My description of canyoneering: It is terrifying, Antarctica-cold, physically challenging and leaves you with a feeling of “let’s do this again!”
“Would your family like to try canyoneering?” the friendly media representative asked. “Sure”, I replied, having no clue what “canyoneering” meant. I assumed since we were in Mt. Zion National Park that canyoneering involved a leisurely stroll through a picturesque sandstone canyon.
Jeremy, our enthusiastic tour guide, began the experience by sizing our family for full-body wetsuits. Naturally my question was “Why do we need wet suits if we’re hiking in a canyon?” Jason’s even more enthusiastic answer was, “After you repel down a 100 foot canyon wall, you’ll land in a pool of melted-snow water. In order to get out of the canyon, you’ll need to swim through the water. The wetsuit keeps your inner body core at a warmer level”. Ahhh…so this is canyoneering!
After an hour long drive through the back roads surrounding the canyons of Mt Zion National Park , we parked the jeep and loaded up our supplies. Jeremy had a backpack filled with all sorts of professional looking ropes, clips, and harnesses. By this time I was sure canyoneering involved more than a saunter through a canyon path. As we hiked for the next hour, Jeremy explained our goal of reaching the top of a specific canyon, far off in the distance. “When we get to the top, we’ll repel our way back down to the Jeep” he told us. As he spoke, fluffy snowflakes fell all around us, prompting Jeremy to tell us the weather was strange and if it began raining, we’d leave immediately to avoid flash floods.
After a fairly strenuous hike, Jeremy announced we were at the top of the canyon…which meant now we had to get down. This meant stepping into the harness to repel down a 40 foot canyon wall. I went first in order not to prolong the agony. As Jeremy secured my harness, I kept asking, “Are you sure this is safe?”. Naturally he assured me I was safe if I followed his instructions. This simply prompted me to ask again “Are you sure this is safe?” Sooner than I wanted, I found myself repelling down the cliff, screaming the entire time. Once, while silencing myself to gasp for air, I heard Jeremy ask my husband, “Is she ok?” Allan simply replied “Ignore her screams. It’s what she does.” Halfway down the canyon I realized this was fun. I began bouncing back from the walls with a flourish as I lowed myself to a ledge. Suddenly Jeremy yelled. “You need to settle down and not kick off so hard!” I followed his instructions, while muttering “spoilsport!” After landing on a ledge, Allan and Sondra soon dangled in front of me as they repelled the slot canyon also.
As the three of us chatted about the exhilarating experience, Jeremy soon had us hiking along another narrow canyon trail to the edge of yet another drop off. Once again we used the harness and our new-found repelling skills to lower ourselves over the edge, brace our feet on the canyon wall in a “sitting” position and lower ourselves to the next ledge. Naturally I screamed again, but this time for sheer pleasure. After another downhill hike, Jeremy brought out the wet suits. “See that water down there?” he asked. “That’s 100 feet below us. The only place to land is in that pool of water. If you want to get out of the canyon, swim through the water to the left. The water is 42 degrees, but the wetsuit should keep you fairly warm”.
Jeremy lied. The wetsuit didn’t help. After finally getting the courage to swim through the frigid water, I realized it was so cold I couldn’t scream. My vocal cords seemed to freeze along with the rest of my body. Yet surprisingly, after scrambling onto dry land, my body filled with an inner warmth as I realized my accomplishment. I had repelled down three cliffs for a total of 180 feet, dog-paddled through water consisting of melted snow and survived!
The last repel ending in the water gave this trip an extra energy rush. Jeremy assured me he adapts hikes with easier (and less-cold) repels for families with younger children. Take Jeremy’s advice and try canyoneering with your family! One canyoneering website describes the experience as “Kind of like fun-only different!” www.zionrockguides.com
Silvana Clark is a writer, motivational speaker and mother of Sondra, whom she home-schooled for a year so they could travel the US in an RV.