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Canyon Rating System

       (i.e.: 3CIII, 4BRIV)

Note:     Ratings refer to descents in normal conditions, during what is considered the normal season for the canyon. Adverse conditions such as higher than normal water volume or colder temperatures, will increase the difficulty of the descent. Time ratings are based on average group of six or less. Larger and/or less experienced groups will take longer.


Terrain & Technical Rope Work

1 Canyon hiking; non-technical. Travel is possible up or down canyon.
2 Basic Canyoneering; scrambling, easy climbing requiring frequent use of hands. Rope recommended for hand lines, belays, lowering packs and possible emergency use. Travel is possible up or down canyon.
3 Intermediate Technical Canyoneering; exposed technical climbing. Down-climbing could be difficult and dangerous; most people will rappel. Rope required for belays and single-pitch rappels. Point of No Return! Obvious anchors. Retreat up canyon will require ascending fixed ropes. Basic pothole escape techniques (partner assist, counter-weights).
4 Advanced-Expert Canyoneering; route may involve any combination of the following:

  • Difficult and exposed free climbing and/or down-climbing
  • Climbing using direct aid
  • Multi-pitch rappels
  • Complex rope work (guided rappels, deviations, re-belays)
  • Obscure or indistinct natural anchors
  • Advanced problem-solving and anchor building skills


Water Volume/Current/Hydraulics

A Normally dry or very little water. Dry falls. Water, if present, can be avoided and/or is very shallow. Shoes may get wet, but no wetsuit or dry suit required.
B Normally has water with no current. Still pools. Falls normally dry or running at a trickle. Expect deep wading and/or swimming. Wetsuit or dry suit may be required depending on water and air temperatures.
C Normally has water with current. Waterfalls. Expect to do deep wading and/or swimming in current/hydraulics. Wetsuit or dry suit may be required.


Time Commitment

I Short. Normally requires only a couple of hours.
II Half Day. Normally requires 3-5 hours.
III Full Day. Normally requires 6-9 hours.
IV Long Day. Expected to take one long, full day … often more than the hours of daylight. Get an early start, bring headlamps!
V One-and-a-half days. Expected bivy.
VI Two or more days …backpacking, expedition.




General Audiences. Should be straight-forward for those with appropriate skills.

PG Parental Guidance. Even with appropriate skills, beginners may sweat.
R Risky. One or more extraordinary risk factors exist.
X Extreme. Multiple risk factors exist that will complicate the descent for even expert canyoneers.
S Slot. Slots can be so narrow that it is necessary to stem above the floor of the canyon to move horizontally.

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