SPRINGDALE, Washington County The instruction was simple: Create a natural anchor using a tree, nylon rope, metal rings, knots and brain power. This was Lesson 1 of a three-day canyoneering workshop offered through Zion Adventure Co. of Springdale, and the group of five adventurers enrolled in the course hadn't left the parking lot.
The instruction sounded easy enough, but 90 minutes later participants had learned no strategy is simple when it comes to exploring the Earth's great canyons and mountains using ropes and bolts, trees, boulders, cracks in the hard rock surface and other natural elements to navigate.
Can't just toss a rope around a tree and throw body weight on top of it, instructor Nick Wilkes advised Rosa Barone, 40, and Jean Konnoff, 48, who traveled from Southern California to learn canyoneering near one of the country's most popular national parks. The friction of the rope or webbing on the tree bark will stress the rope.
Try again, he told the women.
And you can't just knot the rope to stabilize it and keep it from rubbing on the tree, he said later. Too much stress on the knot.
As Konnoff, Barone and other participants learned through trial and error, the safest way is to double-wrap the webbing around the tree, knot it in back,
secure the knot inside the webbing and then test the knot to make sure the body weight is equally distributed.
"We'll take as long as we need to learn what we need . . . even if it takes all day," Konnoff said after the exercise.
After the first set of problem-solving, the participants were growing tired and frustrated. Jonathan Zambella, a canyoneering instructor and owner of Zion Adventure Co., reassured them canyoneering techniques simply take time.
"We teach the skills necessary to travel through the canyon," he said. "We can't go out into the canyon until we know these skills."
Just outside of Zion National Park in Springdale, Zambella has been teaching adventurers like Konnoff and Barone to negotiate canyons for seven years.
"I'm so glad I get to do this in such a beautiful and spiritual place," said Konnoff, a contracting officer for Defense Contract Managing Agency in Long Beach, Calif.
Canyoneering is a term used to describe an adventure sport that combines hiking, wading, boulder hopping, swimming, rock climbing and rappelling. It's the fastest-growing sport in the park, according to Zambella.
Guided canyoneering isn't allowed in the park , so much of his company's instruction happens outside the park.
"Zion is a sacred place," Zambella said. "It's the only park in America that hasn't been commissioned out to the highest bidder."
And this might be why 600 students come every year to Zion's doorstep for one of the company's courses, which run $395 for three days of exhaustive hands-on training in canyons near the park.
They learn how to tie knots and how to use personal safety equipment needed to belay and rappel. They learn how to use ropes to raise, lower and traverse passages in the canyons. They learn the difference between a double- and single-rope-technique and how to answer the following questions in nature:
What is your anchor?
What is the estimated length of the drop?
Can you see your destination?
Do you want to lower or rappel the first person?
What is the emergency contingency plan?
The groups completed about a dozen rappels from 30 to 100 feet each.
Adventurers need two things to negotiate these canyons, Zambella said: competence and confidence. "I can teach competence, but confidence you have to build in yourself. "
During the three-day canyoneering workshop late this summer, five women used humor and new skills to navigate the canyon.
Locals Becca Warren and Kimberly Clark enrolled to take better advantage of the scenery on their Springdale doorstep.
Konnoff, Barone, of Anaheim, Calif., and Kelly Graves whose canyoneering colleagues nicknamed her Kelly "Catlike Agility" Graves enrolled so they could better negotiate the Narrows and other passages in Zion National Park on their own.
"It is very empowering to discover you can do something you didn't know you could do," Graves said.
The group returned to company headquarters every night after 10-12 hours of climbing in the sun with 25-30 pounds of equipment that included a harness, helmet, boots, drybags, water, food, layers of clothing and several pounds of metal gizmos and contraptions that are the bones and tendons of canyoneering equipment.
"We have very patient teachers," Barone added.
Zambella was living in Pennsylvania several years ago, when he visited Zion National Park for the first time. After 18 hours in the park, hiking alone, he says he fell in love with the place and decided to move west and open a canyoneering, outfitting and adventure store.
"I knew I'd move out here and opt to live in great weather, with all the green around and flowing water," he said."I love the aspects of canyoneering. I need to go vertical and use ropes and stuff. I can't just go hiking and put one foot in front of the other."