Sandra, Becca, Shaun & Hannah wait out a downpour below an overhang
on the highest ground available.
Here's how it began. Sandra called Shaun at work on
Monday, mentioned that they had gotten a backcountry permit (max 50 people per day
are allowed in the slot canyon) and that the guide book recommended going with an
experienced guide the first time.
"So what you're saying," Shaun responded, "is that
you want me to take Wednesday off and tag along."
Of course. He had never been there and always wanted to go,
and with July already half over, summer was slipping away much, much too quickly.
The only thing you can ever do when time is slipping away too fast is get busy and use it
all up. Hannah got a call half an hour before leaving and readily agreed to join us.
You'll need to pick up a back country permit ($5 for a group
of up to 12 people) at the Zion Nat'l Park visitor's center just inside the park (check
if you can get them at the Kolob Canyon end, right off I-15 if you're coming from the
north. This will save you both time and the $20 entry fee, maybe). Get
reservations in advance. Then turn off toward Kolob Reservoir from the town of
Virgin, on the way back toward I-15 & St. George.
|We left one car at the Right Fork Trailhead (Shaun
knew how to find that one from below) and drove to the Wildcat Canyon
Trailhead. From there we followed instructions found on the web until leaving well
marked trails and following cairns -- piles of rocks -- marking the trail over sandstone
into pine and aspen forests.
Using a topo also found online, we left the trail
and headed further east in order to drop in farther up-canyon than the standard
route. Either the topo or Shaun's GPS was off on altitude (GPS'
least-dependable variable) and we got in a little more hiking and scrambling than
we had to. If you find yourself to the left of the sharp fins in the picture on the
right, you've probably gone too far left (and way too far for the standard route).
That said, next time we go, we may go even farther left in hopes of catching even more
|Once we finally bushwhacked our way down to the
slot canyon (seeing occassional footprints but no apparent trail), we set
up a few rappels and finally found ourselves in the refreshing cool of the canyon floor.
girls took the first rappel, while Shaun found a way to scramble around so he wouldn't
have to leave the gear used for anchors.
Sandra located a large pine for an anchor and the girls rapped a single line to be sure
it would reach the floor.
|Shaun had a contingency plan. It turned out he
didn't need it, because the 60 meter rope reached the bottom doubled, allowing for a
double rope rappel all the way down, but wound up using it anyway.
About half way
down the cliff, a large hole in the rock formed a window. When a miscalculation left
one rope end dangling only as far as the hole, Shaun had the choice to fix it (or
fall and break a few bones when one end of the rope ran out) or change anchors at
the window. He did both. First he used prussiks brought along for emergencies (didn't
expect to self rescue) to lengthen one rope end far enough for a good safety
margin (along with tying a knot in the rope end). Then he rapped to
the window, pulled the rope off the tree, had Sandra tie into one rope end for an anchor,
and rappelled out through the other side of the hole.
Sandra enjoys the cool canyon floor after a 4 mile tromp through the
the real fun began. We wound our way down canyon over and under log jams, wading
through shallow water, and finally donning our wet suits once a swim became inevitable.
had felt a little silly lugging a wet suit through the desert, but it certainly paid off
now! This water was COLD! (aka: unforgettably refreshing)
"W-w-w-w-w-ait f-f-f-f-f-or m-m-me t-t-t-to g-get ov-ver t-t-to thi-thi-this
le-ledge b-b-bef-fore y-y-you..." Shaun began, warning Hannah not to dive in quite
yet with the heavy rope, which would weigh four times as much when water logged. The
water was well over our heads and the rope might either make swimming difficult or get
dropped and sunk in the pool, requiring a rather uncomfortable (aka: unforgettably
Hannah didn't hear or understand, however (can you blame her?) and
jumped in anyway. Luckily, the rope bag held plenty of air and the whole thing
floated behind her as she swam along.
| The adventure
continued with more swims and rappels until suddenly the sound of rolling thunder caught
our attention. "It's raining," Becca announced. Sandra had a college
roommate who had been caught in a Zion flash flood whose sister had been killed.
"Should we get to higher ground?" she asked.
"Not for this much rain," Shaun answered, but the rain
continued and the thunder grew louder and more frequent and when we reached an open spot
with a high ledge, we decided to take a break, just in case, and to enjoy the thunder.
Within fifteen minutes, a two-foot wall of brown, muddy water
gushed from the narrow canyon above us. It momentarily settled into the wider area
of sand and rock below us, which soon filled to overflowing. Another three-foot wall
then surged through and this continued on down stream. We sat staring at the water open-
mouthed. If we had continued, who could say whether we'd have found another good
high spot to wait out the storm?
Just kidding, there was no sign of flooding, though there was
slightly more water than usual flowing when we reached the end of the canyon. We
wished we could have seen a flood, as we had enough food and gear to keep us warm for an
overnight wait. Also, once we left the narrowest part of the canyon (the
"extra" we got by not following the standard trail), there were plenty
of areas with higher ground.
When the thunder slowed and the rain stopped, we continued on,
only to take shelter a second time when the rain began falling hard.
"It would still take a lot more rain to make much difference
here," Shaun opined, but better safe than sorry. Besides, it's easier to enjoy
a storm when you can stop for a while.
|When the water showed no
sign of rising, we took off down canyon again, running across long sandy stretches and
stomping through puddles and tadpole-filled ponds. The storm had cooled the air
enough that we stayed comfortable in our thin wetsuits even when swims grew infrequent.
If you stare at this photo long enough, you'll notice that we begin to look like
super heros in our form-fitting garb.
|The canyon finally began to open up and the stunning
views of the narrow slot turned into a rambling, stone-filled creek. We sloshed our
way along, alternately following trails through willows and rushes and other changing
Finally we reached a sign announcing the Left Fork trail up the rim
to the road. We decided it would be easier to hike up now and then follow the road
to the car than to continue down river another mile to where the Right Fork trail climbed
the lava cliffs of the canyon rim. Somewhere near the top, we lost the main trail
and bushwhacked west looking for it (hint: go left/south). We finally
found the road and Becca and Hannah volunteered to run down the road to the car while
Sandra and Shaun guarded the packs.
After sorting out gear, Sandra and Becca headed back to St. George to continue their
vacation, while Hannah and Shaun began the four hour drive home (not including sleep stops
on the way) to arrive home at 3:00 a.m. and get to work by 6:00. Days like this make
life worth living.