Canyoning, Gorge Walking, Ghyll Scrambling Guiding and Instructing
This article covers the activity known as canyoning, gorge walking or ghyll scrambling and how you can get involved as a qualified guide or instructor. If none of these terms mean anything to you then you are missing out on a genuine adventure opportunity. The upland river valley areas of our country are well suited to these three very similar and related outdoor pursuits. The basic idea is to follow a section of river either upstream or downstream, more about that in a second, but the catch is you cannot use a boat. At some points you will be rock climbing, at others you will be jumping off waterfalls and swimming through slow moving deep water and clambering over white water rapids. To make progress you are forced to climb, abseil, slide, swim, walk and scramble your way along the river. Sound like fun? Trust us, it is!
This adventure activity has a long history and was first known in the UK as gorge walking (see technical definitions below). The recent explosive growth in popularity of this sport – canyoning is now high on the list for 'must do' group activities – has come from the American popularisation of Canyoning. Our first experience of gorge walking was as young children, following the local stream through a country park, under road drainage tunnels and through meandering oxbows. These days we'd be wearing buoyancy aids, hard hats and paying rather more than our pocket money for the experience.
Following the course of a river either upstream or downstream, without the use of a boat.
The word ghyll means stream or ravine and the activity is synonymous with gorge walking.
Tends to be bigger, steeper and more extreme than the other two. You generally follow the river downhill.
Where can you go canyoning?
As already mentioned, the best places to enjoy this activity are upland areas, so Wales, Scotland and northern England are your best bets.
According to the Adventure Activities Licensing Scheme, gorge scrambling and canyoning are classed as climbing activities, which would put them under the remit of Mountain Training UK, however, MLTUK do not offer a specific qualification courses for instructors other than their Hill and Moorland leader award. A new association has been established to try to take ownership for these sports in the UK and it is called the UK Canyon Guides.
Can you train as an instructor?
Yes! You need to be physically fit as a session of gorge walking or canyoning can often last a full day. Most companies who take guided sessions will offer either half or full day options. As well as taking part in the activity, you will be responsible for the welfare of the group, so you will cover more distance than anyone else.
As of last year, the UK Canyon Guides developed a five level instructor training course, which it operates at the Glenmore Lodge National Centre, in Scotland. As well as two technical skills courses, you can undertake the Single Pitch Canyon Guide instructor course, or the Professional Canyon Guide course, lasting two and five days respectively.
Even for the non-technical single pitch version, you need to demonstrate skills in rope work and climbing, swimming, map reading and navigation and of course hazard identification. Following the course of a river sounds pretty straightforward, but as instructors go, canyoning guides need to be pretty well qualified in a number of different outdoor activities. If you wish to take the pro course, which would be useful for people looking to lead groups anywhere in the UK as well as overseas, the MLTUK equivalent scale would be the Mountaineering Instructor Award – so no small undertaking.
Job offers for canoying guides or gorge scrambling instructors rarely get widely advertised. We've had a couple for overseas companies, but they were offering training as part of the job, so did not require any specific qualifications. Our advice, if you want to get started as a canyoning guide, is to talk to Ben Starkie, the chair of UKCG.
If this qualification becomes the norm and the activity continues to be popular, being among the first involved could present some interesting opportunities for your future career.