In the Canyon, We Are All Just Canyoneers

I was swallowed directly into the canyon walls, coming out alive; spat out with underlying strengths but also smitten in realization that the same soul and old wounds I’ve sometimes ignored still reside right inside my bones. Now, maybe that sounds bleak, but canyon walls speak truth, make you feel real, strip you away and allow you to just be.

There was a beauty within bleakness; to be awakened to reality and be renewed.
canyoneering 1.jpg

It began when my friend Victoria, my adventurous soul sister, and I decided to tackle our new hobby; to repel through the canyons and transform into canyoneers! Victoria had met a guide at an outdoor leadership conference who put us in touch with a canyoneering facebook group. She took the reins on finding a couple people we could go with, because we knew having experienced experts with us was nothing to take lightly. Canyoneering was a risky sport and we knew the dangers of how quickly canyons can take one life or several. We reached out to two frequent canyoneers who were solely strangers to us, of course the beta was given to us by a trusting reference. These two older men were in charge of Meet Up groups in Southern Utah and are always looking to meet new friends to accompany them in their weekend canyon adventures.

We were meeting the two new fellow adventurers in Southern Utah. Even though we had checked off the boxes of being as prepared and responsible as possible, I felt uneasy about it. Not knowing these experienced “experts” was diving into part of this adventure blindly. These were two people whom we were spending a full day to two full days with; trusting them with our lives deep down in the canyon. But we both decided to go with trust and gut.

Then we met them. Cris and Bob were their names. Cris had a genuinely warm and helpful aura to him, probably mid 40s with the serious and caring knowledge that made you know instantly you were looked after. And then was was Bob. Bob was a unique character who’s humor at first glance made you wonder if this guy could ever be serious. He had a type of personality that made you question ever quite taking yourself too seriously. What was impressive is that Bob had been conquering canyons around Zion for 25 years, and he was pushing 80 years old! As Victoria and I felt out the situation we had a sigh of relief as we sensed their good company. Both of them were wonderful. Grazing past meeting eyes, you can tell that they too had young souls that were seeking out the next adventure to conquer.

We embarked on our first experience to Key Hole Canyon. We were quickly informed on the seriousness of canyoneering. They had explained to us that a few years ago a group of seven, which included one guide, were killed by a flash flood. When their bodies were found in the canyons of Zion, they were unrecognizable. Mind you, Key Hole is known to be a beginner’s canyon. So despite learning about this horrifying event that was for most a reminder to be cautious, we descended into the canyon. I mean, we were trying to conquer our fear right? With our hidden nervousness behind our bright smiles, we gained confidence with Cris and Bob as well as with our own skills, capabilities, and limitations. Later in the day we headed out to a more challenging canyon with lots of water once Cris and Bob saw we were capable and receptive to learning the safety and rappels.

At this second canyon, is the moment when things began to shift for me. There were moments of fear and question that challenged our minds. Circumstances that put everything to a test and that brought out a leader in all of us in different sections of the canyon. Moments when your legs were shaking like Elvis because you were fearful of the depths of unseen murky water, layers of twisting canyon walls, and slick rock beneath you. Trusting the people around you, trusting the new situation, and trusting your equipment to save your life if need be is all you had to hold onto. Moments where someone’s weakness was filled by another’s strength. Occurrences rose that forced you to step up without second guessing if you could or couldn’t, you just did.

And it was in these canyon walls that something unexpected and remarkably beautiful happened. There was a dance in connection with the fellow canyoneering friends around you.

A type of raw human connection that you don’t get from a typical day that may be formed around checking your latest facebook post or instagram like or even impressing your employees or bosses at work. Here, there was no hiding your truth, you could not run away from who you were. And when others needed a lifting up; both mentally and physically, you surprised yourself by stepping up.

canyoneer repel.jpg

And in the depths of the challenge of the canyon we learned stories of who each other was. Each coming from different backgrounds; work life, religions, and maybe political views. Although, each of us sharing similarities. How each of us shared common values and connected on a level of how we have love for mother nature and the world’s beauty that allows for these experiences. We shared our deep, innate care about protecting these sacred areas. Ideas on how we should preserve and inspire others to preserve this land that allows us to feel so alive.

As your canyoneering boots danced along the edges of dirt cliff paths, Bob pointed out from yonder our path the Cryptobiotic Soil. On the dirt cliffs next to us we could see that the dirt yielded a black residue that occurred on the to exposed areas. He explained that this soil is a natural erosion prevention from the elements which is created by living organisms such as algae, fungi and cyanobacteria and allows life to grow there. As we traveled down through 100 ft rappels we had repenting voices in our heads. We had Cris’s reassurance when we were on the edge of fear that “If you’re not scared canyoneering, then you’re doing it wrong, we are all a little scared.” And Bob’s belly laughter, heartwarming melody repeating to us “Once we are in the canyons, we are no longer male or female, we are all just canyoneers!”

As we safely exited the second canyon and departed home after a thank you meal, Victoria and I began to reflect on this empowering experience. The connection to the canyons and to our new friends was so meaningful to us.

To be surrounded by others in nature, and to be centered around a void of judgement, was the ultimate healing of the mind and soul.
zion canyoneering.jpg

It reminded us what really matters. And as we headed back to start the work week off, we felt reborn again; lighter and free. We were refreshed mentally and physically and felt strong; built up from surprising ourselves with the challenges we could withstand. We came out into the light at the end of the canyons, raw and energized and self awakened to reality.

There is something to be said and not to be underestimated by the true connection with others in sacred places. And the connection with others from all other backgrounds, upbringings and ages. I think it is important to meet people different from you and learn what they can teach. After all, everyone you can learn from becomes a part of you. They travel with you into each chapter of your life. I believe this connection feeds your soul and roots you, no matter where your adventure in this life will take you.

Story by creative writer: Jana Centrella