By Brendan Hall
Canyoning is an exciting and stunningly beautiful activity, but first, a word of warning, canyoning is not the same as caving and requires you to have different skills and knowledge than you would have acquired from being a good caver. Canyons often require a different style of rigging and knowledge of certain risks to be negotiated safely.
In order to gain a better understanding of these risks is best to start canyoning with people who’ve been canyoning before in easier canyons with multiple escape routes and then work your way up to harder canyons only when you have a realistic idea of your ability and the ability of your group. This section will give you a brief introduction however you are advised to gather more information before trying this yourself.
For more information about canyoning, canyon grades, the risks involved and how to canyon safely the first chapter of Simon Flowers book tells you most of what you need to know. If your travelling somewhere other than Northern Italy or Switzerland then pages 28-46 should be relevant to you. For your first few canyons, we advise you go along with people who have been canyoning before and can show you how to do it safely, don’t be scared to reach out to other university clubs who may be organising their own canyoning holidays.
Apparently, most of the accidents in canyoning are related to badly judged jumps so here’s some general advice about how to throw yourself off a rock into water.
Before considering a jump be sure your happy that it’s safe, get someone to abseil down and check for you if you’re unsure, rocks and flood debris can build up in pools and make them shallower than you think. When jumping first look where you want to land and aim for that, throw any bags down to someone ahead of you who is at the bottom of the jump (make sure the bag contains something for flotation and throw it too someone, don’t throw it into a plunge pool) take a confident leap off the rock you are standing on using your arms for balance as you fall, try to maintain an upright position. Just before entering the water look forward and close your eyes, cross your arms over your shoulders, keep your legs together and your knees slightly bent in case you hit the floor. This can take a bit of practice, so have a few goes jumping into safe deep pools from not very high up before attempting a high jump.
The above describes what do to in the case that you are jumping from high up into a deep pool if your jumping from lower down into a shallower pool then treat this more like your jumping onto solid ground bending your legs to absorb most of the impact when you hit the underwater ground.
Although the best thing to do is to get an experienced person to talk you through it/demonstrate.
If it’s your first canyoning trip and the main aim of your holiday is to go somewhere warm and pretty then look no further than Sierra de Guara in Andora (Spain). These canyons tend to have lower water flows in June and July as most of the snow on the mountains will have melted by then. Here is a list of all the best canyons in the area and a link to a downloadable map of the canyons in the region of all the best canyons within driving distance of a really nice campsite located right in the centre of all the best canyoning in the area, there’s plenty to do within walking distance of the campsite too.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge and want to visit some world class canyons Ticino and Lake Como should be at the top of your list. Here is a list of all of the best canyons in the area. There’s also a downloadable map of the canyon locations, if you click on the blue route lines you’ll find links to more information about the canyon on the descente-canyon.com website and if you do go and buy a copy of Simon Flowers Book it’s rare to find Englishish book about canyoning on the continent and this one is even available online.
Warning: some of the canyons in this region have water levels that are controlled by hydroelectric dams, while this can mean the canyons have a reliably constant water level it also means there is the risk that the dam companies may alter the water levels while you’re in the canyon. So it is best to ring them first before entering the canyon.
Here’s a nice film that gives you an idea of what it it is like…