Canyoning

Serene to exhilarating. Always magical. Moments of reverence. A myriad of evocative words attempt to explain canyoning. Put simply, canyoning reveals rarely seen jewels of the mountains - be it sparkling waterfalls, shaded rock carpeted to the sky with lush green ferns, the inky blackness of cool, still waters ... the list goes on.

Canyoning is a highly popular seasonal activity in the Club. It is an activity that draws together all the skills of bushwalking, rock climbing, mountaineering and even caving. You descend creeks and waterfalls, scramble over boulders, often swim or float past spectacular scenery. It will thrill and excite all your senses. You may not always be comfortable - you might be cold, wet and tired, but it will inspire and enthral, you will tell your friends with glee about your adventures into the beating heart of the mountains.

Canyoning at any level can be challenging. Whatever your age, experience and fitness, there will be canyons to suit you ranging from lazily floating along on a lilo to those fit, experienced and aching to test skills and stamina against the more technical and imposing canyons. For all, you will need good general fitness and agility. Scrambling over wet and slimy boulders is usual; swims are also common. You will need to be team-oriented - no-one canyons alone; a wonderful team bonding, mutually supportive group effort makes canyoning a delight.

Most canyons are off the beaten track. This is part of their charm. You may walk in on an obvious fire trail or walking track - more likely you will have to scramble and even bush-bash; navigation varies from easy to very tricky.

Canyons can take a morning/afternoon, a leisurely to a highly strenuous, sustained 12 hour day. Overnight trips are common, particularly in locations such as the Blue Mountains. Campsites chosen may be basic. Facilities will range from the maintained toilet/water/cooking shelters provided by the National Park to complete facility-free wilderness.

What goes down must come up again ... eventually. Walking out of a canyon is part of the experience - it may be picturesque over a gradual incline or, more usually, a sustained steep slog up a gully. You will emerge tired but grinning at the end of a memorable day!

Show me the canyons! There are gems within a couple of hours of Canberra - Tuross and Bungonia Gorge are favourites. Canyoning paradise is the Blue Mountains, Kanangra and Wollemi where there are a smorgasbord of canyons to delight all levels of experience.

Canyoning Season

The ANUMC typically runs canyon trips from late September through to early May. During summer canyon trips will often run every weekend to the Blue Mountains, Kanangra and Bungonia. Outside of those dates trips are limited by colder temperatures and shorter days. That said, there are a handful of dry canyons which are suitable to do in the winter. Get in contact with the activity officer or post on the ANUMC facebook page and mailing list if you are interested in canyons but don't see any on the calendar.

To whet your appetite for adventure Tom Brennan's ozultimate site provides a nice description of many of the canyons visited by ANUMC.

Canyoning Gear

Personal gear available to hire from Gear Store

  • Canyoning pack, at least 30L with drainage holes
  • Harness with cows-tail safety line
  • Descending / belay device
  • 3 x screwgate carabiners
  • Helmet
  • Wetsuit
  • Prussik loops (buy from Paddy Pallin or Gear Store)

Personal gear to bring

  • Rain parka
  • Dry bags or garbage bags for your gear
  • Whistle
  • Headtorch and spare batteries
  • Sandshoes (e.g. Dunlop Volleys)
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Thermals
  • Wool jumper and beanie
  • Wool socks
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Water bottle
  • Lunch & snacks

It is very important to never bring cotton on canyon trips. Once wet it takes a long time to dry off and provides little insulation. Prefer either fleece, wool or poly-pro.
The best places to get cheap poly-pro thermals is in Kathmandu clearance stores or perhaps Big W. The quality of the thermals doesn't really matter, you can always layer them.
If you plan on doing many canyons you can save money and hassle by getting your own wetsuit. Buy a second-hand or budget wesuit on ebay or gumtree, preferably a 2-3mm thickness full-length suit.

Having the right shoes can make or break your canyon experience. Old runners are ok for most short canyons, but for longer ones Volleys just can't be beat: they are both cheap and grippy.
You can usually get them for about $30 from Big W in Civic.

If you are at all unsure about whether a piece of gear you have is suitable to take into a canyon, ask your trip leader. It is always better to find out before-hand than in the canyon.

Canyoning Skills

The basic skills your trip leader will expect of you are:

  • gear self-check (you have the right gear and can use it properly)
  • safety at anchors (able to safely get on and off rope using ABC check and safety line)
  • safety on rope (descend under control)
  • swimming, for wet canyons (min 50m but up to 200m, with flotation)
  • able to manage warmth (bring sufficient warm clothes and food)
  • basic knots (figure eight, clove, overhand)

If participants are totally new to canyoning then the trip leader will organise a quick safety practise at the climbing wall the week before the trip to cover the first three items on the list above.
If you have climbed outdoors previously then you will most likely be familiar with gear and anchor safety, but it is worthwhile attending to learn the specific steps for abseiling in canyons.

In longer, more remote canyons trip leaders expect their participants to manage their safety independently. More advanced skills include:

  • rope ascending techniques
  • abseil with self-belay
  • jumping
  • rope management
  • knots (prusiks, munter, EDK and other bends)

You will pick up these skills as you attend more canyon trips. Typically after two or three trips you will have most of the skills listed above.
So, if you want to do 'advanced' canyons, you do more beginner canyons. Ask your trip leader if in doubt.

Finally, trip leaders are expected to know at least:

  • anchor construction (knots, slings, mallions)
  • navigation
  • basic rescue techniques (tandem abseil, hauling, top belay)
  • group management

To become trip leaders you must have had some experience co-leading trips with more experienced canyon leaders.
Co-leaders will have most of the technical skills of leaders but for whatever reason are not yet able to lead a group independently.
Group management is the hardest skill to master and the only real way to learn it is to co-lead as many trips as possible.

Further Reading

To do...