Wet & Fun, or Dangerous? Kolob Canyon is one of the grand adventures in Zion, invested with an unfortunate history in part because of its special situation. On July 15, 1993, two youth-group leaders drowned while trying to descend Kolob Canyon in high water conditions. Three leaders and five teenagers were on a four-day descent of Kolob Canyon that coincided with a substantial release from the dam. After a four-day wait, the six survivors were located and rescued on July 19th. The subsequent lawsuit is largely responsible for the technical canyoneering permit system in Zion today.
So is Kolob wonderful and fun, or dangerous and extreme? It can be either. Kolob must be respected, but the 1993 leader made serious blunders leading directly to his death. The flow in Kolob Creek is controlled by a dam at Kolob Reservoir, several miles upstream from the technical narrows. The group entered the canyon when the flow was too high for their technical skills – maybe anyone's skills.
Dam controlled flow has interesting consequences. Except in deep drought, a small flow is maintained through the canyon, so the pools stay full and cold. Water is released to supply irrigators downstream, and when the water is flowing, the technical narrows are impassable, even to those with advanced technical skills. The volume of water released is a major flood for this small canyon. Potential Kolob-ers must first call the Washington County Water Conservancy District (435-673-3617) and determine the current release rate from the Kolob Reservoir Dam. Flows of 3-5 cfs will prove challenging to most canyoneers. Flows above 5 cfs are too high to safely descend the canyon. A Zion Park canyoneering permit is required.
What is Kolob like? After a brief walk through the woods, the canyoneer rappels into a pocket garden. A hundred feet further on, the canyon starts a drop of 700 feet through numerous pools. A total of 12 rappels are made, many into crystal clear, deep green pools followed by short swims and climb-outs to the next anchor. The canyon is incised deeply, with delightful grottos and wonderful light reflecting off the walls. From the bottom of the technical section, the canyoneer can make the long hike out to the Narrows and the Temple of Sinawava, or can ascend the steep and strenuous MIA Trail.
Most parties will take 4 hours to complete the technical section, and will be in the water for most of this time. Drysuits or 7mm wetsuits are required for descending Kolob. Do NOT underestimate the power of cold water to kill you. While the technical difficulties in Kolob are few, the long exposure to cold water makes Kolob a step up in difficulty and danger compared to most of Zion's canyons. This makes it good preparation for the continuity of cold water found in Imlay and Heaps.
Anchors are bolted except a few raps off logs and trees near the start. In drought conditions, some of the pothole exits might be difficult; be prepared to do pack tosses, partner-assists and, as a last resort, drilling and hooking to exit the potholes. Most rappels require a floating disconnect; be sure everyone in your party is trained in this skill before entering the canyon, and bring a spare rap device or two. A few of the rappels chain together two or three pools, and it is important to understand this technique. Rappel into the first pothole and either disconnect or pull through a bunch of slack. Swim across and exit the pothole, then go back on rappel and rap into the next pothole. When all canyoneers are down, the rope is pulled from the lowest pothole. Care must be taken by the last canyoneer that the rope is untwisted and will pull easily. When descending Kolob, be sure to locate the next anchor before pulling the ropes.