Winter Canyons: Behunin and Echo, Zion National Park


A nuptial occasion brought an acquaintence from back east out to Zion for the weekend. Rather than spend Sunday sitting around eating, he suggested maybe a little canyoneering venture was appropriate. I'm always game as long as things are theoretical, so quickly agreed. As the date approached, I rounded up a partner for Saturday also, and the weather report looked good. Not so the weather in Salt Lake as I hit the road Friday night. The snowstorm did not let up till past Nephi and got me worried.

Mornings in Zion begin at the Mean Bean, where Joe serves up Springdale’s primo Java.

Mornings in Zion begin at the Mean Bean, where Joe serves up Springdale’s primo Java.

Meeting up with me there was Dean Kurtz, an EMT and SAR-type from Kanab.

Meeting up with me there was Dean Kurtz, an EMT and SAR-type from Kanab.

We selected Behunin Canyon as our target, because most of the canyon faces south and it is not too long. The day was bright and sunny, and promised to be very nice, so we loaded up the gear and headed up the Angel's Landing Trail.

Looking down on Big Bend, with Angels Landing looming above.

Further along, we passed the snowed over North Face of Cathedral Mountain, and first suspected that we might be in for a little of the cold, white stuff.

… and exit from Upper Telephone Canyon…

… and into the very-north-facing canyon leading up to Behunin Pass, which was in skiable shape, if you like dust on crust.

Thankfully, after we crested the pass, the slabs into Behunin Canyon were sunny and dry. Pushing through the brush in the bottom of the canyon, got our feet a little wet on the way to the first set of rappels. Where the canyon turned east, the slabs were covered with snow and ice. A small flow graced the bottom of the watercourse. Thankfully, the dicey traverse out to the big tree was sunny and dry.

After a few raps, we joined the watercourse for the usually scenic and warm, now scenic and cold, calico rap.

Lower in the canyon, we replaced messes of slings on two anchors with chains, and placed a new bolt to provide an anchor where the little tree usually used is starting to show some wear.

The Sandy Corridor offered delightful ice water wading up the calf deep. We were very grateful it did not get any deeper.

We reached the end of Behunin Canyon about an hour before dark, only to find the weather turning for the worse – a small snowstorm just starting.

The final rappels avoided MOST of the ice cold water dribbling out of the canyon. These rappels would definitely be a major problem if the canyon was really flowing. ... which put us on the ground just as it was getting kinda dark. Pulling the ropes took half an hour, then we quickly found the trail and returned to the car for a few Sierra Nevada IPAs.

Morning found a few inches of new snow on the high mountains. I met Charles Wyman from New York at the Mean Bean and we decided the original plan to do Spry was out. Maybe heading up to Echo Canyon and wading up the middle section 'as far as it works out' would not be too bad.

We drove out to Weeping Rock and enjoyed the looming wetness of Cable Mountain.


… and The Great White Throne.

A little snow made the trail more interesting, and reaffirmed our decision not to try the 4th class slickrock required to get to Spry.

The aerobic work of climbing a steep trail got us warm and psyched up. Here I am looking very enthusiastic.

Charles was sporting a Kokotat drysuit, while I was wearing a doubled up summer wetsuit, hoping the water would be no more than waist deep.

Here, Charles is charging into the first section of narrows, breaking the inch thick ice with his knees. When the water got over 5 feet deep, Charles started floating away, but I bailed. Ice water seeping into my suit was too much!

We walked around the first section of narrows, and descended slabs into the second. Which looked a little better. Here Charles uses a strategically placed log to stay above the water.

Further in, the ice was thick enough to actually walk atop, a welcome relief from freezing our feet in the water.

We were able to get in a few turns before a deep pool and our screaming-with-pain toes turned us back. Though the trip was short, experiencing how quickly the ice water turns your feet completely numb was revealing. Zion is sublime in the snow.

Back on the valley floor, we noted that the very dry summer plus winter storms had knocked down an enourmous number of trees. The usually lush Zion Canyon floor will be looking a little sparse next summer.

Nothing to do, but Hit the Road back to Salt Lake

Quiz of the Week: what is that ring of dirt?