By Maloree Anderson
Jun 24, 2017

Introduction to Canyoneering

What is one of the things that you think of when you hear the word ‘Scouting?’ Does adventure come to mind? Canyoneering is one of the many adventures that Scouting has to offer. Here is an introduction to canyoneering and the basics that you and your Scouts need to know to get started today.

First, what is canyoneering? Canyoneering is the sport of exploring a canyon by engaging in such activities such as rappelling, rafting, and waterfall jumping. Now, that definitely sounds like an adventure. Before you and your Scouts hop in your car and head to your nearest canyon, you should probably understand BSA’s guidelines for canyoneering. Here are the BSA documentations and requirements for canyoneering with Scouts:

BSA Documentation/Requirements:

  • Climb on Safely: Climb On Safely is the Boy Scouts of America’s procedure for organizing BSA climbing/rappelling activities at a natural site or a specifically designed facility such as a climbing wall or tower. For the PDF version click here.
  • Age Appropriate Guidelines: Age and rank appropriate guidelines have been developed based on many factors. When planning activities outside of program materials or handbooks, ask this question: Is the activity appropriate for the age and for Scouting? Not every activity needs to be conducted.
  • Class 3 Medical Forms: It is required that everyone participating fill out and complete these forms. Even the adults. Click here for the medical forms.
  • Wilderness First Aid: WildernessFirst Aid (WFA) is the assessment of and treatment given to an ill or injured person in a remote environment where definitive care by a physician and/or rapid transport is not readily available. A BSA-led task force has developed WFA doctrine and curriculum. You must be certified through certain providers. Participants will learn how to assess, treat, and (when possible) contain emergencies within the scope of their training. Youth and adult Scout leaders over age 14 are invited to participate and earn their certification.

Elements of Canyoneering:

Now that you have covered BSA’s documentation and requirements, you need to know some of the elements of canyoneering such as:

  1. Equipment: To have a successful canyoneering adventure you need to be sure that you bring the proper equipment. Equipment can vary depending on what kind of canyon you will be exploring, the weather, difficulty of canyon, etc. The Scout motto is “Be Prepared” so, it’s never a bad idea to bring things for that ‘just in case’ situation. Said equipment could be all or any of the following:
    • Harness
    • Carabiners
    • Rope
    • Helmet
    • Gloves
    • First Aid Kit
    • Water
    • Flashlight
    • Thermals
    • Dry Change of clothes
    • For a more detailed list of equipment and their purposes click here.
  2. Types of Canyons: Be sure to educate yourself on the type of canyon you plan on climbing into. This could determine your equipment list, length of your canyoneering adventure, and so on. National Geographic has a great article about different types of canyons.
  3. Anchor Building: “A climbing anchor is a system made up of individual anchor points that are linked together to create a master point that the rope and/or climbers clip into to be securely attached to the rock. Whether you’re top-rope climbing or lead climbing, knowing how to build a solid anchor is absolutely critical to staying secure.” (How to Build Anchors for Climbing, REI).
  4. Rigging: Pre-rigging rappels could potentially help reduce unforeseen issues while hanging from a 20ft cliff. Climbing.com has great examples on how to do pre-rig, (see image).
  5. Water Canyons: If you are planning on doing your adventure in a water canyon you need to plan for getting wet, (duh!). This could mean bringing a wet suit, water proof gear/equipment, super-grip climbing shoes, and definitely a change of clothes. Understand that adding water to your canyoneering equation could make things more difficult. Be safe!
  6. Belay Techniques: When you belay, your partner is literally putting their life in your hands. It might be a good idea to know how to belay and learn some belay techniques.
  7. Friction Control: “Some rappel situations (wet rope, skinny rope, a single strand, wearing a heavy pack) are made safer and easier when you add extra friction to the rap to better control your descent speed.  Here’s two fast ways to do this: 1) Clip a spare biner to your leg loop.  After you’ve put the rope through your rappel device and locking biner on the front of your harness in the normal manner, clip the brake strand of the rope through this biner.  By simply moving your brake hand up (more friction) or down (less friction), you can maintain better control. 2) Use 2 biners on your harness and clip your rap device and rope through both.  The extra friction of the second biner slows your descent.  This may be counterintuitive – it seems that the sharper angle made by a single biner would slow the rope more.  It’s actually the opposite – try it yourself and see.” (Adding Friction to a Rappel, Mazamas).

Common Safety:

Before you climb or rappel, you need to make sure you C.H.E.C.K.!

  • C – Clothing: No baggy clothing or loose jewelry; hair is tied up or tucked in.
  • H – Harnesses/Helmets: Properly fitted helmets; ropes properly attached; buckles on harnesses properly secured.
  • E – Environment: Is the environment safe to venture in? Are the climbing/rappelling areas free from hazards or obstructions?
  • C – Connections: Check and double-check – make sure anchor points are rigged properly, participants are properly connected, and carabiners are screwed down and locked.
  • K – Knots: Check that knots are properly tied, dressed, and backed up with a safety knot.

Safety should be your number one priority. Understand that canyoneering can include both heat exhaustion and hypothermia. That it could be sunny without a cloud in site and a flash flood occurs. Become familiar with “Canyoneering Safely – Requirements for Unit Canyoneering.” It’s there to help keep youth and leaders safe.

Have fun!

Don’t get your youth and leaders in a situation because you weren’t trained or prepared. Canyoneering is already challenging enough, so make sure that it’s the fun kind of challenging. Get yourself and your leadership properly trained. Maybe plan a pre-trip event to get your youth and leaders ready for the adventure. Know the canyon that you will be exploring. KNOW YOUR LIMITS! Don’t be afraid to cancel if all the pieces of the puzzle aren’t fitting together.

When you take the time to become educated your youth can do hard things and build confidence. Good luck on your canyoneering adventure and don’t forget to have fun!

(Click here to find out more about Entrada High Adventure Base’s canyoneering program.)

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Author: Maloree Anderson | is a photographer, graphic designer, mom of one, friend of Scouting and Marketing Specialist with the Utah National Parks Council, Boy Scouts of America.

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