Adam, Kevin, Chris and I met outside of Virgin, UT with five days free to explore some of Utah’s most dramatic and difficult canyons. Adam laid out a game plan of beginning with Das Boot, a short technical canyon which is an alternate enterance to the popular Subway.
The morning after finishing Das Boot we woke to watch alarms and scurried in the dark to gather frozen neoprene and frosty drysuits. We were hiking to Kolob canyon while it was dark enough to still need headlamps and by 8am we were tromping through snow and ice in Kolob Creek. The canyons is unique in Utah because its a wet canyon- water flows through it in all but the hottest days of July and August. We were concerned that ice in the canyon could make the descent treacherous, especially if there was ice around any of the many long drop offs. Slipping while reaching for a rap anchor would be no bueno.
It turned out that Kolob was mostly ice free, save for bits of snow here and there. As the guidebook suggested the water in Kolob is beautiful- it’s crystal clear and very cold. Rappelling down we could see the dark shapes of trout swimming deep in the potholes. Extreme fishing anyone?
It also turned out that our rental dry suits didn’t quite live up to their name. “Moist suit” seemed more appropriate.
Kolob can be done either as a 2-day descent with a bivy after the technical section or in one long day with serious uphill scramble out the “MIA exit.” We chose the day trip option and it took the four of us about 11 hours from car to car.
After two long days we took a rest day, rehydrating with a box of Franzia as we hiked around Zion’s touristy spots in flip flops and Crocs. The Virgin River has some great swimming holes and, unfortunately, very little privacy between the road on one side and hiking trails on the other. Undeterred, the four of us had a lovely afternoon dip in the cold, clean riffles. Onlookers shouted. One kid thew rocks. Some lady wolf-whistled. I’m pretty sure she was checking out Adam Steel. Who from hereon will be referred to as Steel Rammington (S.R.)
The next morning we packed our (mostly dry) drysuits, sleeping bags, stove, and a minimum of excess stuff and hiked up the myriad switchbacks ascending from the Gorotto at Zion. Past angels landing and up another +2000 feet. In the end we hiked 4000-something vert over nine miles in four hours with 30lb packs. It was great to be able to truck along with a bunch of professional backpackers!
By mid-afternoon we’d found the first rappel of Imlay Canyon. Imlay’s something of a big name in canyoneering circles (though I’m not convinced such things exists). Tom’s says this: “Heaps and Imlay are unlike other canyons in Zion, and deserve their own introduction. Deeply incised into the stone, Heaps and Imlay have a character that is both sublime and perilous. Sublime because the dark hallways, carved stone and subterranean pools offer an experience only hinted at in other canyons; perilous because what accompanies these beauties are continual exposure to water, difficult pothole exits and a degree of strenuousity one giant leap greater than other Zion canyons”
So down we went. At some of the anchors we were akwardly stacked hip to hip, hanging from harnesses, with big packs, and a long way off the deck. I couldnt help but think of those stories of American Death Triangle anchors where a team of climbers would suddenly vanish off a big Yosemite wall. Ugh.
We hiked, rapeled, hiked rapelled, and hiked until twilight when we found a beautiful slickrock bench above the canyon floor enough to sleep soundly without nightmares of flash floods. After dinner when I noticed a little scorpion scurring under the stove bag I did become curious. Several mintues later when I saw that first one’s big brother scurry under my pile of clothes I became a bit more nervous. I shook out my sleeping bag very well that night. And remembered to check my shoes and every other article of clothing in the morning. Turns out the ones I saw are called “wind scorpions” and dont sting but do have a nasty bite. Looked like this guy:
The next morning we were up before the sun for a hot and hearty ramen breakfast. Only a few steps into the slot and we were scrambling over frosted tree trunks and into murky desert water. The raps were all bolted and we descended deeper and deeper through Imlay. We scrutinized the map several times hoping to figure out where we were, but were only sure once, at the Crossroads. Some potholes were 70% wood debris and reminded me of the trash compactor scene in Star Wars.
Finally we emerged at the end of the Imlay canyon- a ledge 150 feet above the Virgin River. One last, long, free-hanging rappel and we were rinsing off the sand in the river.