OBSTACLES AND TECHNIQUES
It was possible to enter the Great West Canyon with confidence, because we knew that the mountaineering equipment which we carried was adequate for the descent of any cliff or waterfall which we might encounter. Stereoscopic aerial photographs of the route had been obtained and studied some months prior to the trip. These we calibrated by the topographic map, so that routes across open slopes could be judged as to steepness. Discontinuities as small as ten feet are distinguishable. In some places, the closeness of canyon walls prevent a stereoscopic effect. In others, overhanging walls prevent any view whatsoever. However, it is possible to judge the vertical drop of an unseen section, and hence to ascertain the maximum height of any invisible cliff.
The route for the descent into the Great West Canyon, from the saddle between It and Wildcat Canyon, was chosen so as to avoid several potential drops in the streambeds (see map). The potholes which prevented further penetration along the Canyon floor had been only imperfectly visible in the canyon on the aerial photos because of the narrow walls. However, it should be emphasized that the potent feature of the potholes is neither their depth nor the drop between adjacent ones, but the awful number of them. It is quite impossible to expend the time necessary for rope descent of an interminable number of short drops in a position where the slightest rain shower could have dire consequences.
The decision to take a higher route (on The Shelf) was again aided by the previous photographic study. The more natural-seeming choice might well be the east wall of the canyon, with its apparent traverse at the level of Phantom Valley. However, unseen V-shaped gulleys coming down from the West Rim cut this traverse, in such a way as to make it quite difficult for a party with packs. The route along The Shelf is easy in itself, the only problem being the descent back into the canyon. It would appear that some ropework is necessary at most possible points of descent. The dry waterfall at the end of The Shelf may be the easiest route back into the canyon. This route follows the water for the first hundred feet, where the slope is not too steep, then traverses off to the left before the stream plunges over the final drop. The route chosen rejoins the waterfall at a pool approximately 20 feet above the canyon floor. The last drop to the streambed is a difficult climb even without a pack, but a fallen tree made it much easier. It appears that the streambed might be reached at a point somewhat upstream without any difficulty.
The climb to or from The Shelf is not technically difficult. However, a rope belay should be used for three reasons:
awareness of the abyss could incapacitate an inexperienced
The drop which was rigged below Deer Knob was the only one which was really unclimbable on the whole trip, and it was less than 20 feet high. The rappel rope was passed through a descending ring tied to a log at the top. A loop of nylon cord was left hanging through the ring, so that the rope could be restrung if it became necessary for the party to return by this route. As stated earlier, however, it is quite likely that this drop can be avoided by going over Deer Knob.
The Black Pool is only a minor obstacle, except in cold weather when it might be undesireable to get soaked. It is advisable to have some flo- tatlon aid, such as an air mattress, as well as plastic bags to keep essential items dry in case of upset.
Bolts were placed as rappel anchors at the Alcove and at Barrier Falls. These were not the usual bolts used in mountaineering. It is common to use bolts such as the Rawl studs, which consist of a rod which, has been bent or split. These are driven into a hole of the same diameter as the rod, and held in place by pressure against the side of the hole. SUCH BOLTS CANNOT BE USED IN THE SOFT SANDSTONE OF ZION PARK! The stone is too soft and it crumbles at the contact point. The correct bolts use conical wedges to expand a split lead sheath. Such bolts require a hole at least one-half inch in diameter, which is why they are not conmonly used. Each anchor point was tied to two bolts for safety.
(Editor's Note: sounds like someone was already using the Rawl split-shank buttonhead studs, a few of which can still be found in various Zion Canyons)
Barrier Falls can be climbed from below. However, the climb is extremely hazardous without mountaineering equipment. The easiest route is up a vertical crack to the left of Photo 18, then by a traverse to a point on the wall about 20 feet above the top of the falls. The traverse is along an outward sloping ledge which shows signs of being a seep line at some times of the year. As a result, the rock is exfoliating in thin sheets. There are no good handholds, and the footholds are crumbling.
In some ways, our group of eight was a large group for this type of trip. Whenever an obstacle requiring ropework or pack hauling was encountered, we were slowed considerably. There is no doubt that a party of three who knew where they were going could follow our route in two days, weather permitting. A future party would also be spared the burden of carrying two gallons (16 pounds) of water each, which brought all of our packs above 50 pounds at the start of the trip.
Water was much easier to find along our route than we had anticipated. There is an unlimited amount of clear fresh water from the spring at the Alcove to the end of the trip. Along the jeep trail near the head of Wildcat Canyon there is a stock tank fed by a spring of unknown reliability. Inbetween there are a number of sources of water of varying potability.
Wildcat Spring is the best of these sources. The water is somewhat discolored and is teeming with insect life. However, it is definitely fresh. The flow was quite small, but the series of pools, about a half dozen in all, would hold water for some time after the flow stopped. The pool in Photo 4 is waist deep. Another, not shown, is several times as large. There is a layer of sand of unknown depth in each pool from which water could be dug even if no free water remained. After the pools, the water sinks into sand and is gone.
The end of June corresponds to the end of one of the drier seasons in Zion. Although there were light afternoon rains on the second and third days of the trip, we did not see water flowing before we reached the Alcove except a minute amount along The Shelf which drains a large area of slickrock.
For this reason, we believe that there is probably always stagnant water in the Potholes. One of the ones in Photo 7 was measured to be eight feet deep. Others farther on appeared to be deeper, and were so deeply set that they never receive direct sunlight.
The Black Pool is another source of dark water which is quite dependable. There was also a small pool of foul water at the base of Deer Knob and a rather soapy-looking pool at the base of the Shelf waterfall. The latter is located 20 feet above the streambed and would be missed by any party which had not climbed down at that point. It probably is cleaned out by a lesser rainstorm than the others in that vicinity, and may be less full of organic matter.
Water from any of the pools except Wildcat Spring may require more than halazone tablets before drinking. In a test of the water from the pool below Deer Knob, fiye times the specified number of tablets did not kill allot the small wiggly creatures in the water overnight. Of course, some insects come to the surface for their oxygen. It is advisable to make a cloth or paper filter to strain the water before treatment.
Deer were seen in Wildcat Canyon and along The Shelf. There is abundant evidence of their presence in the Great West Canyon also.
A Great Horned Owl was observed in the streambed in the late afternoon near the second campsite. The fact that he was sitting on a log in broad daylight suggests the absence of large predators in the bottom of the Great West Canyon. Canyon wrens, a Sparrow Hawk, Whitethroated Swifts and Dippers were also observed.
Several rattlesnakes were seen. Many small, fast lizards seen. Wildcat Spring was full of tadpoles, but no adult frogs or toads were seen. The region below the Alcove was alive with small white toads. Below Barrier Falls the stream was full of trout.
RECOMMENDATION FOR FUTURE USE OF THE AREA
By the end of the trip we were convinced that we had traversed a magnificent and pristine wilderness of great beauty and extraordinary interest. Feeling was unanimous among us that the highest and best use of the entire area would be preservation for all time as the wilderness it is today. We had proved by our traverse that the area is accessible to the sportsman, and that it contains an abundance of the unique beauty with which Zion National Park is endowed.
Therefore, we would strongly urge the National Park Service to recommend the entire drainage basins of the Left and Right Forks of North Creek within the Park, including all of Wildcat Canyon and the Great West Canyon, as an unbroken wilderness area under the terms, of the Wilderness Act of 1964.
We would like to recommend that additional exploration in the area by competent parties should be encouraged. Because we were too short on time to explore all side canyons on the route, quite a bit of unknown ground awaits future exploration in this part of the Park. From Barrier Falls upstream to the Wildcat Canyon Divide, persons venturing into the area should be experienced in basic technical rock climbing skills, including rappelling and all phases of ropework including bolt placement. The direction of travel we took is far easier than the reverse direction, and a trip upstream from Barrier Falls, even only as far as the Alcove, could be a tricky proposition. Because of the skills required, it is unlikely that a full traverse of the Great West Canyon will ever come to rival the Narrows trip in popularity with Park visitors. However, it is quite possible that in a few years a dozen or more groups a year will apply to make the trip.
At present, strong hikers with some appreciation of desert travel may wish to make short excursions from either end of the traverse. From the upper end, a two-day hike into Wildcat Canyon might appeal to backpackers looking for a new view of the Park. Wildcat Spring could ease water problems in an emergency, but its water could possibly be treated before drinking. Hikers with no climbing equipment or experience should probably not venture far beyond the divide between Wildcat Canyon and the Great West Canyon, and the overlook of the Great West Canyon from the divide would make an excellent objective of such a hike. Hikers would have to carry their own water.
A more satisfactory hike from nearly all points of view would be upstream from Sunset Canyon Ranch as far as Barrier Falls. The hiking, while, a bit rough, is not particularly hazardous and the series of waterfalls leading up to Barrier Falls are extremely picturesque. A good natural campsite exists just downstream from this series of falls. The stream runs all year and contains good drinking water, so the hiker need not carry his own supply. There is little or no danger from flood waters here, since the canyon walls are far apart, as they are in the tourist portion of Zion Canyon. It should be noted that there is currently an access problem via the Sunset Canyon Ranch, and the ranch owner does not wish to be disturbed. We obtained permission to cross his land (which is the only really easy way into and out of the Great West Canyon to the Kolob Reservoir Road) probably only due to the novelty of the trip and our promise to supply information on what we found in the canyon. In the event of increased traffic, the Park Service would have to find and mark an alternative way from the road down to the stream giving the ranchlands a wide berth.
As visitor pressure increase on the trail system in Zion Park, the Park Service may someday be inclined to construct trails in this portion of the Park. If this should ever be the case, we would once again strongly urge that the wilderness values of the area be given precedent, and that any trails be of a primitive and modest kind. In any case, we feel strongly that all formal trails should be excluded from the narrow portions of the Great West Canyon from Barrier Falls to the divide with Wildcat Canyon. Like the Narrows of Zion Canyon, this part of the Great West Canyon could only be ruined by any attempt to "tame" it and make it accessible to the casual hiker. The canyon is so narrow and difficult that a simple trail would wash away and an elaborate one would dominate and deface the canyon.
The Alcove is one of the finest natural features in the Park and fully deserves a B.O.R. IV classification in the Park master plan.
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