Neighborhood Secret: The New Canyoning Culture in Ouray


These days, Colorado residents who make the journey to remote Ouray in Southwest Colorado are most probably motivated by 1 of two factors.

The initial is ice climbing. More than the final handful of decades, the Ouray Ice Park has gained notoriety and drawn interest to the town, attracting winter climbers from across the State and beyond.

The second is curiosity. Ouray is a 5-to-six hour drive from Denver, and it is not so simple to do in a weekend. But we’ve all heard stories from men and women who have been, stories about how distinctive the mountains are, how they hover more than the town, how the vibe would by no means be confused with Breck or Vail or Aspen. This creates an allure of sorts, an enticement the adventurer feels when he knows there’s anything way out there, waiting for him. And he has to go and discover it – he has to reside it – prior to it nags him to death.

It was the latter that brought me to Ouray final month. Formerly a resident of Denver, I now reside in Palisade, a affordable drive of two hours. I was struck by the beauty of the tiny, old mining town – it was by no means destroyed by fire, like quite a few mining towns had been, so it remains original, intact, and, for the most portion, genuine.

Then there had been the steep, stark slopes of the San Juans that box in the valley, and the waterfalls that come down. The hiking in the region was superb, and Red Mountain Pass, which connects Ouray to Silverton, is 1 of the most lovely, albeit somewhat terrifying, drives I have completed in Colorado (the evening prior to my arrival, a young man perished when he lost manage and drove off the cliff).

There are a lot of eye-opening, exceptional factors to be identified in Ouray, certainly. If you like beer and dry humor, you will have to spend a take a look at to “Mr. Grumpypants” when you take a look at, and if you are fortunate adequate to swing via town when there’s a game of bingo going on, do not miss it.

But “the find” that shocked me most was anything that goes beyond easy mountain-town charms, anything I do not feel I’ve observed anyplace else in Colorado, correct there on the principal road as you come into town from the north: An adventure business that specializes in “canyoning.”

This caught my eye, since, effectively, you merely do not see canyoning providers in Colorado. Ever, actually. Hiking, biking, climbing, confident, but canyoning? And wait… is not it “canyoneering?” And is not that anything that is completed subsequent door in Utah?

According to Ira Lewis, a Denver-primarily based recreational canyoner who was involved in writing and editing the Ouray canyoning guide book, my initial reactions had been appropriate. He told me there are about 100 canyons in Colorado, and only a half dozen are positioned in the Front Variety, which is why most men and women do not associate “canyoning” with Colorado – there merely are not that quite a few possibilities nearby the significant population centers (aka, Denver).

But Ouray? That is a distinctive story.

Lewis mentioned the San Juan mountains offer you possibilities you can not discover any location else in the state. Element of the purpose the mountains about Ouray really feel distinctive from the mountains in Front Variety is since they are, geologically speaking. The distinction comes from its volcanic previous – the area is complete of old calderas, created by eruptions, that provides a distinctive sort of rock than, say, the Front Variety, which was formed by continental uplift. This geological distinction – which is oversimplified right here for the sake of space – is what separates Ouray, and what produced its quite a few canyons – extra than 40 in the higher area.

Rappelling down a waterfall in Portland Creek in Ouray. Photo by Canyoning Colorado.

1 of my initial queries when I discovered all this was, “Well, okay, if the canyons are so wonderful, and there are so quite a few of them, why does no 1 know about them?” The answer is complicated, but 1 that an adventurer may well be pumped to hear.

1st, it is not that no 1 knows about them – it is just that their discovery is somewhat current. Lewis says they had been initial explored by “guys from Boulder” involving 2002-2008, when they mapped out about 10 canyoning routes in Ouray. Lewis showed up on the scene in 2008 and has worked to map, create, and market the canyons. In reality, he was instrumental in bringing the International Canyoning Rendezvous to Ouray in 2015, which in turn brought the worldwide canyoning neighborhood to Colorado. That, he says, helped to attract the interest of men and women in the State.

1 man who took notice was Andrew Humphreys, and in 2016, he opened Canyoning Colorado in downtown Ouray, the aforementioned shop I came across. A former canyoning guide overseas, he was drawn to Ouray since of its exceptional “wet” canyons. Right now, he operates tours in eight distinctive canyons, all inside a 15-minute drive of his shop.

“Ouray is a pretty particular geological phenomena,” Andrew mentioned. “There’s no other location in Colorado that has this quite a few canyons this close with each other. Virtually just about every creek in Ouray comes via a canyon, and it is actually weird since you go more than to Telluride, 17 miles away, and it is not the exact same sort of canyons. Ouray is the premier water-base canyoning location [in the U.S.]. Most canyons in the U.S. are dry, but all the canyons in Ouray have water.”

Rappelling down a waterfall in Ouray. Photo by Canyoning Colorado.

It is this presence of water that has also been a contributing issue in maintaining Ouray’s canyons below the radar – turns out, the skillset to navigate a wet canyon is substantially distinctive than that necessary to navigate a dry canyon, and in Colorado, most men and women are not employed to dealing with water.

According to Andrew, “canyoneering” is a term that is generally linked with the exploration of dry canyons, such as the ones in Southern Utah. “Canyoning” is technically interchangeable, as “canyoneering” is not ordinarily employed outdoors of the United States, but right here at residence, “canyoning” is frequently employed to describe the exploration of wet canyons, like the ones in and about Ouray.

“There is a actual distinction in method and strategy [between wet and dry canyons],” Andrew mentioned. “A lot of the [dry] desert stuff tends to concentrate extra on downclimbing and inventive anchor building…. But drowning is the most significant hazard in wet canyons, and when you have that sort of hazard, you have to be prepared to deal with that hazard instantaneously.”

Lewis concurred, saying that the water creates a barrier to entry of sorts, and since there are not also quite a few canyoning outfitters like Andrew’s, the abilities are difficult to come by. Most men and women finish up getting to employ a private instructor, which can be highly-priced and/or difficult to discover, and then getting to hyperlink up with other locals who discover wet canyons to make group abilities. Once more, since not quite a few men and women do it, these communities can be tedious to infiltrate. In Ouray, even though, 1 can now merely arrive at Canyoning Colorado to go on a guided tour, or enroll in courses taught by Andrew himself.

But eventually, in the grand scheme of factors, the recreational canyoning neighborhood remains tiny since of the pretty point that prevents men and women from going to Ouray in common: Its place. Merely place, it is far – from almost everything. 5 and a half hours from Denver, six from Salt Lake City, just about nine from Phoenix. For a small business owner hunting to expand, or a potential 1 hunting to open shop, this reality poses challenges, and promises to retain the canyoning neighborhood tiny for years to come.

But for the adventurer? Possibly this is an additional 1 of these moments of enticement. Not quite a few men and women have explored the wet canyons of Colorado. Will you?

Canyoning Colorado
920 Major St, Ouray


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