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Elbert. Seriously.
Outdoors Outpost
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 • Posted May 16, 2012

Long-time readers of this column may remember when I used to relate spine-tingling, hair-raising, swash-buckling stories about going to Mexico and, single-handedly, returning with some pretty impressive examples of Montezuma’s Revenge. For several years now I have chosen to avoid Mexico, though, on the grounds that it could be hazardous to my health. I have no doubt I could successfully navigate a trip south of the border and back, but I might not survive Jocelynn’s Revenge, which makes Montezuma’s version seem like a walk in the park.

But it’s true that Mexico is probably not as safe as it used to be. Hardly a week goes by that you don’t hear a story or two of American tourists in Mexico being inconvenienced. Some come home inconvenienced out of just about all their money, and some end up inconvenienced to death. And death, despite fluctuations in the currency exchange rate, is still pretty much permanent.

Now, the reason I used to go to Mexico to begin with was to go canyoning, which is a foreign term that means hiking into the mountains and finding a creek or stream, and following it back out of the mountains. This is a little more exciting than it sounds, but then, how could it not be?

What I used to do, with friends like Gordo Gipson and Lonnie Colson, was to camp way up in the mountains west of Monterrey. Early in the morning we would get up and hike to the small Carrizo River and follow it down the mountains through huge rocks, narrow canyons, and dark caves, and hopefully end up back in civilization, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. The trip would take all day, and was a whole lot of fun, unless someone died, which would kind of put a damper on things.

That was a joke, sort of. The truth is, the first time we went on that trip, we were told a couple of fellows had died of hypothermia the week before, because they didn’t wear wetsuits, and the water is so cold it crunches when you jump in it. After a few minutes in that river, everyone looks like they’re wearing blue long-handles.

Anyway, that trip was always a lot of fun, but what with people shooting one another down there and such, I’ve been doing most of my recreating in the good old US of A for the past several years. But about the time Mexico started to go south, so to speak, I started wondering if there wasn’t someplace a little safer where a fellow could go canyoning. Not so much.

In America it’s called canyoneering, even though everywhere else it’s called canyoning. I have no idea why that is, but there you go. When I figured that out I managed to find the American Canyoneering Association, which was started about a dozen years ago. Sounded like I was in business.

So I called up Rich Carlson, who was the president of ACA. He did guided canyoneering trips in southern Utah, so I told him I wanted to come out there and go on one of his canyoneering adventures with him. Rich said no.

Well. I asked him why not, and he said I had to take his Beginning Canyoneering Class first, which was basically sitting in a classroom for a few days learning to tie knots and stuff, before I could take the second class, where I would actually get to go out and make a little trip down a canyon. Uh huh.

I told Rich, “No, you don’t understand. I already know how to tie all the knots and fix anchors and stuff. I’ve been doing that for years. And I’ve been canyoning in Mexico since 1998. So I don’t need the beginner’s class. I just want to go down a canyon.”

Rich said no. He said I might know what I was doing, and I might not. Either way, he wouldn’t take me unless I took his classes. And paid him for it, of course.

So I said, “OK, forget that. Just tell me where I can go canyoneering out there, and I’ll stay out of your hair.”

Rich said no. He wouldn’t tell me where to go, unless I took his classes. And paid him for it. He made it sound like it was illegal to go canyoneering otherwise.I finally gave up. And then, a few months ago, I found a book about Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, and it said (you’re not going to believe this) people go canyoneering without guides ALL THE TIME in Utah, and guided trips are not even allowed in the parks.

So Paden and I decided to go to Utah and do some canyoneering. And then we got out a map and figured up how far we’d have to drive, and we said, “Nah.”

But we found out there’s some pretty good canyoneering around Ouray, Colorado, so we’re going there instead. Actually, by the time you read this, we’ll already be there. We’re quick, me and Paden. We also plan to climb the highest mountain in Colorado, which is named . . . Elbert.

No, I don’t know why they named it Elbert. If I find out I’ll let you know. Assuming I don’t run into Rich Carlson on the trip . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who owns his own rappelling rope. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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