Zion. Western edge and crown jewel of the Colorado Plateau. Like Yosemite, but not made of inferior rock. Home to true Dark Service-style crowds and regulations, as well as the most beautiful canyons on earth.
First lesson: there is no S, the great refuge is neither plural nor possessive.
Second lesson: it is one syllable, and rhymes with a sound between nine and sign.
Oddly, we’ve never spent much time there in October. That was a mistake. This time we hit the cottonwoods, scrub oak, and maples right at their height.
And there was much rejoicing.
Technical canyon permits are Zion have gotten complicated. Fortunately M was able to iPhone in from Hanksville, and even more fortunately we were successful in the 7-2 day out lottery and had a Mystery permit waiting for us for our first full day.
M’s a cynic about Mystery, but then again she is about most things. Mystery Canyon doesn’t have everything, but it does have most of the good stuff arranged in a logical and swift succession which I always find satisfying, even if it is missing any of the adult elements of technical canyons. A big hike out of the main canyon leads to a steep scramble descent, a rough canyon floor walk, and a shortish slot with gorgeous, fluted rappels.
After the slot, a bit more canyon walking leads to the landslide, which thanks to September floods had a knee-deep lake behind it.
It was cold, but not as cold as one February when I busted in through snowdrifts on the approach and put on my drysuit to swim across the half-frozen lake. Then again, M and I had left the wetsuits behind to save weight. Mystery has a few mandatory deep pools, including a swimmer at the bottom of a 120 foot rap. Try as I might, I couldn’t swing over or around it. Air temps were warm enough that we did fine in soaked capilene, but we were also moving in a sufficiently focused manner that we took no pictures.
The next day Ariel (friend from undergrad) drove down from Cedar City, and we hiked Behunin Canyon.
Behunin starts almost at the West Rim, and most of that vertical back down to the main canyon is lost via rappeling. Around 1100 feet of it. As with most Zion technical canyons, what isn’t a big obvious tree has been bolted into submission, and thus Behunin is a fairly casual endeavor provided you keep your rope management in order.
What pools exist were in fine form, and some trickery was required to keep from getting wet above the thighs.
The canyon was generally gorgeous, and with the trees roaring and perfect weather we deeply enjoyed ourselves.
The last rap sequence demands a little more tension. A hundred foot rap leads to a 150 footer from a small stance, which is partly free hanging. There’s a bunch of crap to get your ropes caught on, including some nasty rope grooves which weren’t there nine years ago.
Ariel about to go free on the last rap. There are two consecutive raps just as long at the start of the canyon, but those both end on slabby stances, and the rap above feels a lot more intimidating. After a little futzing the ropes were well sorted and we were all back on solid ground, with a short scramble down to the trail remaining.
The house-sized boulder hopping leads to springs, which were flowing well and in places covered in such a Goldsworthyesque carpet of leaves that I nearly stepped in the above pool before I reconsidered what I was doing.
We had big plans for our remaining days, which we easily cancelled in favor of a rest day and hanging out with Ariel and her husband Phillip. The two previous times we had been in Zion in October involved weddings, the first a short visit right after our own, the second Ariel and Phillip’s. They met through us (me, really), so that’s good mojo. It seemed a day well spent to go out for breakfast and head up to the Markagunt Plateau at 10000 feet to cut firewood.
On our last day we hiked Misery Canyon. It was originally called Fat Man’s Misery, but that feature fell apart some time ago, and Misery is left with scant reason for its name.
We found Misery positively delightful. Many short sections of surprisingly deep and complex narrows alternate with wash walking. We found the canyon almost totally full, with clear water by canyon standards. A cold wind blew, and we use plenty of ET (extensive trickery) to avoid getting our heads wet. On several occasions M downclimbed off my extended legs and feet to test the depth. The final narrows has a hundred meters which would fit perfectly into Heaps, the biggest of Zion side-canyon slots: a slot downclimb enters into a belled room 40 feet in diameter, with a swimming pool at the bottom and a natural bridge on both the up and downstream ends, all streaked in black. To top off the endeavor, you get to climb and swim past a tepid spring in the last reaches of the canyon, then wade down Parunaweap before making a rough, varied XC hike back to the road. The technical parts of Misery are just barely outside the park, and thus you don’t need a permit. That and the absence of long raps appeal to the masses. No wonder the jingus anchors abounded.
Zion is full of bullshit as only a national park can be. It was sad to see the increase in social trails and rope grooves since our last visists, and still disappointing to contrast the dumbed-down canyons with the more wild areas further east. All of these are fairly hollow objections next to the fact that Zion holds close together an utterly unique and viciously compelling juxtapostion of sweeping grandeur and claustrophobic intimacy. It’s hard to see the canyon as it must have been without highways, the tunnel, and crowds, but you owe it to yourself to visit many times, and try.