Add Some Fun. While the normal route into The Subway is often called the "Russell Gulch Approach", it actually only crosses Russell Gulch rather than descending it. This variation descends the canyon with three rappels of 100 feet (30 m), adding a little technical interest and another nice section of canyon to the normal Subway Route.
This alternate approach adds about an hour to the route, for small groups. While the route is fairly straightforward, the rappels themselves have awkward starts and are not suitable for beginners.
Russell Gulch requires an additional permit to your Subway permit, has a group size limit of 6 and a daily quota of 12.
Russell Gulch is a variation that branches off the normal Subway approach before getting to the slickrock pass. It ends where Russell enters the Left Fork, just past where the normal approach descends a steep, sandy gully. Driving and most of the approach hike are the same as for The Subway from the Top – please refer to that description.
Follow the normal approach to the Subway to where it crosses Russell Gulch. Don't cross. Instead, traverse right (west) across the top of slabs, then down slickrock shelves and slabs to the canyon bottom. Find the path of minimum impact--stay on the slickrock as much as possible. Generally, the further you traverse to the right, the easier it is.
Traipse down Russell Gulch, occasionally wading through knee deep pools or scrambling over logs and rocks. The first rappel is soon found--100 feet (30 m) over a pothole and to the edge of a pool. Expect wading up to waist deep in all these pools. However, canyons have been known to change from time to time, so the rappels very well could end in swims.
All rappels in this canyon are bolted.
Continue downcanyon. A second rappel of 100 feet (30 m) is made down a steep wall and into a shallow pool.
Continue downcanyon. A third rappel may require some effort to get to. Steep slabs can be downclimbed on canyon left, or a short, dirty rap made from a large tree. Rappel the overhang to the slab below, about 100 feet (30 m).
Continue downcanyon. The last drop ends in a large pool near the confluence of Russell Gulch and the Left Fork. There is no convenient anchor, and the pool is often a skanky swimmer, so it is rarely done. From the top of the drop, follow a small trail up and left through the woods that leads to the bottom of the steep, sandy gully that is the normal Subway approach. Descend to the canyon floor, and continue down The Subway.
If continuing through The Subway, use the canyon description for The Subway from the Top.
A printable canyon descriptionand map you can take with you.
Have all Zion's classic canyonsin one convenient book.
Click on any map to browse a larger view, then right-click to save and print.
Upper Subway Map
Lower Subway Map
Deluxe maps are available in two formats:
• 1 Mb files in the Map Download Center, designed for printing on 11" x 17" paper • Canyoneering Maps for Purchase in the Canyoneering USA Store. Printed maps are 13" x 19", nicely presented on 24 lb. white paper.
Left and Right Forks
I first descended Russell Gulch in fall 2001, and have enjoyed it since about once every other year. It is good for adding a little spice to The Subway experience.
Russell Gulch and The Subway, 10/26/02 - Tom, Polly and Andrew enjoy a rainy fall day in the canyon.The Subway via Russell Gulch, Christmas Day 2012 - Tom, Ram, and friends kick of FreezeFest XI by descending The Subway via Russell Gulch.
Accident Reports from Zion: Canyoneering, by Tom Jones:
2002-332 - Zion NP (UT) - Rescue – Russell Gulch
On Tuesday, July 23rd, rangers conducted a demanding technical rescue of an injured hiker from Russell Gulch near the upper starting point for the popular Left Fork of North Creek, also known as The Subway. Garrett B., 19, of Perry, Utah, fell 30 feet while hiking with his parents and three friends and sustained a fracture to his lower right leg. The accident occurred around 3 p.m. - park dispatch was contacted at 7:15 p.m. Rangers organized a search and rescue team and hiked into the area, reaching B. about 9:30 p.m. Because of darkness, the technical nature of the planned extraction route, and the fact that it was not an immediate, life-threatening injury, rangers decided to wait until morning to make the rescue safer for all involved. They stayed with B. through the night, then began rescue operations at 6 a.m. the following morning. B. was secured to a litter and raised to the canyon rim via a 400-foot guiding line, then carried a quarter mile to where a helicopter could transport him to the Kolob Terrace Road. An ambulance transported B. to a hospital in St. George.
2002-451 - Zion NP (UT) - Rescue – Left Fork
The park's SAR team located and rescued a stranded Canadian couple from a ledge in Russell Gulch on Thursday, September 5th. Michael and Cynthia S. of British Columbia had obtained a permit to hike the popular Subway route two days previously. While hiking to the Subway, they strayed from their route and descended into Russell Gulch. They lowered themselves down the first rappel by webbing, which proved to be too short. Michael was unable to hold on; he slid down the webbing, then fell about 15 feet into a pool of water, sustaining burns on his hand and a laceration to the back of his head. Cynthia followed and received similar burns to her hands, a laceration around one eye, and an abrasion to one arm. The couple was then stuck on the ledge, unable to go up or down.
A helicopter was employed to find the S.s, but strong winds prevented it from being used to shuttle rescuers and gear to the site. Two SAR team members hiked to the site and determined the S.s were in good shape medically despite their falls. The rest of the SAR team arrived with rescue gear and extracted them from the gulch. They were brought back to their car, where the S.s opted to drive themselves to the Dixie Regional Medical Center to have their burns examined. This incident provided a good illustration of the importance of informing others about planned outings. The permit system provided the information needed to locate and rescue the lost and stranded hikers. (Editor's Note: it rained torrentially the night after their rescue.)
A Scare in Russell Gulch, November 2009 - Dewg blogs about how he methodically worked through the mistakes of his group and kept everyone alive.