Everything you need to know about canyoning

Le canyoning, also called canyoning ou canyon descent, is a outdoor sport who has the wind in their sails! This whitewater activity developed strongly in the 1990s and has become very trendy over the last ten years. In a context of increased sensitivity to ecology and the desire to (re)connect with nature, the canyon descent is very popular with athletes looking for thrills en wilderness. You are tempted by this unusual activity, but you would like to know more: what is canyoning? What does it consist of? What is the history of this sport? Where to go canyoning in France ? Who can practice it? At the house of Exterior Nature, we are guides et enthusiasts de canyoning since 2007. We explain everything to you, let yourself be guided!

What is canyoning?

What is canyoning? A natural sport!

Canyoning consists of exploring canyons or wild natural gorges, sometimes narrow, sculpted over the centuries by erosion. This outdoor sports activity is very complete, as it combines the techniques and benefits of caving, climbing, hiking, mountaineering and whitewater swimming. Yes, all that!

Equipped with a neoprene wetsuit, a helmet and a harness, you move along streams and small torrents, dotted with natural obstacles to cross. Some waterfalls are rappelling down a rope. The more daring can choose to jump with both feet into pools of crystal clear water. Sometimes the torrents carve and polish the rock, creating fantastic slides that are great fun to slide down. Finally, the natural swimming pools are covered by swimming, for a good breath of fresh air.

Often isolated, sometimes difficult to access, the canyons reveal a diversity of scenery and a wild and preserved nature (and to preserve!) Between vertiginous cliffs, mineral landscapes and abundant vegetation, you will be amazed. To reach these remote gems, approach and return steps are necessary. Yes, that's the (low) price to pay to enjoy an authentic and secluded setting!

What you need to remember is that canyoning is a very fun and fun sporting activity to practice with friends or family. It brings together all the ingredients for an extraordinary experience:

  • a superb natural and wild environment;
  • a very complete sporting leisure;
  • thrills and beautiful adrenaline rushes;
  • an original outing, off the beaten track.

To convince you, we tell you the history of canyoning:

Who invented canyoning? A little history…

Late XNUMXth - early XNUMXth century: the premises

The most adventurous fishermen have always ventured into the narrow gorges to find fish.

But the exploration of the canyons for a purpose other than food really began at the end of the XNUMXth century, when the first speleologists ventured into natural gorges. It was not canyoning strictly speaking, but rather caving alternating between underground caves and open-air canyons.

In France, in 1905, speleologist Édouard-Alfred Martel undertook the descent of the Gorges du Verdon for the first time, aboard wooden and canvas boats. The team, made up of 12 men, alternates navigation on the rivers and walking, carrying the boats. A great feat when you think of the very rudimentary equipment of the time!

During the first half of the XNUMXth century, other teams managed to cross the Gorges du Verdon, always using boats (boats, then rubber canoes).

In 1965, the Belgian Lucienne Golenvaux was the first to swim down these same gorges!

The 1960s to 1980s: improving equipment and safety

From the 1960s, cavers and climbers around the world developed equipment more suited to the descent of canyons.

Thanks to dry bags and the use of wetsuits, there is no longer any need for boats. The precursors of canyoning accomplish their descents entirely on foot and by swimming.

The creation of a harness (or harness) for the general public, designed for canyoning, contributed to the development of the practice, which then attracted climbing enthusiasts.

Then, in the 1970s, the American Dennis Turville, photographer and professional climber, put the spotlight on canyoning. With his team, he installs the very first openings in canyons in the United States. These are course markings and fixed mooring points, to facilitate access to the canyons and above all to ensure the safety of canyonists.

A large number of canyons were then discovered and explored, notably the Sierra de Guara in Spain. However, the practice of canyoning remains an adventurous discipline reserved for experts.

Since the 1980s: the development of modern canyoning

In 1988, a canyoning commission was created within the French Federation of Caving (FFS). The activity then began to be organized via the departmental and regional structures of the FFS. Caving guides and climbing instructors offer the first supervised canyoning outings to groups of amateur sportsmen.

Many canyons are then open and secure, to attract a wider amateur public. This is the democratization of canyoning!

Then, in 2000, a State patent specific to canyoning was created. Today, in France, the activity is jointly managed by the FFS and the French Mountain and Climbing Federation (FFME).

Since the beginning of the XNUMXst century, nature sports enthusiasts and thrill seekers have been exploring the most beautiful canyons in the world every year. Why not you ?

Where to go canyoning in France?

As you can imagine, the practice of canyoning requires a minimum of relief. And spontaneously, you think of mountain ranges, such as the Alps and the Pyrenees.

You are right ! There are magnificent canyons in the Pyrénées-Orientales, the Pyrénées Audoises or the Basque Country.

Exterior Nature offers canyoning outings in the Pyrénées-Orientales (66) since 2007. We take you to discover the most beautiful canyons of the Catalan country, whatever your level! Our favourite: famous Llech canyon, acclaimed for the variety of its obstacles, its fun side and its breathtaking landscapes.

In the Alps, you can practice canyoning in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, the Hautes-Alpes or the Alpes Maritimes.

But there are also very beautiful gorges in lower massifs. These are the famous Gorges du Verdon in the Var, but also canyons in Lozère (Cévennes massif), in Ardèche or in the Jura.

Of course, the French islands are not to be outdone, with superb canyons in Corsica and Reunion!

Canyoning: for whom?

Canyoning for adults, teenagers and children

Canyoning is particularly suitable for adults and teenagers. But some easier canyons are also accessible to children from 8 years old. There are several levels of canyons, offering a very varied range of outings, both for beginners, children and families, and for amateur or experienced sportsmen.

However, whatever course you choose, it is essential to know how to swim and not be afraid to put your head under water. For intermediate to expert level canyoning, you should also be in good general physical condition.

Choose your canyoning trip well according to your level

Don't know how to choose? Do not panic, we explain everything to you:

First, check out the canyon rating system, composed of three criteria:

  1. The difficulty in terms of verticality: it is the letter V, followed by a number from 1 to 7. The higher the waterfalls, the higher the rating.
  2. Aquatic difficulty: this is the letter A, followed by a number from 1 to 7. The greater the water flow, the higher the risk and the rating.
  3. The difficulty in the commitment and the scale: it is a Roman numeral, from I to IV. The fewer the loopholes and opportunities to circumvent obstacles, the higher the number.

For example, the rating of the Llech canyon that we were telling you about just before is the following: v3a4III. It is therefore a canyon for athletes looking for sensations 😉

There are other important elements to consider when choosing the right canyon for you:

  • The length and duration of the canyon: some are covered in two hours, while others require a whole day;
  • The difficulty and length of the approach and return walks: this can range from 5 minutes to several hours uphill;
  • The possibility or not of circumventing the most difficult obstacles (very high jumps, large waterfalls, etc.).

Choose according to your abilities and your desires! We recommend hiring a licensed guide and asking for advice. If he is competent, he will be able to direct you to the canyoning outing you need.

How to practice canyoning safely?

Organize your outing with a professional guide

Although it is not mandatory, it is strongly recommended to be accompanied by a canyoning guide, holder of the State patent. It is simply a matter of security.

The guide knows the canyon well, the openings and mooring points, the places where you can jump into the water without risk and those which are dangerous. He will explain how to overcome obstacles, safety measures, the right gestures and positions to adopt, etc.

Have equipment suitable for canyoning

The advantage of using a guide is that he provides you with all the necessary equipment:

  • neoprene wetsuit;
  • helmet ;
  • harness;
  • carabiners and descenders.

This equipment must be adapted and approved for canyoning. It also guarantees that you will enjoy your outing, without being cold... or afraid!

The guide also carries all the essential safety equipment in his waterproof bag.

To find out more, read our article : Everything you need to know to properly prepare your canyoning outfit and equipment.

So, this article convinced you to try canyoning? Organize your next summer vacation in the south of France and come and discover the most beautiful canyons of the Pyrénées-Orientales!

We offer canyoning outings for everyone, beginners or experts. Our goal: to share our passion for nature and canyoning, and make you spend an unforgettable day!

Read also: