Woken once again by a Saxophone blasting “Careless Whisper” by George Michael Blasts at 4:00 am, I shifted in my bag. Déjà vu from the Buckskin trek the morning before? Nope! Now it was time to pack our things up and head into Zion to grab our permits for the top down canyoneering route called The Subway! Once again Andrew, Larry, Eric, and I woke, packed up, and got ready for the day to come.
Piling into the truck with Larry behind the wheel, we headed for Zion. The miles faded pretty quickly despite a rock fall on the east side reverting us to enter instead via Hurricane UT from the west side. We soon found ourselves at the visitor center, running in and grabbing our permits before driving to the lower left fork trailhead and dropping my bike off to complete the shuttle to the start at Wildcat Canyon trailhead. The plan was to start up top, push the 9.5 miles down the technical canyon and pop out at the trailhead where, to add insult to injury, I would ride back up on my bike and grab the truck to finish the loop.
We had our work cut out for us so we stepped out of the truck and gathered our packs together. With everything in order at about 11am we set out on the wide open pine-ridden prairie down Wildcat Trail to the southeast. The bluebird skies only had a few clouds and the temps were perfect… couldn’t have picked a better day!
After a mile down trail, we met the Northgate Peaks Trail and turned right headed towards the lip of the dropoff. The blue sky shone through as we edged closer to the sign that was marked “The Subway Trailhead”. We were all excited and clambered on, down a cairned sandstone rock. We were spit onto a well-cairned and traveled foot trail that headed through the woods and down the slick rock. After many gorgeous open views, we found ourselves at the top of the final steep descent into the bottom of the Russel Gulch.
We turned southwest into the Left Fork Creek, and right away we could see the water carved walls that were reminiscent of “The Subway” formation. The canyon was gorgeous, covered in lush green foliage, cool from the shade, and stunning rocks all around. We trekked down the creek until coming upon our first rappel off a Huge VW sized boulder. When we arrived, one group ahead of us was in the middle of rappelling and another was waiting so we took a break for lunch.
Larry, Andrew, and Eric had little rappelling experience but I walked them through the procedure. Soon we were all down safely on the ground past the first 25’ section. We once again turned downstream and after just a hop skip and a jump, we were faced with a large pool . . . welp, no more holding off the wetsuits, it was time to dawn them! We all zipped ourselves up, looking like tadpoles getting ready for our first swim, and walked into the depths of the cool, shallow pool that was only stomach deep. Not but 30 yards later we overlooked a large chalkstone into a small waterfall and our first swimmer… we didn’t put these things on for nothing!
I was first to plunge in, and like a dog getting into a pool for the first time I paddled to the other side of the long slotted swimmer. Whew! Larry, then Andrew, and finally Eric all safely dropped in and were following close behind. We all laughed as we exited the pool, happy for the warm sun shining on us. It didn’t take long before we found our next obstacle, a double chalkstone drop each into swimmers. No need for a rope on these, we just slinked off the chalkstones into the cold dark water below. The second drop had a large log stuck under it which was a nice support for our feet as we got ready to plunge into the deepest, darkest pool of the day. Wheewwww if I wasn’t already awake, that pool sure did the trick! The cold swimmer began to pull my core temps down and I quickly looked for sun to snap pictures of the crew as they followed on.
We kept trekking through the beautiful canyon and soon found ourselves at the keyhole waterfall. The keyhole waterfall is signified by a large hole that had been drilled through the sandstone by water just to the left of the waterfall. This was supposed to be the next rap, however a large log had fallen below the drop creating an easy to walk ramp. We just used the rap bolts as an anchor for a hand line and walked down. Once at the bottom we walked through a small corridor shaped like a mini subway. Logs and debris were all over the place, but they just added to the aesthetic.
Finally we walked out into a nice open area with a vertical log wedged between the floor and the canyon wall. This was the upper subway just before the final rap into the lower subway. How nice it was to see this famously photographed sight in person. We took a final break before the long slog out, basking in the sun like lizards still trying to shake off the chill from the double chalkstone swimmer earlier in the canyon.
It was time to get moving again as I stuffed the final crumbs of salt and vinegar chips I had into my mouth. After a turn or two we found the final rap on canyon right to the side of a waterfall into the lower subway. We could hear a large group of “bottom up” hikers below in the pools taking in the sights of famed formation. We set up our rope and rapped the final drop and were soon stripping wetsuits. It was nice not to need the suits any further. The rest of the hike was gorgeous… beautiful slick rock, cascading waterfalls, and lush green foliage everywhere complimenting the red rocks. After a few miles we finally reached the exit canyon right. I took the keys to the truck and took off up the Cliffside.
I grabbed my bike from the trees where I stowed it and began to ride back to the upper trailhead. I had originally thought it was just a few hundred feet of gain in a few miles, but later research let me know that it was 7.5 mile ride with 1900 feet of gain. Let’s just say when the quad burning, calf aching, sweat pouring, beautiful view having grind was over, I was pretty happy! I drove back down, grabbed the guys and we headed back to Springdale for much deserved pizza and beer. What an awesome day enjoying Zion national park!!!
- Weather: Hi 80s, Low 40s, Water in the 40s, Sunny
- Water: 3 liters
- Food: 2 Protien Bars, 2 granola bars, 1 Cliff Bar, 1 apple, 1 bag of jerky, bag of salt and vinegar chips, gummy worms
- Time: 7 hours
- Distance: 9.5 miles in canyon + 7.5 miles on bike
- Accumulated Gain: 2,300 feet
- The Don Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)
- SPOT Tracker
- Neoprene Sox
- 3/4 Wet Suite
- Black Diamond Helmet
- Petzl Corax Climbing Harness
- 2 Black Diamond screw carabiner
- Black Diaimond ATC Guide
- 60 feet 10.2mm Static rope
- Webbing, personal anchor
- 3 rap rings (not used)
- Cotton Handkerchief
- Icebreaker wool shirt
- Nike running shorts
- Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
- Darn Tough Medium Wool Sox
- Arcteryx Atom hoody
We usually save the best for last don’t we? A group of buddies (Mike, Stevo, and Adrien) and I decided to trek to Zion National Park in southwestern Utah in search for adventure. On our last day we had permits to The Subway, a rock formation on the Left Fork of North Creek residing on the west side of the park, far from the main valley of Zion. There are two ways to visit The Subway, one as a technical canyoneering route from the top down, or a non-technical hike from the bottom up. Due to time restraints for the day we decided to hike from the bottom up, and we weren’t disappointed!
We woke early and packed our camp up, piled into our vehicles, and headed west down Highway 9 towards Virgin, where we would turn north down the open road to the trailhead. Utah is such a beautiful place. An open landscape with orange and red rock plateaus to the right, small plateau mounds to the left, and rolling hills ahead lead us to our turnoff. Bluebird, virtually cloudless skies welcomed us on the winding road through farm fields to the dirt pull off for the trailhead.
Once we pulled in there were a couple of park rangers that told us there was a guy down below that hurt his leg and couldn’t hike out so they were going to arrange a helo to come up and grab him. Little things like this always make me nervous before a hike, like bad juju or something. It didn’t help the fact that Stevo had been complaining about his knee having troubles as the weekend progressed and he put more miles on it. Brushing it off we pushed down the trail with excitement to see The Subway at the end of our 3.5 mile hike. The trail took a dive-bomb off the rim down into the canyon! Loose gravel dominated the trail as it twisted and turned dropping 600 feet to the creek below.
In the bottom the light was perfect. We hiked northeast up the canyon and it was early enough that the sun just lit up the canopies above in golden light. We crossed back and forth over the creek, boulder hopping, traversing sandy creek banks, and large rock faces obstacles. Turn after turn there was something interesting to see. Soon the canyon began to change. The tall walls from afar started to close in and you could see the impact of water high up from long ago where it carved the rock face smooth. Miniature waterfalls and small swimming pools dotted the landscape, and the lush green canopy continued to slowly close in to shade us from the sun above. The creek began to flow over large stepped slickrock steps, creating mini falls, and we were forced to walk down the creek in the thin layer of water over the slickrock.
The canyon curled right and we finally entered the first area where it was no longer a typical creek bed canyon and the rock formations became more predominant. The water cut away, shaped, and formed everything around us. The small cascading falls became larger and taller causing us to climb around on the tree covered sides to bypass. Long smoothed-over cracks were found in areas of the slickrock, as well as small circular holes called potholes where the water pooled and flowed through. I can only speculate that upon formation, these areas had less dense rock which was eaten away by erosion causing the beautiful formations we were surrounded by.
We finally reached the last turn before The Subway and we all gathered together before pushing on so we could all see it at once. What a view! It looked as though the water tunneled straight through solid rock to form a Subway tube through the bottom of the canyon. It was strange how cylindrical the formation was, nothing else around was like it except in this one tight spot in the canyon the perfect conditions came together to create this remarkable place. We pushed to the back of the Subway where a few consecutive deep pools awaited. One after another we hopped in and waded in the cold 50 degree water that came chest deep, just to make it to the Key Hole waterfall in the back. Mike jumped in, taking a brisk shower in the falls. Wheeeww boy was it cold!
Soon after we all returned to the Subway, all smiles. It’s amazing how some places can totally regenerate you. All the exhaustion of the day is just lifted form your shoulders and you are ready to get back to it. This is one of those places. Although I am not the largest fan of the permit system, I can respect it for protecting this very special place from being overrun and overused. At any rate, it was a beautiful day and we got to see something special. We returned the way we came without incident, piled in our cars, and headed home. This adventure for this weekend was over, until the next one!
- Weather: Hi 80s, Low 60s, Sunny
- Water: 2.0 liters
- Food: Salt and Venigar chips, 1 Cliff Builders Bar, 1 bag of Cheese-its, 1 plum, 1 powerbar
- Time: 4 hours
- Distance: 7 miles Round Trip
- Accumulated Gain: 1,200 feet
- Mule Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)
- Black Diamond trekking poles
- Cotton Handkerchief
- Cotton T shirt
- Nike Running Shorts
- Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
- Darn Tough Medium Wool Sox