The Zion Subway, August 2011

Posted by on Sep 1, 2011

This is the second of two trip reports from a quick vacation Audra and I took to Zion this past weekend. We started the trip north of Zion with stops at Kanarra Creek and Cedar Breaks before heading on to our ultimate destination, Zion National Park.

After a quick stop at the Kolob Visitor Center for our Subway permits, we made out way into St. George to acquire some rope and supplies from The Desert Rat. From there we were off to Springdale. We had a little extra time so we decided to take the longer drive through the east entrance to Zion by way of Colorado City, Fredonia and Kanab. Neither of us had ever driven this stretch of road before. I’ll keep my description quick in this public setting but I’ll just say that driving through Colorado City really creeped me out. Enough said. Well worth the drive though.

We made one quick stop along the way at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary outside of Kanab. We’d always wanted to drop by there but we usually have a dog or three with us so it seemed like a good opportunity. They were all done with tours for the day but picked up a few things in the gift shop before moving on. I really wish they had continued with the Dogtown series on the National Geographic Channel. Such a great show.
best friends animal sanctuary sign

After Best Friends we made our way towards the east entrance of Zion. Along the way we noticed a small herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep up on Checkerboard Mesa. I had just been telling Audra that I’ve seen several people post photos of this herd and there they were! Awesome!
Desert Bighorn Sheep on Checkerboard Mesa

Desert Bighorn Sheep Zion National Park

We hung around for 10 minutes or so watching them, by the time we left there were cars parked up and down the road and people were all over the place. It was time to move on. We went into Springdale and made a stop at Zion Adventure Company to rent Audra a couple of things for doing the Subway, wetsuit, shoes, etc. We were also going to buy a shuttle but they were all booked for rides to Chamberlain Ranch at the top of The Narrows. No good. I’m not against hitching but with it just being Audra and I it would have been really nice to have a guaranteed ride.

From there we made our way down the road to Zion Canyon Bed & Breakfast where we had booked a room for the next two nights. We had never done the Bed & Breakfast thing before but it was AWESOME. One of our biggest complaints about doing trips where we stay in a hotel is that it’s never as comfortable as being at home. Crappy furniture, little TV, etc, etc. In fact, we were going to go to Yellowstone for this vacation but there aren’t any really nice places to stay up there that are close to the park and don’t cost $700 per night. We actually booked the Master Suite at the Zion Canyon B&B for a tiny bit more than a standard toom at the Super 8 would have been in West Yellowstone! The Master had a 50″ plasma with an HD DVR, jetted tub for two, steam shower and a private deck facing right out towards The Watchman. Such an awesome place. Highly recommended.

But enough about the B&B, on to the trip report. We planned on getting a very early start for The Subway. I wanted to be able to take lots of pictures this time around and I didn’t want to make Audra feel rushed. This would be her first time doing anything even remotely technical and she isn’t typically the type to get excited about rappelling and swimming through a slot canyon. We left the B&B around 6:30am after a nice breakfast. They don’t usually serve breakfast until 8am at the B&B but Larry was kind enough to put something together for us at 6am. How’s that for service!?

I was planning on trying to hitch a ride up to the Wildcat Trailhead that morning but there was no one around when we got up there. Just a couple of cars in the Left Fork Trailhead and pretty much zero traffic. So we decided to just head up to Wildcat and deal with the shuttling later. There was just one other car in the Wildcat parking lot when we arrived and it had two sleeping bags hanging out the back of it. It would appear we would be the first ones down the trail for the day.
Wildcat Trailhead Zion Subway

I left my GPS on for the entire hike. It obviously bounced around a lot in the narrowest sections of the canyon but I thought I’d post the tracks anyway.

View The Zion Subway in a larger map

Along the descent route
water flowing on sandstone

Sandstone Texture

The final descent into the bottom of Russel Gulch.
Hiking down the chute into the Subway

We made our way quickly past the first obstacle by going down through the hole in the boulders rather than rappelling over the face. From there it was not much further until the first mandatory swimming.
swimming in the zion subway

And not far beyond that was another swimming section that includes the well known underwater arch. We had two groups come up on us while we were here so we decided to just relax for a bit and let them pass.
Soaking near the underwater arch

I had Audra shoot a video of me swimming through the arch and I also included some footage from the bowling alley and the section shortly before Keyhole Falls. I was shooting this with my very much not-waterproof Canyon S95 so I was being extra careful to keep it dry.

Audra in a deep section just before we made it to the second obstacle, The Bowling Alley.
The Bowling Alley

The bowling alley fun as usual. It didn’t even require a handline to get down into. The new log jam at the suspended bowling ball is still in place but easy to get around. After making it through the last big pool I took my point and shoot and swam back in to take a few shots. This is looking back at the new log. We swam around the right side of it.
Log jam in The Bowling Alley

Me walking through a deep section a little further down canyon.
swimming in the zion subway

Audra standing below the third obstacle, Keyhole Falls. We just used some webbing on this one.
Keyhole Falls

Audra swimming through the last mandatory swim shortly after Keyhole Falls.
Last swim in the subway

We stopped for lunch at the sunny opening right after Keyhole before heading further down canyon. The light wasn’t all that great for the next bend in the canyon.
The Subway Log

Waterfall in Zion Subway

Left Fork of North Creek

We made it to the last obstacle in time to see a large group handline down it. It was pretty scary to watch as several of them did not seem comfortable with it at all. After they moved on, Audra and I made our way down. Since there were only two of us and Audra was pretty nervous about her first real rappel, I decided to lower her first and then rappel down. If there had been a third person I would have sent her on her own with someone to help her rig up on top and belay from the bottom but without that I opted for the safest option and lowered her. I wish I had taken a photo or two but my hands were a little full.

After the last rappel we were into the famous Subway section. This is the spot that we ran into the jerk photographer last time who wouldn’t let me get my shot. Lucky for us we had it all to ourselves this time and I finally got it.
The Zion Subway

Water flowing in crack

The Red Ledges

Subway Cascades

The Subway from the bottom

The Subway of Zion National Park

Overall I didn’t take as many photos in The Subway as last time. I had planned on getting out the big camera more in the middle section but the light just wasn’t that great. To make it worse I left my point and shoot on some weird settings and so a lot of the candid shots turned out kind of crappy. If you want to see more photos of The Subway, check out my previous trip report, The Subway, June 2011

We were feeling pretty good as we left the Subway but the hot August heat and the 3 mile boulder-hopping, bush-whacking hike out was still in front of us. The forecast for Zion canyon for the day was 104 degrees, I don’t think it was that hot up in Left Fork but damn was it hot. We slogged through and I laid down in the river for a few minutes before making the climb up to the rim of the canyon and the Left Fork Trailhead. Lucky for us we met another couple along the way who I showed the dinosaur tracks and the exit who was kind enough to give me a lift up to our car so we didn’t have to do any hitch hiking.

From there it was back to Zion to pickup some takeout and go relax at the Zion Canyon B&B for one more night. The jetted tub and the DVR with our favorite Sunday night HBO shows waiting was fantastic. This wasn’t anywhere near the longest or the most exotic vacation Audra and I have ever been on but it was definitely one of the best, everything was just perfect.

View the full set of photos on Flickr.

See more of my trip reports to the Zion Area.

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  1. avatar
    September 1, 2011

    As usual awesome! Had I known you needed a lift I would have shuttled you for sure! Let me know next time!!

    • avatar
      September 8, 2011

      Thanks, Matt. Next time I’m definitely going to hit you up!

  2. avatar
    Lisa Kelly
    January 22, 2012

    I somehow missed this one before. Looks amazing! Good for Audra for making the trip. That’s inspiring for me because I am also afraid of rappelling. Would you consider this to be a good place to learn?

    • avatar
      January 22, 2012

      Not a good place to learn but definitely a good place to practice after a quick learning session in a more controlled environment. I taught Audra the basics of rappelling in our hotel room. It was enough to get her through the smaller obstacles but she didn’t have the confidence to handle the last one. I’m not sure where the best place to learn would be, something in a controlled environment like a climbing gym or at an easy spot up one of the local canyons.


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