Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Zion Imlay Canyon Adventure

My sweet late Grandma was notorious for clipping things out of magazines and newspapers that reminded her of people she knew.  This little photo she clipped out of a travel magazine is one of my most prized possessions hanging in my home office.  She gave it to me sometime in college when I started to rock climb and rappel off cliffs.  I think she was trying to tell me something.  If she only knew what I was up to this weekend.  I miss you Grandma S.

Of all the technical slot canyons in Zion National Park, there are 3 that are considered the "holy trinity" by veteran canyoneers.  They are Heaps, Imlay and Kolob Creek.  These canyons have earned their respect for several reasons such as amount of time required to complete, certain advanced technical skills and overall high level of danger that can be encountered due to changing conditions related to weather and water in the canyon.  Today's adventure would start out @ 4AM in the morning hiking up the Angels Landing trail and heading west to Imlay Canyon.

The west rim trail is quite peaceful @ 4AM in the morning.  We used headlamps for a few moments heading up "Walters Wiggles" but for the most part relied on the beautiful Zion twilight.

There really is no trail to the head of "Imlay Canyon".  You basically follow your GPS and look for significant landmarks, one of which was called the "Cleaver".  This is Zion Canyon hiking at it's finest.

As you can see, there really is no trail.  The park service requires a special permit to access this canyon and only allows 1 party of a maximum of 6 people per day to enter.   Let's just say, we saw or heard no one until we reached the Zion Narrows.

The route description states "you will eventually come upon a large in your face wall.  This is the start of the technical slot canyon".  I guess we found it.

This first obstacle is known as the "log soup".  It is supposed to be really nasty when it's full of water.  We luckily hit it when it was dry.

We suited up into our "wet gear" and dropped into our first obstacle.  One of Imlay's most challenging features is it's large "pot holes".  These are large holes carved into the water course of the canyon that can be extremely difficult to climb out of during times of low water.  When they are full of water, you can generally just swim up to the edge and climb over.  

John B and Doug on the famous Imlay "tandem rappel"

This was one of the more difficult "pot holes" to climb out of.  It required the use of a "talon hook" which is basically like a rope ladder connected to a grappling hook.  Lionel and myself were a 2 man team in the front negotiating pot holes and setting up hand lines for the guys behind us.  There are many different methods for getting yourself out of potholes.  On several occasions, I was able to throw my pack over the lip of the hole until it lodged itself and I was able to climb up and over.

Doug on rappel.  One of the amazing features of this canyon is the endless green moss plastered on top of the dark sandstone.  Too bad my iPhone camera didn't do it justice.

Here I am at 13 hours into my day on the 2nd to last rappel of the canyon.  I was pretty much destroyed and ready for this adventure to end.  This was also a proud feeling knowing that we had just climbed up and over 8 or 9 slippery wet keeper potholes.

Top of the final 150 foot rap to the Zion Narrows just above Orderville Canyon. There is only 1 way out of here now.  This would prove to best one of the most epic rappels I have ever experienced.

My father-in-law rigging the final 150 footer to the bottom of the Narrows.

Now the easy part, kick into tourist mode and hike down the river to the shuttle.  Pizza and Noodle tasted mighty fine tonight.   After being awake for 16 hours, I was ready for 4 advil and a good nights sleep.  Englestead Hollow tomorrow.