Canyoning is not a well known sport in Iceland, to summarise it's essentially using a variety of techniques (some with technical ropework) to descend a canyon. Canyons don't have to be wet, they too can be dry, but in general the wet ones are more fun. We've broken down what defines a canyon, and other essentials for getting into the sport, as well as what you can expect on a canyoning adventure with us at Ice Guardians Iceland.
What defines a canyon, and how do they form?
Iceland is dotted with canyons (in Icelandic ‘gil’ or ‘gljúfur’) all over, this is mostly due to the fact that it has seen, and still has massive glaciers and rivers. Combine all this ice (>10% of Iceland's area) with volcanos and the 'Land of Fire and Ice' is sure to produce huge floods which rip through the relatively young and brittle basaltic landscape. This is the most violent way, there are also other ways in which they form, relentless erosion by rivers and waterfalls over millennia create steep walled cuts in mountains and hills. Finally there's the Ice Age glaciers, these would've ploughed through the landscape and polished the bedrock, these mostly retreated c.~12,000 years ago leaving behind canyons.
Is Canyoning a new sport?
Canyoning is certainly a new-ish sport to Iceland, we are the one and only commercial canyoning operators in Iceland. It is a popular sport in the European Alps in particular, as well as the UK, USA, South Africa, Oceania and more, so it is quite established the world over, and adventurers have been to Iceland before to descend canyons.
You may have even heard of the sport by a different name, these are just some of them, canyoneering, torrentismo, kloofing, river running and gorge walking. Most of the techniques in use have come from more traditional pursuits such as mountaineering and caving.
What do you actually have to do to descend a canyon?
As a well-developed outdoor pursuit, the techniques are pretty much similar worldwide. They firstly allow a team to follow the path water takes, some of which involve using ropes. One minute you could be paddling in a blue pool, and the next you could be rappelling down a waterfall. Other techniques involve scrambling, jumping, sliding and down-climbing.
What is the equipment for Canyoning?
When exploring new canyons (first descents) there is a quite a bit of technical equipment to carry (we at Ice Guardians have done the hard preparatory work to minimise the gear that you need to carry). A lot of the equipment comes from caving and climbing, some of which has been adapted for working in wet environments.
What do I need to wear and carry?
Shoes- where we operate in particular, neoprene boots with a grippy sole, and closed toe protection are essential. At other times well-draining walking shoes and amphibious water sandals work too. We provide appropriate footwear so you can keep yours dry for after the trip and let us deal with the wet gear.
Socks- Neoprene socks will keep your feet toasty, they are thicker than normal socks, so it’s a good idea to have your footwear a size bigger than normal. On our trips we provide you with neoprene boots, so all that you need to bring for comfort is a thick pair of wool/synthetic hiking socks.
Wetsuit- The name of the country gives it away, canyoning in Iceland without the correct clothing, even in the summer could be cold. During your check-in we will fit you with a neoprene rubber wetsuit plenty thick enough to keep you nice and warm.
Harness*- We provide a climbing harness that is fitted with seat protection to protect your wetsuit and backside when rubbing on rock and debris.
Descender*- ‘It does what it say's on the tin’, a device that allows you to safely descend a rope with good technique. Before we use these for real, your guide/s will instruct you on how to use these safely and you will also have a chance to practice. You will also be provided with a carabiner to use with the descender, your guide will explain how to safely use these.
Cows tail (Safety Line) *- A personal safety line attached to your harness that will allow you to clip into an anchor (with attached carabiners) in order to move safely around exposed areas.
Rope*- Not something you as a client will have to carry or handle, other than when descending a section, but essential for the team to move safely down the canyon.
Helmet*- Another essential piece of safety equipment, especially in the dynamic environment we operate in. Helmets will protect you from falling debris and when tripping over.
Gloves- We provide neoprene gloves freely for the trip, this keeps your hands toasty even when playing in chilly waters.
Camera/ Mobile Phone- We recommend bringing a waterproof camera or phone with you to capture the wonderful memories you will make. As we only operate in wet canyons, it is a good idea to have a waterproof case for peace of mind, we have these available for purchase on site. Tag us (@iceguardians_iceland) in your photos on Instagram/Facebook.
What can I expect on an Ice Guardians canyoning trip?
We have put in a lot of work in regard to making the site as safe as possible beforehand, this will allow us to focus on taking you safely down an aquatic canyon. We operate in our backyard surrounded by glaciers and mountains of Vatnajökull National Park, south-eastern Iceland.
When you arrive, we’ll suit and boot you, then have a pre-departure briefing before setting off on an easy hike through an old farmstead. Now abandoned and forested by pines and larch. This might be an odd feeling as forests are not abundant any more in Iceland, something you will learn about from your guide/s.
We operate under the highest standards of safety and so we use at minimum 2 guides to every 8 guests. This means we can be efficient and spend more time being active. Before we begin our descent, we will go over rappelling techniques and practice in a safe area. We begin in the shallows with some jumps and slides into crystal clear water. After which, we progress towards more thrilling rappels and jumps as we get into the depths of the canyon.
We hope we’ve given you an insight into our adventure trips, and look forward to showing you, our backyard.
*All equipment is inspected and logged regularly as per IGI Safety Management Plan