▷ What is Canyoning ?
For people looking for something different to do on their next summer vacation, Canyoning can be a lot of fun. In hot weather, there's nothing more exhilarating than getting in the water and taking on such a challenge. And without the constraints of diving from a boat, you'll have complete freedom to explore the landscape up close. It's a unique experience for those who aren't afraid to get wet, and it's a great way to explore mountainous regions like the French Alps.
Canyoning is generally practiced by adults and teenagers, but some spots are also suitable for the little ones. So if you're nervous about trying, don't worry, there's bound to be a site that suits your abilities. If you're a strong swimmer, generally healthy, and don't mind dipping your head underwater, canyoning might be your sport of choice.
Here's all you need to know about it, including what it entails, what equipment you need, and where you can learn.
Definition of canyoning
canyoning involves descending a fast-flowing mountain stream through a gorge using a variety of techniques, including abseiling, climbing, sliding and jumping.
The canyon itself is a natural gorge that has been carved into the side of the mountain by a stream of water. The gorges are generally quite steep, with dramatic cliffs on both sides and a number of waterfalls to encounter along the way. Some waterfalls form natural slides, i.e. landslides where people can descend with minimal effort, which is a lot of fun! Others require abseiling or can be jumped.
Canyoning involves a number of outdoor skills including hiking, climbing, swimming , abseiling, sliding, climbing, chimney descent and abseiling. It is designed to explore hard-to-reach areas of the natural landscape by following waterways and navigating through the various streams, pools and waterfalls.
The route can be very varied during your journey from point A to point B, and you will need to use a variety of techniques to complete it. One moment you can be swimming in rock pools or sliding down waterfalls, and the next minute you can be climbing rocks or rappelling.
Canyoning is primarily a recreational sport that allows people to gain essential outdoor experience. For more serious canyoning enthusiasts, routes are often chosen for their difficulty and the challenges of the terrain.
The origins of this sport
Although canyoning was popularized by the Americans and the British in the 1970s, the origins of the sport date back to the end of the 19th century in France. Edouard Alfred Martel, known as the "father of modern speleology", was a pioneer in the exploration, study and documentation of caves. He first introduced the techniques of canyoning in order to carry out important scientific work in the difficult to access areas of the gorges.
At the time, the equipment used was rudimentary and it was not until the middle of the 20th century that things started to change. Most of the early canyoning teams were mountaineers, and the mountaineering team of Alan Waterhouse, Paul Seddon and Tony Howard were the first to market with a harness in the 1960s.
The very first harness was built by British company Troll Climbing Equipment, and was made from plastic protection that was worn like shorts to prevent wear and tear on wetsuits This product was used by cavers and canyon explorers in the years that followed. But at this point, canyon exploration was still a hobby that people enjoyed at their own pace.
In the 1970s, the sport grew, thanks in large part to to Dennis Turville, professional photographer and mountaineer. He pioneered the sport and paved the way for many of the first recorded runs in the Zion area of southwestern Utah, USA. Some of the most famous routes, such as Heaps, Keyhole and Pine Creek, can be credited to Turville and his team of climbers.
Canyoning has developed around the world and is hugely popular in Europe, with France, Spain and Switzerland being some of the best-known locations for the sport.
Clothing and equipment
During a canyoning outing, you will need to equip yourself with the appropriate equipment. If you're going alone (which you should only do if you know what you're doing), here are the things that are absolutely essential:
- Canyoning Shoes: The slippery nature of canyoning adventures and wet terrain means that durable shoes with good grip are paramount for your safety. High quality canyoning shoes are the best option and as such you are sure to find what you are looking for at Aquashoes. It is important to invest in a pair of shoes adapted to the aquatic environment. It will be less bulky when wet and will dry faster.
- Wetsuit: You should never attempt canyoning without a wetsuit. Not only can they keep you warm and boost your circulation (essential for easy movement) in cold canyons, but they can also protect you from knocks and bumps against rocks. Most canyoning suits are made of fairly thick neoprene with a hood.
- Helmet: It is not recommended to go out without a helmet. This is necessary to protect your head. The power of water can be extremely dangerous and it is not uncommon for you to slip or fall. Your helmet should remain in place for the duration of the activity and should never be removed.
- Static Rope: A static rope is required for abseiling, and is crucial to your experience and safety in the gorges. The ropes must be strong and suitable for intensive abseiling activity in wet conditions. The best strings also stay flexible over time, making them easy to use. You need to make sure you have the correct length of rope for the obstacles in your canyon and of course know how to use it!
- Rope bag(s): this sport requires a lot of concentration and balance, so it's important to keep your hands free at all times. A waterproof and drainable rope bag will allow you to easily transport your ropes, allowing you to climb, swim and sail in complete safety.
- Waterproof container with first aid kit: to stay light, choose a small waterproof container for the first aid kit, phone and other essential safety kit that will fit easily in your canyon rope bag and won't weigh you down.
- Descending device: A descender belay system is another fundamental safety feature and should be part of every canyoning kit It is used as a friction brake to help you manage your descent in a way safe and efficient when abseiling.
- Harness: The harness is worn permanently and attaches to a rope for abseiling or climbing. A canyoning harness will usually have a plastic seat protector to protect your wetsuit when sliding down the slides.
- Knife: a water resistant canyoning knife is an essential safety tool for all canyoning outings.
- Slings, carabiners and protection: you need to know what belaying and safety equipment you will need to secure your canyon and always take a few extra slings and carabiners.
- Small items you may want to consider packing include a communication device (but note that some deep canyons don't have a cell phone signal), sunscreen, bathing suit, and your device photo if you plan to take pictures. Don't forget to use your waterproof container to keep everything dry.
What you need to know
If you're considering trying canyoning for the first time, here's some important information you should know.
1. Fitness is essential
You don't need to be super fit to try canyoning, and you don't even need to have a lot of rock climbing experience. After all, there are canyons suitable for children. However, this does not mean that anyone can try it. Physical condition is extremely important. Even in some of the easier canyons, conditions can get treacherous if you don't know what you're doing or aren't in the physical condition to keep up. That said, many outings come with excellent instructors who will help you learn the basic skills.
2. Canyoning doesn't spare your shoes
Specialized canyoning shoes are recommended, but other waterproof shoes are also fine, provided they have good grip and cushioned protection on the foot. Neoprene water shoes are usually not strong enough, for example. Appropriate shoes are sold on the Aquashoes store. Opt for shoes specially designed for this purpose.
3. Check your insurance
Canyoning is classified as an extreme sport, which means that many standard insurance policies do not cover it. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of your plan or speak to the insurance company to discuss the upgrade.
Where to learn canyoning ?
There are so many places where you can try your hand at canyoning for the first time. If you are new to the sport, it is better to start with a guide and choose a canyon that is not too "austere", with fun jumps and slides rather than too much technical skills.
One of the best canyons for a fun first experience is the Canyon du Rabou near Gap in the Hautes-Alpes. This particular canyon offers very fun slides and waterfalls, with the possibility of jumping into large pools. You just need to have a thirst for adventure, know how to swim and follow the instructions of your guide to enjoy this canyon.No previous canyoning experience required!
You will be rewarded with stunning waterfalls, thrilling jumps and exhilarating slides, as well as magnificent views However, an access agreement is required if you want explore Rabou, so always book with a guide.
The best time of year to do it
Although there are no strict rules regarding the period of canyoning, it is preferable to practice it in hot weather. The best time to go out is summer, or late spring and early fall, when temperatures are still pleasant.
It's important to keep in mind that you're going stay active in a humid environment, and that the cold can have an impact on your body. Warm temperatures and moderate water levels are ideal for safer and more enjoyable excursions.
Water levels are often dictated by winter rains and thaws or heavy storms . So always take this into account when deciding when to travel. May through September is the ideal time for canyoning, but early summer can bring higher water levels, which may not be as appealing to beginners. Experienced canyoneers will really enjoy the challenge when there is more water.
Do you need a guide ?
Canyoning certainly does not need to be practiced systematically with a guide, but it is highly recommended. It's not a sport that should be attempted without a professional unless you're experienced and know exactly what you're doing.
But even for seasoned climbers, hikers and canyoners, a local guide can be extremely helpful. He will have a better knowledge of the places than you and can help you orient yourself in difficult areas. They will have all the best tips for getting around certain parts and will have a good understanding of the local conditions, especially the weather.
The guides can also recommend the right route for your group and give you advice on what to do which you must try next.
For beginners, guides are absolutely essential. If you've never climbed or used canyoning equipment, they'll give you all the training you need.
Is it dangerous ?
Like all extreme sports, canyoning involves risks. But with a guide, you can minimize those risks and learn new skills with professional coaching. Generally speaking, most guided canyon tours are extremely safe. There are kiddie canyons suitable for children of all ages, so it's not as extreme as it might seem. Very often people are surprised at how much they are capable of when they try canyoning for the first time.
Canyoning alone can become dangerous if precautions are not taken or if any problems arise, and that is why it is always recommended to hire a qualified guide who knows the local gorges.
The best places
Here are some of the best places in the world to try your hand at canyoning:
- Sierra de Guara, Aragon, Spain
- Corsica, France
- Bled, Slovenia
- Utah, United States
- Val Bodengo, Italy
- Valais, Switzerland
- …..and of course the Southern Alps in France!
Canyoning adventures are particularly great in the Southern French Alps, as there are routes to suit all levels and abilities. The variety is also fantastic. Some are mainly waterfalls, some have no jumps for those who don't want to dive into the water, some have tricky jumps that require precision, and some have great slides for slide.
Can you go canyoning in Grenoble ?
With the beautiful days coming, it is clear that more and more people want to go canyoning! If you want to do canyoning in combination in Grenoble, know that it is quite possible! Indeed, the Vercors has breathtaking places to allow you to go canyoning, with places perfectly adapted to the situation. Thus, you will notably be able to do canyoning in Furon, in Ecouges, or even in Versoud.
Furthermore, if you choose to do canyoning in these places, we strongly recommend that you turn to a professional company specializing in canyoning in France. Thus, you will realize that this activity can be perfect for many occasions! Of course, canyoning can be a passion that can lead you to keep busy on the weekends with your friends, but other situations can lead you to canyoning. Among them, we can notably cite bachelor or bachelorette parties, which can allow many people to discover the canyon...