April 28, 2012
In the years leading up to 2012, I had gotten married, finished school, got a steady job, bought a house, and we were expecting our first child. I've heard this referred to as "settling down". I was at a point in my life where things were pretty constant. Consequently, I was trying lots of new sports and activities but hadn't really found anything I loved.
A friend from work invited me to go canyoneering in the San Rafael Swell one weekend. I had seen the reef from a distance and loved it and thought it would be cool to visit so I agreed.
As I was leaving work the night before our trip and the hour I was supposed to head down, my friend asked if I had a harness and rappel device. I told him I had my climbing harness and ATC. He asked if I had clothes that could get dirty and good sturdy shoes. I told him I had my gym clothes I was planning on wearing and my running shoes should work. I was ready! Or so I thought.
He then asked if I had a wetsuit, climbing helmet, backpack that could get destroyed, rope, dry bag, neoprene socks, gloves, knee and elbow pads, etc. Nope, nope, nope, nope - time for a quick shopping trip!
He took me to this weird store called Out N Back and asked how much money I was willing to spend. I quickly realized that if I was going to get into this sport I would have to spend a lot of money. If I wasn't there was no point in spending any money. It was all in or all out and I had to make the decision right then.
"I'm all in, let's do this." - I probably said something really corny. My friend went to work. He picked out a 4/3 full wetsuit, Imlay Spry backpack, neo socks, La Sportiva Xplorers, and everything else. I arrived home to an upset wife and we headed down.
We headed out to Zero Gravity Canyon the next morning. It's a short slot but packs a lot of beauty within. It starts off with a couple of natural bridges, then some down-climbs and skinny swimming hallways with a semi-keeper in the middle. It ends with a spectacular bomb bay.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was moving really slow because I didn't know how to down climb very well and my group moved on ahead of me. Consequently I had the canyon to myself so I felt comfortable vocalizing my wonder my thoughts. It was the driest I have ever seen it and wetsuits were definitely not necessary but there were still a couple of swims.
Even though the technical section is less than 1/4 mile, the twists and contours of the Navajo sandstone, the so skinny but passable width, the down climbing into pools, all of if hooked me immediately. I was obsessed.
After that canyoneering trip I was hooked. The problem I was now facing was I had been exposed to an amazing world but didn't know anything and didn't know anybody. My friend was more of a one-canyon-trip-a-year type of person. I spent the next 4 months trying to find people to go with. My dad had tipped me off to a group of scout leaders who were also canyoneering instructors. I probably should not have been allowed to join that meetup group (more on that later), but I weaseled my way in and signed up for the first trip that became available. It was a couple of trade canyons in Zion National Park. I ended going with these guys through Keyhole the first day and Behunin the second.
Some of the questions and answer I gave were:
It was obvious right from the start that I didn't know what I was doing but they were all very kind and encouraged me to take a BSA climbing instructor course with them. I agreed and signed up for the next available one a few months later.
It was at this course that I finally learned about everything that could possible go wrong in canyoneering. Someone could get stuck on rope, lose their rappel device, core shot the rope, break an ankle, fall off a cliff, have a rock dropped on their head, burn their hand rappelling. All sorts of things can go wrong and if we aren't prepared for them it will result in spending a night in the canyon waiting to be rescued or doing something really dangerous because we aren't prepared to fix an easy mistake.
From that point I took classes, went to workshops and practice sessions, and eventually became an ACA Canyon Leader. I now occasionally host practice sessions and help teach when I have time.
I was lucky enough to learn about these potential problems early and get adequate training and I would encourage you to do so as well. There are classes being taught all over the place and you owe it to yourself to be a safe canyoneer.