What’s the one thing most weddings are missing? Slot canyons, of course. A wedding in Zion, thankfully, makes that typical omission a manageable obstacle. Mandy and I made our way down to the Zion area for two days of canyons and one day of supreme wedding magic (and hangover) as our good friends Dan and Lindsey were getting hitched in one of the most beautiful locations in the world. The ceremony wasn’t until Saturday afternoon so we hooked up with our other good friends Bill and April to enjoy some slot canyon travels while we were down there. Friday would be the Subway, a canyoneering classic.
The combination of a surprise shower and cold temps on Thursday night left a little snowy surprise for us at the upper trailhead. Our initial intentions of adding the Das Boot section, a more challenging (and substantially colder) extension of the traditional Subway route, were thwarted by the sub-freezing temperatures. Our foursome didn’t hesitate to reach the decision to skip that segment. So it would only be the typical Left Fork lap for us, which, flat light and sand-filled personality aside, was still an absolute gem.
Just a little bit in from the Wildcat Trailhead, the sun pokes through and lights up Northgate Peak:
The scenic sandstone overland approach was over, and it was time to start getting wet. Well, at least for those of us that didn’t cheat and use a drysuit.
(No worries Bill, I’m just jealous)
Meanwhile, the girls have their sassy thang going on in their multiple layers of neoprene:
And the games begin. Although at times it felt more like a sandbox than the typically aquatic Subway:
Bill managing our first good swim of the day:
Bill coming down the drop in Keyhole Falls:
One of my favorite sections of the Subway, the Keyhole. What would normally be a shimmering blue wade through the slot is now an easy, sandy stroll for Mandy:
Wait! She found just enough of a deep spot for a cold soak:
Mandy continuing below the Keyhole. The dreary sky above us began to show signs of relenting:
April rounding the bend:
A photo of a photographer taking a photo = Photoception:
The Left Fork continues it’s course, cascading over a short drop below a lone desert Doug Fir:
Bill on the final technical challenge of today’s route. Those circular sandy bowls are normally deep aquamarine pools:
The vintage Subway scene, a bit muted by the sand filled pools. People strolling by for the first time had no idea that the sandy area just under water in the middle/right usually contains deep, mesmerizing tubs that you can cannonball into. Always exquisite though, regardless of conditions. It’ll be interesting how long, or rather, how many flash floods it will take, before the sand gets scoured out again.
The larger wedding parties behind us caught up to us due to our photography pauses. Here, Mr. Schasch walks towards the outlet, eager for the sun and the relinquishing of his wetsuit:
One more look back up canyon into the Subway:
Trucker hats + hands in pockets = canyon hipsters:
After 2.5 hours from this point of bushwacking and rock-hopping down the now sunny and open canyon bottom, we made the final climb up to the shuttle vehicle and cooler of beer. No matter the conditions, this is one route that will never disappoint me.
On day two we were scheduled to make a quick lap of Pine Creek canyon before the Ceremony. We hesitated for a minute due to the combined wet nature of Pine Creek and 8am shotgun start that was needed to get done in time. Thankfully, we decided to pull the trigger. Our concerns over the water temperatures were in vain, for the canyon was only about half full and thus a little easier on the goosebumps.
This was the earliest time of the day I’ve ever run Pine Creek, and it was nice to see it in a different kind of light. Here, Mandy and April admire Bill’s rappelling skills (off-screen right):
Mandy begins the 60 foot drop into the Cathedral, one of the more beautiful scenes on all of the Colorado Plateau:
A “selfie” from the bottom of the Cathedral chamber. Being the nice guy that I am, I volunteered to go last and clean up the anchor, but only on the condition that Bill take my camera down with him and get an image of me as it was still a composition that has evaded me each time I’ve come through here. There was also the condition that he couldn’t take any credit for it. So here is the photo of me that Bill did not take with my camera that he’s not getting credit for.
Thanks for the assist, Billski.
Quickly we were upon one of the longer swims in a canyon that is traditionally full of long swims. Due to the lower than average water, this one didn’t last as long as normal. Still, quite the dark and haunting meander, especially in the low light of morning. Here’s April about to lead the way:
Here’s Mandy drying out for a moment in a rare bright spot of the technical portion:
Back into the water, back into the abyss. April forging the way once again:
Bill leaves the deep water behind for good:
Here’s Mandy scouting a “new” section of canyon. This area used to be an easy downclimb through some large boulders, but due to recent floods the bottom had been scoured out, leaving a 20 foot rappel into another pool:
From the lower side of the new drop:
Out of our wetsuits and warm again, we still had work to do. Here’s Mandy on a 60 foot rappel as the open canyon light beckons from beyond:
The penultimate rappel of Pine Creek is a 95 footer into the Fairy Glen. The original bolt for this drop was up to the left and 20 yards further downcanyon, avoiding this mysterious little grotto. A bolt was placed here about a year ago -partially to expedite the process of large groups getting backed up at the original rappel station, but also because the Fairy Glen was deemed stable enough again to descend into after a rockslide demolished the verdant little oasis several years ago. The plants haven’t begun to grow back yet, but that is one sweet little area that I’m happy we finally got to see. Mandy’s the first one down to investigate:
From within the Fairy Glen, Mandy watches Bill come down the long, free-hanging drop:
Hey, there’s Bill!
April sliding down the final obstacle into a spring fed pool. From this point, the canyon opened up for even more water-weaving and rock-hopping.
The fresh lime-green spring foliage of a Cottonwood signs the way to the shuttle vehicle:
Mission accomplished. Well, almost.
After a quick shower at the hotel and a nervous rehearsal in front of the mirror, it was back up to the highlands of Zion to officiate Dan and Lindsey’s ceremony.
A night of newlywed inspired debauchery followed the lovebirds union. An unforgettable weekend. Congrats, guys.