Experts discuss canyoneering safety after pair of accidents near Zion

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ST. GEORGE – Two out-of-state women are recovering after rappelling accidents near Zion National Park last week, and the accidents have canyoneers warning about the dangers of taking on a slot canyon unprepared.

Bo Beck, Desert Rat Outdoor store manager, said in recent months he’s seen more and more people take on canyoneering as a way to get their outdoor adrenaline.

“It’s scary,” Beck said. “Just the influx and how rapidly it’s growing.”

Scary because Beck said many of those new canyoneers aren’t taking the time to properly learn the equipment and techniques.

“They perceive it as being simple, because of gravity,” Beck said. ““The number one contributing factor to a lot of accidents would be the inability to establish enough friction to maintain control as you’re descending. People are therefore letting go, or unable to hold on, and sliding down the rope a lot faster than they wish.”

The Kane County Sheriff’s office said inexperience is what led to those two accidents in Birch Hollow Canyon. The accidents happened just days apart, and both women fell close to 25 feet.  Rescuers said one was at the same spot as a similar accident a year ago. One woman misjudged the length of the rappel and went off the end of her rope.

“That happens a lot,” Beck said. “People do get in a hurry, and they forget to double check, triple check, before they step over the edge.”

Beck said anyone interested in trying canyoneering should take extra time to learn to properly use the specialized rope and carabineers used in the sport. He said the best thing to do is take a class or go with a guide. He also said it’s important not to jump from a ledge more advanced than your skill level.

“It all fits back into the techniques and the equipment,” Beck said. “There’s a learning curve to it, and folks are not taking the time, often times, to pay the dues, get out there and experience and build themselves up to these different techniques.”

Zion National Park rangers said canyoneers also need to plan for the unexpected by bringing food and water purification devices, just in case they need to spend the night.