I've never even heard of the word until I moved to Arizona. I've heard of "Mountaineering" which is basically hiking in the mountains. Therefore, "Canyoneering" is hiking in ...wait for it...a canyon! Hiking in a canyon has it's differences and unique obstacles that one might not encounter on your everyday hike in Arizona. Canyoneering involves hiking through canyons with rock walls on both sides that tower hundreds of feet above you. You're faced with drop offs and waterfalls that you can only get past by sliding down, repelling or jumping. It sounded both exciting and challenging, so I knew I had to try it out with my adventure buddy, partner in crime, best friend, aka husband Brian, aka BT.
For his birthday this year in March I surprised him with a Groupon from Adventure on Purpose - Canyoneering for two. We've been fairly busy with our other adventures this year, but we finally cashed it in and booked it for Saturday, August 5th.
2017 has been a crazy year for the Arizona monsoon. We've had so much rain the weeks coming up to our trip and a recent tragedy in Payson, Arizona killed multiple members of a family from a flash flood. The thought of canyoneering was becoming more frightening than thrilling due to the risk of flash floods.
Wednesday before our trip, Phoenix was hit with a crazy storm! Thursday, I received an email from Adventure on Purpose that said they were monitoring the weather and Friday they would "check the water levels and weather forecast to make a decision and let you know. If we are not able to do a water canyon, we do have a dry canyon option available."
What?! A dry canyon?! Noooooo!
We got the all clear on Friday that a water canyon was a go and we would meet in Payson as scheduled Saturday morning. Yessssss!
Saturday morning, we met with our group that consisted of 9 people and our Adventure on Purpose guide Brian and his assistant. To avoid confusion from this point on, I will be referring to our guide as Brian and my husband as BT. We drove out to the trailhead where Brian and his helper, who also happened to be his 11 year old daughter, Chloe, distributed our gear which included a harness, a helmet, and a full wet suit (if you wanted it). Life jackets were also available. BT and I opted for our personal shorty wetsuits. A couple guys in our group opted out of the wetsuit entirely. We hiked down to Christopher Creek Gorge, about a quarter mile from where we parked. As we were hiking the guide said we won't really know the true conditions until he sees the creek. It's possible we might have to turn around and choose another canyon. When we arrived at a clearing near the creek, our guide took one look at the water flowing and said it was "perfect conditions!" It was time to suit up!!
Lord, help us!
The water was about mid-60 degrees, but before we got our feet wet, our guide Brian did ask us to gather for a quick prayer that was led by his daughter Chloe. The company makes no secret that they are a Christian company. Their mission statement states that "The heart of Adventure on Purpose is to glorify God by using adventure to build and strengthen relationships." No way did I feel forced to be part of the prayer, and if I were of any other religion, I wouldn't be offended by them practicing this before the trip. Actually, since it was monsoon season, I thought any help we can get from the guy upstairs to keep us safe would be most welcome.
Then we were off and I stepped right into the brown water. Yup, the water was brown, like a milk chocolate river you'd see in Willy Wonka. This was because of all the rain that we've been having. If it doesn't rain for over a week, then the water would probably clear up, but it wouldn't be flowing as well as it was either. If I had the choice of brown water or slow shallow water, give me the brown stuff!
Obstacles and The Point of No Return.
The first obstacle was a fork in the road, either go to the left down the creek where it was clear or duck under a huge log that left you just a foot of head space to get through. Brian assured us that this log was definitely not there 2 weeks ago! The log was huge and just a testament to the power of the rains that we've had recently.
Over the next quarter mile we got to slide down small waterfalls, jump from the top of a 5 foot water fall, swim down stretches of the stream at a time and trudge through the uneven and unseen ground of the creek. There were times, you would take a step forward and realize there was no ground you could reach and you'd have to swim until you can touch ground again.
After a quarter mile, Brian told us we were at the point of no return. Once we get lowered by the ropes 20 feet down this next cliff, there was no going back. We had to complete the adventure or we can hike up now back to the main road and find our way to the van to wait. We all opted in. BT lowered me down using the rope climbing gear that I, of little rope-using knowledge, know little about. So, I won't even pretend to use the climbing jargon. All I knew was to say "On Belay?!" and he would yell back "Belay On!" and then I would yell "Lower" and he would start lowering me.
After that "point of no return", we had to do a few more lowers with the rope. I even tried my hand at belaying my BT down a 20 foot cliff all by myself! That man trusts me with his life. Then there was another jump from a waterfall. Ugh, this one had to be 20 feet!! I was freaked out. Cliff jumping is really scary for me. I'm not the strongest of swimmers, but with the encouragement from our group I was able to gather the courage and take the leap! I sunk deep. Deep enough to feel my ear pop, but when I came back up, people were clapping and I floated on my back downstream where the rest of our group was waiting.
Let me tell you about our guide Chloe. She maybe only 11 years old, but she was the most respectful, brave and adventurous little girl I've ever met. Not only did she say a beautiful, gracious prayer over our group, but she would lead us to the next point and stop and wait for her father at just the right spot. Her father might have been behind with others in our group that needed a little more help through an obstacle.
We'd ask Chloe questions and she would answer very politely and include a "sir" or "ma'am" in her reply. BT asked her if her siblings were jealous that she was able to go on the adventure this time. She replied "No sir. They are happy for me that I get to go. They're very patient for their turn." I was so impressed.
I loved the fact that our guide's name was Brian as well. Whenever I needed a helping had from BT to get out of the water and onto a boulder, I would just yell "Brian!" and either BT or Brian the guide would be there to help. Yay for me!
Our Last Hurrahs.
One of the highest waterfalls was about 35 feet. This time we would repel down by ourselves. Which means we were in control of the rope and the speed at which we lowered ourselves. About halfway down, the cliff wall indents completely and we're left sort of dangling. It's a little disconcerting and unexpected, but I made it down and unhooked the safety rope that was connected at the top with Brian.
One of the final descents I lowered myself completely into the water not knowing that I wouldn't be able to touch the ground! As I said earlier, I'm not the strongest of swimmers. So, I was having a hard time unhooking the carabiner while trying to stay afloat. I yelled for BT who was already across the river about 30 yards away. BT swam all the way back to me and helped me get the carabiner off as I tried my best to keep my head above water. BT's my hero. It was at this point I thought I should've opted for a full wet suit that's more buoyant and a life jacket. I'll do that next time...and there will be a next time.
One of the last obstacles was the coolest thing I've ever done. There was a part of the canyon where there was a horizontal sliver of space between the granite, about 2 feet wide. This sliver was wet with the a strong trickle of water and we had to slide into it completely laying flat. It was crazy! We slid about 15 feet through this natural water slide and make a sharp right directly down into a waterfall and swim out! OMG! What an adrenaline rush!
The total trip was about a mile and a half. This includes the distance to hike in and out of the canyon. A mile and a half may not sound like a lot to you, but in "Canyon Miles" that's a long way. We started at 7:45, and ended around 1:30. That's a long day. We were definitely cold at times. There are parts of the canyon that rarely see sun. The water was 65 degrees and we were in the water for 90% of the time that we were in the canyon. The weather was perfect, sunny and bright. But I would be lying if I told you that I never looked upstream to wonder if there might be a storm somewhere that might bring a flash flood our way. There were definitely a few times I looked at the canyon walls on both sides of me to try to find an escape route. I looked at the clouds and could see the grey in the linings knowing there might be some rain in there somewhere. The possibility was always there.
I was amazed how peaceful it was in the canyon. You can just hear the birds and the rush of the waterfalls and creek. Brian told us that there was a time there was a group of almost 50 people behind his group, then another group of 20 people behind them! The canyon was filled with chatter. But this day, I think we were the only ones in the canyon. The other adventure groups might have been scared off by the recent rain.
I really didn't know what to expect from this adventure, so I went with an open mind. The experience was more than I could ask for. BT absolutely loved his present. We were challenged and had to put our trust in each other. I was reassured by him helping me so much along the way. We were awed and inspired by a part of Arizona that people rarely have the chance to see or experience. Adventure on Purpose was the best tour group I could've picked. They really made us feel secure and empowered. I didn't feel like I was just part of "tour" group. We definitely want to do this adventure again and want to take our kids and our other adventure loving friends along for the ride.