BYU students drop into slots for canyoneering classes

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BYU students are scrambling, swimming and rappelling through slot canyons as part of canyoneering classes offered by a former BYU student.

Student Cameron Skidmore on rappel in Morocco Canyon
Student Cameron Skidmore on a rappel in Morocco Canyon. (Courtesy Jessica Throolin)

Jennifer Jewell, 23, from Sandy, gained a passion for canyoneering — the sport of navigating slot canyons by hiking, swimming and descending ropes — while studying at BYU.

Now she is sharing that passion with others by offering introductory class in canyoneering.

“My interest in canyoneering really started when I got a job at the ropes course at Aspen Grove,” Jewell said. “After teaching probably hundreds of people how to rappel at the ropes course, I went on a trip to Zion to do Pine Creek Canyon with my boss. … I was hooked right from the beginning and went as often as I could.”

The canyons Jewell’s students descend are often located in Moab, Zion National Park, the North Wash and Arches National Park. Carpooling to these spots helps offset the costs and makes the trip more fun for participants.

Classes emphasize the basics of canyoneering safety and etiquette. Additionally, students are  taught how to react in emergency situations and trained to overcome a range of canyoneering obstacles, including standing water, deep potholes and rappels that sometimes reach up to 300 feet.

Students are not expected to drop into Utah’s deep slots immediately, though.

“An intro class typically consists of a pre-class in Provo or Salt Lake covering rappelling basics in a controlled environment, followed by a one-day class in a ‘real’ slot canyon where we talk about canyoneering safety and ethics,” Jewell said.

Jewell does a safety check on Throolin before a rappel in Hogwarts Canyon.
Jennifer Jewell does a safety check on Jessica Throolin before a rappel in Hogwarts Canyon. (Jane Packard)

Jessica Throolin, a 20-year-old mathematics education major from Shoreline, Washington, attends Jewell’s canyoneering classes. As an experienced canyoneer, Throolin said she appreciates how Jewell’s classes are centered on safety.

“What I like about going with Jen is she double checks everything and acts responsibly,” Throolin said. “She’s generally well prepared and knowledgeable, and I feel safe with her.”

Canyoneering may be intimidating to beginners, but Jewell said new students have no need to worry.

“The primary thing I try to emphasize is that canyoneering, when done correctly, is not dangerous. With competent and knowledgeable leadership, it should only be fun,” Jewell said.

In addition to emphasizing safety, classes are affordable. Students typically pay between $25 and $30 for instruction and a few dollars extra for gear rentals. Setting aside additional money for gas and food is also important when attending a class.

Jewell’s canyoneering classes are offered throughout the summer and part of the fall. For BYU students interested in upcoming class dates and additional details, information is available online at www.facebook.com/PeakGeekCanyoneering.

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