Not many people willingly throw themselves off a waterfall and live to tell the tale. If you dare to be one of them, then brave the cold water and heights, and try out canyoning: an adventurous sport where the only escape is down.
Imagine yourself traveling down a canyon and becoming one with its waterfalls—falling with them, sliding down them, and jumping off them—and then throw in a bit of swimming, scrambling, and even some rappelling.
Yet there’s much more to it than that. To find out, one of the best places to try this addictive and adventurous endeavor is with Splash, an outdoors company with bases in Tokyo, Izu, and Akagi. For Tokyoites, Splash runs their whitewater rafting and canyoning tours from remote Okutama, a destination most notable for its myriad hiking trails. My group opted for a half-day trip to Holy (¥6,000), the most popular course, and a great introduction into the world of canyoning with little hiking or technical skill.
We were picked up from Kori Station and driven up a winding mountain pass to the Splash headquarters. There, we registered and listened to a lecture about safety from our guides Red and George. “Free wielding down waterfalls demands respect!”
Next came gear prep. We shimmied into thick wetsuits, slapped on a pair of super fashionable two-toed socks, and headed outside to gather shoes, harnesses, and helmets. Rash guards and gloves are available for those seeking extra warmth. Feel free to bring along a waterproof camera or GoPro, though the company does provide free photos of the tour via Dropbox.
Finally, we set out for Holy—about a 30-minute drive down the mountain and right back up another one. (Note: it gets hot in the wetsuits, so don’t zip all the way up until you arrive at the canyoning site.) While the staff speak both English and Japanese, hand signals were taught on the way to aid course safety; sometimes it’s difficult to call for help from far away! Upon arrival, we immediately climbed down to the river below—a deceiving frigid river that showed no mercy, wetsuits and all. Why didn’t I opt for the gloves? And how do people do this in November?
After “acclimating” to the temperature, the first challenge was an eight-meter waterfall slide. The important thing was maintaining proper form—legs together, toes pointed up, and arms tucked in. One by one, we laid back and let the momentum take us on a rush toward the water hole below. The first time down was definitely frightening as I didn’t trust myself not to flail about and subsequently break into pieces. However, participants were permitted to give it another go, even challenged to try a different style down. Superman anyone?
With a brief intermission to allow participants to jump—or flip—off a short cliff, the next task was to have Red lower us down a 10-meter-high wall next to a waterfall. I bumped and careened with the rock face the entire way, not following directions. Another challenge was the dry slider, a five-meter vertical cliff with a smooth, “dry” groove to shoot down. This was the scariest for most of us newbies as the angle was, more or less, straight down. (No matter the activity, participants can always request assistance or opt for the walk-around path.)
The final challenge, before we climbed back up to the parked van, was a 30-meter-long zipline of sorts. Though extremely safe, it resembled more of a slackline and gave way as each participant eased over the 20-meter cliff. My carabiner got stuck about two-thirds of the way down and I had to be rescued by George. Throughout the course, some walking sections broke up the challenges, as we scrambled over rocks and through tree-lined gullies, thoroughly enjoying the surrounding nature.
Though we had to dash post-canyoning, most participants stuck around for the barbecue (¥2,000), which includes copious amounts of meat, rice balls, and vegetables. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are available at the shop for a small fee. If you enjoy the experience, you can return to the Okutama for other half- or full-day trips, including “Mononoke,” a slight step up from Holy, with 30 minutes of hiking and a 15-meter rappel. Trips can be combined with whitewater rafting too. Splash also runs trips in other parts of Japan—one spectacular excursion consists of a four-day, three-night package to Iriomote, a remote island in Okinawa. Reservations for local trips and beyond can be made on their website or by phone, and most canyoning tours run from April to November.
Watch Tamatha’s adventure at https://youtu.be/YzeOKfTt_js