Helmets? Helmets! Helmets!!!
Something we see a lot, when we look through blogs and accounts of canyoning descents here, is a lack of helmets.
As people who have been active outdoor sports practitioners for years, we have, on occasion, forgone the use of a helmet - perhaps on a single pitch cragging day, or a scrambling section on a longer day hike.
However, the decision not to wear, was always made in a state of mindfulness about the potential risks.
In canyoning, you're often pulling a rope down after yourself - as you pull something down from above, it has the potential to dislodge anything else that may be above you.
The canyoning environment itself, poses unique risks as you are often flanked on both sides by steep walls from which something may drop, with a smaller space in which whatever falling debris will inevitably land.
For myself, whenever I see anyone in the canyon without a helmet, my immediate assumption is that this individual has very limited experience. As someone who works in canyons, I have made countless descents and have many logged trips - and I have seen rock falls, I have been near rock falls and I have been struck by falling rocks.
It is all about playing the odds. The more time you spend in the canyon, the greater the chance you'll be affected the dangers.
As risk assessors, we also have a simple system for rating the level of danger posed by any hazard. We take into account two particular factors:
1) likelihood of occurrence
2) consequence of occurrence
So, granted, there is a degree of bad luck involved in being struck by falling stones (ie. it does not happen that often) - but it only needs to happen once for it to be definitive in outcome (ie. you end up dead).
No one would argue that helmets are comfortable, or fun to wear, but they are pretty unobtrusive these days - and they don't look half as bad as they used to either.
They are relatively inexpensive, and they can save your life - put a lid on!
I am also reminded of one specific day out in Korea. I was on a ridge climb, which had some fairly steep scrambling, but nothing too difficult. It was however, quite busy. I was the only person wearing a helmet.
When I got to the top of one section, a gentleman who was perched upon one prominent rock, laughed and made a comment about my helmet. He was not rude, but he seemed to think that I was being overly timid by wearing protective gear on such an easy route.
As he packed his bag and prepared to move onward, he dropped his metal cup, which then dropped and bounced down the very same rock face I had just climbed.
He seemed a little put out, but I did not sense in him any recognition of what had just happened. He had joked about my belief that a helmet was necessary, and then proceeded to create the very hazard from which helmets are designed to protect you.