canyon exploring with Michele Angileri

Canyon ratings

To express the difficulty degree of a canyon I made my own ratings scale. I consider 7 features of a descent, giving a degree to each. Then I sum the degrees of the different features, thus obtaining the rating of canyon i.e. a number between 0 (very easy) and 15 (almost impossible to go through).

Rating of a canyon depends on the season, that's why I give the season rating refers to. But beware: climate conditions may be different in the same season of different years! Summer is usually dry in Italy, but in the past years we had rainy summers ... and canyons had plenty of water like in spring!
The difficulty of a canyon may also increase due to unpredictable events like landslides and floods, who can heavily modify the bottom of a canyon. So take ratings for what they are: a reasonable prediction of what you will find in the real canyon descent.

In almost every canyon you need to abseil. Rappels up to 25 meters usually bring no problems (the length of a rappel has to be measured from anchor to retrieval). Longer rappels require longer ropes (and heavier backpacks!), have a deeper psychologic impact, make retrieval more difficult, and easier can damage ropes on rock edges. Above 50 meters lenghts things go worse, and it might be adviceable to belay. Difficulties are also due to the presence of comfortable or uncomfortable belays (a belay is "comfortable" if a couple of people can stay there on their feet).
0 no ropes required
1 rappels shorter than 25 meters
2 rappels shorter than 50 meters
3 rappels longer than 50 m; comfortable belayed rappels
4 uncomfortable belayed rappels

If there's water flowing in the canyon, rappels are more difficult and may be dangerous in case of large flow. Difficulty grows also in case of a hanging pool in the middle of a rappel. To pass a hanging pool it needs acting on descender to reduce friction, which must be risen again after passing the pool. Moreover in case of large flow the pool may contain a dangerous whirl.
0 little flow or no flow at all
1 water troubles the rappel (for instance, displacing canyoneer's feet); non-dangerous hanging pool
2 passage in apnea under the waterfall; dangerous whirling hanging pool
3 impossible to rappel under the waterfall: must avoid it with aid climbing

Water in italian canyons is cold, and forces to wear a wetsuit. Walking and downclimbing are harder when wearing a wetsuit, swimming is harder than walking and the cold water takes off much of your energies. And if the flow is high it may be dangerous even to swim, and whirls appear at every little rapid.
0 no water; wetsuit not needed
1 wetsuit necessary
2 flow is dangerous in a few points. Very long swims.
3 flow is dangerous in many parts of the canyon

In a canyon some downclimbing is usually needed, nothing difficult however. Because if it was difficult you will use rope instead! Sometimes, however, some upclimbing or aid climbing is needed, to exit a pothole, to pass over a tight slot.
0 downclimbing only
1 climbing needed; aid climbing

Time required
In Italy a canyon descent usually requires a half-day for all things (4-5 hours or less for descending, 1-2 hours to get to start of the canyon and to get to the cars again after the descent).
The more time is required the more difficult is the descent.
0 less than 7 hour altogether
1 requires a full day
2 requires more than a day

Flood risk
Canyons are not a good place to be in rainy days. The narrows may be suddenly filled with plenty of water, dragging down stones and logs: it is a flashflood. If weather forecasts tell it could be rainy there's only one wise thing to do: staying home! But in Italy there are some canyons not so deep, with many escape paths, not easily subject to dangerous floods, and in these canyons you may plan to be if forecasts are not sure if it will rain or not, and surely it will not rain so much.
0 low risk: canyon seems not to be subject to dangerous floods and there are many escape paths
1 high risk: there are parts with no escape path, where you might be hit by a flashflood

Landslides and falling stones
IMO there is only one danger that cannot be reduced in a canyon: stone-falling risk. From the walls of the canyon stones may fall down. The risk is higher if rock is not compact (and this happens often in italian canyons). Sometimes even the waterfalls (especially dry waterfalls) have stones in precariuos balance, easy to be dropped down by rope or the canyoneer's feet. Sometimes waterfalls start with precarious debris badly retained by rotten branches, and it's not easy to rappel safely.
There are also canyons subject to huge landslides, and canyons subject to avalanches leaving hills of snow and ice which can't melt before summer! In these last canyons you may find precariuos arches of ice, and tunnels going to crash down: a russian roulette!
0 low danger: walls look altogether stable and compact
1 medium danger: unstable rock in the walls
2 high risk: stones fall frequently, or you find precarious debris at the start of some waterfall
3 very dangerous: there are important landslides or unstable ice

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