anyone, rescue can still be on its way.
Check Your Protection: If you're heading to a well used spot, it's important to check the condition of the abseiling or climbing protection you'll be using. Popular canyoning spots there will often be permanent bolts in place for you to abseil from but even though many people will have used these, don't assume they're safe. Check each one before committing your weight or rope to it.
Pace Yourself: Gorge walking is a demanding sport which borrows from several other outdoor sports, so a good basic level of fitness is required. Once you have entered a canyon you'll often only be able to get out by completing your trip down the watercourse, so make sure that you'll have the energy and strength to keep going for the full trek. It's a good idea to pack some extra energy boosting snacks for the trip and take breaks when you need them so that you're giving 100% to each step of your descent because losing concentration at any point can lead to serious accidents.
Where Can I Learn Canyoning?
The best place to get started with canyoning is as part of an organised group. You'll have all the essential canyoning kit provided for you and an experienced guide to quite literally show you the ropes. You'll pick up a lot of basic technique and safety tips from your first couple of trips and your guide should be able to point you in the direction of good local spots to try out when you're ready.
If you want to try an independent trip then make sure you get some training first. The UK Canyon Guides website is a good place to start as they offer both basic skills courses and training for anyone who wants to become a canyoning guide.
Where Are The Best Places To Go Canyoning?
There are lots of great places to go canyoning in the UK. Popular spots include Dundonnell or the Inchree Falls in Scotland, or How Stean Gorge in Yorkshire. The Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia National Park are among the best places to go canyoning in Wales.
Looking abroad, there are plenty of killer gorge walking spots around the world. Utah is home to some of the most famous canyoning (or canyoneering as it's known in the USA) spots and there are also the iconic Grand Canyon treks in Arizona.