Jacob Canyon: A Zion Canyoneering Gem Hidden in Plain Sight
Brian had done it. Kip had done it. Jonathan had done it. Ram had done it, but I hadn't done it. Looking forward to a second edition of the guidebook, I really ought to do it, even though they had made it sound not-so-appealing. When Bailey, a fellow ZAC guide, suggested we do a canyon this spring, Jacob Canyon seemed like a good choice. Bailey is strong and competent, and doing Jacob would be fairly close to a first descent, since the canyon is rarely done. We loaded up the packs with a 300' rope and bolt kit, just in case, and headed out. Jacob Canyon starts with a short approach, in a way. Technically, it is only 1-1/8 mile to the summit of Lady Mountain, but it IS 2700 feet of gain in that distance. Thankfully the day was somewhat cool, so it was blistering hot for only the last 700 feet or so. We had a lunch at the top, then picked out the most-reasonable-looking route for getting down into the canyon.
Down the side of the mountain, we went. Brief sections of downclimbing alternated with rappelling through brush from trees. Old slings indicated that others had been this way before, which offered encouragement. Finally, we rigged up off a stout Serviceberry Tree and rapped 210 feet into the cool confines of the canyon. Bailey did an excellent job of retrieving the rope without it getting stuck, something it was wont to do.
The canyon bottom was lush with spring vegetation, including a bit of poison ivy that was deftly avoided at times with same acrobatic boulder hopping. A few short rappels punctuated long sections of scenic walking. A mid-canyon 170 foot rappel was a scenic treat. After a couple hours, the canyon ahead gave way to air, and the Court of the Patriarchs could be seen below. With 500 feet of air below, we downclimbed 3rd class ledges for 150 or 200 feet to where the canyon REALLY dropped off. A four-tawdry-bolt anchor showed where at least some had rappelled before.
We re-rigged the anchor using a good chockstone and the only bolt that had anchor-value, and I rigged up and crawled to the edge. Just over the edge, I noted that the rope pulled into a rope-eating crack, and let Bailey know she would need to stuff something in this crack to keep the rope from getting stuck. Mis-reading the beta indicated the rap would be 130 feet to a ledge with a piton anchor - but we brought a 300 foot rope and I could see the bag lying on the ground. I saw the ledge, and the anchor did not look all that hot, so I continued to the ground. Bailey rigged the pull line and came on down.
We spent the next hour trying to get the rope to pull, to no avail, we could move it about 5 feet back and forth, but clearly the biner block was getting stuck on something. From 250 feet below, flicking the rope proved decidedly ineffective. We tried untwisting the ropes each way - no change. The hour was getting late. We climbed up as high as possible and cut off as much rope as we could.
There was still a drop below us. How far - in the thickening gloom it was hard to say, but at least there was a halfway ledge that we could see had a prominent chockstone. We rapped down to that, the cut length of rope being 10 feet short, but the walls close enough together to allow a reasonable downclimb. Bailey came down and we retrieved the rope using a bunch of slings tied onto the shorter rope - a smorgas-cord! The next drop looked longer, and had a little waterfall running down it. If we had to spend the night here, at least we had water! I rigged up the ropes for a Heaps lower, the longer rope below, and eased over the edge. I was delighted to see the ropebag swinging in the breeze, about two feet above the ground. We rapped down and retrieved the remnants of our rope, boulder-hopped down the creek to the Court of the Patriarchs, hopped the shuttle into town. Cold beer and warm burritos were next on the list - check and check!
Technical Trip Report: Jacob Canyon Zion - May 1, 2013 - Tom Jones and Bailey Schofield Jacob Canyon is not named on maps, but it's the canyon that descends from the summit of Lady Mountain between Jacob and Isaac. Jacob Canyon is a rarely-descended. I had a trip report from Brian Cabe who had done it with Dwight Curry on 31 March 2001; and verbal notes from Steve Ramras who had done it a couple years later.
Gear: we carried in a 300 foot 8mm rope, a 70 foot 8mm rope, a 235 foot 6mm pull cord, a bolt kit (unused), webbing, rapid links and a FiddleStick.
We started by climbing the Lady Mountain Trail to the top of Lady Mountain. Quite a workout it is, we were glad the morning was a bit on the cool side. We left the Old Visitor Center at 7:30 am so probably hit the trail at 8 am. Summited at 11:30 am.
The goal was to traverse to the notch between Lady Mountain and Pk 6945 to get to the REAL head of the canyon. Looking at the slopes there from where the Lady Mt Trail crests the Jacob-Lady ridge, it looked very unpleasant. We scoped it from close to the summit, and it still looked unpleasant, so after enjoying the summit, we proceeded to where we thought other parties had descended into Jacob Canyon, near where the Lady Mt Trail crests the ridge.
Looking across from near the summit of Lady Mt, the descent from the ridge did not look pleasant either, except maybe for a ramp or gully or crease that held many large trees, promising rappel anchors if not down-climbable terrain. We traversed the ridge to the head of the steep gully and downclimbed approx 200 feet. A short cliffband was below us. A tree perched above the cliffband had a sling around it, and we rapped about 100 feet. From there, we were able to downclimb briefly as our ramp became more like a gully. Several short nuisance drops were rapped mostly from slings in place on small trees. Eventually this let us out onto a low-angle dirt/vegetation apron.
Once on the lower-angle terrain, we crossed to the north to intersect the canyon as high as possible, aiming for a large and prominent ponderosa pine on the apparent rim. Once there, below this tree were two more ponderosas, the lowest having a sling on it. We rapped from there through brush toward a lower pine tree. The natural line of descent turned out to be down and right (facing out), to the right of the pine tree. We stopped at a small ledge tucked in a rock gully at about the same level as the pine, and set a rappel off a sturdy serviceberry tree. From here a rappel of 210 feet descended an interesting vertical slot to the canyon floor. Bailey did an excellent job of not getting the rope stuck, which it really wanted to do. We arrived at the canyon floor at 2:45 pm.
The main canyon above us was an interesting narrow slot, and we could see parts of the canyon all the way up to the notch between Lady Mountain and Pk 6945. It looked clean and interesting. (Maybe next time).
The canyon floor was lush with growth, including poison ivy. We descended several short steps with rappels from trees, most of which had old black 1” tubular webbing slings around them with SMC rap rings. One long, scenic rappel of about 170 feet was found in the middle of this section. We did not find a prior-party’s sling for this one, and FiddleSticked a tree. We got our feet wet once, but it has been rather dry in Zion of late.
We came to the end of the canyon about 4:45 pm. Ledges allow about 150 feet of downclimbing at a 3rd class level, with 500 feet of exposure. Careful! We worked down to the real edge, and found a 4-bolt anchor against the right-hand wall (looking downcanyon). Two star-dryvin bolts with thin hangers were linked to two more-recent ½” studs, only one of which had a bolt hanger on it. This anchor was in line of flow as the perlon linking the bolts was highly damaged and had a bundle of debris tangled with it.
We cut the tat off the bolts and used a length of webbing to equalize a solid chockstone about 6 feet up the corner crack with the only good bolt. I rapped over the edge and noted that I had two options there, both with a problem. The right hand option, the continuation of the corner crack, had a 12” long section of rope-eating crack right at the wrong place. One could also rap 5 feet to the left (LDC), but the rope would cross a sharp edge of ironstone; hard on the rope but not necessarily suicidal. If I had it to do again, I would bring a rope protector and rap on the left. But in this case, I rapped on the right, noted the rope-eating crack to Bailey as something for her to deal with, and rapped on down. The notes said look for a ledge 130 feet down with a piton anchor, and I saw that, but the ledge was small and the anchor suspect (from a distance). The 300’ rope made it easily to the ground, so I went all the way down.
Since we expected to rap 130 feet, the pull cord was in my pack. I pulled it out of my pack and tied the end to the main rope, and Bailey pulled it up and set the rope up for pulling, stuffed the crack with debris as much as possible and eventually rapped down to join me at the huge ledge at the base of the rap. Total rappel length was about 225 feet.
We then spent about an hour jacking with the rope to try to get it back, with no luck. We could pull the pull side until the biner block hit the narrow slot where the rope-eating crack was. And we could pull the other side back up to the block. But with lots of ineffective flipping and trying twists one way or the other, we spent a lot of effort and got nothing. It was clear there was a rappel below us, but it was unclear how long it was. We had the 70 foot we had started with, and climbing up as high as possible, we cut the main rope and recovered 90 feet of it.
Looking down, we could see a ledge with a chockstone available for an anchor. We set up a FiddleStick on a tree and rapped, downclimbing the last 10 feet and using our collected slings to extend the retrieval side just long enough. We rigged some webbing on the chockstone, and our ninety foot rope reached to three feet from the ground – just long enough to allow retrieval. Whew!
A bit of boulder-hopping got us out to the Court of the Patriarchs, and we were soon in Springdale enjoying cold cervezas and bison-burger burritos!
Pavement to pavement was almost exactly 12 hours.