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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cool Slot Hikes in Hot Zion

Kanarra Creek WaterfallA group from enjoyed two fun hikes in the Zion area over the weekend. Temperatures in Zion are hot right now but we were able to hike in relative comfort because we chose to challenge slot canyons were we would be in the shade most of the time, and where we had to wade through pools of cold water.

Hot and dry weather is forecast for Utah right now and that means conditions are ideal for hikes where you have to wade. The most famous such hike is the Zion Narrows, where the river is your path and you wade and/or swim your way along. The Narrows is an incredibly fun hike and it is suitable for all ages and abilities if you come in from the bottom and hike as far as you feel comfortable.

Kanarra Creek slotWe hiked Kanarra Creek, just outside the Kolob Canyons section of Zion Park. The canyon includes a couple beautiful sections of narrows. A small, clear stream flows here and part of the fun is climbing up two waterfalls. Logs have been positioned for use as makeshift ladders to allow hikers to scramble up the falls. Ropes extend along the logs, allowing a secure handhold.

Kanarra Creek is perfect for families with teenagers desiring a moderate adventure. Younger kids can also do the hike but they will need considerable help over the waterfalls and other obstacles. The canyon is not "technical," meaning it does not require rappelling or other specialized techniques. You do not need a permit to hike here.

Next we hiked Echo Canyon, which is a strenuous, technical canyoneering adventure on the edge of Cable Mountain. The trailhead is Weeping Rock, in Zion Canyon.

Echo Canyon PotholeTo begin this hike you make your way along the Observation Point/Cable Mountain Trail, which is steep but easy. You then scramble down into Echo Canyon, where you have to make a series of short but difficult rappels to proceed down-canyon. You climb over rocks, drop off chokestones and wade through pools - plenty of adventure for determined canyoneers.

During the summer, water does not usually flow through Echo Canyon. But potholes hold water, where it becomes stagnant, and you have to wade through it. The canyon is narrow, often just 3 or 4 feet across, and it is deep, so sunlight seldom reaches some of the potholes. As a result, the water is ice cold. But there is no way around, you've got to wade through it.

In Echo, some potholes are deep and it is difficult to climb out of them. We call them "keeper" holes. You have to hike with a buddy, and help each other, to get through this canyon.

Because Echo is technical, you need to obtain a permit for Zion's Backcountry Desk before you can hike there. Echo is a great adventure suitable for novice adventurers who are hiking with an experienced canyoneer. You need to carry ropes and other gear to make it through.

Echo Canyon WallsTechnical slot canyons can be dangerous, even fatal, if you don't have the necessary skills or equipment, or if you get caught in a flash flood. Don't try to hike here unless you have experience in technical canyons, and have the proper gear, or unless you are hiking with someone who has the needed experience and equipment.

Temperatures will begin to moderate in the Zion area in a few weeks. September is an ideal month to hike in Zion because it is still warm enough to do the water hikes, but it isn't oppressively hot and so you can also do the dry hikes.

I love the area and I'll soon be back. Hope to see you there.

- Dave Webb


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