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Editor's note: Always make sure you have the proper equipment, physical condition and experience level before trying any outdoor activity. And be sure to always check the weather conditions before traveling into any canyon.THE GREAT OUTDOORS — Running, jumping, climbing, exploring and fitting into tight spaces are some of the favorite pastimes of many children. A 3-year-old climbing into kitchen cupboards, an 8-year-old seeing if he can successfully shimmy himself up the stair banister and a 15-year-old trying to find the shortest way home by cutting through easements and climbing over fences are examples of this innate way of being.
If your children are like those examples, you might want to try to harness those urges by strapping on a harness, helmet, a few carabiners and take them out canyoneering. You definitely can’t just send them out alone in the wilderness, but must help them along until they are old enough and learn the ropes. Which is why we’ve brought you eight tips on how to successfully navigate the canyons with your children.
1. Start out simple
Just like you wouldn’t take your 5-year-old on a 20-mile hike right out of the gate, you wouldn’t take her on a class 4-V canyoneering trip, either.
This is why it is important to start out simple by studying the area and finding canyons that fit the age and ability of the child or children you are taking. To make things easier on you, CanyoneeringUSA.com has come up with a rating system that will help you in your search for the perfect beginning canyon. This way, you won’t find yourself up the creek without a paddle, or worse: down in a hole with a crying child without the necessary provisions or a way out.
As skillful as your child may look climbing the furniture in your home, it really is a whole different ballgame in the great outdoors. Rock walls are often slippery and sandy, the ground is uneven, the water is cold and moves at fast rates and rappelling down a 20-foot rock wall is a lot different than your granite countertop.
To better prepare you and your children for what you might experience on your trip, places like Hansen Mountaineering in Orem offer classes for the whole family to practice the skills necessary to conquer your first of many canyoneering outings.
3. Have two adults
As fun as it might sound to take the kiddos out for a day adventure while one spouse is at work or while one spouse stays home and has a much needed day off, you really should have two adults, especially when bringing young children.
Having two adults allows you to pass children down from smaller drops or guide them through tight spaces. And when things get more difficult, requiring rappelling skills, it is even more crucial to have an adult or more experienced individual belaying while the other gets the children ready to rappel using the tandem method.
4. Plan for more time
You know when you ask your kids to clean their rooms and it takes all day to get it done? Yeah, it’s kind of the same concept. Children, it seems, live in a timeless world that consists of constant distractions, due mainly to the fact that they are constantly learning and soaking in the world around them.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you should always plan for extra time — at least that’s what father of three David Coffman advises.
“I always add 30 to 50 percent to the longest stated time to finish a canyon,” he said. “Our first canyon was U-Turn Canyon at Arches National Park. Normally it takes two to three hours, but it took us four hours to complete.”
You shouldn't worry about this as the years and adventures go by, Coffman said. After years of taking his boys on canyoneering adventures and teaching them the necessary skills, he said that the times are getting much quicker.
5. Avoid sharing equipment
Perhaps you have a couple of harnesses and helmets or were able to borrow some from a friend. That’s great— if you only have a couple of people going. However, if you have several children you are taking with you, it might be worth the investment or time to purchase or borrow enough gear for everyone.
Utah County father of four and avid outdoorsman Forrest Megargel knows this firsthand.
“Avoid sharing equipment by getting things for everyone in the family,” he said. "You may think that you’re saving money, but the time you’ll end up spending passing harnesses, carabiners, helmets and such will add up to a tedious, time-consuming trip. And these things, they’re really not all that expensive.”
6. Follow guidebooks
With technology, many feel that maps in paper form are unnecessary. However, this is often not the case when deep down in a canyon, too far from cellphone towers. This is where guidebooks like the ones created by Michael R. Kelsey are crucial.
Megargel said these guidebooks have been invaluable in many canyoneering trips.
“You have to be able to follow trailhead instructions on guidebooks and maps,” he said. “Once you go down the wrong canyon, it is very difficult to get out. There have been many instances when people have taken a wrong turn not even knowing it, and before long, they are in a completely different canyon with no way to get out. This is why it is also important to carry a compass, emergency kit and provisions in case you end up needing to stay a night.”
7. Hire a guide
Even with the right amount of adults and guidebook in hand, you still may not feel confident in your abilities to navigate the canyon and make it out safely, and that’s OK, according to Megargel.
“You can hire a guide if you’re not completely comfortable,” he said. “There have been times when, although I am confident in my skill sets, I don’t know the area well enough. During these times, I have felt better about hiring a guide to take the stress off me, and to help my family make it through safely.”
8. Enjoy it
If reading the above tips scared you from taking on the adventure of canyoneering with your little ones, that wasn’t the intent. Just like running around the house with Legos on the floor and sliding down the stairs in a sleeping bag, there are inherent risks.
However, according to Megargel, the wonderful experiences you have while in the canyon with your children more than outweigh the risks.
“Canyoneering is a great thing for families to do together,” Megargel said. “It’s got enough element of risk that makes it kind of exciting, especially when the kids get to start rappelling into the canyon. It teaches them to trust your own judgment and is a good confidence builder — and there’s no better place to start than right here in Utah.”