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High (and low) adventure

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By Virginia Betz

Arizona’s glorious and variegated landscapes have attracted hikers and campers from all over the world. Experienced outdoors-persons, however, might yearn for an excursion that intensifies the feeling of being one with nature, rather than a mere admirer. This Timeout column is for those who are ready to take outdoor adventuring to the next level – and that level might be skyward (via paragliding) or earthward (via canyoneering).

Canyoneering: what exactly is it?

Canyoneering is also called canyoning, cañonismo or kloofing, depending on what part of the world you’re in. As the name implies in any language, it’s an activity that involves climbing down the high walls of slot canyons, then traversing the canyon bottoms. The special appeal of canyoneering is that participants can experience the unique geographies of mountainous terrain unavailable to the ordinary back country traveler. 

Who is ready for canyoneering?

The behaviors of native people are evidence that canyoneering is possible relying merely on one’s physical agility and wits. The modern canyoneer, in contrast, employs an array of technologically sophisticated equipment that enables climbers to overcome the most formidable natural barriers, while enhancing the safety of the endeavor. Negotiating such rugged topography combines the rigors of wilderness backpacking and rock climbing (and even swimming in aquatic canyons) and involves serious teamwork and presence of mind (leave those beer coolers at home!). 

Enthusiasm and a desire to explore the unknown are essential, but not sufficient, to get you through a canyoneering expedition. This activity demands a high level of physical and psychological readiness. Taking preparatory classes is probably the best way to evaluate your readiness. 

The quantity and type of equipment required for a canyoneering expedition will depend on the difficulty of the route and the length of the excursion. Of the many advantages of going with a commercially-organized expedition is that they will provide the expensive hi-tech climbing gear (ropes, drills, and mechanical ascenders/descenders); they also supply camping gear and food. Besides, no reputable trip organizer will encourage an unprepared person to undertake a rigorous expedition. 

Map-reading and orienteering skills are important, but, because it takes years to acquire an intimate knowledge of a wilderness landscape, your best bet is to rely on an experienced guide. According to one expedition organizer, what you should expect in canyoneering is the unexpected.

Learn more about canyoneering:

The Scottsdale-based Arizona Climbing and Adventure School (ACAS), in business for 23 years, boasts highly qualified instructors/guides and a perfect safety record. Their emphasis in on training; both instruction and trips are limited to small groups.

The School offers trips and classes for all skill levels – easy, moderate, challenging and strenuous – in fall, winter and spring. A two-day trip costs $795 per person, a three-day trip, $995 per person and a four-day trip, $1,195 per person. Contact ACAS by phone at 480-363-2390, or through their website, climbingschool.com/canyoneering_adventure

If an extended expedition sounds too daunting, 360 Adventures sponsors two different one-day (7-12 hours) canyoneering experiences, one in a dry canyon, the other in an aquatic canyon. Tours start at $400 per person, with reduced group rates. For more information, call 1-888-722-0360 / 480-722-0360, or check out the website, 360-adventures.com/canyoneering/ 

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