A Snowy Echo


Feb 15, 2013
It doesn't happen every year. Usually about every 4 or 5 years. When it does, I can't resist. It happened to us the first time, in the early 90's. We descended Middle Echo, one May day, finished the short raps and came smack into a walls of ice. For the next 2 hours, we dangerously weaved our way through the snow and ice. One stretch we crawled in a 2.5 foot high tunnel, half filled with flowing ice water, for 40 yards. That same day we cut steps in an ice wall with the only thing we had that was hard enough to do the job, the edge of our helmets, cracking mine in the process. It was a 95 degree day, out in the sun, but in the slot? The ice turned to vapor (Sublimation) and we were in a hazy cloud. Huge blocks of ice hung overhead. Blocks that would crash down soon. When? Spin the wheel. Pays your money, you takes your chances.. After getting out that day, we sat on a ledge, in the high heat and sun, in our wet suits, getting our core temp back up, smiles a mile wide. Our response to the experience was to.......Go back there 4 days later, of course. A huge block had collapsed in the time between descents. In this way we learned that something special could be found in that canyon, at certain times.

Cable Mountain towers above Middle Echo. It has just enough angle, that snow lands and accumulates for a bit, but it is too steep to hold the snow for long. So it slides down the wall and into the canyon in a series of mini avalanches. In this way, the canyon fills with snow, with every storm. It is unusual for there to be snow in May. It takes a huge snow year for that to happen, but an above average snow year will provide wonders to those who dare, in February and March. The thing about it, is almost every week the conditions and the route through can and does change. Snow has accumulated up to 85 feet high, then melts out, isolating slopes and forcing one to weave through tunnels and passage ways inside the snow masses. You often don't know you are so far up...until you see ....gulp....a hole. Other places, gaps in the moats form and the unwary could plummet dozens of feet, deep down into the unseen and black abyss.Then the blocks over head can collapse at any time. Huge icicles form overhead too, turning the canyon bottom to brown and blue ice fields with their icy drips. These areas are passed one at a time and without dallying. Also, down canyon snowfields tend to melt out along the canyon walls, in ways that the unsuspecting could break through to their demise.

Now that I have made the case for how totally insane and potentially reckless this is....It is also, off the charts, surreal in its beauty and diversity. All life has objective dangers. There is just a little more of it here, during those special spring seasons. With all of this in mind, four of us headed up and in for a peek. Very wise are those that go from the bottom up, for more hazards are visually observable going that way. And one can just turn around if it becomes more dangerous than one wishes to experience. One also can't get trapped between the raps and the bottom, where the snow is most often found. The objective? Get to the bottom of the lowest rap, then get back out in one piece. Bring ice axes, thermal protection and your alpine judgment.

A group of 2 had gone down the canyon, found the snow and without choice, made it down thru. We came a few days later. We found the conditions to be safer than average compared to my half dozen trips through, in the last quarter century. We did not have to "tunnel" at all, staying up on top. Melting along snowfield edges has not really started yet. What we did note, was the moats are forming, soon to isolate the upper snow fields from access and force tunneling. These holes we observed were frightful to peer into. It has been a week since we were there and I am sure a more sinewy route, with snow above head, is likely to be required now. Watch for that huge dripping icicle too!

We encountered something different than I had seen before. There were places, with sand ripples on the canyon floor. WAIT! That was NOT the canyon floor, but solid and human supporting ice. Coulda swore I was on the ground. Small floods had moved sand across solid ice. We would drop off these false bottoms into swims. Tom was likely sick of hearing me talk of this experience, over the years. Same with Guy. Both signed up. Tom led most of the way, with a wicked little smile in the corner of his mouth. Guy stayed back spotting and generally helping us over the moats before dealing these dangerous spots as "last person at risk." Kat said no initially but changed her mind and joined us, ditching an important work meeting. I think she was pleased with her choice. A great time! Once the 6 hour round trip was over, I hit the road for home...The next big snow year? Yeah, I will be back. The stories I could tell of past snowy trips in there!!




Some other guy

The light before the dark

Broken ice

telephoto of a large icicle 80 feet up

What the dripped on walls looked like

and the canyon floor below the icicle

Thin ice passage

Moat ahead

The hole to the left of Kat (in blue) is 50 feet deep at least

wondrous passage

Looking up toward a different world

The ground is 70 feet below here

Finger holds


Happy campers

Miss the moat top or collapse it and its a long way down in there

Happy Tom

Out of the deep

More pictures?
Wow!!! The canyoneering stuff you post always seems to me to be over the top. But this...... just takes my breath away. Wow!!! Very cool!!!
Woa there! Ice axes in a slot canyon? Now I've seen it all! Those pics of sitting in the ice are making me shiver just looking at them.

Seriously though, well done!
Totally amazing. I just wonder where that is. Not that I would ever do that.
It had snowed so much in the early winter. I KNEW that Echo was going to be full of snow again! A rare two years in a row, with it in that shape. So I sold the idea to Jenny...Lets go up and look! Ice axes?
Check. Thick wet suits? Check. Good judgment? A matter of opinion.

I know a lot about what happens in Echo in the winter. Yet....I also know very little. A lot of snow will last for a long time. Into the spring, as the area is its own refrigerator. BUT what would a big flood do to all that snow? Might just take it out. BUT what would a little flood do? Erode the snow? Pass underneath in a cave like manner? Would blocks suspended collapse. Would a lake form? WHAT?? EYES GOTSTA NO!!!!

So on a gray day, following a few days of moderate rain, we head to Weeping Rock. Ummmm, errrrrr, ahhhhhh....Echo Canyon has a pretty big waterfall dropping that 340 feet over Weeping Rock. Might not be such a good idea. Might this, might that. Dang. We are here and the temps are ideal so up the hill we head. The hill went fast and I enjoyed moving uphill easily, for a change. Jenny moves with ease always. Me occasionally.

We get to the suit up spot and water is flowing...well....kinda fast. Well....maybe not so fast. We put on our monkey suits, me wet, her dry and head in. We see snow at the turn, going up the gully cross joint. It is 5 feet thick. Encouraging....BUT....the thing that worried most was.....are we going to be able to get up to the snow? There is a chockstone, rarely seen as it is buried in log debris almost always. Last year, we tunneled under a some logs, to get up through a hole to the top of this 10 foot falls, that starts from a swimmer. It was the hardest spot on approach.

We came around the corner and....YUP! That falls is flowing pretty good. Can't see a hole behind the water. Is the climb possible? Probably. For me? Maybe. What is certain is that it would be a face shot the whole way, starting from a swimmer. Ummmm, ehhhh, ahhhhh. We swim over closer and....the force of the water makes approaching it more than a passive project. We decide that maybe this is not the best idea today....BUT, BUT, BUT, if we get by this place, we can likely see what mysteries are above. It is too much for me today. BUT, we decide a back up plan. Flowing stream going down from here, through some nice slot. We are dressed for success and off we go. Was it fun? Heck yeah! Strongly considered taking another lap. We even floated and swam with the trail feet away, all the way to the first rap in Lower Echo, before exiting. So success yanked from the jaws of defeat......BUT, BUT, BUT! What is up there?

Is Echo still flowing? How did the flow impact the snow? What that I have not conceived of, is the reality, in there right NOW!!! If I were not typing this 700 miles away....You know where I would go tomorrow? Seed tossed. Be careful. Pictures now

Nice! Zion is my favorite in the winter. Never been through a canyon during this time of year. But my favorite hikes in Zion have one thing in common there was snow.

@ram tell Jenny hi for me.

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Incredible cool stuff....!!! Amazing to read your trip reports and watch your photos.