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Participants should have a medium level of fitness and no fear of heights to join a tour offered by Western Canyon Adventures in Alberta.Kyle Singbeil/Handout

Deep within a crevice of a mountain in British Columbia, and with no other way around it, Chris Segers rappelled straight down the centre of a four-metre waterfall.

The weight of the surging flood pelting his head and shoulders was much heavier than he’d expected. It bore hard against his arms as he adjusted his rappel apparatus. Finally low enough, he flopped on his back into the waterfall’s swirling basin.

“Holy hell, that was intense!” Segers later recounted. “My adrenaline was just rocking. I felt so high-energy.”

The Richmond, B.C.-based social worker, 41, was part of an organized tour offered by West Coast Canyoning Adventures, a North Vancouver company that specializes in canyoning, an adventure water sport that involves descending a mountain via a stream carved deep into its side.

Canyoning at Cypress Falls Park in West Vancouver requires specific gear, which is provided by tour operator West Coast Canyoning. If you wish to explore mountain streams, a neoprene suit will ensure thermal insulation.Tristan Todd/Handout

It’s a journey that usually requires rappelling (or abseiling) down waterfalls, jumping off cliffs into stream pools, sliding down slippery smooth natural water slides, wading through currents and swimming.

The company offers trips to various locations within a few hours’ drive of Vancouver and provides all gear recommended for canyoning, including a wetsuit, helmet and harness. Owner and chief guide Francois-Xavier (FX) Gagnon started Segers’s tour of a canyon in West Vancouver’s Cypress Falls Park, with a lesson on rappelling a roped descent of a four-metre cliff near the parking lot before the six-member group headed into the woods.

It’s definitely a fun, full-body workout and a good mental workout,” says Colpitts. “But the scenery is like nothing else. You feel like you’re in a photo in a travel magazine

Jill Colpitts, canyoning enthusiast

Gagnon, the West Coast’s only guide certified by Canyon Guides International (of which the nascent Canadian Canyoning Association is a chapter), says the best part of his job is discovering great canyoning locations. For his commercial tours, he looks for quick access from a place where cars can be parked and a canyon river that has plenty of playful attributes: the more waterfalls, slides and jumps the better.

When it comes to mountains, the natural inclination is to go up, but going down can be just as challenging and fun.Bow Valley Canyon Tours/Handout

“Another thing I really like is how secluded these canyons are. Nobody can access them unless they have ropes,” he says. “It’s just us all day in this awesome scenery.”

For Jill Colpitts, a four-time participant in canyon expeditions led by Gagnon, “it’s a toss-up” as to what compels her most to the sport: the soul-stirring wilderness of deep canyons, or the challenge of getting down them. A rainy-day excursion last fall, “when everything was really lush,” was a favourite.

“It’s definitely a fun, full-body workout and a good mental workout,” says Colpitts. “But the scenery is like nothing else. You feel like you’re in a photo in a travel magazine.”

In Banff National Park, Alta., certified canyoning guide Guillaume Coupier leads several types of tours, from a family-friendly, no-experience-necessary half-day trip ($145 per person), involving a 15-metre waterfall rappel, jumps and slides to a heli-canyoning odyssey (starting at $450).

According to Coupier’s company site Western Canyoning Adventures, the heli-canyoning tour features a 60-metre waterfall rappel “in a dark, tight, rock corridor where we can barely see the sky, almost like a cave, with sidewalls over 100 metres in some sections.”

“The best canyons in the Rockies are very difficult to access,” says Coupier. “That’s why we do heli-canyoning.”

Coupier first discovered the heli-canyoning site, which is accessed by a spectacular, 10-minute helicopter ride, after a day-long hike.

Guides teach everything necessary to descend a canyon, so no previous experience is necessary on the Intro to Canyoning Tour offered by Canyoning Quebec.Canyoning-Quebec/Handout

“Guiding is really different than exploration,” says Coupier, who, in 2020, made the first canyon descent of the west face of Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Rockies.

“In Canada, there are so many first-descent opportunities,” he exclaims. “To be the first person to explore a canyon – to go where no one has gone before you – I always dreamed of being an explorer and, I guess, if I’m running this business today, it’s for that.”

If you liked that, you’ll love this

Unless you have anchor-rigging expertise, waterfall rappelling is not an activity to try without a guide. Here are three Canadian tour companies that offer canyoning thrills with all gear included.

Bow Valley Canyon Tours – Banff National Park, Alta. The wild, 4x4 road-trip to Ghost Canyon alone is almost worth the price of admission ($265 full day), but five spectacular waterfalls, fun slides, pool jumps and netherworldly Jurassic Park-like scenery of this remote canyon cinch the deal.

Canyoning-Quebec – Various regions in Quebec, including Mont-Sainte-Anne and Bras-du-Nord Valley

The veteran company offers “an adrenaline rush for physically fit beginners” down Charlevoix’s Massif Canyon. Rappel up to seven waterfalls, jump cliffs and whiz down natural waterslides. Ice canyoning is a winter option. (Seven hours; from $149 per person.)

H20 Expeditions – Desbiens, Que. Explore secret tributaries, cave-like caverns and emerald-green pools of the Métabetchouane River by rappelling, scrambling and swimming on a three-hour canyoning tour ($65). Pro-tip: Ask about water levels, which can occasionally become too low for big thrills.