Advocate Field Trip: Canyoneering with Cascadia Expeditions
Water bombards my nostrils as I plunge into the chilling, crystal depths. I’m practicing my cannonball for the “bigger jumps” lurking further down the canyon, while my colleagues sprawl under leaks of sunshine, passing blueberries, and engulfing impressively soggy-less sandwiches after our repelled descent down the slick canyon walls. We are somewhere in the Cascade foothills, surrounded by untouched nature – colors so vibrant and air so clean, it borders psychedelic.
According to our guides, we are a few in the first hundred people to see this gleaming Eden. We stumble humbly through these rare sights, hauling our heavy bodies – layered in harnesses, helmets, wetsuits, lifejackets, and our regular clothes – down deep and shallow 30-something degree pools, jumping from cliffs and fallen logs, marveling over speckled bedrock, dodging spider webs, and riding small waterfalls like slides.
Sounds fun, right? Right. It’s exhilarating. But be advised – this extreme sport is not for the fickle-hearted or ill-prepared. Without the proper guide or experience, canyoneering could kill.
Intro to Canyoneering As defined by our lead guide Kevin Hoffheins of Cascadia Expeditions, canyoneering is the process of descending a creek or canyon “by whatever means necessary”: usually a healthy mix of hiking, swimming, jumping, and rappelling. A few Advocate staff agreed to tag along with the Cascadia crew on a scouting trip to map public routes for their brand new canyoneering adventure services.
By nature, the sport is exclusive, due to extreme conditions requiring skillful agility and expertise. The waiver itself asks that clients are comfortable carrying an extra 20 lbs. up and down slick, rocky terrain, through swift, frigid water for up to 5 miles, for roughly 6 hours. Then there’s the whole, plummeting into said frigid water from heights of up to 30 feet. And then there’s trusting your fellow explorers with your full weight whilst repelling down said slick terrain.
Without technical know-how, injury is almost guaranteed.
“As a member of the Corvallis Mountain Rescue Unit, I’ve seen what happens when people overestimate their own abilities. It’s usually fatal,” warns CoFounder and Director Brett Gallagher.
Canyoneering holds a sacredness. The golden rule of canyoneering is “leave it as you found it.” Every piece of equipment is returned to its rightful place. Beyond safety concerns, canyoneers don’t want just anyone navigating the dangerous terrain, for fear of pollution and general misuse that might lead to degradation of the land. This could cost canyoneers total use of the land, if landowners like the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management decide to revoke their rights.
Safety First, Then Teamwork When it comes to canyoneering, safety is a product of equal parts preparation and teamwork. Kevin and our other guides, Shawn, Ethan, and Emma, stress the importance of spotting each other through the uneven grounds. Communication is key. We are all responsible for each other out here and have to clearly convey our needs, while looking out for signs of struggle.
Moments of acute awareness are met with playful fun and laughter as we venture. We pretend to fight for the ‘Most Fun-Haver’ award. We find a cave-like portion of the canyon where we threaten to live out our days. We poke fun at Tony for wearing his swim trunks over his wetsuit. We call out Emily for telling us it’s her birthday after we finish canyoneering, and hound her over what she’s eating for dinner the whole way home.
Don’t Smile, I Dare You While taking in some impressively tall canyon walls, Kevin pulls me aside for a pro-tip – he tells me to keep an eye for the smiles on the others’ faces in moments like these. I study each grinning mouthful, and pay silent gratitude to the land. The beauty of being here, just us in this canyon, is contagious. It spreads from cheek to cheek as we all huddle together for one last team photo.