Watching Your Teens Fledge:
Canyoneering as a Personal Growth Activity
By A. Michael Kundu
Nothing crystalizes a parent's awareness that his or her kids are growing up, quite like watching them step over the edge of a waterfall. Likewise, nothing quite builds the child's (or young adult's) self-confidence and independence like knowing that he or she is succeeding--without Mom or Dad’s direct help--out in the middle of nowhere.
That was the unanticipated life lesson that presented itself during a recent advanced canyoneering adventure in a remote Oregon river valley. Deep in a cathedral wilderness area that few others had ever had the privilege to see, we experienced a proverbial ‘coming of age’ family moment – a time when all of us realized that, at some point, every child has to step out on his or her own.
An emotional moment for sure, but sharing it together helped us to build even stronger bonds, stronger faith, and definitely some powerful family memories.
Only two summers away from their college departure, Nola and I stood silently, as Erik and Lars took turns rappelling 150-feet over a cliff, into a waterfall, and deep into a Cascade Mountain grotto. Anxiously watching them fasten their own harnesses and double-check their own knots and devices, we felt powerless when they each stepped over the edge alone: gripped by that gut-wrenching parental fear (like when they started driving), each of their descents were made more profound, because of that underlying, ever-present specter of immediate, dramatic catastrophe.
Simultaneously however, was the promise of immense pride and accomplishment. The risk seemed worth it, and as they emerged unscathed from each descent, we basked in their blossoming capabilities and self-confidence: throughout the trip, we shared eight hours of intense cliff-jumping into rapids, rappelling even more turbulent waterfalls, and navigating deep wilderness chasms and emerald pools.
At the end of the day, and after a grueling 1,800-foot off-trail scramble back up to a Forest Service plateau, Nola and I, reluctantly (and in bittersweet silence), both acknowledged that our teenagers were indeed growing up.
The Definition of “Northwest Canyoneering”
Put technical rock climbing, rappelling, swift-water rescue, cliff-jumping, scrambling, hiking and ‘river boogie’ rapids-swimming together, add in a remote, hard-to-get-to wilderness ravine and you’ve got the formula for Northwest Canyoneering.
Originally born in the dry, Utah desert, around the red-rock canyons of Moab, the technical extreme sport is rapidly expanding into wetter, more alpine regions throughout the Northwest and the jungles of South America. Canyoneering is definitely not a self-taught activity; seek out (worldwide) professional instruction opportunities by visiting www.canyoneeringusa.com
A. Michael Kundu, founder of SeaWolf Adventure Media, is a freelance outdoor photojournalist from Ontario, Canada. Michael and his family live in Lake Stevens, Washington.
Photo credits: A. Michael Kundu