Canyoneering (or “canyoning”) is the sport of exploring canyons using a variety of techniques such as scrambling, climbing, rappelling, wading and swimming.  The term is most often used to describe technical descents requiring ropes, harnesses and other specialized gear. Like climbs, canyons can vary widely in level of difficulty:  ranging from the easy hike-through variety to the extremely technical. Dry canyons are significantly easier in terms of rigging and preparation compared to those with flowing water.  The more water, the more difficult the canyon.

Course Information & Format

The Mazama Canyoneering course takes place over approximately 2 months and includes 5 lectures, held at the Mazama Mountaineering Center, and 2 field sessions, locations TBD.

This course typically accepts 20–30 students per year. Lectures take place in a large group format, and during field sessions students break out into smaller groups.

Getting Ready for Canyoneering

Canyoneering is NOT a beginner class. You need to be comfortable and competent with intermediate level climbing skills prior to taking this class.

Here’s some recommendations to get the skills you need:

The Mazama Basic Climbing Education Program (BCEP) is a great place to get started. While this class might not seem related to canyoneering, it provides a lot of the fundamental groundwork. You’ll learn common knots used in technical systems, how to belay, how to rappel, rope management, and how to be an active participant on a team. This is a great class to laying a foundation.

If BCEP isn’t an option, classes covering basic rock skills are offered through the Mazamas and many other venues such as REI, PCC, or local rock gyms.  You can also take clinics and hire guides out at Smith Rock. The Santiam Alpine Club also offers an introductory climbing school comparable to BCEP.

The Mazama Intermediate Climbing School (ICS) expands on all of the above and takes you to the next level. You’ll build anchors and rappel off them, learn mechanical advantage systems – as well as gain a solid foundation in support skills such as first aid and wilderness navigation.  ICS is a lengthy class, but you’ll get a tremendous amount out of it.

If ICS isn’t an option, there are other ways to get these skills:

  • Anchor building classes are offered by the Mazamas, PRG, and REI.
  • Wilderness navigation classes are offered by the Mazamas and REI.
  • There are many outfits in the Portland area who offer wilderness first aid classes.

Canyoneering Details & History

Today, canyoneering is practiced all over the world – although it is most well known in Europe and the United States.  It is a sport that is rapidly growing in popularity. In North America, most people associate canyoneering with the famous slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau, although it is also practiced in the Rocky Mountains, the Sierras, Arizona, British Columbia, Mexico, Hawaii, and here in the Cascades.  With one of the greatest concentrations of waterfalls in the world, canyoneering is a natural fit for the Pacific Northwest.

While there are many similarities between canyoneering and climbing, the two are unique sports with unique techniques and hazards.  Experienced climbers may find their skills do not translate entirely to the canyon world; there’s a lot more to learn. Canyoneering involves:  rapid-fire rappels, hard starts, rappelling in confined spaces, rappelling with packs, down waterfalls, landing in deep pools (too deep to stand), swimming and dealing with current.  Water adds a new variable to the rappel equation – and water protection may be required for both the canyoneer and their gear. Canyons may require bushwhacking into remote rugged areas – and thus requires a high level of self-sufficiency.

Course Details

Frequently Asked Question Icon Icon of the letter i in a circle.
Required Gear

Full Body Weightsuit

Harness

Climbing Helmet

Canyon Specific Rappel Device

Locking Carabiners

Prusiks

Quicklinks

Backpack​

Some variety fo Drybag

Synthetic, Quick Dry Clothing

Rainshell

Light Hiking Boots with Decent Tread

5mm Neoprene Socks

Rappel Gloves

Signaling Whistle

See full details on required gear below.

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Time Commitment/Duration

Moderate–Canyoneering requires a moderate time commitment over a period of approximately 2 months. There are lectures once a week and two weekend field sessions.

Moderate–Canyoneering takes place over a period of  6 weeks and consists of two required weekend sessions.

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Application Process

The application period typically opens in early to mid-March and is open for two weeks.

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Skills Taught
  • How to Plan a Trip
  • Necessary Gear
  • Water Protection
  • Ethics
  • Good Practices 
  • Waterfall Rappelling
  • Rope Blocks
  • Retrievable Anchors
Frequently Asked Question Icon Icon of the letter i in a circle.
Prerequisites

The ideal applicant will have Intermediate Climb School (ICS) or equivalent training / experience. Participants must be able to build an anchor and safely execute a basic rappel without supervision. Participants should also be familiar with the basic principles of anchor building, belaying, rope management, wilderness navigation, first aid, and also be a competent swimmer. Depending on the applicant's experience/background, a skills test may be required.

See below for more information.

Required Gear Details

Proper canyon gear and attire will be discussed in detail at the lectures. At a minimum, students will require:

  • full body wetsuit*
  • harness
  • climbing helmet
  • canyon-specific rappel device** 
  • locking carabiners x4 (ideally screw-lock; pear-shaped style preferred)
  • prusiks x2
  • quick links x2 (climbing rated) OR rappel rings x2 (climbing rated)
  • 30 ft of climb-spec tubular webbing (9/16" or 1")
  • backpack: 35-40 liter pack is ideal for day outings; be prepared to help carry the ropes
  • drybags OR a thick compactor garbage bag to line your pack with (gear protection vs. immersion)
  • synthetic, quick-dry clothing
  • rainshell
  • light hiking boots with decent tread (expect to be hiking literally in the water)
  • wool or neoprene socks (recommended 5mm)
  • rappel gloves (cheap leather gardening gloves work well)
  • signaling whistle**

*Full-body wetsuits are required for all students; at least a 4/3, possibly a 5/4 wetsuit if you tend to run cold. Farmer John/Jane style wetsuits, shorties, and dry suits are not permitted.

**Students are required to have canyon-specific rappel device (ex. the Petzl Pirana) and a signaling whistle. Students accepted into the course will have an option to purchase both at a discount.