5 Canyoneering Truths

Liberty Mountain Employee, Christian Weaver shares some important knowledge for making a canyoneering trip more safe and enjoyable. Photos are from Christians recent canyoneering trip in Zion National Park.

Truth #1 Gear wears out fast in canyons. Don’t underestimate how hard the canyons will be on your gear. Descending sandstone canyons is the same as taking sandpaper to your favorite gear as you rub up and bump against it. Any canyon worth doing, in my opinion, is going to cause you to become close and intimate with it. It is not uncommon to see canyoneers wearing elbow pads and kneepads to prevent wearing holes in their clothing and expensive wet suits. Frequently putting your back to the canyon wall while down climbing or squeezing though a slot can wear holes in your favorite gear. While a hole in your backpack can be problematic, worn harnesses are just plain dangerous. Purchasing backpacks and harness that are designed for the canyons is essential to having some longevity in your gear life and peace of mind while you tie-in on your next canyon rappel.

Truth #2 Belay devices do not like sand and water. The mixture of water, sand, and rope can destroy your precious hardware. If you are just getting into canyoneering be prepared for your belay devices and carabiners to take a beating and to replace them often. You may have put hundreds of climbs on a single belay device without any significant wear, but just a few canyons will age your gear rapidly. The sand can act as an iron-file grooving your aluminum hardware with ease. Belay devices must be carefully inspected looking for sharp edges created by the grooving that can cut and core shot your ropes. When purchasing carabiners, go for the screw gates, 3-stage locking carabiners can easy become jammed with sand and are difficult to un-stick in a slot canyon environment.

Truth #3 Take the right belay device. Canyons are not a place to carry heavy gear. Just getting excessive gear through the canyon can be difficult alone, not to mention the beating it will take. Going light and fast through a canyon is essential. This can lead to rappelling on single lines with pull cords and using extremely skinny static ropes that save weight. So the question you have to ask yourself is does my belay device allow multiple adjustments of friction? Can I add more friction to my device on the fly if I am not comfortable? Can my belay device handle a skinny single line rappel? Now add water and some swimming to the canyon. Are you going to have to perform a floating disconnect? Does the belay device that you have require that you completely unhook it from the carabiners in order to remove yourself off the rope? What are the chances of you dropping the belay device in the water of an endlessly deep pothole? The consequences of having the wrong belay device can dangerous if not deadly, take the right belay device.

Truth #4 Rope bags are a valuable tool. Working through a technical canyon can be a very timely process. Rope management is essential when trying to work through difficult canyons. A good rope bag allows you to quickly transition from one rappel to the next with out having to coil it and worry about knots and kinks. The rope bag is also convenient because it can be clipped onto your harness or pack and can be easily moved among the group as you are working through difficult obstacles. Rope bags can also help keep your ropes clean and protects it from wear. Dirty ropes are a major contributing factor to wear of your belay devices and carabiners (see truth # 2). Sand loves to stick to your ropes when it is wet so you will want to keep your rope out of the sand. Standing in the water of the canyon, I like to flake out my rope directly from the water into my bag. As I flake it out, I run it through my hand to knock off as much sand and water as possible and then stuff it straight into the bag keep my rope as clean as is possible in the canyons.

Truth #5 Water bottles not hydration reservoirs. In wet canyons water bottles are better than hydration bladders or reservoirs. When going through wet canyons with potholes of stagnate water, dangling bite values may not be the most hygienic option. Sometimes it is best if you just don’t think about what kind of bugs and dead animals might have been in that pothole before you. Water bottles with screw lids that completely cover the mouth of the bottle are in my mind the best option. Additionally, while in the canyons, backpacks go through a lot of stress and strain while down climbing and stemming thought various tight obstacles. (see truth #1) The rupture of a water bladder can have serious consequences in a desert like environment such as the Colorado Plateau. Water bottles are tough and can take the abuse that the canyons can dish out.


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