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Zion Extreme Canyoneering

posted Nov 11, 2017, 5:04 PM by Justin P   [ updated Dec 24, 2017, 1:42 PM ]
Wednesday was our big canyoneering day.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel right when it opened and then headed to Zion Adventure Company to meet up with Bill.  He had packed all our gear so after parking, we took off.  Driving west past Springdale and Rockville, we turned right on Kolob Terrace Road.  The road headed steeply up the Kolob Plateau, passing a couple trailheads for the park.  After a while, we turned on a private gravel road and drove to the company's remote cabin.  Here we suited up and got our gear together.  A steep and narrow path led down to the canyon.  About half-way down, we stopped at a practice wall.  Here we practiced climbing a ladder using the double carabiners to lock onto the rungs in case of a slip.

The ladder here was only maybe 30 feet high, but the one we would be climbing later was much, much higher.  After a practice run, we continued on the trail down to the start of the canyon on South Fork Oak Creek.  The creek started out quite small, but we could hear a waterfall in the gorge below.  After zipping up our dry suits and getting all our gear together we started off.  Bill tied a rope around a big Ponderosa Pine and we rappelled down into the gorge.  A nice 20 or so foot waterfall was right here at the start of the canyon.

This first rappel down was over the cliff wall, so it was dry, but all the rest were not.  We rappelled down another couple 30 to 50 foot waterfalls and at the next break between, we saw a critter moving on the ledge.

It looked like a skunk had fallen down into the canyon.  He seemed weak, but didn't appear injured - he must have landed in the water.

We rappelled down a real nice waterfall to below the ledge where the skunk was.  The base area was very small so hard to get a picture.

We left an apple and some trail mix to help keep his strength up and Bill was going to come back and rescue him the following day.  We continued further down the canyon, coming to a very deep and cold pool.

It was waist deep and the pool was blocked by the steep walls from ever receiving sunlight.  Bill quickly set up the ropes so we didn't have to linger long in that frigid pool.  The next waterfall was the big one - over 100 feet high.  And there was a rock arch, called the Eye of the Needle, we would have to get through.  This was really a rush.  There was a sandy beach at the base and we stopped for a snack here.

From the base, the arch was obscured by a huge log that wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

It looked so small from down here, but I had been able to stand up inside it.  We continued down the canyon a ways and looking back, we could still see the waterfall.

Only part of it was visible, but it gave perspective to how big it was.  The next section was just some small cascades and we didn't rope to get down.

There was one more significant waterfall to get down before the end of the canyon.  It was smaller than the previous ones, but scenic despite the branches and logs littering the base.

After this, the canyon ended where South Fork flowed into Oak Creek.  This was as far down as we would be going.

We had lunch here and then got prepared to get back up.  Bill and his coworkers had installed a 450-foot ladder climbing back up and out of the gorge - easier than climbing ropes to get out, but pretty crazy nonetheless.  The first part was the most difficult as it was slightly more than vertical.

After about 60 feet or so, it leveled out, but there were several points where we had to go horizontal on the cliff face.

And every time I got cleared a ledge, the rungs continued up as high as I could see.

When we were getting close to the top, there was a point where we could see the top of Eye of the Needle Falls in the canyon.

In all, it took us about an hour to climb up to the rim of the canyon.

We stopped here to enjoy the view and then made the short, steep hike back to the start of the canyon.

It was hard to believe how little distance we covered.  But we sure did get a lot of elevation change.  We hiked the rest of the way back to the van and changed out of the dry suit.  Then Bill drove us back to Springdale.  All in all, it was a pretty crazy adventure - I don't think I'll ever forget that ladder!  For dinner, we had pizza at Flying Monkey and relaxed in the hot tub before heading to bed.