Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

A Das Boot(in)’ good time!

Posted in Utah by canyoneering on August 12, 2009


Das Boot/ Subway, 3BIII
10.8 miles
Zion National Park


Das Boot, a canyon as fun to descend as it is to say.

Mike, David and I drove up to Zion late Saturday after work to meet Eric, Eric and Chris for a few days of canyoneering. Bright and early Sunday morning we headed to Das Boot. Our only real trouble of the day was finding the Das Boot entrance point after crossing Russell Gulch. David and Mike went one direction, Chris and Flagstaff Eric another while Phoenix Eric and myself found our own path to the bottom of the canyon. Arriving at the head of the narrows we were excited for a deep, dark and cold day. With full body wetsuits on, although not fully zipped up, we made our way into the slot. The narrows were beautiful and deep, reminiscent of Buckskin Gulch, surrounded by a symphony of sandstone fins. I had read that Das Boot is a good precursor to canyons such as Heaps and Imlay so I was prepared for a mini adventure filled with cold swims, potholes and tough down climbs. As it turned out we had an extremely hot day and very low water levels in the canyon. This made for easier going than any of us expected. The few pot holes we encountered were easily escapable. I am glad I had the wetsuit to cover my legs and for a couple swims although Flagstaff Eric went with no wetsuit at all as he has an unusually high tolerance to the cold.

After eating lunch at the junction with Russell Gulch we continued down the canyon. Having descended the Subway last October in abnormally cold weather, going back and doing it again in the middle of the summer was a real treat. The swims that had sent a shiver to my core and made my fingers tingle were pleasant and inviting in July. The warm water, intense sunlight, sublime beauty, great company and technical ease made the Subway feel like one big canyoneering playground as we took time to crawl through small tunnels in the rock, soak in pools and slide down natural water slides.


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

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

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

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.