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First time Canyoneering
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Nov 12, 2009, 5:33 AM
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Registered: Oct 3, 2002
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First time Canyoneering
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When Mitch and I were prepping for our first canyoneering experience, I couldn't find much on the web on "what to expect". So, I wrote this for our guides who will post this on their site.

So, you are going canyoneering for the first time. Ok, here is a trip report that I wrote about our first canyoneering experience. I wrote it so that other first timers can learn what to expect their first time out. There are a few facts, however, that impacted our experience:
1) Mitch and I are climbers. Although you don’t need rappelling experience to canyoneer for the first time, our experience certainly allowed us to move quickly through the rappels.
2) It was in the high 40’s, low 50’s when we went canyoneering. This had its pluses and minuses. The plus: The hikes were totally comfortable, I was neither hot nor cold, and I did wear a beanie the whole time. The minus: the water was icy cold making my previously frostbitten fingers and toes scream out in sensitivity.
3) Mitch and I are in pretty good shape. Although in our 50’s we climb 3-4 days per week. Further we just came off a summer where we climbed every weekend for 8 hours per day, carrying heavy packs over varying terrain. That said, I was scheduled for foot surgery three days after our return from our honeymoon. In other words, we are in good shape, but, my feet were in pretty bad shape.
4) Because of our experience, Garrett suggested that we do the more strenuous canyoneering experience. Most first timers do “Caynoneering 101”.

So, with the facts out of the way, let me share our experience with you. We were told to meet Garret at 8AM at a trailhead outside of Sedona. Silly me, I thought our canyon was off of that trailhead. I didn’t ask, I just assumed. 8AM was an early start for us; after all it was day two of our honeymoon. No rest for the weary, we got up at 6AM, headed for a hearty breakfast (pecan pancakes with lots of syrup…hey I was going to canyoneer all day) and then met Garret (and Dave…surprise, they always use two guides per group) at the trailhead. We loaded into Garret’s car and headed to the real trailhead. This is where I made my first mistake. I left my extra clothing and shoes in our car. I should have brought all of them with me, but, more about that later.

After about an hour of driving (highway, rural road, dirt road to an un-discernable “road” through the forest) we arrived at our parking spot. We seemed to be deep in the woods, there was no one around. We dispensed with the formalities (payment, yes, credit cards are accepted and the waivers) and geared up. Garrett and Dave provided helmets, harnesses, ATCs (rappel device), wetsuits, dry bags and backpacks designed specifically for canyoneering. We packed our backpacks and I was secretly happy about the weight. Although somewhat bulky (our wetsuits were pretty big), this was the lightest pack I have carried all season!
We began our descent through the woods to the top of the slot canyon. The hiking was pretty easy; we maintained a steady pace until we encountered a few down climbs. Not technical, but, attention grabbing, a slip here would mean a tumble down a long, steep hill. We finally (after 30 minutes or so of hiking) arrived at the top of the slot canyon. It’s curvy and carved, very different from the red rocks in Sedona. At the top of the canyon we changed out of our hiking clothes, put on our bathing suits and donned our wetsuits. I didn’t have a lot of experience with wetsuits, but, I want to tell you that my wetsuit was a bit confining.

I was quietly wondering if I would be able to rappel in my neoprene corset. After the wetsuit, we put on our harnesses, packed our clothing into our drybags (make sure you remove all wrinkles when you fold the drybag, otherwise you will have some wet spots on your clothing. I know this from experience) and got ready for our first rappel. My only concern was my ability to move freely enough to rappel. Garrett set up the anchor and off we went. I was second to rappel after Dave and he put me on “firemans” to ensure a safe descent. Next came Mitch and finally Garrett, a process that repeated itself throughout the descent into the canyon.

Since it was late October most of our landings were dry. Great, no water yet! Personally, I am not a big fan of water and I was not really looking forward to the wet portions of our journey. We finally hit a landing that had a pool of thigh deep, standing water. I was reluctant to let go of the rope, but, I had no choice. I stepped into the pool and it was instantly icy on my feet. I waded through the pool (checked the “slippery” factor), reached the other side and stomped the water out of my shoes.

Here is a photo of Mitch getting ready to step into the first pool:

My feet were cold, but, not terrible. Woo hoo, I passed the first water test! Little did I know that the next rappel was going to land us on the very edge of our first real, full body immersion into frigid, inky, black water. Umm…I was not really ready for this. I was happy that Mitch decided to go first. I expected him to yelp or hoot or holler when he hit the water. He was silent as he splashed quickly across the pool. It was my turn. Umm, I was still not ready for this. I needed reassurance that I was not going to sink. I repeatedly asked Garrett and Dave if I would sink, weighted down by my wetsuit and pack. They assured me that even if they pushed me under, I would bob right back to the surface. Both my wetsuit and pack were buoyant. They told me to put my backpack on my front and use it like a kickboard. Ok, I was ready, enough stalling. I stepped into the water and started swimming like mad. I could feel the chilly water finding its way down the back of my wetsuit. Still kicking hard, I headed for the logs floating at the other end of the pool. I found my footing and made it through my first full body immersion. My feet and hands were cold, but, not terrible. I was very proud of myself for overcoming my fear of stepping into the “unknown”.

One more rappel and another full immersion. This time we were rappelling into Clear Creek. The water was crystal clear and I could see the bottom of the creek, making it a bit more appealing to me. This was a long swim and I felt like I really exerted to get to the shore.

This is me swimming clear creek:

I didn’t want to dawdle in the freezing water. By the time I got out of the water, my fingers and toes were screaming out in pain (previous frostbite to fingers and toes made them extra sensitive to cold).
The cold aftermath:

I removed my gloves and shoes and the ambient temperature, combined with Mitch’s warm hands helped warm up my frosty digits.

We waited for Dave and Garrett to retrieve the rope, which allowed me to get completely warm before finished our creek hike. I put my shoes back on and we entered the creek for our final hike to the exit gully. The water was warmer than in the canyon, so I never felt cold as we moved along. The footing was slippery, but, I managed to stay upright as we finished up.

The wet part or our journey was now officially over. We changed out of our wetsuits (these are NOT easy to remove, you basically peel them off like you peel a banana) and into dry clothes. Mitch brought dry shoes and socks. I did not and I wish I had. I was happy to have a windbreaker to shield my back from the wet pack. I knew we had a 2.5 mile hike out, I knew it was going to be hard and I didn’t want to compound the effort with a wet back. Our hike out was an “all four points” scramble up a steep gully. We kept a very steady pace up the gully, only stopping at the top, more than ½ mile from where we started. We continued the pace, consistently uphill for 2 more miles. I was very happy to see the car. We were warm, mostly dry and thrilled to have completed our very first canyoneering experience.

What to wear/bring (this is weather dependent, talk to Garrett and Dave about your particular trip):
1. Approach shoes (sneakers will do just fine, sticky rubber on the soles is helpful, but not mandatory)
2. Wool or synthetic socks, leave the cotton for your walk out
3. Loose, stretchy pants
4. Synthetic top
5. Beanie/hat (if it’s cold)
6. Jacket (depending on temperature)
7. Windbreaker (depending on temperature)
8. Don’t forget about water. I brought a Nalgene filled with herbal tea

What to pack for wearing under you wetsuit
1) Bathing suit
2) Alternatively you can go in your underwear

What to pack for your hike out (once you change out of your wet suit)
1. Dry sneakers and socks (this is a luxury, if you don’t feel you can carry the weight you can hike out in wet shoes and socks)
2. Dry pants/shorts/underwear
3. Dry shirt
4. Windbreaker (you will be putting your wetsuit and wet clothing back in to your very wet backpack. You will then be wearing said backpack. The windbreaker will protect your back from getting completely soaked when you hike out with your wet pack. )
5. Any other layers depending on the temperature

(This post was edited by gblauer on Nov 12, 2009, 6:45 AM)

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