Fall in Mystery Canyon


Aug 9, 2007
Over the last weekend of October, I returned to Zion for another weekend of canyoneering, this time with the goal of finally catching some of the iconic Zion photos but with the fall colors popping. I did a trip last year around mid-October but the colors were only up high on the rim so about two weeks later seemed right.

We kicked off the weekend with a descent of Mystery Canyon. Yes, I've probably done Mystery too much in the last year, this was my third. But it is a very beautiful canyon and half of our group had never done it. Two of our group were in fact completely new to the sport of canyoneering and I believe had never even been to Zion before. Jen (@colefeet) and Chris are avid rock climbers but had never descended a canyon. To make it even more shocking to them, they had flown all the way out from Michigan for the trip.

We decided ahead of time that we wanted to hire a shuttle for Mystery but the timing was bad everywhere we looked. It was either leave Springdale at 6:30am or 9:30am and nothing in between. But lucky for us, blueeyes was up for being bribed and drove all the way in to Zion and drove us to the trailhead. Thanks, Chere!

As we started descending the Death Gully the colors started to pop.

It was brisk in the cold shadowy depths of the canyon but the leaves kept us interested.

Below the first rappel, the sun started hitting the canyon bottom and the colors intensified.

Every turn in the upper forest section was filled with amazing colors. We hadn't even hit any of the slot yet and our noob canyoneers were already grinning ear to ear. So was I.


Mandy on the first rap into the big bend section of Mystery. There are a handful of fun raps and pretty slot through this section.


Jen is STOKED.


The first unavoidable, deep water. This did not end well.

It was fun watching these two climbers down-climb the slot. We do it so much that it seems second nature but for people who are used to only using their fingers and toes, friction down-climbing was very unusual.

Chris and Jen in middle Mystery




So many colors!

The lake that had eaten one of our ropes on the previous trip was now only knee deep. I'll be posting a video trip report later on from that trip and this one, but to give you the short story, we lost one of our 120 foot ropes in here when it was a 100+ yard swim to get across. Since there are still two 120' raps after this point and we only had ne 120' rope left, we were in trouble. If not for the smorgascord of webbing and slings we tied together that barely reached the bottom, we would have ended up stuck in the canyon.

The fresh rock on the left was just exposed in the 1970's when the big landslide came down and dammed the canyon. This is why Mystery Lake forms after wet weather.

Chris on a short rap just before arriving at Mystery Springs

The always incredible Mystery Springs. The more I do this rap, the more I love it. It's almost exactly 120 feet from the exposed ledge on the left down to the swimming disconnect in the spring.

I left my camera bagged for the short walk between Mystery Springs and Mystery Falls. Once at the falls, I got it out and took a lot of photos. I had not once taken a photo from this perspective on other trips and I wasn't going to miss it this time. I'm going to post a lot of photos of this spot, somewhat repetitive but I like them and I like to show everyone in it.


It was cold in the Narrows so we didn't have the usual huge crowd of spectators but there were still a few watching. Here goes neiloro!

The rigging for the rappel. A biner block backed up to the chains. This was my first time doing the setup and cleanup for a big single-strand rap like this. The cleanup involves removing the backup and tying on the other rope or pull cord so that we can pull the whole thing down from the bottom.

colefeet getting her grin on!

drclef backing off the edge. Doesn't seem like 120' feet from this angle!

lostlandscapes looking pretty serious!

After everyone was down, I deployed the pull cord and rapped down. The falls were SUPER slippery this time around! I ended up getting down on my knees for about half the rap. Once down, we went to pull the rope and it got stuck! We had never had an issue with the pull here before so I of course felt like I must have screwed something up, despite quadruple checking. And since the rap is almost exactly 120 feet, we didn't have much room to move up or down canyon to pull from different angles. After a few minutes of hanging and bouncing on the rope, followed by me falling face first into the river, it came free.

In reviewing my helmet cam video, I'm pretty sure the biner just got wedged in a crack on the way down. It's never good to get a rope stuck, but at least we wouldn't have been stuck in a canyon if it got stuck here.

We didn't want to deal with the now solid knots between the two ropes so we did a quick wrap of the rope and raced down the narrows to warm up. Despite wearing wetsuits, everyone as getting a good chill. I felt fine but did not have neosocks on and my toes were definitely feeling it in the Virgin River.

Once back in Springdale, we took the shuttle over to the Watchman Campground where Chere had so wonderfully delivered my truck. We spent the night around the fire, reminiscing on what an awesome day we had and what an awesome weekend was still to come. Next up: Russell Gulch into The Subway.

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Oct 1, 2012
That's awesome, incredible pics! That's a beginner canyon?? If so I might not be cut out for canyoneering after all.....:cautious:


Aug 9, 2007
That's awesome, incredible pics! That's a beginner canyon?? If so I might not be cut out for canyoneering after all.....:cautious:

Hehe. I wouldn't call it a beginner canyon at all. Our beginners were new to canyoneering but very skilled in rock climbing so they were already very comfortable on ropes and rappelling. Once that skill is learned, then it's a good canyon for beginners with competent leadership. Most of the canyon is pretty straight forward and all of the anchors are easy, but those big raps can be very intimidating, especially at Mystery Springs where you have to walk out on the exposed ledge.
Jan 23, 2012
Another great adventure! I love your reports Nick. I hope to do this canyon one day.


Alien from over the pond...
Sep 5, 2012
How cool is that!
A wonderful canyon and very impressive pictures!
Hmm, Utah in Fall! Maybe an option for the next years.
Thx for sharing.


Oct 1, 2012
Hehe. I wouldn't call it a beginner canyon at all. Our beginners were new to canyoneering but very skilled in rock climbing so they were already very comfortable on ropes and rappelling.

Oh good, 'cause I'm dragging my boyfriend to Utah next spring to take the canyoneering classes. I was having a *Holy $h!+ what have I signed up for* moment. I've rock climbed once to about 70 ft but that's it. I'll give it a shot and see how it goes....

Hmm, Utah in Fall! Maybe an option for the next years.
Thx for sharing.

There's hardly any place more beautiful than Utah in the fall!


Formerly colefeet
Feb 7, 2012
As the beginner i can say that the big rappel into the springs and into the narrows would have been incredibly intimidating if i hadn't been used to the gear and rappelling from climbing already. being able to have confidence in our guides was also necessary! it's good to have friends you can trust! thanks, guys!!!!! SO MUCH FUN!!!!!!!


Jan 19, 2012
That was such a great trip. Thanks for the beautiful photos and writeup nick! I've used that Mystery Falls rap picture my main Facebook banner :)


I walk
Jun 25, 2012
Well done and well photographed nick ! Thank you. Looks like the Park Service/friends are keeping the anchors in prime shape too.
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