Zion the Hard Way. Our family drove through this
park first in 1970. Didn't have much of a clue as to the hidden treasures
in the park - its canyons. Sure, we hiked up The Narrows a ways and went
to Emerald Lakes. But I was into wildlife photography then, and the odd
deer didn't much compare with being amongst (and on a few occasions being chased
by) the big boys of Botswana and Alaska. So it was great to return here in
2001 with a new perspective based on my newly developed rabid enthusiasm for
canyon exploration: searching out and spending time in some the most
colorful and seductively eroded structures on the planet. Rich Carlson of the American
Canyoneering Association organized a canyoneering rendezvous here in August
of 2001, where we descended several of the better-known technical canyons of
Zion. These were rigorous descents - ascents, that served to hone my
fledgling skills (and point out areas for improvement!). I have since
returned to Zion several times to do other technical hikes, and these forays into the
canyons will always be remembered.
Zion sits on the edge of the Colorado Plateau, and through the
years water has cut myriad slots into the sandstone. By some estimates
there are well over 50 major canyons in the relatively small area of Zion
NP. Most, maybe even all, have been descended, though published
information exists on only a dozen or so. The climate is monsoonal, with
major rain falling in big thunderstorms that intermittently hit the area from
July - September. These can cause flash floods of awesome power that
through the pummeling action of stones carried in the torrent manage to sculpt
the canyons. Snow in the winter can also cause runoff in the early
spring. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find snow and ice jams in some of
the canyons as late as April or May. Sandstone fractures vertically so is
prone to slot formation by water erosion. Though water flows
intermittently, there are usually pools (potholes) in the canyons that are
filled to varying degrees, depending on timing. The interplay of water and
light is marvelous and motivates our exploration.
Kolob is one of Zion's gems. A dam up on the rim releases water
periodically, and, along with seeps lower down, this means there is usually a weak
current through the canyon. Unlike most all others in Zion National Park, which feature stagnant
water (except in times of flooding, of course), Kolob is a wet canyon. The
water is COLD and a thick wetsuit or a drysuit is usually required. As a one
day adventure, a group of us went down
about seven of the first waterfalls in Kolob, then hooked up ascenders and
climbed them all back out. An experience for sure!
Mystery Canyon is a Zion favorite. Going from the East Rim
down to the Virgin River involves about a dozen technical drops, culminating in
a large wall rappel above the Mystery Spring, followed in short order by a big rap down a
wet-wall into the Virgin River.
Pine Creek is one of those little hikes that surprises and
stimulates. As the entrance is just off the Mt. Carmel road east of the
big tunnel you can get right into it. The slot may or may not have a
couple of cold pools deep in bowels of darkness to swim through, depending on how long
its been since a flash flood. A neat geological feature, The
Cathedral, and a free-rap into a
crystal clear seep-fed pool, illustrated below, make it a really nice half-day
adventure to try.
Free At Last.
UPPER TELEPHONE CANYON
Telephone canyon is a steep gully-slot
that starts high up on the top of the West Rim of Zion Canyon. To get
there you must hike up past Angels Landing and continue on up West Rim Trail.
Telephone drops quickly in a series of raps. There are a total of about 12
drops, of up to 160 feet, in less than a quarter mile. There are sculpted
walls and a few pools. Considering the long uphill access and tired, not
entirely downhill climb out, this is an all day escapade. This canyon is
named for an old telephone line that ran from the valley floor up to the West
Rim. Evidence for the line remains near the 1000' pour-off Lower
Adventuring in Upper Telephone
Hiking Out of Telephone Canyon
Engelstead Hollow ranks along with Kolob, Imlay, and Heaps, as
one of the classic big canyons of Zion. It drops from near the top of the
East Rim, all the way to the floor of the Zion Valley (via Orderville Canyon and
a short section of the Narrows). It features a monster rap to get in,
sculptured slots, open spaces, a little water, an arch, and much more.
Ropework in Engelstead
Zion at its best. Great Canyons, Great Friends.