Our vacation for this year was a short but fabulous trip up to Zion National Park with some friends from AJ’s work (Charles and Allison). It was yet another new and awesome experience in the out-of-doors. This trip included two exciting days at two very different canyons.
On day one we hiked and rappelled down Birch Hollow Canyon, then scrambled and bushwacked up a clay drainage. Birch Hollow required nine rappels for us, almost none of them were dry. We either rappelled down directly in the waterfall or dropped off next to it; regardless of which type, we got wet! I am glad of my climbing experience because rappelling is much like lowering off of top rope, except, to my complete satisfaction, I was in complete control of the dropping rate. Going over the edge and dangling in the air 80 feet above the ground was exhilaraing, amazingly I had almost no fear! Even better was watching water dropplets soar over the edge of the cliff, sunlight reflecting off of each one. This powerful yet simplistic beauty warmed my heart. Two of the rappels had this characteristic. Another, quite different rappel, required us to lower over a few boulders that funnelled the canyon’s calm stream into a narrow break between a boulder and the canyon wall, creating a gushing waterfall of about 10 feet. When this canyon is dry, I think people just scramble down; but seeing how it was wet and slick we rappelled. Everyone got a decent shower out of the 10 feet! A second rappel that I think everyone on the trip will remember fondly was probably our longest. It was at least 100 feet long down a smooth, vertical shute. It was a heart stopper lowering off of the edge and seeing just how far below the ground was! This drop was also a waterfall however we were able to rappel beside it rather than in it. This is one of the two with the water dropplets. The view up once you began rappelling was just as much of a heart stopper as the view below; the smooth rock with water cascading over the edge…
As I said there were nine rappels but I don’t remember every single one. In the heart of the canyon we would not even walk ten steps before we would be at the next rappel. The temperature was cool in the canyon because much of it was in shade (due to the narrow walls). The water was also pretty cold so when you were wet (which was most of the time) it was a bit chilly. Since we were not sure what to expect in terms of water, we all rented wet suits. To my dismay, I discovered that wet suits don’t exactly work when you are not continuously in water. I actually thought they kept you dry but quite the contrary. Wet suits are supposed to get wet and stay wet. My understanding of the idea behind them is that when they get wet they will hold a “layer” of water which your body heat will warm up. When in a body of water, the suit will not constantly exchanged the heated water with the cold water you are in. Instead it acts as an insulated layer of warm water between you and the cold water. Well, we never stayed in water we just got wet here and there. So I had “clothes” on that stayed wet, perfect for cooling the body in arid conditions. The evaporative cooling effect was working great — I was cold!
I was feeling pretty energized by the time we came out of the canyon. First rappeling experience, no major mishaps, not too tired, sunlight shining in the openness of Orderville Creek. I was looking forward to a second full day of rappelling, all we had left for today was get back to the car. Well, unbeknownst to me, our little clay drainage expunged any hint of energy I had, leaving me questioning my physical state for tomorrow. The clay drainage had enough clay to supply the entire pottery industry if you ask me! Before long, not only did we have clay, but we had water mixed with clay. Seeing how this was not a class in pottery but a desparate scramble to our car, we were not all that excited about the water-clay mix. We abandonded the drainage for the lesser of two evils and scrambled/bushwacked our way up hill, after hill, after hill. No trails on this trip, just scraping bushes, unforgiving, backlashing trees and plenty of scree underfoot to keep you on your toes. (I would think that the bushes and trees would make the ground a little more stable, but what do I know…). We arrived on the road as the sun was setting below the hills of Zion. Even after all our struggles to make it to the top, I had to stop and smile at the awesome yet peaceful beauty of our world.
Okay, I know I like to write a lot, I’ll keep the description of the second day a little shorter… Day two, we changed plans. It turns out that the scramble up the clay drainage wiped out more than me, we were all a bit tired and sore. We decided to try Echo canyon. This is another narrow slot canyon but one that did not require any rappels. This canyon turned out to be more narrow that Birch Hollow with swerving, smooth walls that closed in around you, shutting out sunlight. Although there were no rappels, there was a significant amount of wading and a swim. Sounds fun right? Well, not exactly. Water was not flowing through this canyon, it was just sitting, stagnant at the bottom of the cool, dark canyon. So you look at the water and ask yourself, “there are little water bugs on top, I hear frogs croaking, it smells horrible, what else lives in that dark, cold water that I am about to swim in?” Okay so maybe the fact that we swam in it is a better indicator of our stupidity, but I call it gaining experience. Oh and did I mention that the water was cold? Our swim only consisted of about five strokes, enough to have to float your bag and get completely drenched (minus the head). The water was so cold I began hyperventilating from the extreme, rapid change in temperature. Only five strokes so it didn’t last long but time is relative. The rest of the canyon required no more than waist high wading. It was a classic slot canyon, what I had longed to see. The darkness, closeness, and quiet of the canyon gave it a mysterious, erie quality. If given the opportunity, I’d do it again. And that was it, our trip to Zion.
I must thank Charles and Allison for inviting us, planning it and bringing all the gear! I simply love new experiences and this was definitely a worthwhile, enjoyable, and interesting new experience.