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Lonely at the bottom

Only a few canyoneers venture into San Gabriels' hidden chasms -- and that's the real beauty.

November 15, 2005|Bill Becher | Special to The Times

He reappears, water streaming from his face, and swims to the end of the pool. Duttweiler grabs a branch and hoists himself out. He's soaked to the skin. But he looks back and admires the graceful sweep of the waterfall, ignoring the water streaming down his legs and the cold. Some canyoneers use breathable dry suits designed for whitewater kayaking. But they are expensive and tear easily. Brennen wears a cheap, lightweight wetsuit shirt; Duttweiler wears fast-drying nylon pants and a synthetic top and shivers to stay warm.

Although area canyons aren't clogged with hordes of canyoneers, several local stalwarts, including Brennen, are busy organizing a canyoneering club. Going alone into a canyon is not recommended; that cost Colorado climber Aron Ralston a hand. Brennen once spent an unplanned night alone in the mountains.

Brennen estimates he's made first descents in the San Gabriels -- exploring canyons with no signs of previous human passage -- at least a dozen times. His website lists more than 50 different local canyon trips.

Brennen finally emerges from the canyon and back onto the Mt. Wilson Trail, greeted by astonished hikers who ask: "Where did you come from?"





Learning the ropes

Canyoneering demands technical skills in route finding, anchor building, rappelling and other special knowledge. Companies in Utah and two organizations in Southern California offer basic to advanced canyoneering classes.

The American Canyoneering Assn.

website,, offers general information about courses, technique, gear and a discussion board for the association's San

Gabriel chapter.

Alpine Training Services

in Glendora,,

offers six levels of canyoneering classes, from basic to trip leader.

Chris Brennen's website,, provides information on canyoneering and detailed route descriptions for 59 canyons in the San

Gabriels. Go to for tips on canyoneering in the Southwest, the Sierra Nevada and Mexico.

The Zion Adventure Company in Springdale, Utah, has one- to three-day canyoneering classes and guided trips near Zion

National Park. Call (435) 772-0990 or go to

Zion Rock & Mountain Guides, also in Springdale,

offers classes and trips.

Call (435) 772-3303 or go to

-- Bill Becher

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