Get Out of Town!
Canyoneering Waterfalls & Challenging Fears
August, 2017 - Issue #155

Our guides warned us this might happen.
That people might stop and stare.
And the people did, which is understandable. I'd stop and stare too if I was at the bottom of a waterfall and saw someone descending from the top.
That was me, and seven others in our tour group, rappelling 50-plus feet down a waterfall and dropping in on several families enjoying an afternoon splash in the creek running off Mt. Baldy.
The parents and kids stopped to watch us - two tour guides and six clients - descend one at a time. Some were intrigued. Others clearly thought we were crazy. I did, too.
A journey that started a few hours earlier further up the narrow canyon was finally finished. I was done. Wet, wobbly, slightly battered and happy to be on solid ground after reaching the bottom of our fifth and final waterfall of the day.
Typically, I'm not compatible with water sports and gravity sports. So why was I engaged in an activity that combined both - dangling from a rope not just over the falls, but in the falls?
Because it was my wife's Christmas present. I bought her a SoCal Adventure Company gift certificate. And, with a free Saturday on the calendar, we scheduled our canyoneering expedition in the San Gabriel Mountains just below Mt. Baldy.
Canyoneering is like rock climbing without the hard part - climbing. You step into a harness, clip into a fixed rope and rappel down a waterfall, canyon or some other place only accessible with climbing gear. Gravity does all the work. Mostly.
Guides set the ropes, explain the technique and coach you through the descents. But it's up to you to keep your footing on uneven, moss-slicked rock while a swimming pool's worth of snowmelt pours down on you. That's where I had a little trouble.
I slipped often in the deluge, banging my knees on the granite. A couple times I foolishly let go of the rope to instead use my hand to brace the impact. But each time I recovered and made it safely to the bottom.
Will canyoneering scare you? Only if you let it. But there's no time to question the seeming ridiculousness of the situation. That you're hanging from a rope like a wet cat. The only way out is down. To finish the descent, you need to focus on the fundamentals: keep your butt low in the harness, your heels flat against the rock and continue walking backwards.
The day is not all about overcoming fear. There are other rewards to be had. In between descents, I found a sun-warmed rock niche and settled into the natural recliner to enjoy a tranquil moment in the canyon.
The day was perfect. The sky devoid of clouds, but radiant with color undimmed by the haze from the valley far below. Water tumbled from above, paused its raucous journey and then leapt down the next falls. Spiny yucca and scraggly pine trees clung to the steep, rocky hillsides.
My reverie was interrupted by the need to keep moving. Time to clip in to the line again and follow the rope over the next plunge.
After reaching the bottom of the final falls, it was my turn to stop and stare. Looking back up at what we had just descended gave me a new perspective. Somehow, it looked even scarier from the bottom.
It was crazy to think we had just come down that slick vertical face. I was thankful to be done. But I was feeling more than just relief. There was satisfaction, too. In being reminded that, by pushing ourselves over the edge of where we're comfortable, what first seems crazy is often made possible.
Even if we look like a pinata being sprayed by a fire hose in the process.
Eric Harnish keeps his feet on the ground in Castaic.
Hang in There
SoCal Adventure Company
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