Surprise Canyons in Zion

One of the stellar alcove rappels in Pine Creek

This last week we drove out to Zion for a “Surprise, Rad Outdoor Girls Trip” for my partner Sadie. We joked about how she was like our dog Piton when he gets in the car, “No idea where they are going, but stoked for the adventure”. Things kicked off to a good start when ten minutes after we arrived at our basecamp in Virgin, her sisters unexpectedly (for her) walked through the door. I haven’t seen someone this surprised in a while where it hits multiple times. First confusion, then some realization, then back to disbelief. Very fun! After a couple days, the sisters left for home and our canyon friends showed up. Throughout the week we’ll have added two more canyon descents to our dog’s tick-list, descended four ourselves, gotten great views on a multi-pitch and had hundreds of laughs.

Kicking it off

The 2nd 80ft rappel down Yankee Doodle

We spent a chiller beginning of the week with descent down the easy Yankee Doodle Canyon (3B 2r 73ft), an often guided and beginner friendly canyon. I tried to avoid looking too closely at inexperienced large parties wearing bicycle helmets and using parachord as a pull chord. Big surprise this day was a random rock fall (animal generated?) which occurred right above us at the top of a rappel where I got winged on my shoulder. I thought the canyon was so chill I chose to wear my adventure hat instead of my helmet that day and this was a good reminder how you cannot control everything in technical sports in the outdoors. Luckily, it was just a medium-laceration with some pain instead of any joint injury. It could have been a head injury if it was a few inches in another direction.

The next day we went out to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary which I was highly recommended since it’s a very large scale shelter for pets of all ages and temperaments (1300 animals). However, it turned out to be kinda an infrastructure tour with 1.5 hrs of looking at buildings from the outside instead of seeing those actual facilities or their animals. In the Grand Sanctuary Tour, we only got out twice to see one Catville building and one building with a few pigs so we were kinda let-down and I wouldn’t actually recommend.

The rest of the week was pretty canyon-heavy where we got a decent experience in “Water: B” canyons in Zion: Beautiful slots, plenty of captured water, wet or dry suits, not very long with super chill bolted anchor stations. Pine Creek was definitely the standout for me.

Pine Creek Canyon (3B II 8r 100ft)

Five out of five star canyon with super aesthetic, fun rappels and a cool slot canyon environment. We wore dry suits but most wore wetsuits. I misjudged the first hop into the canyon and submerged at the start!

Walking through the dark slots
40 ft swim, not able to touch the bottom
Fantastic Last rappel

Water Canyon (3B III 14r 170ft)

We did about 2/3 of the rappels since we wanted to avoid cold water gear this day and we had our dog. It was a very chill canyon, more open than most Zion canyons. Weirdest part of the day was re-routing a random, panic’d dog without a human at the top of one of the rappels trying follow a guided group down.

Entering the canyon after the hike up
Piton on Rappel!
Whole crew at work!

Keyhole Canyon (3B I 3r 30ft)

I never considered Keyhole because it was too short, but was told it was amazing from people in-the-know. It may be short, but it’s full value with very fun stemming and longer slot sections. Wore a wetsuit and was just fine, only swimming was optional at the end when the watercourse was easily escapable

Optional swim at end

Other Cool Stuff

The rest of the ladies also went on a pretty cool looking hike through Kanarra Falls which was like a little narrows river walk within tall slotty walls.

We ended the trip on a quick climb up Led by Sheep (5.6 4p 800ft) which was the sandiest climb I’ve ever done with maybe 10 small hand holds over 800 ft. It was grippy with 50 ft runouts and typically decent feet. I’d summarize it as fantastic views, poor climbing.

Top of Pitch 3, the last full pitch before summit
View from summit
Finishing up the day, walking back from base anchor point


Overall it was a very fun week and we really made it work with our dog despite being so close to a National Park. The little guy descended two more canyons with us and only had to go to daycare once. I felt like it was the perfect week around Sadie’s preferences which was more chill than our typical trips canyoneering: half days, relaxed pace, ample showers and non scary technical objectives.

Piton was a great sport!

It’s always great to get out to the desert in the shoulder seasons for some sandstone reds and oranges. It was also fun to do some canyons with more water in them to get that deep, dark slot experience and some practice in cold water. The anchor/approach situation felt so chill compared to our Death Valley trips and I could just enjoy my time instead of constantly doing route finding and risk assessment. 

  • Zion: Bolted anchors, rappels often much less than 100 ft, solid rock, conditions info, you see people
  • Death Valley: Cairn anchors, many 100-200 ft rappels, loose rock or hard dirt, no condition info, never seen another canyoneer

A very good and successful trip: 4 canyons, 1 multi-pitch and lots of good vibes.

Accurately captures the trip’s vibe