The sport of exploring canyons by climbing, rappelling, hiking, swimming, or wading.
It might seem like a silly way to spend a vacation, but I recently met some friends to go through several technical canyons in Zion National Park. As the definition implies, there are all sorts of obstacles that you encounter in these canyons, from tight squeezes into slots, to extremely cold pools that you have no other choice than to swim through, and very large drops (sometimes several hundred feet) that you have to rappel from.
Of course, that’s part of the fun. Problem solving, using your brain and working as a team to move past these obstacles. There are times when I feel like I’m literally walking into the heart of the earth, the sky disappearing above me, as I move into some sort of subterranean wonderland. The aspect of adventure is always there; canyons can change quickly, and often do with flash floods. But also, there’s the aspect of having the privilege to see these wonderful places. These are the parts of our national parks that very few visitors get to see–most don’t give much thought to their existence.
In three days, we went through four different canyons, each with a different story to tell. First we went through Das Boot, which is the technical start to the much more popular Left Fork of North Creek (The Subway). Even on a dry year, Das Boot is wet and cold–at the minimum wetsuits are a requirement, and swimming multiple (sometimes stinky) pools is unavoidable. It is a stunningly beautiful canyon, though, with some of the most amazing reflected light I’ve ever seen.
The next day we went through Birch Hollow, which is a technical start to Orderville Canyon; Orderville ends in the Zion Narrows. It’s a long day, but there’s a little bit of everything in there, ending with some classic Zion scenery.
Finally, we went through Keyhole, which is a very short, but cold and wet canyon, and Pine Creek, right in the heart of Zion, and a true classic. The last rappel in Pine Creek is a lot of fun, about 120′, and you’re hanging free of the rock face for most of it. I was able to have my friend belay me while I made a few images on my way down.
Being able to explore these canyons, to get up close with the earth, and see something very few get to experience is good for the soul (if perhaps a little hard on the hands). That’s not a bad way to spend a vacation.
Floris van Breugel also recently has done some canyoneering in Zion; check it out here (fantastic images), and if you are interested in even more canyoneering, check out Dan Ransom’s work. He goes into some pretty serious places, and comes home with some beautiful images.