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If you are a fan of adventurous outdoor activities for the brave at heart, you must check out ghosting canyoneering.

Ghosting is hiking on steroids. Instead of climbing up hills and mountains, you descend into canyons.

The reason they call it ghosting? You leave no trace behind.

Ghosting canyoneering techniques as described by Canyoneering USA, are techniques used to leave no visible anchors behind.

These techniques are not for beginners and are generally regarded as advanced canyoneering skills.

It takes knowledge and experience to use ghosting canyoneering techniques. The techniques need to be applied, then determined if they are safe.

Great precautions need to be taken when using these types of anchors. They need to be thoroughly tested and proven to be safe before risking people’s lives.

Ghosting techniques should never be used to replace anchors put in place in public route canyons.

Never remove anchor slings already in place in popular canyons.

These ‘trade-routes’ should have conspicuous and well-rigged anchors so all levels of canyoneers have safe conditions.

Why canyoneering techniques are used

  • Descents into rarely explored canyons where the canyon can be descended and left with no visible signs so other canyoneers can be left with the feeling of a ‘first descent’.
  • These techniques can be used to help eliminate any grooves from ropes or environmental damage caused by other descending equipment.
  • This is a much less expensive option for descents as it minimizes the use of expensive anchor materials.
  • On first descents, ghosting techniques can be used to minimize the use of valuable anchor-building materials;
  • Allows passage where conventional equipment may not be an option.
  • In places with a big drop, since rings through a rope are not used, ropes can be tied together to reach drops that are farther in distance.

Common sense in Canyoneering

In canyoning, a common term for safety is the ‘sniff test’. This is the final check, a judgement call, where your brain tells you that everything is ok, safe, and makes sense.

If anything smells off, don’t continue. Find another alternative.

Many canyoneering techniques are considered advanced because they are not standard practice.

Everything needs significant tests before the last rappeler descends.

Larger groups are best and there should never be a sense of urgency.

Slow, safe, and steady is the best way to get down canyon.

Hurrying is counterproductive to safe anchor setting.

Ghosting techniques require safety first.

If it ever comes down to leaving small bits of sling over a safe descent, this is when you do need to leave a trace.

This should only be done when using pure ghosting techniques is not safe.

Ghosting is done to minimize leaving ropes and webbing behind. Recklessly pursuing ghosting at all costs, regardless of the safety factors, is not safe.

Ghosting anchor tools

  • The Fiddlestick. This is an advanced anchor tool. It opens new approaches to retrieve anchoring and provides a wider range of anchoring possibilities. It takes skill, practice, and understanding to use safely.
  • The Sand Trap. A Steve Woodford invention, this device makes anchor retrieving possible whenever there is sand at your disposal. Fill the trap with sand, rappel down, then use the retrieval line to unload the sand and pull your trap back. Other than sand, there is nothing left behind.
  • Pot Shots or Sand Bags. Pot shots are reinforced bags that can be filled with sand and attached to a rope. Attach the rappelling rope to the bottom bag and stack a bunch more on top. When you are at the bottom, you start with the top bag and pull each bag down individually.
  • Retrievable Slings. This is a very basic retrievable-type rigging consisting of a webbing loop, 2 links, and a cord. Place your repelling line through the links and make sure both ends of the line reach the ground to retrieve your rigging.

Ghosting rope work

Rope Work 101 has tips for using ghosting techniques. They recommend ghosting with at least 5 experienced ghosters in your group.

Here are their steps to safe ghosting.

1. After setting up a retrievable anchor, make several test pulls. You want to ensure the system is safe, secure, and will not get tangled in branches, rocks, or other obstacles.
2. Always have a backup anchor. If you don’t have any secure obstacles nearby, you can use two or three people as human anchors.
3. The heaviest person should go down first. If the anchor does fail, the backup anchor is there to stop the fall.
4. After the first person makes the descent, the next heaviest person should go down. Repeat this process until the person with the most experience is left. Hopefully he or she is one of the lighter people in the group.
5. The person descending second or third in line should test the pull rope. Make sure it doesn’t get hung up on anything and that it’s not impeding the remaining descenders. This ensures security of the system for the remaining people.
6. Last Man at Risk (LMAR) needs to rappel carefully and stay in contact with the rocks as much as possible. You want to minimize the load on the anchor as much as possible.
7. When you are finally ready to pull the rope to the anchor, do it without jerking and in one smooth motion. You don’t want a jerky reaction to cause it to tangle. Getting caught up may result in you loosing your anchor gear.

What not to do when Canyoneering

Canyoneering.org points out some of the most common mistakes that people make when canyoneering.

Now that we know the right things to do, some of the best canyoneering techniques, and the safe way to do it, lets take a look at some of the common mistakes.

While this may seem like a long list, it’s important to learn from other’s mistakes and understand why they are being made.

This list has been generated by canyoneering experts for education purposes and with the hope they will not be repeated.

  • Improper belaying. Poor belaying is due to lack of technique or belays. Good belays are easy to use when implemented correctly. They can prevent injury and save lives. When not done correctly, not only the victim, but the belayer is in danger from falling debris. Make sure your belays are place correctly and everyone knows the proper way to belay.
  • Too much talking. When people are talking around the belay and relay stations too much, it takes away from the ability to have good communication when needed. Questions that are not pertinent should be asked later. Chatting and friendly conversations should be held when no one is rappelling being belayed.
  • Too much stuff. While it’s tempting to bring lots of equipment, too much equipment can pose a problem. First of all, loose items can get snagged and hooked when climbing down or rappelling. Also, being reliant on gear can make people over-secure. A false sense of security is never good.
  • Lack of falling rock etiquette. Falling rocks are a danger. When moving around loose rocks as a team, it should be established in advance how to minimize hazards and get to safety zones. This should be practiced by everyone. The location of loose rocks and hazards should be identified and communicated by the lead person. 1. Leader identified the hazard. 2. He or she communicates the risk. 3. A safety zone is identified.
  • Partner checks. Checks should be done by a partner while putting on gear. Another check should be completed at each station. This is often not completed by ghosting groups. Position someone at each station to check for harness double back, loose gear, and locked biners. You could save someone’s life by unlocking a gate or discovering a harness is not doubled back.
  • Anchors inspected, backed-up, and tested. Anchors should be thoroughly inspected. Impact areas, abrasion points, knots, need to be inspected each tine. Back up anchors with a top belay, and then test your heaviest person. If it doesn’t work, re-evaluate, modify, and test again.

If you are up for a challenge and the thrill of adventure, ghosting canyoneering will give you that adrenalin rush you crave.

Safety is the first consideration. Go with a group of at least 5 experienced people.

Make sure all the safety procedures are followed for setting anchors, belaying, and safety checking every stage of the ghosting process.

Leave no trace behind as descend into canyons with the feeling of being a first-time canyon explorer.

Featured image credit: Shutterstock.com Image ID: 562044043