Monday, October 18, 2010

Careening down the Canyons

Some weeks ago I had a chance to go Canyoning with a group of local
English teachers. Canyoning is a newish sport that involves, well,
traveling through a canyon by any means necessary. In the States it is
more of a solo adventure, involving technical rock climbing and
rappelling. But our trip was a group trip, led by a seasoned Kiwi
guide. He had been guiding various adventure sports all around the
world for almost ten years. He had meant to stop off in Japan for a
season while heading home from Europe, but that one season had turned
into something like four years!

We had traveled into the mountains in the far northern corner of
Gunma, to the resort town of Minakami. Minakami is a popular place
year round, with canyoning, bungee jumping, rafting and more during
the summer months and plenty of skiing come winter.

The first stop upon arrival was to get geared up. One wetsuit, helmet,
and rock proof seat guard later we were ready to get wet. The trip
started out easily enough, floating down stream dodging the occasional
rock. It was relaxing and fun, the perfect way to lull the group into
a false sense of complacency. We came to a few small waterfalls and
slid down them like we were at natures own waterpark. As a devoted
lover of Colorados giant Water World waterpark, I loved the natural
waterslide effect.

Then we came to the big one. A 20 meter waterfall blocked our path,
the only way through was to jump and ride it down. The guide had a
rope set up to lower us into the stream and let the water, and
gravity, carry us into the deep pool at the bottom. He could either
let us go near the top, or at the midway point for those a little
worried about the heights involved.

I have no shame in admitting I went for the halfway point drop.
Standing twenty meters above my friends and cohorts, the distances
involved certainly made me a little weak kneed. Its funny, I really
don’t have much fear of heights. I will clamber and scramble on rocks
all day long, and I eat tall buildings and observation towers for
breakfast. But I do fear falling, hence a general distaste of roller
coasters and rock climbing and any other situation where I face
exposure. This sort of drop was almost too much for me, though once I
was down I must admit the thrill of death and dismemberment was
remarkably fun. In an oh God Oh God OH GOD sort of way.

       The rest of the trip wasn’t nearly as terrifying, and the many falls
and currents were amazingly fun to navigate. At the very end we had a
chance to jump off a small cliff into a deep pool. To make up for my
weakness earlier I clambered up to get in line. All was well till it
was time to make the jump. From below it seemed so easy watching my
cohorts doing back flips off the ledge.. Standing up there looking
down was another thing entirely. Leaping into space like that took me
to and beyond my comfort limit, but I did it anyway! Not only that,
but I did it twice! It was almost excessively exhilarating, and a
perfect way to end the trip. We all trooped back to the bus in high
spirits, ready for a big lunch.

All canyoning photos credited to my new friend Allen Bo Agundy and his borrowed waterproof camera.


Anonymous said...

I had expected feet first, or was that the way you began your descent?

Travelingrant said...

Some of the falls demanded feet first on your back, some feet first on your stomach, and some backwards. Which was terrifying.