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On Rappel

Canyoneering Primer
Version 2.a
May 11, 2005

Technical Canyoneering
William Bees


          The best place for discussion and questions with regards to canyoneering is at the Bogley Canyoneering Forum. The forum a fun and friendly place where everyone is welcome to hang-out. The forum is FREE to join and open to all hikers, mountaineers, technical canyoneers and slot canyon enthusiasts. You will discover the forum is a great place to find partners, meet new friends and enjoy the latest canyoneering news and gossip.

          This document is a beta version and may contain serious errors, perhaps even fatal errors. Please use caution and consider it a work in progress.

          Canyoneering is a dangerous activity. No written guide can tell you all you need to know. Even if you do everything right you can still be hurt or killed. Use this information at your own risk.


compass.gif (56962 bytes)          This information is presented in a very brief manner and assumes you already possess or will get climbing and wilderness skills. This guide is intended to suggest techniques, tools and skills to you that may be useful in certain situations. This is not a complete explanation of how to do these things, please refer to other instruction for that information such as climbing and canyoneering instruction. This guide cannot explain all you need to know to use these techniques safely. You are warned to get the relevant experience in a safe setting and practice it before trying it out for real. You accept all risk for everything to do with this information and any consequences thereof.

          This information may be distributed privately at no charge as long as it is credited to William Bees, copyright notice is included, it is reproduced in its entirety and no fee is charged. Commercial distribution is prohibited without advance permission.

          This document is split into the Introduction, Warning, Weather, Rescue, Gaining Skills, Moving Groups Along, Pothole Exiting, Rappel/Downclimbing, Natural Anchors, Stuff Under Development, Retrievable Anchors, Useful Stuff, and Descending Styles.


This guide to canyoneering was written to encourage people to lessen their impact on canyons. It includes information on natural anchor techniques and pothole exiting to avoid the permanent damage of bolts and hole drilling. Thus we won't cover bolting here. Bolts may have a place in canyons with much running water such as the canyons in the Sierra Nevada in California and many places in Europe and elsewhere but most canyons in the desert Southwestern US (Colorado Plateau) do not need bolts for traveling down them. Your bolt will likely not last very long in the weak sand-, mud- and siltstones of the CP so please use the natural items already in place.

Many longtime Colorado Plateau canyoneers do not place bolts at all and regularly travel heavily bolted canyons without using any bolts. So why where these canyons bolted in the first place, many times far after many clean leave-no-trace descents?

Many people just don't know that you can descend canyons rappelling and downclimbing without leaving bolts. This guide hopes to alleviate that problem. Some people leave bolts as a self-appointed public service to make things easier for the next traveler. Hopefully this guide will help show that clean canyoneering is easy and the skills and gear required are within the reach of everyone. Some people bolt as a way of marking their territory, much as animals spray musk or urine to mark their territory. We suggest those people get professional help and quit damaging public land to work out their problems.

Under current US law bolting is unlawful in some wilderness areas and wilderness study areas. Please do not bolt in the wilderness.

One drop on the Colorado Plateau in sandstone in 2001 had 2 current bolts and 5 old holes and bad bolts. This canyon was first bolted in 1978 and has no record of being subject to bolt wars. 23 years, 7 bolts. How much destruction is necessary? If the bolts here have an average lifetime of less than 5-10 years then shouldn't we find a less destructive method of passing through? The scars will last much longer than 10 years and will outlast the usefulness of the bolt by a hundred times. Shouldn't we use alternatives that don't leave such long lasting scars?

Many long-time Colorado Plateau canyoneers feel there is no need for a bolt anywhere in Colorado Plateau canyons. Please join them in leaving the canyons just as you found them in all their wildness. Slings can be easily removed but bolts are basically forever. The Leave-No-Trace (www.lnt.org) ethic has improved the backcountry environment in much of the US, please help keep the wilderness wild. Work toward descending canyons in a style that leaves them untouched for the next traveler.

One of the attractions of climbing is increasing your skills so you can climb harder and harder rock without using gear for aid. Canyoneering can be approached the same way. You can do a canyon when you are a novice canyoneer and rappel 10 times and take 8 hours. Doing it again with greater skills and knowledge you might be able to descend the same canyon without rappelling at all in half the time while spending less time on the mechanics of rapping and waiting for the rope to be set up leaving you more time to appreciate the natural beauty around you. Knowing these skills and techniques may save your life when you are stuck in a canyon with minimal equipment. Knowing how to travel without needing bolts can lighten your pack and give you the freedom to travel widely in canyons knowing you have the skills to travel lightly both on you back and on the earth and remain safe.

This guide is primarily meant as a guide for canyoneers. Canyoneering is defined here as descending usually dry or still water canyons cut into sandstone featuring narrow slots and potholes, dryfalls and up- and downclimbing. The archetype here would be the type of canyons found in the Colorado Plateau of the Southwestern US in the Navajo Sandstone such as the canyons found in Zion National Park.

Canyoning is defined here as usually flowing water canyons, sometimes lots of water and often cut into harder rocks such as limestone. The archetype would be the type of canyons found all over Europe or closer to home here in the US the canyons found in the Sierra Nevada in California cut into the granitic rocks of the Sierra core.

Canyoneering uses different skills and tools (with some overlap) than canyoning. In canyoneering you rarely have to deal with flowing water of any strength and usually can ignore the water except for the temperature. Canyoning often means taking special precautions to keep the flowing water from killing you. Canyoneering can involve exiting an undercut or slippery vertically-walled pothole as the most difficult obstacle you encounter. Bolts may be a realistic method of protection in canyoning where the strength of the flowing water can make it dangerous or impractical to rig natural anchors. Canyoneering rarely has that problem. Most canyoneering anchoring problems can be solved with the tools and objects from the environment at hand. Leave-No-Trace canyoneering (at least no permanent trace) is uniquely suited to the Colorado Plateau and other areas where the environment allows plenty of options to travel safely and quickly without bolting.

"Ghosting" or descending canyons without leaving anything behind including slings is a style some people like to practice. We won't emphasize it here because many feel ghosting leads to bolting since the next travelers through can't find the anchors. Thus, they place a bolt thinking they're doing the world a favor. Ghosting can be a fun, entertaining and involved way to descend your favorite canyon and many of the low-impact techniques below can be used or modified when ghosting. A ghosting/retrievable technique section is included in this guide but is very much incomplete. Please let us know about your technique on the Bogley Canyoneering Forum.



All of the techniques in this guide are easy. Easy, that is if you have practiced and become proficient in their use. They may not be easy if you just read this article or heard about it from a friend and find yourself floating in a 50-degree pothole for 5 minutes or more. Practice makes perfect. Try it at home first in a safe, controlled environment with your favorite cold beverage nearby. Try all the combinations of gear you have or will be using to make sure they all work with your particular techniques ropes and gear. Make sure they work when wet or covered with wet sand, silt or mud. In many cases you will be using your gear outside the recommendations of the manufacturer. You are responsible for seeing that it works adequately.

The flip side of using equipment outside of the manufacturer's recommendations is tremendous versatility. Most of these techniques use equipment and gear you may already have. Multiple uses for equipment means that with a small stock of basic gear and techniques you can improvise many different systems to accomplish many different goals. On the other hand, you are accepting the risk in using something not as the manufacturer intended. It may fail and it will only be your fault. We don't bring backups for every eventuality because we can't carry it all with us.

If you don't get it or you don't thoroughly understand how these systems and techniques work don't use them. You are solely responsible for you and your partners' safety. Don't trust your life to an anchor and rope system you do not understand.

This guide does not cover all you need to know for safe ropework, anchor building, pothole exiting and rappelling. It is specifically written assuming you have or will get climbing experience and already know ropework and anchor building and can evaluate and judge anchors and protection systems. These subjects are much too large to cover in this short guide. This short guide cannot possibly teach you all you need to know to stay reasonably safe in the wilderness. It omits a tremendous amount of information you should know to be reasonably safe. You should realize that no printed guide is a good substitute for hands-on experience with someone who is practiced and competent with these techniques. Hands-on experience should be gained under safe conditions before putting what you read here into practice in the real world. No claim whatsoever is made as to the safety of these techniques. Some of these techniques make anchors that are just strong enough to hold you. Some of these techniques describe ŇanchorsÓ that are not even strong enough to hold you, but they might be useful for certain situations. Use of these techniques should be used with caution and with a full understanding of the risks. Just like any climbing gear, anything can fail even if you do everything right. Using this stuff outside of manufacturers recommendations means you accept all of the risk. The outdoors is dangerous. This is not Disneyland (tm).

No climbing, mountaineering or canyoneering is safe. The wilderness is dangerous and when you add ropework and exposure to the risks of rockfall and slip-and-falls you increase the risk that you will make a mistake that will seriously harm or kill you and your partners. Statistically in rappelling more natural anchors fail than bolted anchors. This is probably because in climbing where most of the data is taken from natural anchors are used when retreating or descending from a climb, climbers are often fatigued in these circumstances affecting their judgement, and climbers are usually highly motivated to save money and conserve gear when retreating or descending. ItŐs also because bolts rarely fail assuming even cursory care was taken in placing them. The problem is you canŐt tell how much care was taken in bolt placement after the fact, all you can see for sure is a glaring obvious fault visible from the outside. Critical faults inside are hidden from you. It means you test and trust, and you can apply the same test and trust to an anchor you construct from available objects.

Canyoneering is not climbing. Usually if you have enough sling you can rig an adequate anchor almost anywhere. Small trees (less than 1 foot in diameter at the base) show up often in the accident reports. Still we are talking degrees of risk. You are probably at more risk of making a rigging mistake with the rope than any added risk from natural anchors assuming you rig and rate your anchors conservatively. In any anchoring situation you can choose to roll the dice. Not backing up your anchor, using single point anchors, using an anchor good for just bodyweight are all risky behaviors. Some times you may be able to justify the risk and sometimes not. You must make that judgement with any kind of anchor. You can reduce the risk by evaluating anchors and choosing to rig for additional strength and back them up with more than one anchor component like 2 different trees or 2 separate chockstones in different cracks. You cannot eliminate risk entirely, not with natural anchors and not with bolts.

With an anchor you construct, you can evaluate the components and system and judge for yourself whether it is likely to be strong enough. With bolts, you have little to no idea whether the bolt was placed properly. With bolts itŐs pretty much test, trust and go. With an anchor you build you can evaluate and judge. You can build anchors just about anywhere and test them to probably 500 lbs. with a 3-1 or more rig to multiply forces. This testing can help build confidence and weed out bad technique. It is not easy to hand-drill bolt holes and novices are more likely to place a bad bolt or a bolt in the wrong place without substantial training and experience. Once you place the bolt in the wrong place or drill the hole oversize youŐve scarred the rock for a very long time. If you place a natural anchor in the wrong place it will likely wash out in the next flood and the next person can take your webbing out and no harm is done.

Climbing gear is rated for failure strengths. Due to the statistical nature of this, some of it will fail below rated strength. Most equipment for commercial use is rated for safe working load with a large safety factor for overload, typically 3 to 15 times the safe working load. That is not the safety margin you have with climbing gear. It will fail close to the rated strength under ideal conditions and sometimes it will fail under the rated strength. Out in the field you do not have ideal conditions and you are dealing with used equipment that may be dirty, damaged, worn, wet, misused or all of those. Carabiners with the gate open and loaded on the nose have broken in the field under bodyweight. That's all it takes under certain circumstances. Just because gear is rated for certain strength does not mean it will be that strong. You may get the one in 1000, or the one in 10,000. When you use gear outside the tested uses the "rated" strength is irrelevant. You may be (mis-) using equipment that may fail at far below its "rated" strength.

Some (most or all) of these techniques do not conform to the generally accepted safe climbing practices of bombproof anchoring, that is an anchor good to the maximum possible (expected) load (usually taken to be good to 15kN [about 3475 lbs.]) Climbing ropes (Note: not static ropes) generally stretch to keep anchor loads below this figure and climbing anchors are generally accepted to be two (or three) bombproof anchor placements or many more less-strong placements for redundancy. A bombproof anchor is climbing slang for an anchor that is virtually indestructible, as in it would take a bomb to destroy the anchor. Climbing anchors are intended to take the shock load of a climber falling on the anchor.

Canyoneering anchors need to be strong enough. How strong? Strong enough to do the job. For a pothole exit where the fall is into bottomless water from a short distance your anchor doesn't need to be very strong or very reliable because the consequences are minimal if it fails. The opposite is true when you are looking at a 100m fall into a talus slope. You would want an extremely reliable and strong anchor. An anchor to protect a short downclimb with a fall into sand might fall somewhere intermediate on the anchor strength and reliability scale. You and your partners have to make this judgement. If you leave an iffy "anchor" sling in place you have to judge your responsibility to the parties after you. They may not evaluate the anchor (it might be covered up with flood debris with just a sling peeking out), may not understand it and may just blindly use it.

All in-place "anchors" should be evaluated thoroughly - many feel that replacing sling is absolutely necessary due to the "sandblasting" effect of sandy floodwaters. Clean off flood debris and see what that sling or fixed rope is attached to. Look at the full length of the sling/rope and examine all knots. Water can jam a free sling or piece of rope into a stump or crack or bunch of boulders. Just because you see a sling peeking out doesn't mean it was actually placed there as an anchor. Check the size, shape and solidity of all logs, boulders and other debris the sling goes around. Is it all solidly wedged or heavy enough to serve as an anchor? Deadman anchors can be evaluated with a pull test. This does not tell you for sure if it will hold you or your partner but it's the best you can do without evacuating them and rebuilding.

Canyoneering loads are often different from climbing loads. Canyoneering loads are usually static rappelling loads with static ropes. It's possible to load a rap anchor pretty high by tying into the static rope and the anchor and jumping off the edge but it would probably injure you as well. Canyoneering anchor loading is generally rappel loading, downclimb support loading and pothole exit loading. These loads can basically be accomplished by an anchor/rope system that supports just over bodyweight, many cases less than bodyweight. This is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing since if you rap smoothly and don't slip and jerk you can rap on the most amazingly crappy anchors and make it to the ground safely. It's a curse because this can lead you into complacency since "it's worked before so it must be safe". This isn't safe at all if your safety margin is too small and your load exceeds the margin that one time.

Canyoneering anchors are often single point anchors, especially in seldom-traveled canyons. Sometimes the single point anchor appears bombproof such as a 3' solidly wedged stump or solidly rooted tree. There's no redundancy in single point anchors and when they fail it can be catastrophic. Single bolts and large, solidly rooted trees rarely fail but they can. Given the static loading of most canyoneering rappel anchors many people do not back up single anchors when the anchor appears bombproof. Remember, just because you (or your friend) have done something before (even if it's been done safely many times before) doesn't mean it's safe. Knowing your anchor/rope/gear system is critical to using these techniques. The margin of safety in some of these can be razor thin and kill you or your partner if misused. Sometimes you donŐt even have to do something wrong, itŐs just the roll of the dice. Be safe, evaluate, understand and backup where appropriate. Don't just read this article and go out and do it in the field without testing it first under controlled and safe conditions. The consequences could be deadly. Test these techniques, practice the skills and evaluate the strengths and weakness of the system. Do not become an accident statistic.

Many people with far more experience than you have made mistakes. Learn from their mistakes and donŐt make their mistakes again. It is the rare climber or canyoneer who has never made an error with the rigging or their protection. Most mistakes are not fatal or serious or are caught before serious consequences. Backup your anchors unless you are sure you know what you are doing, and then maybe you should back them up anyway for everyone but the last person down with a solidly braced body anchor. A true independent and redundant backup would probably reduce the serious consequences of many accidents and can often be provided for everyone but the last person down by a simple body anchor. Small insurance to pay for knowing you are helping to keep you and your partners safe.

Polished rock is slippery. Wet polished rock with algae and bacterial mats on it is even more slippery. In the southwest US the sandstones are typically high friction but other types of rocks can be incredibly slick and dangerous. Use caution especially at the top of a drop.



Canyoneering takes place in canyons. Canyons are subject to flooding. Canyoneering in places that have thunderstorms is particularly dangerous. Some canyons are relatively safe with ample high ground available most anywhere. Many canyons do not have safe high ground easily available. The first thing you can do to reduce your risk is not to canyoneer during Monsoon season. During the summer over much of the US you will have moist unstable air that frequently produces thunderstorms. This is Monsoon season. Obviously you should be careful anytime rain or melting snow is threatening, not just during Monsoon season.

Many canyons have drainages upstream that may be 40 or more miles away. A thunderstorm may hit them, drop a lot of rain and then return to sunny skies. Several hours later you drive in and look around, see no clouds and assume there is no danger. Wrong. The high water surge can take hours to reach a narrow canyon where you are hiking. The rain may even have happened yesterday. The farther away the source of the water the more likely that the water will rise slower (maybe, frequently untrue) but the greater likelihood it will rise with no warning. If you cannot get out of the way in time several seconds or several minutes is irrelevant since you will be just as dead either way.

Flash floods can rise up several feet in seconds and can be more like moving debris flows than water. Rocks, mud, trees and logs are carried along as fast as gravity can propel them and will make you very dead. Your only warning may be a rush of air and noise from upcanyon. You may have no warning. You generally cannot outrun a flash flood so be prepared. Safe (relatively safe anyway) high ground would depend on the area and local weather but may mean 50 feet or more above the bottom and not in a side drainage which may flood itself. Beware of local landslides and falling debris from above that is frequently experienced during downpours.

If you must roll the dice learn how to read clouds for clues as to the likelihood of rain and thunderstorms. Follow the National Weather Service forecast for your area. Learn your local weather patterns. Know your canyon, know where safe high ground is and know exactly how long you will take to get to safe high ground. Realize that you can be killed by landslides or rockfall that are caused by the rain even if the water doesnŐt endanger you directly. If you pick a canyon that does not have a drainage from far away so any water draining through your canyon must fall within a few miles you reduce your risk somewhat. But realize you still can be very dead very quickly from a lot of water falling right on top of you. You may not have any warning from thunder or you may not hear the thunder. The natural world is uncaring as to whether you live or die and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time you will die. Canyoneering during or after rain can be very dangerous. Quite a few people have died both in the US and in Europe from flooding in canyons.



OK, so you will never need rescue. Good for you. Just out of respect for the lives and safety of those who might try to find you do some simple things to reduce their risk.

First, only attempt trips within your ability and prepare for the conditions expected and think about what might be unexpected too. Do you have a spare rope? Do you know alternate exits in case you need to bail from injury or other mishap? What if you or your partner gets an injury? Can you rig anchors if you lose or use up most of your supplies? This first step is to avoid needing a rescue in the first place.

Second, tell someone responsible where you are. Leave them your itinerary, a map with your route marked on it, and a good idea of what you are doing and how prepared you are to do it. You could give them as much info as you want, itenarAy, expected route marked on a map, photographs of you and your partners, clothing colors, bivy spots, trailhead parking, license plate numbers, alternate plans and so on. Give them your expected out date and when you will contact them and tell them when to call the NPS, Forest Service, BLM or whoever if you don't check in. Make sure to leave them the right phone number for the appropriate agency. You may wish to give your contact person instructions that you should call in by "x" date, and they should call for rescue if you are not out by "Y" date. If you print all this up all your contact person has to do is fax it to the proper agency after they make the initial call. If the call is made they will go looking for you and it would be best for everyone if they weren't wasting their time looking in the wrong spot. You could also leave a phone number of your contact on your car at the trailhead. Some people donŐt like to leave any info on their trailhead car because they feel it encourages vandalism and theft.

Third, stay alive until they come find you. Make sure you can survive a night or two out with what you have and can improvise. Cold is a huge killer, make sure you can stay warm whether that be with fire or adequate clothing or shelter. Water is fairly important, make sure you either have enough or can resupply and purify. If the water is bad and you are stuck you probably should drink it even without purification if things are living in the water like bugs or fish. You would probably die of dehydration first before waterborne diseases would kill you. Food is relatively unimportant from a strict survival viewpoint since virtually all of us could survive a while without food. Food can add greatly to your comfort though.

Fourth, be visible and loud so you can be found. In many areas they will overfly the area with helicopters or light planes to see if anything obvious can be seen as the first step in a rescue operation. Large brightly colored objects like a yellow tube tent can be seen better from the air than a yellow jacket or more earth-toned colors. A signal mirror can signal planes, helicopters and other hikers on ridgelines around you. If you have a signal mirror flash the horizon and passing aircraft with it in the hopes someone will see it. Blow your whistle three times frequently. Stay in a safe place and stay there. A fire can gain attention but be careful. Fires set to gain rescuers' attention have caused billions of dollars in damage and multiple deaths. Things in sets of 3's are universal distress signals, 3 fires, 3 large figures visible from the air and 3 whistle blasts.



The single best thing you can do to improve your canyoneering skills is canyoneer with other experienced people who can show you how to move safely and efficiently. (Down-) Climbing skills can help greatly. You will be able to climb around or down things you needed to rap or handline before. You will learn to rap and climb smoothly so you strain your anchors less when you do need to use a rope. You will be able to climb out of potholes you couldn't have before. Seek out partners who are more experienced than you and observe their work. Ask questions. Take a rock climbing class or climb with experienced partners. Although you can't usually learn the nuances of climbing from a book the Falcon How to Climb series has much valuable information about climbing, as does Freedom of the Hills by the Mountaineers.

When you improve your climbing skills you will be able to climb or downclimb more with your pack on. Climbing with your pack on your back is usually much faster than taking it off and dragging it through. Speed can be life. Getting through the difficult cold wet area in daylight can prevent an unpleasant or unsafe bivy. Always bring a light source even if it's just a LED duct taped to your helmet. Always be prepared to spend the night. That doesn't mean bring overnight gear like a sleeping bag and tent, which will slow you down with the weight and bulk but be prepared with the skills and tools to survive the night in case you're incapacitated or delayed. Practice those skills before you need them in a real emergency. Take your overnight emergency gear out of the bag and use it so you don't get unpleasantly surprised when your gear doesn't work like you thought it would.

Keep all of your hooks/packs/ropes/ tools/bags/stuff attached to you. As a general rule keep everything attached to you or the rope. When carrying the rope between drops make sure it's clipped in to you or the pack. Paracord and smaller utility cord can be used to make leashes for your gear. Bags and all your gear normally used in ropework should all have clip-in loops. Vital stuff should probably have locking carabiners attached. Rope in wet canyons can have a float attached to it. This will help if you drop the rope in a pothole. Don't let a coil of rope (or any mass of rope) sink in a pothole. The coil can sink to the bottom under submerged logs or rocks and jam and resist coming back up



Canyoneering is a popular sport that often finds one "leader" with a group of novices. If you contemplate bringing a group into a canyon you should first make sure you are competent to rescue one or more of your group and even more important make sure your group can survive if you are hurt. Know your canyon and only go into a situation you can handle even if multiple things go wrong. A ratio of "leaders" to novices should be 1:1 ideally or even more leaders than novices if you can. If there's multiple raps and downclimbs a ratio of 1:3 or more quickly becomes a slow disorganized mess with most groups.

Large groups frequently stack up at downclimbs and rappels. The impact isn't just on your group, larger groups tend to have more environmental impact and make more noise and be more objectionable to others. Be quiet and respectful of others. Don't yell or blow whistles unless it's an emergency. When you can see the bottom you don't need to yell "Off Rappel" because you can see the person walk away from the ropes.

Bring lots of ropes. If your party needs lots of help with downclimbs station a leader with a rope at each downclimb or rappel. This is why you should have a 1:1 ratio. If your "leader" is helping each person down each downclimb or rap they aren't leading the group down the canyon and are slowing down the group's progress. To move things along you should have someone rigging things at the front and taking them apart at the rear. Ropes can be leapfrogged ahead as they are pulled down.

When setting up your group down a rappel where the rope rubs an edge set up your anchor on a munter-mule or other knot rigged for lowering so you can move the rub point down after each person so you donŐt accumulate all the rubbing wear on one spot. If you have a person or persons who freeze or are unsafe to control their own rappel you can either belay them down from the top on a separate rope or firemanŐs belay them from the bottom. You can also lower them.

Bring lots of short ropes for assists during frequent downclimbs, There's no need for 50 meters when a 30-foot rope will do. Make sure you have plenty of ropes so the only rope you have isnŐt required at every six foot downclimb slowing down the group. Use a double coil and only uncoil half the rope or use a rope bag. Don't get out the whole rope when you only need a few feet.

Be courteous and let people pass. There is no good reason for a slow group to hold up a faster party.



Do you even need to go into the pothole? Can you run around, climb around, leap over, move a log over, stem/chimney over? Some potholes can be run around using centrifugal force to keep you on the walls. Make sure you have a safe place to run to on the other side.

A tension traverse is an aid climbing technique that can allow you to use holds you might not otherwise be able to use. To use a tension traverse you must set an anchor, a body anchor if necessary. Now using tension on the rope climb around the pothole using holds that face away from the anchor. The tension of the rope helps stick you to the holds, even though they face away from the direction you're traveling from.

A tyrolean traverse can keep you out of the pothole or other obstacle. You need an anchor on the far side. Sometimes you can stick a knot chock, sometimes you can loop a log or stump, sometimes you can throw over a bag (or more). Use your imagination. Use your cheater stick to place the far anchor. If you can get a good anchor at the far end of the rope you can tension the rope at both ends and "tyrolean" over on the tensioned rope using your ascenders or hand over hand to move along the rope never even dropping into the hole.

A stick can extend your reach for those super-stem moves or leaning on a ledge on the opposite side, or a ledge underwater or below you. Sometimes you can throw your pack over the exit lip from the top of the previous pothole before you even enter the pothole. Look around from the top of the previous drop for a way around or a way to pre-rig an anchor. Maybe you can climb above or around the pothole to throw a bag for the exit.

If you're going to enter a pothole first make sure you can get out. If the drop into the pothole is into water make sure a retreat is possible to avoid hypothermia if you get seriously chilled before figuring out an exit. Leave a rope rigged above until you are sure you can get out. Do you know how to ascend back up the rope? Is your ascending rig handy and on your harness? Examine your task. Can you throw a pack over the lip of the exit side to assist you in getting out? Make sure you tie the rope to the pack (most pack grab loops are very weak, rig a sling to a stronger part of your pack if you want to keep it) and attach the other end of the rope to you. You don't need much to assist you out of even vertical potholes in sandstone, often 20-30 pounds over the lip (sometimes even less) and hanging down the next drop will give enough friction to carefully ascend out of the pothole (very carefully). Before you enter a water filled pothole make sure all gear is attached to you including the rope. If you drop gear in a water-filled pothole it is usually gone until the pothole dries up. Sometimes you can dive for it or use a cheater stick to snag it but if itŐs small and metal itŐs usually gone. Make sure your pothole exiting gear is on your harness and not buried in your pack before you toss your pack or drop into the pothole.

Water, sand or dirt in bags thrown over the pothole lip can be used if you can't throw your pack high enough or far enough. Use an individual 5mm or less cord to each lightweight bag, paracord is cheap and very strong for its weight and size. Use an individual cord for each bag to minimize friction when tossing them over the lip and maximize friction when they are hanging over the lip. Then sum the cords (bring them all together) and put your ascenders with your favorite rigging system on all of them together and ascend carefully out of the pothole. Be careful to minimize your shock load as you transfer weight from one ascender to the other and as you move up the unweighted ascender. On marginal anchors use whatever holds are available to minimize the weight you place on the anchor.

Potholes that slope back towards you or are level on the exiting side over the lip can present more difficulties. Often the pack just slides back toward you when you weight it. Try more packs with separate cords and using ascenders to climb the cords. Can you increase the weight of your anchors with water or rocks or sand?

If the drop is easy (like a few feet or into bottomless water) the anchor can be very suspect if the fall is no problem. Make sure that if your anchor is questionable (like a poor hook placement or knot jam) that you keep in mind the hook or knot you are using for an anchor (plus part or all of the "anchor") may come zinging back at you at high speed while you're falling back into the pool. Safety glasses and a helmet are smart. Are the hooks and rope secured to you with slings or some other method? Partner spots can be a life- and ankle-saver. Sand and gravel are usually fine for a short fall back down on your feet but rocks with uneven surfaces (even small rocks) can easily damage your ankle or worse. Make sure your partner knows how to spot you. Keeping your head from hitting solid objects is usually the main goal but on short reaches with an adequate slant your partner can press you or your feet into the wall to maximize your friction and holds and slow down your slide back down. The wall press doesn't work well as the wall nears vertical and can make the fall worse if it's overhanging by insuring your climber will fall head first. If you're more than a few feet up with bad fall potential try padding with your packs if they don't make it more dangerous to try to catch your partner. You can also try using your pack as a stepladder if it's rigid enough.

See if there is a shelf to stand on or hook under water. You can stand in a sling on a hook to gain extra height. You can clove hitch, girth hitch or slipknot a log that is too slippery to stand on or too big and smooth to grab. You can create both footholds and handholds with slings. Use any protrusion from a log to get a better hold and keep your hands, feet or sling from slipping down. You can arrange your foot so it presses out from the log and pulls the sling tighter for better grip. This can also give you the leverage you need to stay on the lip and keep from falling back away from the rock. You can stand on a partner, even underwater although this usually requires the consent of your partner.

Bring a tall partner or two. Bring a light partner or two. Bring a good climber along to do the climbing. Use your partners to best advantage. When body anchoring your heaviest partner you may want to send them down first when you have more people to anchor them. Your tall partner may be able to boost up your light partner to reach holds more than eight or ten feet up. If someone doesn't have adequate insulation don't send him or her into the wet pothole for the swimming exit, use someone better insulated.

Another way of exiting a pothole is to tie a large, ugly knot on the end of a rope and toss it over the far edge and hope the knot becomes wedged or jammed. It works quite often. Potholes often have stumps, logs and other assortments of debris jammed in them and a simple knot tossed into the mess will often jam in a "V" constriction between two logs enough to get you out. Sometimes you'll get to the top and see the jam and discover it would hold a truck. Stumps often have projections that will collect a rope quite well.

Remember you can hook a hole way above you with a cheater stick, Happy Hooker or trekking pole with a hook lashed on or duct taped on. Sometimes you can hook the anchor for the next drop. You can stand on your partner and extend your cheater stick to reach an anchor as far as the combined reach of you, your partner and the length of your cheater stick. This may reach 15-20 feet.
If floating in a pothole you can stack your floating packs up and use the floatation to help boost you up to the hold just out of reach. Caution, forcibly submerging your pack usually causes water to intrude into your drybags.

If you simply have no choice a Leatherman or similar multitool's flat screwdriver bit can be used to drill hook holes in most sandstone in a pinch. This should truly be a last resort. Most heavily traveled and widely publicized canyons already have holes drilled if exits are troublesome. If you are descending a popular route you should look for existing holes if you have exhausted all the other possibilities. They may be covered up with sand or mud so use your fingers to see if it's a dimple or a hole. You should plan ahead so you can avoid defacing the rock.



Sometimes a canyon has a huge rappel in and shorter rappels through the canyon. If you can come back to the top at the end of your trip you can leave the long entrance rope rigged and retrieve it later. This can lessen the weight on your back and lessen the need for intermediate rap stations on the entrance rap.

Learn how to start your rappel with the quicklink, rapide, ring or sling just over the edge so it is visible from the bottom when tensioned. This will make your pull easier since when you pull the rope you won't be forcing it against the rock. You will need to know how to stand up and lever out over the drop, ease off the edge while sitting down or find your own technique to start since your highest point of attachment is now just over the edge. This is much easier than people think. This also reduces rock grooving when you pull the rope.

Learn to rappel or handline without trapping your upper hand between the rock and rope. You shouldn't be death-gripping the upper (non-brake hand) hand anyway. When you start your rappel over a projection keep your upper hand loosely gripping the rope if at all and make sure it does not get trapped as you weight the rope or slip down the beginning or the rap. You can always use that non-brake hand to help you climb down to start your rappel. If you have oxide from your carabiners on your non-brake hand you are likely gripping the upper rope too hard. Take it easy on yourself and let your rappel device do the work through your brake hand. Figure 8's can girth hitch themselves or twist and lever open your carabiner in this rock-grazing and rope-slack situation. UIAA and others have documented several accidents from this. Some people still like figure 8's for still water canyoneering - use them with care and and understanding of their dangers if you must. If you use a ATC-style device make sure you thread both ropes through the biner.

If you want more friction you can try 2 carabiners instead of one, running the brake rope through a biner on your leg loop, running it through the leg loop biner and back up through another biner on your belay loop, putting a twist of rope or munter hitch on the leg loop biner, an autobloc on the leg loop or a whole bunch of other tricks like running the brake rope around your back. Make sure the technique works and is safe with your rap device and harness. Make really sure the technique you use does not unlock your carabiner. Always be careful that no rope runs over your carabiner gate and especially be careful that no rope runs over the gate so as to unlock it.

Know how to use your ascenders so if you rap down something you can reverse it. Know how to reverse mid-rappel. Know how to lock-off your rappel. Know how to rescue your partner who may be above or below you. Self Rescue by David Fasulo is a good short text covering just climbing rescue including self-rescue.

Bottom anchoring is where you run your rope from an anchor below (person, tree, whatever) up to the anchor above and back down. It is particularly useful for keeping the strands of rope separate so they don't tangle making the pull easier. It's also useful for guided rappels so only the first person down has to go into a pool or other obstacle you wish to avoid. You send people down the non-bottom anchor strand and if a guided rappel guide on the anchor strand. For a guided rappel you need some tension on the guide strand plus a knot or biner block on the rap strand at the upper anchor. Be careful, this technique quadruples the load (or possibly more than doubles) on the upper anchor using normally rigged bottom anchoring. Make sure your upper anchor (and the bottom one) are very strong. This explanation is only intended to give you an overview of the possibilities of using a guided rappel and bottom anchors, much more is required to set this up safely. Seek further instruction for details.

Use whatever rappel technique you prefer, toss-n-go, single strand, whatever. Toss-n-go has the distinct advantage that with no knot or carbine to be pulled down you lessen the risk of snagging the rope. Single strand techniques make it easier to ascend if you need to go back up the rope and can make it easier to keep the rope clean and out of the mud. Single strand also makes it easier to set the rope length precisely so you can rap off the end of the rope in water. Munter-mule single strand lets you lower the first person so you can set the length precisely and then continue with everyone else. Last person removes the munter-mule and goes down either double rope or single rope/pull rope depending on how you've rigged it.

Set your rappel up so your pull strand is the strand closest to the rock. This way your pull on the rope doesn't jam the ring or sling against the rock and stop the pull. Even better yet is if you can rig it so the pull is parallel to the rock face or in free air. Before you pull the ropes make sure they are not twisted over each other. Do not allow any loops or knots to be pulled up the non-pull strand. If the pull is bad first see if you can reorient the angle of pull or the rigging. If you're already at the bottom and you've tried that already you can try to whip a "wave" into the rope and try pulling hoping that the wave lifts the rope off the obstruction or pinch. You may only get a few inches at a time at first but it usually gets better. Tossing a wave into the rope when the rope end is near an obstruction or the anchor can result in the rope end wrapping around the obstruction or other rope or anchor, or it might break it free. Take your chances. If you have a choice pull the rope toward smooth unfeatured rock, broken rock offers you more chance to stick the rope above you when it falls down. The stiffer rope you use may stay out of cracks and out from between boulders. PMI MaxWear rope is like a stiff cable after you rap on it and when it falls down it tends to stay out of trouble. If you have a tough pull expected make sure you set your static line up as the pull side so you don't use up your pulling strength in just stretching a dynamic rope.

Before you rap make sure you note which rope is the pull rope if using 2 ropes. The first person down should be capable of equalizing the rope ends in case the rope is not right at the middle and one end doesn't reach the ground. This is easily done by just locking the short side rope off and letting the long rope out as you rap down. NEVER do this when you are running the rope through webbing or rope with no rap ring, quicklink or biner. You can burn through webbing very quickly with the friction from a loaded rope. Make sure if you are using two ropes tied together that you put the knot on the short rope side of the anchor so you can make use of this technique and use the full length of both ropes if needed. If you can see both ends on the ground it isn't necessary to use this technique unless there's some other reason for it like using the long end to rig the next short drop while people are rapping on the above drop. Once the first person hits the ground they should do a test pull and make sure the rope will pull. If not the situation will have to be fixed before you pull the rope either by rerigging or reorienting the pull. If solo make sure you can ascend the rope to fix the rigging. While clipping in and descending keep the rope ends separate and untwisted so you can pull the side that does not trap the rope and quicklink against the rock. First person down can then keep the pull rope off to the side so it's obvious which side is the pull side. Everyone after that should take care not to twist the ropes over each other.

If you rig a rappel over a sharp edge you can cut sling or rope fairly easily when tensioned especially when sawing the rope or sling over the edge. Avoid running the sling or rappel rope over an edge. Try moving the anchor, putting a length of untensioned sling over the sling that runs over the edge (that's feeding the real sling through the other piece of sling) or using rope or other redundant and backed up methods. Rope may be better (but still not perfect) for edges due to greater cut and abrasion resistance and durability but remember people do still die from cut ropes climbing. Usually this is from falls shredding the rope on an edge but still, be safe. Sharp edges are dangerous, use your head to avoid this potential problem.

On a similar vein be careful while rapping. Moving sideways (traversing) can be murder on your rope and anchor. If there's an edge you could saw through webbing and damage the rope sheath considerably. Again, this isn't very likely but be careful. If there is a knot in the webbing or rope rubbing against the rock make sure the anchor isnŐt abraded where it rubs the rock.

Carrying a second rope can often be a good idea. Even having pull cord as a spare will allow you to salvage pieces of a stuck rope and rap on the rope and pull the pull cord. Climbing a stuck rope can be very dangerous since you often have no way to judge the reliability of when the rope might become unstuck. If you have both ends of the rope it's reasonably safe if the anchor above is good. You can anchor both ends to the ground and ascend normally with mechanical ascenders or use friction knots on both strands together to ascend a doubled rope.

Some people like to use rope bags, others coil the rope. Whatever you prefer proper rope management will add speed to your trip. Don't use the whole rope when the drop is 20 feet. Only bring out enough rope to do the job. Look over the drop (safely) and see if you can see the end of the rope on the bottom or hear the rope hit the water. That's all you need. First person down should do a test pull of the rope. That first person down should also check to see if the rappel is an enchained rappel. An enchained rappel is when you use the same anchor and rope for more than one drop, say into a pothole and out and into the next pothole. Find your next anchors or make sure it's a walkout before you pull the rope. If you messed up then tie your second rope on the end of your rappel rope and pull the other strand so your knot is higher and you have usable rope at both ends. If all you need to do is extend the rope 20 feet then don't pull your knot up to the anchor, only pull it far enough to rap the extra 20 feet. If the first person down has an extra rope they can even do this while hanging on rope if the ends don't touch the bottom. This will require that they can in effect pass a knot while rapping since many of the techniques are similar. If the person above has the extra rope it can be done easiest if you rigged it with a munter mule or some other contingency anchor. If you are dropping into the unknown be prepared ahead of time.

Simulrapping is when you loop the rope around the anchor (could just be a boulder or an arch or tree or sling) and one person raps on each side of the rope simultaneously. Simulrapping is dangerous since one person's mistake can doom both parties on the rope. Each person must realize they are each other's anchors. If they disconnect or unweight the rope while their partner is depending on them for an anchor then their partner may fall. Simulrapping can let you use many large smooth objects like boulders and arches or even ridgelines without leaving a sling behind. Be aware of your rope burns and grooves when you pull the rope, trees and sandstone may be less damaged with a sling.

Set the length of the sling so your rope will just be over the edge of the drop when the sling is tensioned so you have an easy pull. Learn how to start your rap over the edge so you can easily retrieve your rope when it's time to pull it down.

You can minimize the need for many short rappel anchors by leaving the most skilled (down) climber to body anchor most of the party and then downclimb last without the rope. This technique is called sequencing. ItŐs also used to get your heavier partners or your less-smooth rappeller down with a body anchor backup and then the lightest or smoothest rappeller can descend either downclimbing, handlining or rappelling. This works well for many canyons with short drops that can be easily downclimbed but most or some of the party wants to rap or handline down. See Dave Black's article on canyoneering.com for more discussion of human anchor techniques.

Test your anchors before committing to them. Never test anchors while someone is relying on them. Use a backup when possible. In a party with multiple persons and a lack of other backup anchors you can backup with the bodies of the party but remember a shock load can take several people off their rears and over the drop. Make sure your body anchor(s) have a good stance so your backup does not put your party at more risk rather than less. You would like to rig it so the anchor takes the load (thereby validating the anchor) but if the anchor fails your backup minimizes the shock load. This can be tricky to rig depending on the circumstances. Backups should be truly independent to be a real backup, not composed of another component of your anchor. Most anchor failures are single point failures that if they were backed up were backed up using the same "anchor" component(s). If your system can fail from any one component failing it isn't really independently backed up. The exceptions to the rule are generally your rope and your harness (and most of the time your rap device and biner). If any other single thing can fail and send you down you aren't independently redundant. Most canyoneers do not bother to rig for independent redundancy. Rapping off things like single bolt, single sling, single tree or log, single boulder, single rap ring or biner or quicklink is not redundant. These are common in the canyons. Usually nothing bad happens. When you create your anchors try to make them independently redundant if possible. When you backup temporarily your anchor make sure it is independently redundant or it isn't really a backup.

Use caution when downclimbing. Loose rock and logs can shift when you weight them, or they may wait to shift until you are levered out over the drop. Be cautious, thump and wiggle logs and rocks to judge their stability. Also be aware that the rock falling on or out from under you isn't the only danger, rocks can shift and smash or trap fingers or worse. Be aware that in porous sandstone (or any rock really but sandstone can be worse) you can start to downclimb/stem the dry rock at top and as you go down encounter wet slippery mud coated walls. Look carefully all the way down before going down. You can send your partner downclimbing on a body belay to test if it's ok first.



Items that can be used for natural anchors are usually abundant in canyons. This depends on the canyon and area of course, but with just a little looking around you can usually find a convenient anchor. The most often used anchor is a live tree, at least one foot in diameter and solidly rooted. Size does matter, but you must always inspect the tree and root system anyway. Usually if a tree has survived the winds and floods to reach a foot across the trunk it will provide a solid rappel anchor but always check to see if the tree and what it's rooted in is solid. You can use smaller trees, but use caution. Dead trees are much less reliable since you can't really know if the roots are rotted. Smaller trees and bushes tend to have smaller root systems and may not be all that solidly anchored into the earth. If the tree is on a ledge or rock platform make sure the whole root mass and dirt won't just pull off the ledge or rock under the pull from your rope. This can be a problem when using small bushes. Just tie a sling around the tree. Looping the trunk with the rope and pulling the rope will groove the bark, seriously harm the tree, make it difficult to pull your rope and dirty your rope with sap and tree bark. Please use a sling. Discreetly colored slings that blend into the local environment are preferred.

Often in narrow canyons you will find a stump or logjam lodged in a constriction above a drop. You can usually sling a log or horn on the wood. Evaluate the wood carefully. Remember it's dead wood, potentially rotten or cracked. Sometimes you can just loop the rope or a sling over the whole stump or log or projection and just flip the rope off over the wood when you reach the bottom. Sometimes a hook can be rigged and flipped off from the bottom. Remember that the whole log, stump or logjam may be precariously perched on a constriction. The canyon may even widen out below the logjam just below your feet. The sand and gravel you're stepping on may even be perched on some debris and break out under your feet as you walk on it. Use caution when coming to a drop in a canyon. The canyon can even be choked with debris for as far as you can see but it all may be perched on a layer of jammed wood and boulders with air and a potential fall below.

You need to evaluate the jam of debris to look at it's suitability to be an anchor but remember if you move, stand on or weight any of it that the whole thing may collapse on you or your partner or drop down the canyon. Even some well-traveled canyons have wedged in debris that thousands of people have been walking on. Someday it may go, perhaps while you're walking on it. Be careful.

Look for an arch. The arch may be above you or it may be low, even underwater in a pothole. Arches can be slung and rapped off of. If it's a big enough arch and solid you may even be able to simulrappel off of it. Sometimes a canyon will branch and you will find multiple passages. If there's a drop in these passages you can either simulrap or send one person down on a body anchor with the body anchor wedged in a smaller gap for better stopping power, throw down the rope through the other passage and go down with a bottom anchor. Use these with caution, ropes running over soft rock like sandstone can groove the rock.

Is there a rock horn or bollard or boulder available? These can be slung, just make sure that the sling won't slip off and that the angle is keeping the sling on the horn. Sometimes you can just flip the sling off afterward from the bottom. Sandstone often gives good friction for keeping the sling on the rock, but be especially careful with smoother rocks.

Knot chocks can be very useful for rigging anchors. Knot chocks can be made from cord, knot or webbing. Simply tie an overhand knot in the cordage or sling and place in a constriction. For a greater range of sizes you can double (or triple, or quadruple or more) the sling if all you carry is one size of sling. Knot chocks can be placed just like regular chocks. If the direction of pull isnŐt right see if you can oppose multiple placements to keep each other in. Multiple equalized placements can often be good well past 500 pounds. Beware of using one crack for multiple placements. If the rock breaks or the crack widens all of your placements may fail. Use separate cracks and try to select rock that is less fractured. This goes for all anchors, if they all depend on one thing and that one thing fails, they all fail.

Rocks and wood in can be chocked in cracks and constrictions. If too big to fit in the crack maybe you can tie a clove hitch or girth hitch around the rock and place it on the other side of the crack with the rope going through the crack to the drop. If your object fits in the crack snugly you can chock it, if itŐs shaped right you can cam it in the crack. When camming rocks a girth hitch can provide the camming action. When camming wood or longer objects tube chock style put the girth hitch, slipknot or clove hitch on the higher side to maximize camming action. Try to take advantage of the natural contours of the rock to keep the knot from slipping down on your chock.

Flakes of rock can be chocked or slung. Remember that chocks provide a wedging action with multiplied force, about 12-14 times as much force with normal climbing chocks as is applied on the sling. This force can open up the flake from the base rock or break it off entirely. Use caution with chocks in flakes. If the bottom of the flake is supported and the pull isnŐt such as to pull the flake off you sometimes can sling the flake and that will help avoid the wedging action. Use caution, as you often canŐt examine the bottom of the flake.

Deadman anchors are when you bury an object(s) in the earth. You bury an object or objects like a log, boulders or other item (like a dead body) in the dirt or sand or gravel and rap off a sling slung around your buried object. The earth around your anchor helps secure it. Deadman anchors can often be constructed out of items found at the scene and can be very effective when no trees or boulders are located close to the top of the drop. Just because you see a sling coming out of the ground does not mean there's a deadman anchor connected to it. You can tug on an existing deadman sling to test it but to really evaluate whether it's likely to hold you you'll have to evacuate and re-bury it.

Large boulders and logs may just be slung. If no boulders or logs are big enough multiple boulders or logs may be piled up and slung to provide an anchor. This can work quite well when you have rocks but no dirt to bury a deadman. Use caution with large rounded boulders that the rope may slip off of. River-polished rocks can be incredibly slippery and defy keeping a loop on them. You may have to tie a knot like a basket around the rock to keep it from slipping off a rounded boulder. If the drop constricts at the top like many narrow canyons you can wedge a log or boulder horizontally across the vertically oriented opening and sling the object. Make sure it is secure so it can't turn and fall through.

Cracks and pockets can be chocked with small wooden wedges and dowels. Redundancy and equalization are a good idea for these anchors, as is backing them up with a body anchor for everyone but the last person down. Pebbles and stones can be chocked in constrictions and slung. Even pieces of wood found at the scene can be jammed or cammed into cracks. Down wood at the scene is often rotten, use caution.

An edge can be hooked with a hook but remember that hooks are unpredictably unreliable. Use caution when rappelling off a hook. Hooks are extremely sensitive to side pressure, often can self-release when un-tensioned and occasionally blow off for no obvious reason. Smaller hooks can break off the edge of the rock, especially in sandstones. The rock youŐre hooking can also just break off. Cam hooks can be placed in many vertical cracks but remember like all hooks they blow out somewhat unpredictably. Cam hooks usually just fall out as soon as they are unloaded. Cam hooks can also blowout the edges of cracks especially in damp sandstone. Be very cautious when rapping off hooks, this is not really a safe technique with virtually any hook.

Self-draining bladder anchors (SDBA) can be constructed from one or more MSR Dromedary-type bags with the small nozzle top. Attach your anchor sling securely to the bag(s), open the small nozzle and rap down carefully before the water leaks out and your anchor can be pulled down now that it no longer has the weight of the water. It should be obvious that this needs to be setup with care and your rap time is limited. It works best when you have a pothole above the drop too so you can hang your "anchor" bag so it is hanging down in the upper pothole. You may wish to put a bag around your Dromedary bag to save it from the friction during the retrieval. Leaky drybags can serve the same purpose as the Dromedary bag.

Imlay Canyon Gear makes Pot Shots that are just bags with anchor and retrieval straps. The anchor strap is on the top (open) end of the bag that is filled with sand. The retrieval strap is on the bottom. After you rap you can pull the retrieval line that dumps the sand out the open end and allows you to pull your now-lightened bag to you.

In some canyons in Australia the practice is to use natural fiber ropes to sling seldom-traveled canyons. The idea is that the rope will rot and weather away before the next person travels through in a few years and they'll have the same experience as you. This is an Eco-friendly practice but should be used with caution here. Most natural fiber ropes are very weak compared to the nylon and polyesters we are used to. A 1/2" natural fiber rope may only hold a few hundred pounds when new and dry. Wet and used it may snap in your hands. If you go exploring and don't want to leave nylon slings about use great caution if using natural fiber ropes. Remember natural fiber ropes are not tested and rated like climbing ropes. Be cautious and conservative in loading them and remember they rot easily.



Canyoneering has been going on in Europe and the US (and other places) for a long time but the particular ethic of Colorado Plateau canyoneering of leave no trace (or at least leave no permanent trace) which is particularly suited for our fragile sandstone rocks has lately been developing a number of particular techniques and tools suited for our canyons. Virtually all of our tools are borrowed or modified from other sports and endeavors but many people around the US are developing tools specifically for canyoneering.

Imlay Canyon Gear. (imlaygear.com) They make Happy Hookers, which are extended cheater sticks with a hook on the end, Pot Shots which are small bags for filling with sand, rocks or whatever for tossing which have a strap on the other end for dumping out the contents and retrieving them. Their Happy Hooker is often the best tool for retrieving a dropped rope from a deep pothole if you donŐt relish deep blind diving in filthy water. Pot Shots are emptyable bags for anchoring rappels. Both of these items are in production and use right now and can be purchased from imlaygear.com

Matt Moore of Desert Highlights in Moab is working on getting the Slick into production. The Slick is a releasable sling gadget developed from a parachute 3-ring release that allows you to release the sling and rope from the bottom and retrieve both leaving nothing behind.

Collapsible ladders are being tried out by a number of people. Sectional poles stiff enough to climb would also be handy for exiting out of the worst potholes.

A releasable BigBroTM type device would be useful. The adjustable side (like the BigBroTM) would do the fine adjustment to the rock and the other side could be sectional with additional sections of various sizes adjusting the size from 18" to several feet. In between could be a release to "break" the tool in half so it would fall down when released. This releasable section may need to pull straight down and have some width since the tool would require some space between the halves to release the chocking or camming action and to fall down when released. Or perhaps the release could be hinged with the tool hinging enough to release the chocking effect once the release is activated.

Water parachutes or as boaters call them "sea anchors" basically create drag as they are pulled through the water. These could be used on short drops to let you down slowly (well actually rather quickly) when there's a pothole of some size above and a soft water landing below.

A similar idea would be a larger version of the SDBA, a large bag of water that would leak out slowly. Rap quickly and smoothly before the water leaks out and then pull the empty bag down. This might work on potholes that are level full to the rim and drop immediately below since the larger bag would resist being pulled much above the surface of the water. Might need a weight at the bottom to help keep it from being pulled over until much of the water leaks out.



Macrame is a knot tying method that allows you to retrieve the sling from your anchor. It will not be explained here until we get some illustrations to demonstrate the proper technique. Macrame technique may be used to reduce the "pull grooving" on the tree but it still abrades the tree a little bit, just not with the full length of the rope. Save the Macrame for dead log and boulders. Various forms of retrievable webbing techniques exist. Most of these have the same drawbacks as the Macrame in that they are unreliable if the rap is over 20 meters or so (60 feet) or even less or not a direct pull and they still abrade the tree a little. Caution - it is very easy to mess up the Macrame or other retrievable sling techniques. Best case you stick your rope. Worst case the knot and anchor fail. Make very sure you understand the technique you are using.



You won't find all of these items to be useful. What you bring will depend on your preferences and the area you are in.

Clothing Wet or dry suits can be helpful where water is high and cold and the sunlight doesn't shine. Wet suits help you climb/descend since the suit pads you and typically sticks better than skin or clothing, the drawback is the suit can take quite a beating. Wetsuits make good bivy pads. Dry suits are usually more comfortable since you stay dry inside the suit, but if you rip the suit you loose virtually all your insulation. Dry suits can extend your season right into ice covered potholes. Neoprene gloves in cold wet canyons can help those with cold hands. Neoprene booties or socks help keep your feet warm. SealSkinz Waterblocker socks can help keep your feet dry. Cotton can be comfortable when it's quite hot out but is a definite liability when it's cold or wet.

Backpack If you are in a wet canyon either a totally waterproof backpack or a quick-draining backpack with dry bags inside is useful. External pockets will be ripped to shreds on a narrow canyon trip in sandstone. Backpacks take a huge beating in some canyons, lots of people use the cheapest durable pack that will do the job.

Ropes Just get a decent climbing, caving or life-safety rated rope. Your life is hanging on it so you may want to stay away from Home Depot or hardware store ropes. Static ropes are more durable and stretch less for rapping. Dynamic ropes (usually a short piece) can be useful for protecting short climbing or down-climbing sections. Typical rope diameters run from 8mm to 11.5mm. Most people end up with something in the 9mm-9.5mm range (about 3/8"). Bigger ropes are more (usually) durable, thinner ropes are less so. Weight per meter is often a more useful guide than nominal diameter for judging the durability of a rope. Dry ropes stay a little cleaner and dryer than non-dry ropes at first but the treatment will not last long in the canyons and the washer afterward. Dry ropes may float when new and then unpredictably sink later. Beware of polypropylene core floating ropes that either are not strong enough or are meant to only be used wet to keep the polypropylene from melting. 60m ropes or longer allow you a bit of extra length that you can cut off to stretch that last anchor placement out to the lip after you run out of webbing and still leaves you a length approaching a full rope length of 50m. Shorter ropes are quite useful in some canyons with multiple short drops. Most well traveled canyons have anchor placements for 50m ropes but your particular canyon or area may vary, ask around. Brightly colored ropes are easier to see in dark narrows. Rit dye can be used to mark the ends and middle if desired. Esprit ropes of Canada makes a 6mm static Alpine escape rope that makes a great spare rope if you can use a 6mm rope - not for novices. PMI MaxWear is a good durable rope. Dynamic or "softer" ropes tend to be easier on the hands if handlining a lot.

Rap Device Hopefully you already have one and know how to use it. With ATC-style devices you can attach a sling or cord to the cable loop and keep your device on you when you detach it while floating in the water. ATC type devices also allow you to keep the ropes separate when rapping which can help in keeping the ropes from crossing and complicating your rope retrieval. Newer models with extra grooves or slots can add extra friction when needed. While many use Figure 8 devices for canyoning (wet, flowing water canyons) Figure 8s have some disadvantages for canyoneering. When you weight and unweight a Fig. 8 such as might happen on a downclimb before you start the actual rappel many Fig. 8's can crossload the biner. This can cause your biner to fail and you to fly. . Fig. 8's also can girth hitch the rope on the device and lock your rope if you allow the device to scrape the rock. The Petzl Reverso works well and can also double as an ascender of sorts but wears very fast in wet sand and silt. There are many rappel/belay devices available and most of the tube-style devices (ATC, B-52, Jaws) work fine. Racks are not often used in canyoneering due to size and weight concerns. Know how to use a Munter hitch in case you lose your rap device.

100 foot or more of paracord Use the genuine parachute stuff, not the cheap cord at REI or other sporting goods in the 50-foot hank. Real paracord is rated to 550 lbs. and is kernmantle construction with a tubular sheath alone good to about 300 lbs. inside are seven twisted strands each made of three strands. Real paracord can be disassembled and the components used for utility cord and various repair and sewing tasks in addition to its other uses. Although this is pretty strong stuff don't use if for normal life safety tasks like you would use a regular rope. The size, strength and durability of this cord are extremely marginal for hanging your life on it. Probably OK for climbing out of a pothole when the thing it's connected to on the other end might not be as strong as the cord and the fall back is into water or soft sand, but remember the margins are thin for this. Make sure your ascenders work on a few strands of this before expecting it to work as you ascend out of a pothole on 3 strands. Paracord can work as an emergency pull cord if you're running short of rope. Only use paracord in cases where the light weight is needed (such as throwing a bag up where the drag and weight of real rope would hold it back). Paracord is fragile and cannot stand up to abuse like real rope can. Assume when knotted that the strength is cut 50% to 225 lbs. for single strand. That's breaking strength, not safe working load. If you are pushing the limits on paracord in an emergency use a tensionless anchor to lower the knot strength loss. This is not life-safety cord.

100 foot or more of 9/16" BW climb-spec sling dark color Use Bluewater 9/16" climb-spec webbing since it seems much more resistant to abrasion. 1" BW climb-spec is stronger and heavier if you can stand to carry the extra space and weight but the trend is running toward the smaller webbing since it's strong enough for typical single person loads when undamaged. Normally you'll sling an anchor with a loop of sling. On "alpine" style canyons running sling single-strand (tied loop at each end with single strand in the middle) saves a considerable amount of sling with long stretches from anchor to lip of the drop. Remember that running sling material single-strand rather than in a loop weakens the system considerably. Don't bounce and don't run the sling over edges if running sling single-strand. On a weak anchor it still might be the strongest part but realize you are cutting the margins thin. Don't set up single-strand strung anchors on frequently traveled canyons as beginners may not realize the potential danger in the lessened strength. Tensioned sling is easily cut by sharp edges. Run your anchor slings over less-sharp rocks or pad the edge with clothing or other items. Single-strand sling is risky, know what you are doing and realize you are taking a risk. Assume when running single strand that the breaking strength is reduced by the knot 50% to 1100 lbs. and then start de-rating it. That's for new webbing in perfect shape without any sharp edges. Single-strand anchors are better run in rope for greater safety and durability.

Ascenders Have ascenders you can use and have pre-tested with the rope/cords you are going to use. If you plan to do a lot of ascending or your party has people who are not very experienced at ascending handled ascenders may be worth the weight and size. If the rope runs over many lips or in cracks some people may find the handle-less versions difficult to use. Some partners won't let you use Tiblocs on their ropes due to rope damage- check with your partner beforehand. Using ascenders on your cords over the lip of a pothole while exiting allows you to ease up the cords and minimize the shock load by moving slowly and carefully. You can also use small diameter cord or webbing in friction knots to ascend. Practice before you need it.

Slings You can rig slings for aiders/ascending/anchoring in on hanging stations. 2 foot and 4 foot can be very useful. Tied slings allow you to untie them in case of emergency (running out of sling, need to extend rope/anchor to stretch). Use Bluewater 9/16" climb-spec webbing since it seems much more resistant to abrasion than regular mil-spec webbing. Plan to replace your utility slings frequently because they'll take a beating in the canyon if they live on your harness or outside your pack. Some people hang them from your harness since they'll be on your harness when you need them rather than stowed in your pack. Others prefer them over the shoulder but that can interfere with taking your pack on and off. Different colors for the different lengths helps in keeping them straight.

Emergency sandstone hook drilling kit. A Leatherman with screwdriver tip. Don't drill holes, but if you need to save your life your Leatherman screwdriver tip can drill a hook hole in sandstone. Plan ahead with other tools and techniques to avoid drilling holes. Remember that you can leave ropes rigged to reverse or you can go around. Be prepared.

Gloves. No, not particularly for rapping. If you damage your hands gloves may make it much more comfortable to get back to civilization and keep your hand wounds much cleaner. They can also be used for keeping your hands warm. If you have aluminim oxide on your non-brake hand you are probably gripping the non-brake rope too much.

Knife. Knives can be tremendously useful tools. Small folding serrated knives can be useful when handy when cutting webbing for anchoring tasks. A Leatherman or similar tool can be useful for several survival tasks. A good quality fixed blade knife with a prying end might be useful. (Get the kayak or rafting versions, make sure it actually can be used for prying and doesn't just bend the blade) Stainless steel is almost required if water is present. Stainless will still rust. You will need to clean, dry and lube your knife every trip. Unfold your Leatherman or folding knife at night to dry and take your fixed blade knife out of the sheath to dry. Don't leave them where anyone could possibly run into them. Clip-in and wrist loops can help keep your knife on you rather than at the bottom of the pothole. Other than cutting sling or rope knives are rarely used in canyoneering. But if you get stuck and have to improvise or survive you will probably be happy you brought a good knife with you.

Rap backup. Most canyoneers don't back up their rappel with anything ever. Some only back up the rap on really long raps (greater than 60M) or on raps with significant risk of rockfall and the corresponding risks of distraction, injury or unconsciousness. On same-sized ropes some like the Petzl Shunt but it cannot be used on different size ropes without rigging for single strand. 5mm cord is cheap and virtually universal in fit with adjustments in the number of wraps in an autobloc. Girth hitch or biner the loop to your leg loop to keep it away from your rap device. Make sure it cannot feed into your rap device, test first with each harness you own and each configuration of ropes you're going to use to confirm this. Some use Spectra or other high-strength small cord for the autobloc test this before you trust your life to it since the lessened flexibility of the cord may hinder locking. Autoblocs can be used to add friction to your rap for long raps. For information on rap backups see a good climbing text. John Long's books describe the use of the autobloc.

Helmet. Save your head, have a place to attach your headlamp to. Duct tape a Photon 3-style light to you helmet and you'll have an emergency headlamp. Some duct-tape an emergency bag or blanket to the inside of the helmet for emergency shelter. Some helmets such as the Petzl "Ecrin Roc" make very comfortable pillows for those unplanned bivys.

Duct tape You may never need duct tape, but when you need it can be really handy. Good duct tape can repair your wet or dry suit or other clothing or pack item. Can keep wounds clean and protected and just useful for jerryrigging many things.

Hooks BD grappling hook, Talon hook, bat hooks, Leeper cam hooks and Ibis hooks are a few types of hooks. Hooks can be used to "hook" onto rock features like small edges and some horizontal cracks. Hooks can also work on small wood edges or features that you can't get a sling around. Hooks can be used to rig a rappel (with extreme caution and definitely not recommended) or hook out of a pothole. Beware, hooks easily dislodge with side pressure or rope slack (weight or movement horizontally). Hooks often easily dislodge (that means total failure) when you put side pressure on them. Hooks sometimes slip off even when you do nothing wrong. The sharp hook can come zinging off straight towards you and cause damage to your face or other parts, not to mention the fact that now you're falling because your anchor failed. This can be used to your advantage if you rap carefully since you can often clean a hook just by sending a wave of rope up to the hook. Unfortunately hooks often fall off all by themselves, sometimes when you are hanging on them. Caution, hooks are easy to use but you are dependent on the hook staying on the rock and that is not so easy to predict. Sometimes hooks just skate off (beware of sloping edges either vertically or horizontally). Leeper cam hooks are L-shaped pieces of metal used for vertical cracks.

Toe strap Toe straps are about a foot long and can be purchased from a bike shop. They use them for keeping your foot on the pedal. You can use them for lashing just about anything together. Used for lashing hooks together to make a grappling hook, poles or sticks together to make a longer pole and so on. They can be used for jerry-rigging things together, holding your pack together when duct tape won't do it and so on.

Carabiners Screwlock carabiners can jam quickly in mud, silt and sand. Autolock biners can jam too and quickly loose the autolock ability when dirty. Some people prefer one or the other but reports vary on which is better in dirty conditions. Sometimes it can be difficult to even close a biner when dirty, forget about locking it. In truly bad (dirty) conditions reversed and opposed oval biners work well but don't offer locking and if dirty enough may not even want to close. Wiregates jam less than standard biners but also have their drawbacks. Doubled biners can offer more friction for raps with some devices. Large HMS style biners let you use Munter hitches easily making them more versatile. Make sure when rappelling that the brake strand runs over the non-gate side of the biner.

Small bags for filling and throwing Lightweight for ease of carrying (more is better, usually 3 or more is useful.) Waterproof or at least water-resistant bags allow you to add the weight of the water to the sand or rocks or dirt in the bag and help keep the weight from leaking out. Don't get expensive bags because they'll get beat up quickly. Imlay Canyon Gear makes Pot Shots that are similar. Generally you don't want the bags too big because you can't throw a heavy big bag as far as a small compact bag. A good size of bag for throwing has room for one or two fists worth of mud, sand and rocks. Make sure the bag has something sturdy to attach the rope to or be able to rig it in the field.

Dowels/wedges as protection Wood dowels and wedges can be used as protection. Test before use since wood can be surprisingly strong or amazingly weak depending on the kind of wood and orientation of the grain.

Knot chocks Often the easiest thing is just to use your existing webbing, doubling or more to make it thicker and the knot bigger. Various sizes of cord can be used from 3mm (paracord size) up to 1/2 inch (a bit heavy and bulky, but you can cut it off your 1/2" rope if you swing that way). Dave Black recommends overhand knots.

Cheater stick Cheater sticks can be great for retrieving your rope from a pothole, placing a hook on a high shelf or log or anytime you need to extend your reach. Tom Jones makes a Happy Hooker (worth it just for the name).

Climbing hardware Tri-Cams, nuts, cams or tube chocks or whatever floats your (or the canyon's) boat. Not used so much since it costs too much to leave in place. Might be very useful if you have to climb out of the canyon or want to set up a stronger or additional anchor for a rescue. A sling around the point of the cam can sometimes release larger Tri-Cams (the Lowe type, not 3-cam units).

Trekking poles Trekking poles are controversial because they make marks on sandstone. Avoid using them on sandstone slickrock where scratches and pits will remain for a while. On harder rocks poles usually donŐt make permanent marks and many use them to probe potholes and pools for holds. They can also be used to extend your reach to press on a hold below your hands or out of your reach. On slick river rocks they can be a lifesaver for those with old knees or ankles. Usually in a canyon if you are rapping frequently they just get in the way so stow them inside or outside the pack. Two-section poles tend to be stronger, three-section poles pack smaller.

Emergency kit Carrying supplies for medical emergencies or unplanned bivys is a good idea. First aid kits often are a roll of tape and your painkiller of choice. Extra clothes and/or shelter can keep you more comfortable in case of delays. A light balaclava and a tube tent or space bag can help. Warning, if you plan to use a space blanket see if you can make an adequate shelter from it before you need it. The thin Mylar is very fragile and too small to really be a good shelter. The space bags are still fragile but are at least big enough to crawl into. While tube tents are heavy for an emergency shelter they can be fashioned into a number of different shelters and insulation and are big enough to shelter you and your partner who didn't bring anything. A large heavy-duty trash bag or two can be shelter, poncho and more and is reasonably cheap, small and lightweight. Bright colors may make you more visible to rescuers. Whistles can save your voice and be heard farther than your voice. Water purification tablets can backup your primary method of water filtering. Waterproof matches and other firestarting materials can help you stay warm. Out in the open a signal mirror might be useful. A knife should always be carried since you can improvise many things with it. The best place to keep an emergency kit is on you so itŐs with you always even if you loose your pack. The contents of the kit can be split up and distributed among your pockets.

Lights/Headlamps. There are many LED headlamps on the market now, many of them water resistant or waterproof. Some include multiple light levels so you can balance battery life against light output. Photon 3 LED lights are extremely small and reasonably water resistant and worth keeping with you at all times as a backup or even a primary light when you really don't need much light. For routefinding in the dark some people like the SureFire types of mini flashlights that use one or two 123 lithium batteries. They come in both incandescent and LED varieties and put out a stunning amount of light at a fairly long range although at the cost of short battery life and fairly steep cost for both the initial purchase and bulbs and batteries. For the best weight/cost/battery life ratio for standard headlamps you may wish to consider AA battery headlamps. Home Depot sells lithium AA's for a reasonable price and they are quite a bit lighter than alkaline batteries. This section is probably out of date as soon as itŐs released since the headlamp market seems to be making improvements every day.



Canyoneering styles are derived from climbing styles. A style describes how you would descend, what kind of tools and methods would you use and what kind of impact would you leave behind.

Ghosting would be the ultimate leave-no-trace method. By not leaving anything behind, not even sling you leave very little clue you were there aside from footprints.

Clean canyoneering leaves slightly more impact. You would leave sling behind, perhaps some deadman anchors or other modified anchors. Generally the idea would be if a flood came through it would erase virtually all trace of your anchors and sling. The sling could be carried out when no longer useful and the canyon would be restored back to its original wild condition.

Aid canyoneering would use (hopefully) natural anchors when present, like trees and boulders but also includes bolts and drilled holes for hooks. This is the most destructive form of canyoneering since the placement of bolts and drilling of holes scars the rock and leaves a permanent reminder of our passage. Bolts in wet areas have a limited lifetime, both from accelerated corrosion and from destructive floods that wash through carrying large boulders and logs that can destroy your bolt and hanger and leave a useless stud protruding from or recessed into the canyon wall. Even if the flood doesn't destroy the bolt or hangar do you want to trust your life to a bolt that may have taken a tremendous beating in wet conditions?

If you choose to ghost a canyon you leave almost no trace behind you. The next person through the canyon may not even be aware that anyone has ever been through the canyon and can enjoy the canyon in its natural state.

If you clean canyoneer you would leave only temporary signs of your passage and should the next person wish to ghost the canyon they can clean your sling out of the canyon and leave it seemingly untouched for the next person. If new tools or techniques are developed the sling can be removed and the canyon will be wild once again.

Once you aid canyoneer placing bolts you probably have scarred the canyon for you lifetime and the lifetime of your children if not for much, much longer. The scar from your bolt will likely outlast the useful life of the bolt for ten or a hundred or a thousand times longer. No one for a very long time will ever be able to experience the canyon like you did without bolts or the scars from them. You will have robbed future generations of the experience of imagining themselves as the first explorers in an untraveled canyon. They will be able to see the bolts or more likely the scars from the bolting for many years and be denied the experience of figuring out for themselves how to travel through an unspoiled canyon without being confronted with the useless scars of a previous generation.

Climbers once used pitons and bolts to protect almost everything. Piton scars litter popular climbing routes of the 40's though the 60's. Nuts and camming devices were invented and climbers now easily protect sections of rock that were dangerous 40 years ago before clean climbing devices were invented and in wide use. You can climb in Yosemite and Tahquitz and many other places and see the damage in the granitic rocks still after 40-some years. They didn't know then that there was an easy alternate choice to driving pitons and so we can excuse some of the damage. We now have a variety of tools and techniques to avoid leaving this type of lasting damage behind. Will people be looking at your unnecessary vandalism 40 or more years from now? You have a choice. Please choose to preserve the canyons so that your children and other children have a chance to see unspoiled canyons without unnecessary trash.

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