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The Vacation That Changed My Life: Canyoneering with Outward Bound

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Wet 'n' Wild

On Day 3 we set out with our backpacks for a six-mile hike to our second campsite. In the three weeks before the trip, I'd ramped up my exercise routine (from pretty much zero to 30 minutes of elliptical training a day), but I knew that wouldn't be enough to make hauling a 50-pound pack up a rocky canyon feel easy. I was right: It's like doing eight hours of squats on a Bosu ball with 25-pound dumbbells in each hand.

Still, the towering walls of the gorge are awe-inspiring, and because the sun is shining down on us, no one minds traipsing through all the cool, glistening pools. The pace is doable (I'm not left behind for the vultures as I'd feared), and when it isn't, the stragglers just yell up to the long-legged boys in front to slow down. Toward the end of the day, however, I test the group's solidarity. Halfway up a long, steep incline, I suddenly feel like I can't breathe and start to panic. And by panic, I mean cry. Everyone is feeling the burn, but they offer to transfer some of the weight from my pack into their own. At the top, we're rewarded with a 360-degree view of the jagged horizon, and I hike the remaining distance to camp feeling equal parts embarrassed and grateful.

The Road Less Traveled

The next day, we head out to conquer nearby Quandary Canyon. Our first attempt is foiled by thundershowers and hail, so we retreat and try again the next morning. I'm in the lead when we pass back over the familiar terrain. As I approach a section of boulders with no obvious path through, I ask an instructor whether we go left or right. "There is no right or wrong solution," he answers. "We'll get there either way."

It's true -- for every huge boulder, rushing river, or steep drop-off we encounter, there is a way up, down, over, around or through, though not always an easy one. Sometimes the solution is to backtrack to a better crossing point. Sometimes it's sucking it up and swimming through really cold water. And sometimes it's putting our trust in the grippy soles of our boots and slowly inching down a quarter-mile of sheer, almost-vertical rock. Most of the time we're talking and laughing along the way; on tricky sections, we're warned to "put our game faces on," which basically means "Stop joking around, you could die here."

Next:  All By Myself


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muddoc_b wrote:

Awesome! I've been canyoneering for years. It revives the spirit.

10/5/2010 04:19:34 PM Report Abuse

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