The Vacation That Changed My Life: Canyoneering with Outward Bound
I'm strapped into a harness and perched on the edge of a 15-foot drop-off deep within a rocky canyon. It's a cool day for central Utah's San Rafael Swell, 50 degrees and overcast. I shoot one last, slightly contemptuous look at the instructor and lower myself over the rim. Below me is a pool of ice-cold water, over-my-head deep and about four body lengths long. There's no way around, no way over. Wedged into a tight corner of the pit, I take a deep breath, unhook the rope, and plunge in -- boots, backpack and all.
I knew Outward Bound would be intense. This 45-year-old nonprofit outfitter's philosophy is all about pushing yourself -- to step outside your comfort zone, to work with a group and to survive on your own in the wilderness (there's a "Solo" experience on every trip). So why did I do it? I was hoping to pick up some camping skills (I call myself outdoorsy, but fortunately, I'm never asked to prove it), and I was intrigued by OB's course on canyoneering, the sport of traveling through canyons by any means necessary: hiking, swimming, climbing, or rappelling by rope. It's like a living game of Chutes and Ladders, only at the bottom of the chute there's a giant pool of water, and you don't know how deep it is until you fall in.Between a Rock and a Hard Place
On Day 1, two OB instructors help me and my five coursemates load our backpacks. I teeter under the 50 pounds of supplies as we walk a mile up a dry riverbed to set up camp.
The next morning we leave our packs behind and hike into Dang Canyon. We try to stay dry, avoiding water holes by "stemming" or "chimneying" (suspending our bodies across a gap, feet on one side, butt and/or hands on the other). The taller guys have a distinct advantage. I, on the other hand, soon find my 36-inch legs spanning a crevasse that's about to widen out to 37 inches.
I'm stuck, not sure which body parts to move as my course mates call out suggestions. I've been edging along with my butt plastered to the rock for 20 minutes now, and my muscles are starting to tremble. Finally, in one quick motion, I bend my knee and bring one foot under my butt, then extend my other leg so I'm straddling the water. I'm still dry! I get a few cheers as I inch toward solid ground.
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