Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Arriving in Zion

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on May 8, 2009
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Zion is unbelievable. The Checkerboard Mesa and Navajo sandstone formations in a rainbow of color greet us as we drive into the park. With a few Arizona canyons under our belt, Mike, Ira, David and I planned our first trip to Zion National Park in Utah. Along the way we also stopped at Horseshoe Bend downstream from Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona. We picked three canyoneering adventures for our first visit, Fat Man’s Misery, Key Hole and Pine Creek.

Fat Man’s Misery, 3BIII
9.5 miles
East of Zion National Park on BLM land


Fat Man’s Misery canyon is misery indeed. Don’t get me wrong, the canyon itself is beautiful and narrow. The misery becomes apparent after the technical section on the hike out. The canyon has a number of fun rappels and a beautiful grotto followed by a natural sulfur spring before coming to the end of the canyon at the East Fork of the Virgin River. We were foolish enough to do the canyon in June (recommended time of year spring and fall) when temperatures were in the high 90s/ 100s. While hiking out of the canyon I was far behind the boys. I was dehydrated and exhausted in general (I later found out I was being referred to as a zombie looking for brains as I hiked/ stumbled/ shuffled along). I think I would have been fine if it wasn’t so darn hot out (no shade anywhere), if I had more water and if we didn’t waste time getting lost and trying to find the trail.

Keyhole Canyon, 3BI
.75 miles
Zion National Park


Our original plan was to do Birch Hollow the day after Fat Man’s Misery but we were all wiped and it was going to be another scorcher so we decided to go a little more low key. We got a permit for Keyhole Canyon also known as Starfish Canyon. Keyhole Canyon takes only a couple hours to descend; it is dark and narrow and like a carnival fun house with rappels, down climbs, twists and turns. There is one crazy long cold swim through a hallway that curves so you cannot see the other end where you come out back on dry land. Keyhole was a great way to start the day. Mike and Ira decided to spend the rest of the afternoon tubing on the Virgin River while David and I chose to hike up the famous Narrows. The hot weather was welcomed in The Narrows as we hiked through the water from the Temple of Sinawava up into Orderville Canyon.

Pine Creek Canyon, 3BII
1.5 miles
Zion National Park


If ever there is a classic canyoneering trip it is Pine Creek. You park and immediately drop into the canyon; it really doesn’t get much better than that for canyoneering logistics. Once you are in the heart of the canyon it is hard to believe that a busy road and many tourists are just above you. While in a deep and dark section of the canyon we were privileged enough to see four Mexican Spotted Owls, 3 of which were owlets. The owls, perched high above us on logs jammed between the canyon walls, bobbed their heads and watched us as we watched them. The most amazing part of the canyon is the rappel into the Great Cathedral. It is one of those rappels where you just have to stop midway down and appreciate your surroundings. The final rappel is 100ft, partially free hanging into a shallow spring pool. After hiking out of the canyon back to the road below the tunnel we needed to hitch hike back to our car. Mike was our designated hitch- hiker as David, Ira and I waited by the side of the road for Mike to catch a ride. After about 20 or 30 minutes with RVs, minivans and sports cars blowing by Mike, David decided to put his thumb out…. and of course the first car driving by picked him up no problem. Driving home that evening we were already talking about planning our next trip to Zion.



One Response

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  1. Ira said, on May 17, 2009 at 3:52 am

    Pine Creek was the highlight of that trip! I’d say it’s a can’t miss, but I still really want to do Subway and Mystery.

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