Sunday, September 16, 2007

Canyoneering in Echo Canyon

[If you don't want to read my novel below, you can skip straight to the pictures.]

When I went hiking with John last week, he told me that one of his friends was going down to Zion National Park to go canyoneering this weekend and asked if I'd be interested in going. I told him I was, and so this weekend I went down to Zion with Art (John's friend) and Adam (a guy in Art's ward). Art has been to Zion tons of times, and was our guide. Adam has been down a couple of times. This was my first visit to Zion since a family vacation when I was about ten years old. I definitely got a bigger dose of adventure this time around.

We drove down to Zion on Friday night and arrived at a BLM campground a few miles outside of the park a little after midnight. We pulled up, threw our sleeping bags down on the sand, and went to sleep under the stars. The stars were pretty amazing out there. The sky was clear and dark, and I could see way more stars than I have for quite a while. The Milky Way was particularly impressive.

We woke up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning, quickly packed up, and hurried to the park to make it in before 6 a.m. since there's an entrance fee if you enter after then. We were the first people to the permit window, so we hung out until the rangers opened the window at 7 a.m. We wanted to go to Mystery Canyon, but all of the permits had already been issued the day before. We had a reservation for Echo Canyon, so we just picked up our permits, grabbed our gear, and hopped on the shuttle to the trailhead.

We left the trailhead around 8 a.m. The route began with a hike of a little over 1000 vertical feet up to the canyon entrance. We had great views of the sun rising and casting beautiful colors on the sandstone as we hiked. We entered the canyon not too long after 9 a.m.

Canyoneering is a technical descent through a canyon, and our first technical section came up pretty quickly when we rappelled down ten or fifteen feet off a dead tree. Some of our rappel anchors were definitely more sketchy than I would have rock climbed from, but since the rappels were pretty short, I didn't worry too much.

We alternated between hiking, downclimbing, wading, swimming, and rappelling as we made our way further down the canyon. There was no water flowing through the canyon, but we had to pass through several pools of stagnant water left over from the last They were really murky, with lots of debris floating in them. The smelly methane bubbles that floated to the surface when we moved through the water were a pretty good indication that things were decomposing down there. Most of the pools were shallow enough for us to wade through, but we had to swim ten feet or so through some of them. We just walked right into some of the pools, but others were at the bottom of a rappel.

After the first swim, I started getting pretty cold. Even though the weather forecast said it was supposed to be 92 degrees, we were deep in a canyon where the sun rarely shines, and it was pretty cold. My whole body was shivering, and I couldn't talk very well because my teeth were chattering, but I warmed up pretty quickly when we got back into the sun.

As we neared one place, Art noticed some bird droppings on the canyon floor and looked up to discover a pair of roosting owls perched on a tree above us. I snapped a picture of them.

The canyon became deeper and darker as we moved further into it. As we neared the end, we reached a the section that probably gave the canyon its name. There was an amazing echo, and we amused ourselves by yelling, singing, and making weird noises.

We exited the canyon and followed the same trail that we took up back down to the trailhead. We decided to go a little further into the park and hike a little way up the Narrows to Mystery Falls. We were hurrying so that we could get back to Provo in time for a ward activity that Art and Adam had, so we zoomed up the river, saw Mystery Falls, zoomed back down, and hopped on the shuttle.

It's been over a decade since I went to Zion, but my next trip won't be that far off. I'm taking a canyoneering class at BYU this semester, so I'm sure I'll be back down there soon.

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