Canyoneering Karma

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Canyoneering Karma

La Canada Flintridge, CA
3,605 Canyoneers

Welcome to the Canyoneering Karma Meetup GroupOur group exists to serve; to help you learn, practice and hone technical canyoneering skills; to meet other canyoneers; and of …

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Our group exists to serve; to help you learn, practice and hone technical canyoneering skills; to meet other canyoneers; and of course to have fun exploring canyons.

Canyoneering Karma is hosted by:

• Canyon Adventures, Los Angeles CA —

• Canyons & Crags, Cedar City UT —

This group is open to everyone, whether or not you have received any formal training, and regardless of where you may have received it. Ours is a big tent. We believe that bringing people together is good for the sport. It brings people into the community; encourages sharing of ideas, information and techniques; and improves safety and ethics.


Arrived in Monterrey, Mexico on the 7th of March. Here training 19 aspiring canyon guides. Four days on, three days off, four days on. From here on to Guadalajara for another seven days of training another group of guides. Home on the 27th.

I have been coming to Mexico since 2003 – Monterrey, Guadalajara and Durango. You would think my Spanish would have improved tremendously, but it hasn’t. Mi Español is still no bueno. Fortunately, the courses work out just fine thanks to some very competent translators.

Internet Forums

I started the first canyoneering forum on the internet back in May of 2000. The original platform was called eGroups, which was later acquired by Yahoo! Those who have been around long enough likely remember it best as the Canyons Group on Yahoo! To get it up and running I did an internet search for “canyoneering”, “canyoning”, “slot canyons”, “gorge walking”, “river tracing”, “kloofing”, and every other related word or phrase I could imagine; inviting anyone and everyone who came up in the search to participate in the group. I was naive enough to imagine we would all come together in a spirit of cooperation to share ideas and information, learn from each other and help each other. Two years later I become extremely frustrated and turned the group over to someone else.

Since then I have been involved in one way or another with several more forums and groups. I certainly see the potential benefits. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed an abundance of pitfalls. Canyoneering existed long before there was an internet, but the exponential growth of the sport has paralleled the exponential growth of the internet. The two have grown up together. Some of the pitfalls that plague canyoneering internet forums are the same ones that plague the internet in general. Others are more specific to the canyoneering community.

Those just getting started in canyoneering have access to a wealth of information that did not exist 15-20 years ago. That’s a good thing, but it presents a significant challenge; sorting through all that information – often conflicting information – to figure out what is worth learning and what should be ignored.

This isn’t a blog post intended to tell you what information is good and what is bad. It’s just a personal rant about the pitfalls. Here is my list of some of those pitfalls:

  • Context – “It depends”
  • Opinions vs Facts
  • How to Think vs What to Think
  • Ego, Ethics and Tenacity
  • Ego and The Need to Right
  • Biases, Motives and Manipulation
  • Credentials

I might add some comments with more details about each of these pitfalls. Maybe not. It’s just a rant after all. If I do, someone is bound to disagree. Sometimes people disagree just to disagree. And those folks tend to be much more tenacious than me with their arguments.

In my old age I’d rather be at peace than be right.

Training in Portland

Sitting in the Alaska Airlines Lounge in Portland waiting for my flight back to Salt Lake City. Posting to share a quote from Lisa Hewitt, a student in two of the three one-day workshops I taught here. Reminding myself what a blessed life I lead and the joy that comes from introducing people to an activity like canyoneering.

“I’m so thoroughly satisfied with how much l learned this weekend! I feel so revved up to keep at it! We shared so many different ways to complete various tasks on rope. My favorite thing about Rich Carlson as an instructor was how open he was to let others share how they like to do things. I dig a leader that doesn’t have pride issues. Very personable, lots of stories, thorough and patient with all my questions. Thank you Rich for expanding my abilities this weekend. To the rest of the group and ones not in this picture! I’m so elated to have connected with each one of you! For those of you who missed out, there will be a next time!”

We had a great turnout in all of the workshops, as well as the Intro to Swiftwater Saturday evening. Thanks to all who participated and for the warm hospitality. And yes, Portland does have some great beer. 🙂

Looking forward to a return trip to the Pacific Northwest next spring or summer.

Hong Kong to the Sierras to Baja

Some trips run like a well-oiled machine. Other trips … not so much.

Getting to Hong Kong for a 2-day Totem CRT Ultralight Rigging & Rescue training involved a 2.5-hour drive from home in Cedar City, Utah, to Las Vegas for a flight to San Francisco, then a connection to Hong Kong. Uneventful so far, except for that crazy woman on the flight into Hong Kong. I don’t understand much Chinese, but I knew she was cussing. There is a funny side of human nature on display between that time when the wheels touch the runway – “Please remain seated until we come to a complete stop” – and when it’s our turn to disembark – a couple hundred people in the aisle between us (row 42) and the exit, but she was climbing over people to get her bags out of the overhead compartment. Human nature is on display again as people press their shins up against the baggage carousel. They must know the very next bag coming down the chute will be theirs.

First night in Hong Kong was a long one. Long flight and jet lag. Dinner with students. Late to bed. Full day teaching. Dinner. Evening class. Repeat the next day. My third day in Hong Kong was a day off. Made plans to meet with a couple of my past students, but woke up feeling like a zombie. Spent most of the day sleeping.

Hong Kong to Beijing to Las Vegas. I’m getting spoiled with airport lounges. American Express Centurion, Priority Pass, United Club. Comfortable, wifi, good food, free drinks. Hard to imagine traveling without those perks. Unfortunately, the open-to-the-public-for-a-fee lounge in Beijing was just slightly better than spending six hours out in the terminal. There were other, more upscale lounges, but I wasn’t flying business class so I didn’t qualify.

Met my wife in Las Vegas and drove west toward the Sierras for some down-time camping and hiking. Then south to LA for a weekend of teaching at Stony Point. I had courses scheduled on two back-to-back weekends. We didn’t feel like driving seven hours back home, only to return a few days later. We could have spent those five days between courses hanging out around LA. Could have spent them in San Diego. Been there. Done that. Talked about taking a bus down to Ensenada where I had spent some time with my son years ago. But instead we decided to fly down to Cabo on the southern tip of Baja.

Spent our first night at the Hotel Tropicana in San Jose. I must have a nose for beer. It led us directly to the Baja Brewery. Drove from San Jose to Cabo San Lucas the next morning. Boat tour out to Lands End. Mandatory beach time. Bar hopping. Beautiful day. Then north to Todos Santos where we checked in at a cozy bed and breakfast called The Vibe.

The owner of the B&B asked if we planned to stay through Friday as we originally planned, considering the rain in the forecast. Not really sure why some rain would change our plans. Of course we planned to stay through Friday. The next day we started hearing news about Tropical Storm Lidia heading toward Baja. Shop keepers started boarding up windows and doors and we overheard people who wondered if the tropical storm would become a hurricane. Perhaps it was time we considered altering our plans after all.

Skies were still clear the next day. We stuck with our plan to drive to La Paz, but took every opportunity to attempt reaching the airline by phone. To no avail. When we found an opportunity to get online the airline’s website offered instructions on how to reschedule flights for anyone affected by the impending storm. We moved our reservation from Friday afternoon to Thursday morning, hoping to beat the storm. Unfortunately, when we woke up on Thursday we had messages telling us the Thursday morning flight was cancelled. The storm was already getting close to the airport in Los Cabos. It rained most of the day and overnight. Power and internet off and on all day. Off all night and into the morning.

The storm passed through Todos Santos overnight. Dark sky and the lack of power caused an eerie darkness. Looking out the front door it was difficult to make out the outline of houses just across the street. Without air conditioning it was an uncomfortable night. Strong winds rattled the doors and windows. Not much sleep and no way to make coffee in the morning.

Drove to Cabo San Lucas Friday morning, not certain when we would get a flight out, but we had no way to contact the airline. Perhaps best to go straight to the airport to talk with someone in person. We encountered much more rain between Todos Santos and Cabo. Arroyos that were bone dry on the drive up a couple days earlier were now raging with muddy water. Cars were half-buried from the flash floods and mud slides. Once in Cabo we learned that all roads leading to the airport were closed. Traffic was backed up for a couple miles.

Once we escaped the gridlock we stopped at the first hotel we encountered – Marina Fiesta Hotel. There was a chain and padlock on the gate. The guard wasn’t expecting any new guests at a time when everyone else was trying their best to leave.

We thought we had celebrated our last night in Baja on Wednesday. Then again on Thursday. Our Friday afternoon flight was cancelled a second time so we celebrated again Friday evening. Then received word from the airline that we wouldn’t be able to leave until Sunday. Celebrated our fourth last night in Baja on Saturday.

Sunday departure confirmed. Google Maps showed the road clear and anticipated a 35 minute drive. We left the hotel with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, Google Maps was clueless about which roads were open and which were closed. Hint: the open road was the one with the backed-up traffic. Made it on time, nonetheless. Witnessed much more devastation from the storm on our way to the airport. It was amazing how much progress was already made with the cleanup. People are resilient.

Second weekend of courses in LA was cancelled. Income lost. Travel expenses went over budget. But it’s only money. Compared to the disruption of lives caused by the storm, we experienced nothing more than a small inconvenience. There is so much to be grateful for in this life. The blessing count continues to rise.


It Depends

My students know when they ask questions about canyoneering that my answer will often start with, “It depends ….”  One of the things that makes canyoneering such an amazing sport is the diversity of the canyons we explore. That diversity requires us to learn a broader set of skills and to develop the ability to DISCERN when one set of skills and techniques is appropriate and when it is not.

Competency Continuum

The competency continuum. People enter canyoneering at different places along the continuum. Some have no rope experience at all. Some have no outdoor experience at all. Some come from rock climbing and have an established skill set and, quite often, some misinformation and/or an initial inability to perceive how canyoneering techniques necessarily differ from rock climbing techniques in many ways.

Others progress on the continuum in one type of canyon, but not in other types.

Skills can be acquired by many different means, including formal and informal training. Skills need to be combined with judgment, which comes from the result of experience. There is a saying about good judgment coming from experiences that came about due to bad judgment. It is very common in the canyoneering community for someone to have experience, yet still lack competence because luck has been on their side and they haven’t perceived a need to expand their skills.

Rules vs Best Practice vs Fit for Task. When someone is still low on the competency continuum, it makes sense to start them out with some rules on how to do things. We should also impress upon them the wisdom of sticking to basic canyons as they master basic skills, then progress from there.

At some point everyone needs to learn what constitutes best practice AND the variables that come into play. In other words, it becomes ok for them to start breaking rules and deviating from best practices IF they have developed the judgment they need to go along with it. Even then, I would argue that we should employ best practices whenever possible because we don’t know who will come behind us, see what we left behind and assume it is an example of best practice.

Fit for task means we are breaking rules and deviating from best practices, hopefully only because we know what the hell we are doing. I would still argue that we need to consider others who haven’t achieved the same level of competence.




Fun with Friction

When you have a cool toy like the Rock Exotica Enforcer load cell, you just gotta find some fun ways to play with it. How about measuring how load on an anchor changes when holding, raising or lowering a load? How about how the load varies when you are using a real pulley vs using a carabiner as a pulley vs employing friction with something like a munter hitch?

Well, here you have it. Just a simple quick look. Nothing scientific, but the results may be of interest.

Static Load

This first photo shows the 10-pound weight suspended directly from the load cell. Static load was 11 lbs. More than 10 because there is a carabiner and a bit of rope added to the weight.

Efficient Pulley

Rock Exotica pulley rated around 92% efficient. If it was 100% efficient the load should register 22 lbs – 11 lbs on the load side, plus the 11 lbs of force I must apply to hold the load. The load cell read 20 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I applied only 9 lbs of force to hold the load in place because the friction of the rope passing over the pulley held a portion of the weight.

While lifting the weight the load cell read 24 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I needed 13 lbs of force to lift the 11 lbs weight because I needed to lift the load, plus overcome the small amount of friction created by the pulley.

While lowering the weight the load cell read 19 lbs (+/- 1 lb).

Carabiner as Pulley

Rock Exotica Pirate carabiner used as pulley. No efficiency rating.

The load cell read 20 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I applied only 9 lbs of force to hold the load in place because the friction of the rope passing over the carabiner held a portion of the weight. The +/- in my readings may account for a difference I was expecting. This reading was the same as that of the efficient pulley, but I think the higher friction of the carabiner should have resulted in a slightly lower rating than I got for the pulley.

While lifting the weight the load cell read 34 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I needed 23 lbs of force to lift the 11 lbs weight because I needed to lift the load, plus overcome the friction created by the carabiner. Friction is a disadvantage when raising.

While lowering the weight the load cell read 16 lbs (+/- 1 lb). Friction is an advantage when lowering.

Munter Hitch

Munter hitch, no efficiency rating. The load cell read 16 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I applied only 5 lbs of force to hold the load in place because the friction of the munter hitch held a portion of the weight.

While lifting the weight the load cell read 140 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I needed 129 lbs of force to lift the 11 lbs weight because I needed to lift the load, plus overcome the substantial friction created by the munter hitch.

While lowering the weight the load cell read 13 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I only needed 2 lbs of force to lower the load because the munter hitch did most of the work.

Friction is a definite advantage when holding or lowering a load.

I had no idea in advance what the actual readings would be, but I did know when they would be higher and when they would be lower. I will expand on this information more in an upcoming video about the principles of mechanical advantage in hauling systems.

Lowering a Heavy Load

One of many uses for the Totem CRT … As a rigging plate for lowering a heavy load. For example, lowering two people; rescuer and patient. A Rapid Access Team traveling light with GriGri2, a tube device and a Totem CRT has all the gear they need for an efficient lowering system.

The GriGri2, by itself, provides a lowering mechanism with a built-in lock-off. With heavy loads, however, it can be a challenge finding the “sweet spot” with the lever that will provide the appropriate speed. A tube device, by itself, may not provide enough friction for a controlled lower of two people.

An ideal solution is to rig the tube device in front of the GriGri to isolate a portion of the load, which allows more “finesse” with the GriGri. The Totem CRT not only provides a rigging plate for the setup, it also provides the recommended redirect of the brake rope coming out of the GriGri. Plus, the brake rope can be tied off easily by clearing the rope around one of the CRT’s horns.

Adventure in the Park

What do you get when you rig some ropes and pulleys in trees at a park and bring in a bus load of orphaned kids from a children’s home?


Kathmandu, Nepal – May 2016


Special thanks to Charly Oliver from Petzl and Scott Newell from BlueWater Ropes for making it possible for us to donate gear that was left in Nepal for future children’s programs.