Forty feet. That’s how far students will repel on the University of Arizona’s Salome Jug cayoneering trip.
Winding through a granite slot canyon complete with boulder hopping and natural waterslides, the trip is one of many that the university’s Outdoor Adventure program puts on. On top of the goals of providing healthy, physical activities and reducing stress, Alex Schwartz, the schools’ assistant director for outdoor adventures, said there is another aim.
“Activities that focus on the local and regional environment also help to provide a sense of place for students so that they have a greater satisfaction with the school and therefore ideally greater retention rates and completion rates for students, because they’re happier about where they are,” said Schwartz.
While some might argue taking students off campus to go repelling in canyons is too much of a risk, Schwartz said that’s just not true. The rate of injury on trips like this is a lot lower than those in sports like soccer or basketball, he explained. It’s the unknown that scares people, and Schwartz said proper planning can mitigate the risks.
First, there are standards for trips like this, from appropriate group size to the skills staff need, to first aid equipment one must carry. Schwartz’s staff is prepared, and while students lead most of the canyoneering trips, those leaders have to prove they have the skills before they are given such an opportunity. Plus, each trip has a Wilderness First Responder trained person.
Mostly, Schwartz said activities like cayoneering need to be approached with an open mind in terms of risk management. “There are potential high consequences if you really muck it up, but there’s a lot of resources out there in terms of trainings and certifications and skills, that there’s no reason that it has to be considered this really high-risk sort of thing,” he explained.
Plus, the benefits of cayoneering and other outdoor activities seem to outweigh any possible negatives. From giving students leadership opportunities to a sense of place to having new experiences, Schwartz encourages other rec centers to pursue these types of activities. “I think just the uniqueness of the type of programming that outdoor programs can offer, it’s just a really powerful thing because it is often giving a very new experience or a very intense experience,” said Schwartz. “The impact of it can be so much higher on the individual because of that intensity of experience and novelty of the experience.”