Looking down from the final rappel 300' to Upper Emerald Pool
The Big Kahuna. Heaps is a truly wonderful canyon, but it is also BIG. Deep inside the mountain, it is dark, wet, sinuous and moody. When really wet, it is fast and cold, and such a blast! When the water levels go down, keeper potholes start appearing, and as the level continues descending, more and more potholes require effort to get out of. I have seen as many as 14 potholes that required significant effort to get out of.
Heaps can be very physical, which is why a one-day descent with less gear makes a lot of sense to me. The extra 5 or 6 lbs to bivy, carried through the canyon, adds up to a greatly increased effort over the course of the day. There are decent bivy spots in Phantom Valley before suiting up, at the Crossroads and near the end, on flat sandy shelves above the watercourse.
Heaps saves the best for last – a series of raps culminating in a 280-foot free-hanging the whole way rappel, with the wall at least 50 feet away. AWESOME, and something you want to be alert for.
William Heap, John Rolf and Isaac Behunin were the first European settlers in upper Zion Canyon. In 1863, Isaac Behunin built a cabin near the current location of Zion Lodge and established a farm. The cabin was used to tend fields on a seasonal basis. Heap and Rolf moved in a few years later, Heap establishing his cabin and farm west of the river, north of the Emerald Pool stream.
First recorded complete descent: October 1982, Norman Harding and Royce D. Trapier, after substantial preparation by Dennis Turville and Mike Bogart in 1981.
Exiting the Upper (Phantom Valley) Narrows
Summer and Fall are the only practical times to do Heaps. Once it stops flowing from snowmelt in the Spring, it can be done (but then, we call that summer).
The big variable for Heaps is the current water levels and how it effects pothole escapes. Snowmelt fills the canyon in the spring, and thunderstorms refill it. Hot summer weather will pull the water out of it, and several weeks without rain can result in difficult conditions. Ask the backcountry desk and other knowledgable sources for "current conditions".
OverviewHeaps can be approached either from the Valley Floor via the West Rim Trail, or from Lava Point. Both approaches take about 4 hours, but the Lava Point approach uses considerably less energy than climbing 3000 feet (900m) from the valley floor.
Option A: From Lava PointThis approach uses less energy, but does require a car spot. Follow the West Rim Trail south 6.5 miles (10.4 km) past Potato Hollow to a trail junction. The West Rim Trail splits here: take the right branch to continue along the West Rim. Walk 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to around campsite #4, then leave the trail and follow escarpment edge another 1/8 mile to the top of a ridge, between an amphitheater on the left and Phantom Valley on the right.
Option B: From the Main Canyon FloorFrom the Grotto, skip up the Angels Landing / West Rim trail 4.3 miles (7 km), gaining 3000 feet (900m) en route to West Rim Spring. This is a very small spring providing reliable water, but it requires treatment. Take the "Rim Route" (left fork) of the West Rim Trail 1.3 miles to around campsite #4. Leave the trail and follow the escarpment edge another 1/8 mile to the top of a ridge, between an amphitheater on the left and Phantom Valley on the right.
The ridge is at UTM NAD83: 12S 323930mE 4128070mN.
From the Ridge
Looking into Phantom Valley from the first rappelWork your way down the ridge, carefully following small social trails to avoid the worst of the brush. Progress on the ridge is soon blocked by a short cliffband. A small tree with slings above a dirt and gravel slope provides a possible rappel anchor, but a cleaner rappel can be found by stepping west 10 feet (3 m) over a rock ridge and slinging a block (may require a long sling). Rap 65 feet (21 m) to the ground. Continue down the ridge, downclimbing on the left side when needed. Delicately climb an exposed, crumbling knife-edge ridge to a large tree on the right. Rap from a tree 205 feet (62 m) to the high point of the ground, 20 feet (6 m) right of a large Ponderosa Pine. Alternatively, rappel to a tree on the face below, and rappel from there to the ground. Bag the ropes and walk down the slope to the slickrock, then follow the ridge all the way to the bottom of the wash. Walk the wash one hour to where it drops into a dark slot, then suit up.*****
A small keeper in the first narrowsPhantom Valley Narrows After a few walking and wading sections, the real fun begins with a rappel through a series of beautiful pools. After a few rap 'n swims, the canyon opens up briefly, before closing in for another pool-drop section. When full, this section is easy and fun. When the water is a little lower, as many as eight challenging pothole escapes may be required.The canyon then opens up and works its way through a section with canyons coming in on both sides. This is The Crossroads. Escape to the south out Isaac is Canyon is possible from here, if needed. Traverse around a pothole and rappel off a tree. A few minutes of hiking takes you to the Long Sandy Corridor. At the end of the Corridor, the canyon turns sharply left and plunges into darkness.
The author wading through dark narrowsSecond NarrowsThe next section of narrows is long and intense. Work your way through it. Near the end, there are potential bivy spots high and left, above the streamcourse for most conditions. Strenuous climbing, pack tosses, ingenuity and, as a last resort, drilling and hooking may be required to pass the numerous difficulties.Many hours later, the intense narrows relent and the huge, smooth face of Lady Mountain can be seen on the right. A flat sandy corridor leads to a flat rock and a plunging slot on the left. The flat rock is often used to remove dry suits and prepare for the final rappel sequence.
Final Descent Take a look down the slot on the left. This is NOT the exit; a rappel from the lip of this slot is about 500 feet to the ground. Instead, climb a sandy chimney on the right (30 feet (10m), 5.4) to the crest of a lump. A small human descends the yawning last rappelDownclimb a slot over the other side to a small tree. Rap carefully 60 feet (18 m) down a slot to an exposed sloped ledge at a large tree. Be careful not to release any of the loose blocks perched in the slot, as there are tourists below visiting the Upper Emerald Pool.>From the large tree, rappel 165 feet (50 m) to a small ledge in the chimney. There is some loose rock on this rap too. Do NOT underestimate this rappel: it is vertical and very exposed the entire length.From the small ledge, rappel 280 feet (90 m) free to the talus below. Carefully rig the final rappel. There is a lot of poison ivy at the base of the rappel; avoid touching it.
From the landing area at Upper Emerald Pool, pack up your things and stroll down the Emerald Pools Trail to Zion Lodge, about 30 minutes. Alternatively, those you left a vehicle at The Grotto may return there via the Kayenta Trail.
Note: There is an "Escape from Heaps," via Isaac Canyon from the Crossroads, for those who may need to escape poor conditions in Heaps. See Isaac Canyon via the The Gunsight for the description.
Steve Brezovec descending past the streaks walls of the Heaps Canyon exit
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Heaps Canyon & Isaac Canyon
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Zion: Central Canyons and Trails
My first trip through Heaps was in summer 2000 with Scott Holley. Quite an adventure! In 2001, we hit it twice: in June with Bill Briggs and Buzz Burrell (plus Scott and Tom), and again a month later with Hank Moon and Alicia Scotter, which proved to be very difficult in low-water conditions. Since those initial years, I tend to hit Heaps once or twice a year. I usually do it as a one-day event, but have bivied on the rim once (Campsite 4, it sucked) and in Phantom Valley twice (quite nice). I have only once descended the Gunsight Canyon start, when we descended Isaac Canyon in 2005, opting for the Phantom Valley approach all other times.
Heaps and Imlay in a Day, 9/23/06 - My own personal "Jihad" against the idea I might be getting old. Still got something in the ol' ticker. A Late Season Heaps, 10/26/09 - A foursome heads out for one-day Heaps descent in gorgous conditions. Most of us are at the Upper Emerald Pool before dark.
From Canyoneering: Zion, by Tom Jones
2002-143 - Zion NP (UT) – Rescue – Heaps Canyon
On Sunday, April 28th, Dave H. and his companions were descending Heaps Canyon. They were completing their descent when H. lost control on the final, 300-foot rappel. Park dispatch was notified of an injured person near Upper Emerald Pools. The SAR team was immediately dispatched. The first ranger reached H. just before 8 p.m. and found that he was suffering from head, back and leg injuries. Two park medics stabilized him, and an EMS helicopter from Page was dispatched to the park to assist with the evacuation. The SAR team began the evacuation around 10 p.m., carrying H. across a boulder field and down the Emerald Pools trail to the trailhead. He was flown to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George.
(Sourced by direct communication with Zion SAR staff.)
Heaps, 10/20-21, 2001, by Steve Brezovec and Scott Holley"Heaps Through the Eyes of a Beginner," 6/23/07, by Luke Galyan
Descents by Dennis TurvilleThe Devil’s Pit by Royce Trappier 1991 Heaps Canyon Decent, or In Search of the Devils Pit by Gordon Worsfold and Lori WebbEscape from Heaps by Steve RamrasRescuer or Rescuee? by Tom JonesHeaps Rescue, 6/2/06, as reported by the National Park Service and Tom JonesHeaps... Revisited! by Randi Poer A Sh***y Trip in Heaps by Dave Black
Heaps Canyon at Bluu Gnome