Mystery Canyon


Aug 9, 2007
October 2011

Mystery Canyon, what a name. From my perspective as a noob canyoneer, it seemed quite untouchable. Aside from lacking the necessary skills, Mystery Permit is possibly the most difficult permit to get in Zion National Park. But lucky for me, I got an invite to join some friends on a trip through it. lostlandscapes had won a Mystery permit for the 13th and purely by chance, I had won a permit to do The Subway on the 15th so we went to work planning a long weekend in Zion. This will be the first of two trip reports from the weekend.

After a late arrival on Wednesday night, we were up and on our way to Mystery Canyon. Since we had several vehicles, we decided to approach the canyon from the North Fork Road rather than make the hike up the Observation Point trail. I'm all about cutting out 2,500 feet of elevation gain if I can avoid it!

After passing through the Zion Ponderosa Ranch, we made our way past several signed junctions before finally finding the trailhead for Observation Point at the park boundary. From here, we hiked about 2 miles through across the top of the mountain. Never very difficult and not really any fantastic views through this stretch.

Eventually we found ourselves at the top of a rise where the trail to Mystery Canyon cuts off. Within feet of leaving the main trail we were greeted to our first view of Mystery Canyon.

The next mile of the route is down the extremely steep head of the canyon known as 'Death Gully'. It started out looking innocent enough but there were plenty of parts where it as a very hands on, slip-sliding type of descent.

Tim further down The Death Gully

Near the bottom of Death Gully, we ran into our first couple of obstacles. All were down-climbable, some were even by-passable but we kept to the water course to keep our impact on the canyon low. I opted to rappel in most spots as I am not a strong down-climber. The lower we descended, the more beautiful the canyon became.

This was the first rappel where everyone except Jake rappelled. It was about 30 feet and looked like a sheer overhang but Jake was able to down-climb it easily.

And the canyon gets deeper and darker the further we go.

Shortly after that last rappel we made it to the dry slot section of Mystery Canyon. This started out with a nice 50 foot rappel into a beautiful, fluted section of the canyon.

Rick teaching Tim how to rig an 8-Block at the second rappel in the slot section.

Jake backing off a ledge in the narrow section.

Looking up at Rick from the bottom of one of the rappels.

Rick doing his best to stay dry. There were small pools here and there in this section but it was largely dry.

There were a few more down-climbs and rappels in this dark, narrow section of the canyon. We moved through it pretty fast and I didn't get as many photos as I would have liked. Eventually it starts to open again as the canyon turns towards the Zion Narrows.

Sometime in the early 1970's, a massive landslide occurred in Mystery Canyon which created a large dam. Depending on recent rain, the upstream side of the dam can be a muddy mess or a full swim. Here's Jake and Tim starting into the ice-cold water.

The deepest part of the lake as we approach the landslide dam. It got just a bit deeper than you see. Rick said this was the most water he had ever seen here. Significant statement considering how many times he has been down Mystery.

Tim climbing up the landslide. It's cool to see the freshly broken rock. Even though it's 30-40 years old, it looks like it just barely happened.

We stopped on the sunny side of the dam to warm up and have lunch. The guys were pretty chilled by the icy water we just walked through.

Below the dam we came across one more rappel and some down-climbing obstacles before the canyon tightened up a bit again.

The narrow section ended abruptly at this daunting sight. The 115-foot rappel into Mystery Springs.

This rappel is kind of unique in the fact that you get such a dramatic look at it before getting on rope. There is also a steady breeze blowing you back at the edge which seemed to add a bit of drama to the scene. And last but not least, the rappel anchor is way out on this ledge. Sure, it's a pretty easy walk out there but the penalty for a slip on that slippery slope is certain death tumbling down the 115 foot cliff. Fortunately, there is a piece of webbing in place between two bolts that make for a great place to clip into for the walk out.

Jake rappelling into Mystery Springs.

Looking up at Tim as he rappels into Mystery Springs.

There are a few fun little obstacles below Mystery Springs, all made more fun by the fact that there is now flowing water in the canyon. I slacked on pulling out the camera for any of it though so the next shots I got were a few more minutes down canyon at the famous rappel down Mystery Falls into the Zion Narrows. This rappel is also about 115 feet. The fun part is that it's down a waterfall with loads of tourists at the bottom admiring how awesome we all are. That's Tim coming off the top of the rappel. The lighting was pretty bad.

After the rappel down Mystery Falls, we packed up the technical gear and started walking down the Zion Narrows. Surprisingly, these were the first people that we saw the entire day.

It was about a half mile down to the paved trail and then another mile to the shuttle stop where we piled in and took the slow ride back down to our camp at the Watchman Campground to rest up before the canyons over the next few days.

Mystery was an awesome canyon that definitely lived up to the hype. And aside from the Death Gully, it was easier than I had anticipated. This being my first big technical canyon, I didn't really know exactly what to expect. I can't wait to get out there and do it again. It seems like the first time through a canyon I tend to be more focused on the technical things going on and I might overlook some of the beauty of the canyon. It would also be really nice to take a longer day and actually try to get some good photos. I only got out my big camera once or twice on this trip so the photo quality is definitely not what I would have liked.


Jan 18, 2012
Loved this report. So jealous of your trips you took over this weekend. Can't wait to have the time to get out and do more things like this.


Dec 31, 2014
All I can say is wow! I wish I had the gear and knowledge to attempt something like that, it must have been truly amazing.
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