How long is a piece of string? How large is a canyon?
Visit almost any great or grand canyon in the world and there’ll be some kind of chest-beating claim about its size. It’ll be the largest in the world, or on the continent, or its depth will be compared to the Grand Canyon since we’re all desperate to know how it measures up against the most famous slot of all.
In the Picos de Europa in Spain, I listened to claims about Cares Gorge being as ‘almost’ as deep as the Grand Canyon. In Montenegro, Tara Gorge was being spruiked as the largest in Europe and then also the second-longest in the world. The Kali Gandaki in Nepal is regularly written up as the world’s deepest since the canyon floor sits almost 5600 metres below the summit of Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh-highest peak. Never mind that when you stand nearby, the relationship between the mountain and the gorge seems irrelevant.
Even a quick Google search pulls up the ‘fact’ that the Capertee Valley (Australia) and Yarlung Tsangpo (Tibet) are both said to be the largest canyon in the world, while the Kali Gandaki and the Indus Gorge are both claimed as the deepest. Clever things.
My question is always, how do you measure a canyon? It’s never clear. Do we exalt our canyons for their depth, width, area or sheer spectacle? Mostly I think it comes down to choice – pick the category in which your canyon excels and stick a label on it.
I wondered this particularly when I stood at the edge of South Africa’s Blyde River Canyon a few months ago, being courted by the superlatives. Among the numbers touted by local guides – 27 kilometres long, 15 kilometres wide, 1000 metres deep – was the most impressive figure of all: Blyde River Canyon was apparently the third-largest canyon in the world. Even Wikipedia has succumbed to the hyperbole, declaring that Blyde River Canyon may be the largest ‘green canyon’ in the world. Apparently the fact that it has trees counts for something in the world of statistics.
None of the numbers mattered a fig, however, as I stood at the edge of the canyon rim. Far below, the river coiled between escarpment walls, and the Three Rondavels – three peaks shaped like African huts (seen in the photo above) – rose from the opposite rim like stumpy fingers. It was simply impressive – surely among the three most impressive canyons I’ve ever seen. Now, try to define ‘impressive’…
Adventure before Avarice travelled to Blyde River Canyon with Exodus Travels.