Canyons

Minakami Canyoning Adventure

Down a river without a paddle...or boat

Canyons
Rufus Starbuck   - 4 min read

We headed up to Minakami to do a combination of rafting and canyoning with Canyons Outdoor Adventure Center. We had a fun-filled morning of whitewater rafting on the Tone River in the morning and then returned to the Center for a great lunch on a sunny deck. A bit of a breather and then it was soon time for our PM adventure.

Our afternoon was canyoning – something I can’t say I’d heard of before, but it seems to be reasonably popular in other parts of the world. You head down a river with no boat and have to tackle anything you come across by walking, swimming, jumping, sliding or the occasional bit of rope assistance. Mike and the other guides at Canyons were instrumental in bringing the sport to Japan and have set up several courses in different areas. They are always on the lookout for new locations and during quiet times take the whole team off to try a new one that they are interested in.

We were trying their most popular course which is on their doorstep – Fox Canyon. It has a little bit of everything that makes canyoning so fun. We kept our wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, and were then given sturdier canyoning shoes as well as wetsuit gloves and a harness.

The start point is a short drive away, this time to a small rocky stream. The guides (for this trip Japanese, Brazilian and Aussie) took us through the safety stuff and proper technique while we sat in the river enjoying the sun (but feeling pretty nervous inside.) The tour starts gently with a relaxing float down the river. Again the scenery is amazing but that takes a back seat as you find yourself scrambling over rocks, inching along ledges or swimming through deep pools. Before too long though there is the unmistakable sound of thundering water. When we met the guides back at the Center we were shown a picture of a big waterfall – it is kind of hard to relate that piece of A3 to the current location as you can see nothing but the water flowing off the edge.

As we huddle on a rock listening to the water crashing down, the guides rig up a rope and one of them disappears over the ledge. I’m not great with heights but the guide was very reassuring as he rigged me up via a carabiner on my harness when my turn came (I’d managed to inch myself back and gentlemanly let others tackle the danger first.) You just lie there in the flow of the water as they lower you part way down and then release you to slide the rest. Scary but exhilarating as you plunge into the pool and swim to the rest of the group, finally getting to look back up the waterfall and watch the next person go through the experience. There was a quick lull to appreciate the setting – the big waterfall is really impressive – and then more thrills. A couple of smaller waterfalls which you jump and slide through, getting spun around and spat out by the flow of the water, some smaller slides and one final big plunge into the last pool. Here you can relax in the sun or mess around diving off a high ledge, egged on by your fellow canyoners and guides.

Getting back on the bus I really felt like I’d done something special and I felt pretty tired considering I hadn’t done anything too physical apart from a little bit of swimming and a few jumps. Canyoning is a little more demanding than rafting but you don’t have to be fit for either. It’s easy to see how you could get hooked.

Back at the Center we were shown photos from our trips and given the option to buy as well as getting plenty of recommendations from the locals about onsen, restaurants or other activities we might want to try. A really nice touch was the guides seeing us off as we walked to our car, heading to one of the suggested onsen to fully relax after an adrenaline-fuelled day.

Rufus Starbuck

Rufus Starbuck @rufus.starbuck

Hanging out in the mountains of Niigata. Arrived by accident and yet to leave. Seem to spend far too much time eating...