The first time you back off a cliff or jump where your mind says you shouldn’t go is always frighteningly exciting. After that, the exhilaration of the activity builds and the fun only gets better. So, it makes sense that in a country of extreme sport adventurists, the sport of canyoning is on the rise.
What makes this outdoor sport – also known as canyoneering – different from just rappelling or mountain climbing is that it combines a whole variety of techniques.
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Canyoning is all about accessing parts of nature you can’t otherwise access. It’s not just backing off a cliff for a high-energy rappelling experience and then climbing back up to do it again. Instead, this sport is about combining rappelling (abseiling) and rope-work, climbing and scampering, jumping and swimming.
“Israelis are good at canyoning because they like to explore, they like the fear factor and they like to do extraordinary things,” Adam Sela, founder of Challenging Experience — a jeep tours and wilderness activities venture – tells ISRAEL21c.
Israel is blessed with varied topography. And that means there are dozens of places to go canyoning. Israel’s top canyoning spots are found in the desert and the Golan Heights. Most of the trails are open to everyone and no prior experience is required. Sela notes that there are also canyons reserved for the more experienced.
Most people think of mountain canyons with flowing water. Israel has wet canyoning options in the Golan Heights, but its forte is actually dry desert canyons.
Sela highlights the desert scenery between the Dead Sea (the lowest place on earth) and the city of Eilat, noting the “numerous canyons accessible only by rope and other techniques.”
The Tamar Stream trail is one of the most popular canyoning trails and the best one for beginners. With gorgeous views, this canyon has a 20-meter cliff and can be descended with or without rappelling.
“It’s user friendly, not complicated and it’s good because there are ladders on the obstacles if people don’t want to rappel,” Sela says.
Other (more difficult) canyons include Tmarim – a canyon with 50-meter cliffs and a long hike to get there; Rachaf — in the South Judean Desert with nine 28-meter cliffs for rappelling and a water pool for swimming; Barak Gorge – a steep, deep canyon in the Eilat region; Chatzatzon – a difficult trail with steep rappelling; and Qumran – one of the prettiest canyons in the Dead Sea area with four 32-meter cliffs.
There are also wet adventures in Israel’s north. The Yehudiya canyon features a 30-meter high rappel into water; and the Black canyon, formed of volcanic rock, offers two 20-meter rappelling options down waterfalls or a zip-line down.
The season for canyoning runs between April and October. While sunny days are savored throughout the year, it is crucial not to be fooled by off-season clear days. Flash floods in the desert are common in winter and extremely dangerous, Sela warns.
That said, Israel is among the safest places to enjoy this sport in the world, according to Sela.
“All instructors – from all the different touring companies – are trained and licensed. You don’t have that in other parts of the world,” says Sela, who in addition to running desert adventure tours also volunteers as a High Angle Alpine Rescue technician and paramedic with the Negev Highlands Search and Rescue Team.
“I know from travelling around the world that Israelis are more safety consciousness. All companies in Israel use the two-rope system. And if something should go wrong, Israel has great search-and-rescue teams.”
Sela says that his company always takes two instructors out on a canyoning trip – and that if it’s a difficult canyon, he’ll even send three instructors with a group.
Knowing that you’ll be safe when canyoning in Israel, don’t you think it’s time to give it a try?
“Canyoning in Israel cannot be compared to canyoning in Utah or Arizona, but it does rival European spots,” says Sela. “If you’re in Israel and want to do canyoning, there are some really nice places. Most of them are uncomplicated and you can do it in a day.”