- Monday, October 29, 2007
Canyoneering is gaining in popularity among those seeking adventurous hikes.ORANGE COUNTY REGISTERSIERRA MADRE - "I survived," Rachael Chen of Brea said, adding later, "Nobody's going to believe I actually did it."Upon successfully rappelling the 14th and final waterfall on the first day of a three-day canyoneering course, Chen was delighted that she did, indeed, survive.Survived the next two days, too.Chen, 25, had her doubts after agreeing to join a friend, Ryan Bohr of La Habra Heights, in doing the course in the San Gabriel Mountains.It was a noteworthy achievement, considering Chen professes to be "the most non-athletic person ever" and had never been rappelling before, or rock climbing, or even hiking.Alpine Training Services offers courses in kayaking, rock climbing, backpacking and mountaineering, but it's most popular is canyoneering and Chen is an example of why."More people can do it, plain and simple," said Darren Jeffrey, president, founder and guide of Glendora-based ATS."It doesn't take a lot of strength. If you can shake someone's hand firmly and you can do a hike, we can get you through the canyon."And what exactly iscanyoneering?Jeffrey calls it adventure hiking, but the real adventure is rappelling.You hike up beside a canyon until the trail comes across a stream that leads into that canyon. Then you gear up and head down the stream, negotiating obstacles along the way, the number one being waterfalls.In Europe, the waterfalls are rushing, and getting wet and negotiating them is part of the fun. In the San Gabriel Mountains, they are usually dry but not always.ATS guidelines state you might be required to swim or wade short distances and there might be moments when you'll be completely submerged by water on and off rappel.Obviously it depends on the weather and runoff.In the U.S., Zion National Park in Utah is considered the mecca of canyoneering. It's where Jeffrey learned.In 1997, he discovered the canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains and two years later starting guiding them.Thanks to ATS, 65 routes are established in Southern California, a fact many might be surprised to learn.ATS guide Beth Jensen grew up in Arcadia and never realized the potential that surrounded her."She'd been hiking this trail all her life and had no idea that canyon was down there," Jeffrey said.Not many do."You get to see places most people don't get to see," said Jordan Marks, 22, a Santa Monica resident who was canyoneering for the first time. "I think that's another element that draws people to the sport is getting to explore."Marks, Bohr and Chen learned the basics the first day. They, along with three guides, ran Bailey Canyon and its 14 rappels down waterfalls ranging from 25 to 110 feet and four down-climbs negotiated without ropes.Each waterfall featured a trickle of water.Anchor building was covered the second day at Mount Baldy and self-rescue (climbing up) was taught the third day at a climbing gym, before they got to lead the guides town Fall Creek at Tujunga Reservoir off Angeles Crest Highway.For Bohr, the experience met his high expectations."People ask, `What are you doing?' When I explain what it is, they go, `Why would you do that?'" said Bohr, 25. "It's one of those things you need to try if you like doing adventurous sports."
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