Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Autumn in Zion

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on June 5, 2009
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We may have been even more excited for our second trip to Zion National Park than our first. This time we knew the mind boggling beautiful wilderness we would be exploring. An early cold spell had descended upon the southwest changing conditions from mid autumn to early winter canyoneering. Not wanting to waste a day of canyoneering our crew left Phoenix right after work and headed north. Around midnight as we approached the eastern end of the park on Utah State Highway 9 the headlights of John’s Toyota Tundra illuminated the falling snow. It was going to be interesting.

Autumn in Zion

Birch Hollow, 3AIII
7 miles
East of Zion National Park on BLM land
10/12/08


The full range of autumnal colors greeted us as we started Birch Hollow Canyon, along with a fine dusting of snow. The sun was nourishing, but the air was cold. John’s car read in the high 20s as we took off for the canyon. Birch Hollow was bone dry, but certainly not short on action. One rappel followed another. The highlight of the canyon may have been a beautiful 110-foot rappel down polished fluted walls. Birch Hollow ends in the larger Orderville Canyon. A relatively easy hike up Orderville and back to our car was a great way to start the trip.

The Subway

The Left Fork of North Creek, aka “The Subway”, 3BIII
9.5 miles
Zion National Park
10/13/08


The Subway is a famous canyoneering route. What it lacks in tough technical challenges it makes up for in sublime beauty. The Subway is also filled with water; part of which flows from a spring and with temperatures in the 30s this trip was going to be far from a walk in the park. After picking up another member of our team, Justin from the Great White North (who we had only met the day before at the outfitter, Zion Adventure Company) we began navigating across gorgeous slick rock to the entrance of the canyon. After we all suited up in double wetsuits we began the descent. With strong teamwork, using each other as ladders we down climbed all the recommended rappels. Kim fell off one of those human ladders into a pool of water. Her reaction…. Hysterical laughter. More down climbs and swims and we reached “The Subway” a place where the canyon walls form a cylindrical like chamber. After a long but straightforward hike we reached the end of this must do adventure for canyoneers.

Mystery Canyon

Mystery Canyon, 3BIII
7.5 miles
Zion National Park
10/14/08


Mystery is another classic Zion canyoneering adventure. Our trip began with a beautiful and brisk ascent up the Observation Point Trail. The hike afforded us magnificent views of the main canyon of Zion. After 2100 feet of switchbacks we made it to the head of Mystery Canyon. After a sketchy descent into the canyon through towering trees and over frozen ground we were quickly surrounded by soaring sandstone walls. Before not long, the rappels began one right after another. With our team of four geared in at this point and with two ropes we were able to leap frog each other on the rappels and make real good time. Mystery had it all: a heart pounding approach, beautiful narrows, a majestic forest within parts of the canyon, relentless rappels, an enormous rockfall, a long multi-part rappel into a deep mysterious spring and concluding with a sliding rappel into the famous Narrows with an audience of tourists below. This part of the Narrows is less than a mile upstream from the Temple of Sinawava, the final stop on the Zion shuttle and a popular hike among visitors of all ages. As we walked down the Narrows back to the shuttle stop, we received a number of weird looks and questions from hikers as we were clad with wetsuits and harnesses. I even heard a foreign tourist say a bunch of words in language I did not understand and then clearly say, “SCUBA”. I am embarrassed to admit it but we kinda felt like rock stars.

-David

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