Canyoneering and ratings


Feb 24, 2012
For years and years I've wanted to get into more canyoneering, and, for the most part, circumstances haven't allowed much, but also, I'm often told that the routes / hikes I'm interested in are too technical, or should be done with an experienced guide first. I'm not one to just laugh at safety precautions, but sometimes I don't understand why?

I mean, if you've done numerous short rappels, how is a long rappel that different? I'm not trying to sound ignorant or naive, I just sincerely want to know. I know there are issues with keeper potholes and other route difficulties, but if the route is rated difficult merely because the rappels are so much longer, then would that be reason enough to require finding someone who will take you instead of planning the trip on your own circumstances of when you can go, who can go with you, etc.? If you and your friends already know how to set it up and do the rappel safely, why the need for someone who has done the route before?

What I basically need it seems is someone who wants to be my canyoneering best friend--I need someone to take me to do Pine Creek, Englestead Hollow, and everything awesome! It's just that I don't want to pay to hire a guide. I love to make new friends and if someone here wants to take me that's awesome, I have such limited time though that it's difficult to coordinate trips with others' schedules.

Just wondering. Any input / advice would be appreciated.


Jun 16, 2012
I think a lot of the issue in tougher canyons is anchor building and the time required to complete the canyon. If you don't have a lot of experience building/rigging anchors then you may rig unsafe anchors, which can have more devastating consequences on longer rappels. And then if you don't have a lot of experience with things like partner-assists, or you take a lot of time to rig a safe anchor, then you may run into trouble in long canyons or canyons with lots of technical aspects, because you simply run out of daylight.

So I think those are a couple of reasons why it's good to start out with an experienced person. They can help teach you how to be safe while also being efficient.

But I'm in the same boat you are...I'm wanting to do more technical canyons, but I've only done two canyons and I can't seem to find a friend or two with more experience to take me out and teach me more :( I don't really like the idea of going out in big groups, but I've decided that's probably the best way to make friends with someone more experienced. So come join us at the next meetup! I'd love to go with you, but I'd be afraid that I know just enough about technical canyoneering to get us both into trouble!



Jun 16, 2012
I also forgot to mention all the unexpected things that can happen. From clothes caught in a rappel device, to twisting an ankle, to dropping a rappel device, to taking a wrong turn, to running into a blown anchor, to meeting another group with a medical emergency...there are just a lot of things that can happen that need experience to be able to handle effectively. Of course, it's possible to go through a canyon and not have anything unexpected happen, but, as Laurence Gonzalez says in Deep Survival, to depend on nothing going wrong in order to stay alive is just playing with fire :)


Aug 9, 2007
What Aldaron said. :)

Other things that seem to require more first hand experience:

Learning how not to get your rope stuck and identify the features that are likely to get it stuck. That is probably one of the most overlooked but most common problems. What do you do if your rope comes half way down and gets wedged in a crack, leaving you stranded in a slot?

Special rigging like biner blocks and other important knots. What happens when your beta is wrong and that 50' rap is actually a 70' rap? It happened to us last October and we did not have enough rope.

Learning to control friction on different types of rappels, longer rappels and various diameters of rope. Longer rappels are a much bigger deal than short ones because of the weight of the rope. Towards the top all that rope weight will make it feel like you have plenty of friction, as you go down, the weight reduces and you lose friction. There have been several near death experiences on that first rap in Englestead because of this.

Ascending - Can you get back up the rope if you needed to?

And like Aldaron said, expect the unexpected. Is your team strong enough and prepared to get past something like an unexpected log jam? What if an anchor is gone and there is nothing to rebuild it with? Are you willing to risk lives on it? Obviously some things you just can't prepare for, but often it's the combined skills of the team that can surmount a tough obstacle. I think people totally underestimate what a team sport canyoneering is.

There are plenty of resources out there to learn how to do this kind of stuff. You might not need anyone to show you first hand, but for most, myself included, that's the only way to feel comfortable entering canyons. I still feel like a noob for the most part and I've done quite a few canyons now. It took me three trips through Mystery before I would say I feel comfortable leading a group through it.

Learning all the techniques at home and then going out and applying it is a good start but for me it's critical to see it applied and really trust the physics with someone around that I trust rather than just betting my life that I did it right. Same goes for friction.. being a larger guy, that has been one of the scariest things about canyoneering for me, and why I'm still hesitant to go hit something like Englestead.

So with all that said, I think you get what you pay for. With lives at risk, DIY beginner canyoneering wouldn't be an option for me. If I were in your shoes, I'd either hire a guide, or do what you need to do to coordinate schedules and get out on trips with people willing to show you the ropes. The canyoneering community is incredibly hospitable about welcoming noobs into groups if you can work your schedule around the opportunities.

Really looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

Howells Outdoors

Adventure is my middle name...actually it's Keith.
Sep 26, 2012
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