If you like climbing, hiking, rappelling, swimming, rafting and are a true adventurer, you might learn a few things (and be turned on to a lesser known sport) from this week’s Shoestring Warrior! Meet Shoestring Warrior and teacher Christian Stober. When he’s not teaching math, reading, or programming computers, he can be found canyoneering in places like Moab or Zion.
Canyoneering is fundamentally a descent through a canyon formed by water flow, using whatever means necessary to work your way down the canyon.
Christian is an outdoor lover at heart and even proposed to his wife on a backpacking trip! Ever heard of pothole escape gear? Not sure what a packraft is (or when you’d use it)? Keep reading to learn more about Christian’s adventures and the sport of canyoneering.
What are your passions outside of work?
I enjoy outdoor pursuits, canyoneering, and occasionally long distance hiking. Canyoneering is fundamentally a descent through a canyon formed by water flow, using whatever means necessary to work your way down the canyon. It involves rappelling, down climbing, hiking, and being creative to get your way to the bottom. It can also involve swimming and other activities. It involves teamwork since you assist each other in getting down. Depending on where you’re going and where you start, you might start at the top and descend down and then go back up (if you don’t have another way to get to your car), or start at the bottom and hike up and then descend down. Outside of outdoor stuff, I enjoy reading, programming computers, and traveling.
Tell us about yourself!
I teach math in Denver. I got into the outdoors gradually in my life. I did scouting as a kid. When I was 19 or 20 I started traveling a ton. I often did outdoor activities in the different countries I was exploring. Traveling got me more excited about adventure of any variety. I got into climbing quite a bit for a while.
I realized that I like climbing but felt like I didn’t get to enjoy the outdoors as much hanging from a rock face.
On my travels I was introduced to via ferrata in Italy. A via ferrata is a protected climbing route where a steel cable is attached to the rock and hikers attach themselves using a harness and rope and they’re essentially hiking along a cliffside. I got into that and canyoneering because it’s more team based and you do it with another person. Through that my interest changed. There aren’t many via ferratas in the US. So canyoneering is my jam in the United States. I also do winter skiing and snow camping.
How would you describe your level of camping experience?
I’d say that I have a high level of camping experience. I love camping. Although I had mainly done front country camping until a few years ago when I started to get a little more into backpacking. I actually got engaged on a backpacking trip!
How did you get introduced to the world of canyoneering?
I like climbing and hiking and the technical side of things. I originally saw a picture of people doing cool stuff in the desert and thought it’d be neat to try.
I think canyoneering can be a little daunting at first…Where do you go? How do you get started? What are the risks? What do you need?
I did a lot of Internet research about canyoneering at first. I kind of didn’t have people to go with for a while. I eventually found a cohort of like-minded people in Colorado and the last few years I have been going much more frequently. One summer my wife and I did a 50-day road trip and on the Utah leg we did some canyons in Moab and Zion. It was amazing! Canyoneering is blowing up in Moab!
What’s your most memorable trip and why?
The engagement backpacking trip which included some canyoneering is my most memorable trip. We hiked through this canyon with huge arches and I proposed under this big beautiful natural bridge. It was lovely!
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in trying out canyoneering?
Practice the technical skills in advance to know what you’re getting yourself into. There’s a lot of uncertainty but you should be as prepared as possible. There’s a lot of information on the Web so I suggest scouring the Internet for information.
The ideal introduction is to accompany someone who knows what they’re doing.
There are forums online and there are some clubs that you can find through Meetup. There are canyoneering social groups in and around Utah and Arizona since it’s much more popular there. There are mountain canyons in and around LA and Yosemite and Death Valley has canyons. There are some commercial trips organized by companies in Moab and Zion. There are lots of sand canyons and some wet ones. The most severe risk in canyoneering is flash flooding. You wouldn’t want to do a flowing canyon as a beginner. I think you can teach yourself but be really cautious and thoughtful about it.
What kind of gear do you need for a canyoneering trip?
For technical canyoneering it depends on the difficulty but there is some essential gear: harness, rappel device, ropes, helmet, safety gear (first aid kit), anchor building material (have to be prepared to build an anchor), need a packraft for some areas, and a wetsuit. For more technical canyoneering you need pothole escape gear – a canyoneering term for a variety of tools. There are canyoneering outfitters who sell packs and shoes and other canyoneering gear.
Funniest outdoor experience/mishap?
My most memorable technical canyoneering trip also happens to be my funniest (and or most thrilling) outdoor experience/mishap. I went on a week long Grand Canyon trip with two other people.
Technical canyoneering is so vast and involves many different activities. We had to do some packrafting (essentially you care an inflatable raft in case you hit a large body of water).
There were times we had to find an escape route to ascend back out.
We were slightly underprepared in terms of understanding what we were getting ourselves into. Our water filter clogged and we all ended up drinking really dirty water at one point. The weather didn’t cooperate; it wasn’t supposed to rain and it rained. We didn’t bring a shelter and ended up having to borrow tarps from people. I ended up getting hypothermic. Once we hit the surface at the end of the trip it was snowing and our car got stuck. In the end, even though we got stuck exiting and despite all of the setbacks, the good parts were phenomenal!
What are your favorite outdoor/adventure/survival books or movies?
- Emergency by Neil Strauss – The author decided to prepare for all possible emergencies. It’s interesting hearing his story as he was researching this book.
- The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko – It’s a story of the fastest rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.
- Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Journey by Alfred Lansing – It’s a story about an expedition to the South Pole in the early 1900’s.
- Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon – It’s about a guy who decides to take all the blue highways on the map (backroads) through the US and his experiences on that journey.
- Captain Fantastic – It’s about a father raising his kids in an alternative way.
Where’s your next adventure?
I’m actually going back to the Grand Canyon for a reprise with one person who went with me last time and a third person. The Grand Canyon is huge so we’ll be exploring a different region of it.
The perfect s’more? (if you don’t like s’mores, what’s your favorite campfire dessert?)
I’m easy to please and low maintenance and eat simple meals when camping. I’m not that into desserts so I don’t have a preference when it comes to s’mores. If someone else makes them, I’ll eat them!