Sunday, June 22, 2014

Keyhole Canyon and Zion Narrows

When we started to plan our big road trip back east we had to find a three week slot somewhere between the Young Men's high adventure for me, Sarah's girls camp, Joel's scout camp, a nephew's wedding and my mid August trip to Indonesia.  To make it all work we ended up taking the kids out of the last week of school. We got back in town from our trip late Monday night which was just enough time to unpack, rest and and then head out on Thursday morning for Zion National Park. By the time the seven boys and six leaders arrived at about 1:00 all of the park campsites were full so we stayed an a RV/tent campground in Springdale. After setting up camp and having lunch we set out on our first big adventure. Ultra outdoors-man Barrett Raymond (lives a few houses down the street) was to be our guide. I wasn't around for much of the planning so all I knew about that hike was that it involved one medium rappel and two short rapples. No mention of it being a narrow slot canyon that would skin each appendage or that there were ice cold pools waiting at the bottom of the rappels. Perhaps it was good I didn't know all of the details. I may have bowed out give my increasing fear of heights and very limited experience rappelling. I'm very glad I pressed on.

Our "short" hike was a loop through Keyhole canyon just a mile up the road from the eastern exit/entrance of the MT. Carmel tunnel at Zion. 

The entrance to Keyhole Canyon is the narrow slot to the left of the big tree.

So far so good.

Oh no! Can I do this? Yes I can!

The first slot canyon section then opened up. Here we prepared for the first rappel.

First down is Tanner.

We had no idea what lay below.

Next up Garrett.

Then Cody.



Kaden, the newest Teacher and his first time rappeling. He did great.

Nick, then me. It was easier than I thought.

Down in the canyon.

Next comes neighbor Fred, retired, the ward executive secretary and a year and a half younger than me, which makes me the oldest person on the trip. 

Jaycen, who in one month leaves for his mission in Ohio. He made it look easy.

Bishop Frossard, who was my counselor and who then replaced me as bishop got a little twisted near the top and it was all downhead from there.

Still smiling.

Finally righted.

Jon Marshall, Young Men's president.

This short descent down the crevasse into the pool was without a rope. The water in the canyon never sees sun light so it is very cold.

Second rappel.

The young men slid down this section, but the AARP contingent used a rope which made it much easier.

There was limited space to wait while those up ahead were slowly navigating the tight canyon so Jaycen waited while straddling above a pool.

At one point Barrett realized that it was getting late and feared we may not make it out by dark. To hustle the leaders up he pulled out a flash light in the deepest, darkest part of the slot to help them better see their way.

Barrett leading the way. He and the boys made it look easy. I gradually started to get the hang of it, but in the process I scraped elbows, knees and knuckles as I pressed body parts (belly and butt included) against sandstone to hold me up. At one point Bishop Frossard got his foot caught in some rocks in the tight V-shaped bottom of the canyon. I was behind and above him and could not get past him to help. All I could do was to offer him my Swiss Army knife to cut off his foot. :) Luckily Jaycen came back to see what was holding us up and was able to help pull the bishop's foot out.


Light at the end of the tunnel.

Jon opted to stay in the slot to the end--which required a swim. Others of us took a short cut up and over.

The end of the slot.

The top course of Keyhole Canyon. The short hike took us about four hours. We could have done it much faster divided into two groups each with their own rope and with a few more experienced rock men to help Barrett guide, explain and support. I have always wanted to canyoneer down a slot canyon like this, but lacked the knowledge and ability to make it happen. This was a grand adventure for me.

Back at camp we cooked a late dinner and then enjoyed the warmth of the campground showers. When we checked in we were only allowed to stay for one night on a trial basis. The management had had too many bad experiences with Utah Scout troops who were noisy and bothersome late into the night, much to the frustration of campers from all over the world. Fortunately, after our little adventure, our boys had no energy to stay up late making noise. By 10:00 they were all in their tent and soon asleep. We passed the test. Next morning, we were given permission to stay one more night.

Day two was a hike up the Virgin River narrows.  I have hiked the whole length of the narrows once and gone up and back half way from the bottom twice. It is a favorite hike of mine.

Starting out. The boys were soon long gone. I chanced it and carried my Canon camera in my left hand the whole way up so that I could take photos. Luckily I never fell while walking in water atop large, wet rocks. What follows are a few of those photos in chronological order. Photos do not do it just.

Side trip up the more narrow Orderville Canyon, which feeds into the Virgin River Canyon about 1 1/2 hours up stream.

This side canyon had a few rocky obstacles.

Mike Black. I called him as scout master all most ten years ago. He now serves with me in the Teacher's Quroum. He is a very handy man to have on campouts.

Orderville Canyon

Back into the Virgin River Narrows.

In some places where it is just water and wall you pray that no flashfloods come your way. Thanks Will for letting me use your souvenir walking stick from Concord Massachusetts.

There is no place to escape. Walking the narrows is best done in early summer or fall, before and after summer monsoon season when flash floods are more likely.


Finally met up with the Young Men and Barrett Raymond. They had made it up to Big Springs and were now heading back. It was our appointed turn around time so I followed.

Leaving the narrows.

Another good dinner (cooked by the boys). Two days of hiking tuckered them out. This is 9:00 Am the next morning when even the smell of cooking bacon did not roust them from their beds. I had hoped that for the third day of our "high adventure" we could add a hike up to Angel's Landing (another favorite hike of mine) to the preplanned itinerary, but even after two days of building it up and even noting that it was on Outside Magazine's list of top ten hikes in America, I couldn't get anyone to go. Extra sleep, a slow pack up and departure, and an early afternoon arrival back in Springville were preferred. Not to worry. I at least had two great days of adventure.

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