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Canyoneering Rescue Planning: Planning for Escape or Retreat During Emergencies

As canyoneering enthusiasts, we at ROCNER Canyoneering Gear are all about safe canyoneering practices.

Canyoneering, just like any outdoor adventure, has certain risks. Some of these are canyon specific e.g. drowning if you get into a pothole with deep pools or strong currents, hypothermia, heat-related injuries such as dehydration or heat stroke as well as foot injuries like sprains, blisters or broken bones.

The key to mitigating these risks is to always be prepared before embarking on a canyoneering trip. Part of preparation involves learning all you can about the canyon you want to visit-the rating, anchors available, whether wet or dry, etc.

You also need to learn the common canyoneering communication practices so you and your crew members can keep in touch, especially during emergencies. Finally, always ensure you pack and carry all the canyoning equipment you’ll need to successfully complete the trip. This includes appropriate clothing and gear.

Planning For an Escape or Retreat

Another part of preparing for your trip is having an escape or retreat plan. While canyoning does take you to some incredible landscapes, the things that make for a great adventure are the same ones that might hinder your rescue should anyone in the canyoneering party become hurt or injured. For this reason, someone in your canyoneering crew should have adequate first aid knowledge. The whole crew should also take responsibility for each other’s safety out there.

Canyons can sometimes be unpredictable and you might find yourself beating a retreat or needing an escape route if things go wrong. Escaping a canyon can be done by using what’s available to help you reach the rim. This could be climbable cracks, a series of natural shelves, tributaries or steep gullies.

Retreat, on the other hand, involves retracing your route and possibly climbing back up to the canyon rim using the fixed ropes you’d used for your descent.

Assessing Available Escape or Retreat Options

Having an awareness of the escape or retreat options available allows you to make better decisions and also prepares you in case you need to change plans in mid-descent. This process begins even before you enter the canyon. Here’s what you should do:

  • Get a topographic map of the area and check if you can identify any potential exits.
  • Once you get to the canyon, scout each potential exit from the rim to assess its viability. If natural exits are unavailable, consider hanging fixed ropes over the rim at strategic points to facilitate a speedy exit in case one becomes necessary.
  • As you begin your descent, keep the map handy and refer to it so you’re always aware of where potential exits are in relation to your current position. As you pass each of these, study them to see if you can quickly use them should the need arise.
  • If you’re uncertain about your ability to escape to the rim using exits, plan ahead for a possible retreat by not pulling ropes after rappelling down. Leave them fixed until you’re certain there’s a better way out of the canyon.

Your safety is paramount so when in doubt, stay out of the canyon.