Negotiating a small pool in Spry Canyon.
A Splendid Canyon. Located in the heart of Zion - the rugged approach and a bit of spicy downclimbing give Spry a more-serious air than many canyons at the same rating. Best done in spring or fall, or with an early start in summer.
Spry Canyon is not named on the map, but is the canyon between Twin Brothers and The East Temple, dropping into Pine Creek below Mount Spry. Mt. Spry is named for William Spry, third governor of Utah (1909-1917), and an early supporter of Zion National Park. He is most famous for signing the death warrant of labor organizer Joe Hill. The case generated international attention, with critics charging the trial and conviction were unfair.
Spry has a delightful slickrock approach, though its charms can be lost if it is hot out. After the slabby first rappel, Spry has about 10 mostly vertical rappels, some interesting downclimbs and a few swims, all but one of which can be avoided. In summer, after rainstorms, wear a wetsuit so the whole canyon can be enjoyed. The one mandatory swim is near the end and short - so wetsuits don't NEED to be carried if it is hot out. Spry is RELATIVELY safe from flashfloods, as there are escape spots after MOST of the rappels, and the catch-basin is small, requiring a direct hit from a thunderstorm. In 2010, a flash caught three canyoneers and swept them over a rappel, only one receiving serious injuries. Only outstanding performance by ZNP Ranger staff allowed for a successful, timely rescue.
Kip Marshall, creeping down 'The Flute Rappel', near the end in Spry. Photo: Shane Burrows
Fall - usually delightful. Wetsuits might be nice if it is chilly out.
Winter - a good choice for winter after an extended dry spell. The upper bowl holds snow and ice, and getting to the first rappel anchor can be blocked by ice.
Spring - like winter, recent snow and ice can make a descent challenging.
Summer - when hot, getting an early start can be essential to an enjoyable day.
Spry starts where Pine Creek crosses Highway 9 one third of a mile (500 meters) east of the main tunnel. There is poor parking at this spot - park closer to the tunnel at a real parking spot and walk the side of the road to the crossing of Pine Creek. The FIRST canyon coming from the south, east of the Tunnel is NOT Pine Creek - it is Shelf Canyon, and it does not lead anywhere useful. Continue past this to the major canyon that proceeds north with 15 minutes of walking on flat sand. On the map it can be seen that this is Pine Creek, while the creek beside the highway is called Clear Creek.
Spry ends in lower Pine Creek, where the highway crosses the creek on a beautiful masonry bridge and starts climbing toward the tunnel. This is 1/2 mile (800 meters) east of Canyon Junction. Spot a car here.
Malia and Bruce at the Tree with Handy Root.
The approach to the bowl of upper Spry is shared with Lodge Canyon. From Highway 9, follow social trails north into the bed of Pine Creek. Walk this wide and sandy wash about 15 minutes (1/2 mile, 800 meters) to where the canyon starts to narrow. Exit the bed of the canyon left up a 4th class slickrock watercourse and climb up and a little right several hundred feet to a bench. Follow the bench north then west into a slickrock bowl below the impressive south buttress of Deertrap Mountain. Climb the center of the bowl (4th class), then up and right to the top of the pass. Keep your eyes peeled for faint petroglyphs on a vertical orange wall a couple hundred feet below the pass.
From the top of the pass, looking west, left to right you see: the big peak of the East Temple; then the upper bowl of Spry Canyon; the Twin Brothers; a notch pass next to Twin Brothers; then a ridge leading up to Deertrap Mountain. From the top of the pass, traverse right and slightly down toward the slot pass and to the head of a narrow slot that cuts across the slope below. Climb into the head of the slot and, pushing through some brush, follow the slot half way to the canyon floor. When the slot gets brushy, exit to the right and descend steep broken slabs to easier terrain. You are now in the upper bowl.
Descend the watercourse between huge, colorful walls. The canyon winds its way through trees and brush, soon arriving at a lovely slickrock bowl. Downclimb to a bolt anchor, then rappel (R1) 165 feet (50m) past a swampy pothole to the ground.
The canyon again winds its way through a delightful forest. A couple of small potholes lead to a mossy area of short drops in the canyon bottom, usually downclimbed. Stay in the watercourse. The second drop is tall, but yields easily to the "elevator" technique – staying back in the corner and using outward pressure to control one's slide. Or rappel off a tree. The last drop into a dark slot requires a rappel off the most solid of the abundant debris. The dark slot may require a little wading.
After another mellow section, the canyon gets going. Moderate downclimbing is interspersed with about 10 rappels. In one spot, a narrow slot is down-slid elevator-style, then a pool delicately stemmed over. After an interesting rappel, the canyon opens out, then a slabby slope is downclimbed by cutting right. This leads down to a bolt anchor for a 90-foot (27 m) rappel into a black slot. The edge here has been cut up badly by canyoneer's ropes – don't get your rope stuck in one. Soon after, a block allows rappelling into a hidden pool in a slot. This is not to be missed. Swim the pool, then continue the rappel (total 30 m or 100 feet) down a second drop, off the same anchor. The rope pull is much easier than it looks. (Var: those wishing to avoid swimming can rappel off a large tree directly to the large sandy area below.)
Toward the end, a diagonal rappel is made to gain the top of a flute, thus avoiding dropping into a skanky pool. Most of the anchors in Spry are bolted - certainly no more bolts are required.
Finally, the canyoneer downclimbs (4th class) a scary-looking, narrow slot (easier with pack off) into a pool (ankle to nose deep, depending) to a 100 foot (30m) rappel to a ledge. The final rap is made by climbing up and left onto a shelf, and rapping off a tree to the top of the talus.
Maria-Isabel Pascual raps down the first flute.
Work your way directly down the watercourse (large blocks) to a big ledge with a 90-foot (27 m) drop, the Lambs Point Tongue layer of Navajo Sandstone. Rappel (the usual) or follow the ledge right to a landslide, then back to the watercourse under the drop. Avoid the copious poison ivy in this area. Descend to Pine Creek. Turn right and walk out Pine Creek to the bridge.
Felicia Bicknell rapping the Lambs Point Tongue, Spry Canyon. Photo: Jim Malette