The Subway, Zion National Park – A Christmas Canyoneering Decent – 2012


The last couple years, Ramoo has put together a wondrous start to Freezefest doing a BIG canyon on Christmas Day – our contribution to the War on Christmas, I suppose. 2010 was Choprock, which I missed, being sick as a dog. 2011 was Imlay (Sneak), which I missed, being broken. This year we were gunning for Heaps (via Gunsight), but a major winter storm came in a week before Christmas, interrupting the warm, dry winter beginning. We looked for other possibilities. Something challenging, but not too challenging. We were not looking for an adventure (Yvon Chouinard: “It’s is not an adventure until something goes wrong”); we were looking for a fun, burly day out with maximum coolness and minimal risk. Considering the conditions, The Subway rose to the top, with perhaps a Russell or Das Boot start, depending on what we found when we got out there.

JZ, Tim Luke, Ram

JZ, Tim Luke, Ram

In for the adventure:  Jonathan Zambella, Luke Galyan, Tim Hoover, Steve Ramras and me, Tom Jones.

The Kolob Terrace road was snowpacked getting to the gate at the bottom of Maloney Hill. We left the car here at 6:38 am and hiked up the road in the dark. We left the packed snow and were postholing in the shin-deep snow starting at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead. We hoped to find less snow as we crested the ridge and started down into the Subway drainage, but found no such luck. Occasional patches of rock got enough sun to be snow-free, and we took advantage of one of these to change into wetsuits before dropping into Russell Gulch. Snow on the slickrock leading up to the slickrock pass would likely have made the regular Subway route harder than Russell, so we chose Russell. Down into the shade we went, with deeper snow, plenty of ice, and a small flow in the Gulch to keep the icewater from forming much of an ice layer.

Scrambling in Russell

Scrambling in Russell

The three raps in Russell proved challenging, being next to the small flow of really, really cold water. The first rap JZ anchored off a tree to the side, but the others were right next to the flow and very, very chilly. Somewhere in there, a slot choked with ice, not quite thick enough to hold our weight produced the dreaded swimming-while-breaking-ice condition, among the fastest ways to get cold to the core. Brief bits of sunlight provided brief bits of delight. Soon we were in the Subway itself, familiar territory, and not all that different than normal conditions, other than being colder.

Tim on the last rappel

Tim on the last rappel

Our traverse across the top and the slow pace of getting down Russell meant we were pressed for time. So we pushed through the Subway at a good pace, which also kept us somewhat warmer than really cold. A couple short raps, a couple short swims and we were out and down, and found a sunny rock to have a snack and change clothes. The walk out seemed much longer than usual, but we finally made it back to the parking lot just as it was getting fully dark. Happy, tired, grateful for not having an adventure. A good time was had by all – and for all but Ram, likely a semi-debilitated rest-day afterwards.


About Tom Jones

Tom is the progenitor of Tom's Utah Canyoneering Guide, Utah's premier canyoneering information resource, and Imlay Canyon Gear, America's #1 maker of canyoneering-specific gear. If he's not canyoneering, he's probably snuggled up with a good book.
Posted on Dec 26th, 2012 Canyoneering, The Subway, Tom Jones, Trip Report, Zion  ,

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