Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

The crow and the condor in Kolob Canyon

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on July 1, 2009

The Crow and the Condor in Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon, (thru trip to Temple Siniwava) 3CVR
16.5 miles
Zion National Park
06/28/09 – 06/29/09


I am a planning kind of person. I like to put my toe in the water before stepping in the pool. In canyoneering that is a good thing. For a canyon like Kolob, with the wild card of extremely cold swift water cascading down a deep gorge that drops 700 feet in a 1/3 of a mile planning is an especially good thing.

Canyoneering is a dynamic sport that allows participants to explore such extreme wilderness you can’t plan for everything. The unexpected is where I believe the true treasures exist. This could bring me to “Crow and the Condor” but about that later in the post.

Our journey began with nine hours of driving, including a two-hour traffic stand still on the edge of the megalopolis that seemed to not want us to escape. Reaching the outskirts of Zion our few hours of rest under the stars were marred by the roar of a semi’s diesel engine continuously running to allow its inhabitant a comfortable night of air conditioned sleep. The next morning entailed waiting in line at the permit office, a shuttle to the trailhead and a bit of cross- country navigation that finally brought us to the canyon.

The Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) said they would be releasing 3 CFS, (water released from the dam at the Kolob Reservoir is responsible for the near constant flow in the canyon) but after a crude test we determined that the actual CFS just above the technical section to be somewhere at a maximum of 2 CFS. WARNING – It absolutely cannot be assumed that there will be less CFS in the technical section of Kolob Canyon than that of what the WCWCD is releasing. It is just as likely that the opposite could be true. Needless to say conditions were going to be easier than what we were expecting. Easier, but still challenging with the constant pattern of rappel, wet disconnect, swim and pull over a series of 11 rappels. All too soon the technical section was over and we were stripping out of our 7mms and enjoying our lunch.

A short stroll down canyon brought us to the bottom of a 400- foot spring fed waterfall; a magical surprise that I had completely skimmed over during my research of the trip that had focused on the technical section.


After about an hour of boulder hopping, hand line assisted down climbs, wading and swimming I was in the lead hiking with my head down when I was completely startled by an enormous bird sitting on the canyon floor. As the bird grunted and hopped/ flew onto a shelf about 60 feet away, Chris who was right behind me said, “That is a California Condor.” According to the National Parks Conservation Association there are roughly 160 California Condors that exist in the wild. Stunned we stood and watched as the massive bird observed us, but the moment did not last long because suddenly a shower of small rocks began falling upon us from hundreds of feet above. We immediately began running back up canyon but not before watching one rock nearly clip the wing of the condor and another coming from what I estimate to be within 15 feet of hitting Eric. The shocking event was over as fast as it started but we were spooked. What aligned to allow us to witness two such rare sights of nature at the exact same time?

After waiting several minutes to ensure safe passage, we continued hiking. As we approached, the condor flew down canyon several hundred feet beyond view. Minutes later we were back in its presence but this time it was joined by a crow that cawed at the larger bird. We passed the pair but before not too long watched as the condor was chased by the ensuing crow through the slotted corridor 30 feet above. We were treated one more time at the confluence with Oak Creek Canyon, the crow still harassing the condor. As we headed down Lower Kolob Canyon the crow and the condor headed up Oak Creek Canyon out of sight.

We bivouacked that night near the MIA exit absorbing all that had occurred during the day. The following day included a number of cold swims, one hand line assisted drop into an icy cold pool and slogging challenges before reaching the confluence with the North Fork of the Virgin River, known as the Narrows. It is pretty amazing when the exit hike for your technical canyon descent includes the best part of one of most famous and utterly stunning hikes of the southwestern United States. We took in all the beauty; Big Spring, the deep dark narrows, Imlay boulder, Orderville junction and Mystery Falls before reaching the Temple Siniwava.

Chris later spoke with the Zion National Park wildlife manager who was very excited about our condor spot. The wildlife manager told Chris that there are a number of tagged condors in the park and believe the one we saw was a juvenile non-tagged condor that could very possibly be the offspring of two tagged condors; wonderful and exciting news for all.



3 Responses

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  1. andy said, on September 16, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Sounds like a wonderful trip guys. No pics of the Condor? We will be in Kolob next week. One day trip comming out the MIA exit.

    Nice pics!

    • canyoneering said, on September 16, 2009 at 3:29 am

      We tried to get photos of the condor but they were so blurry, there was no point in posting them. Glad Kolob is back open. Have a great trip.

  2. […] an exit hike through much of the Virgin River Narrows. Ever since David got back from his trip down Kolob Canyon in 2009 it had been on my bucket list. At the same time we had been wanting to take our […]

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