Mystery Canyon in Winter, Zion National Park, UT


This is a silly sport. The whole thing. Sliding down ropes in remote places, risking death and destruction on a regular basis, for what?

Philosophical ponderings aside, the way to make it MORE preposterous is to do this stuff in winter, when there are additional hazards and the chance that even a minor injury could mean death. It is critical to do canyons you know well, bring extra gear and extra ropes, plan on a slower-than-normal pace, etc... and have no weak links on your team.

Down the Death Gully

Down the Death Gully

Some fools do this each year in preparation for Freeze Fest. Ram came down to Zion for a quick run through Mystery, a fine moderate canyon that starts with a north-facing approach known as the Death Gully. We assembled a crack team - Jenny West, Ramoo, Tim Hoover, Mike Schasch and myself - and hiked up from Weeping Rock starting in the first light of dawn at 7 AM. As Ram says, it is better to have extra hours of light at the end of the day than at the beginning.

Ice creepers allowed reasonable hiking up the hill to the Observation Point Fork. Conditions were somewhat drier/less snowy than expected on the hike up, but... The Gully of Death was snowy and slippery as anticipated, with snow conditions worse than expected. Tracks from a previous party actually made it harder, as they created a breakable crust over the 4" of depth hoar. Traction was hard to find. Ice axes, creepers, ski poles and buttocks were all used in abundance. It was tedious, but we all made it down safe into the flat part of the canyon. A little light filtered in and, as the sun came around, a little direct light lit up the snow crystals and red walls. Truly delightful.

The rock narrows were mostly clear of snow, and our crack team made quick time through the technical part. Out into the second, East/West-running, flat part of Mystery, where it was again snowy and cold. We discussed the possibility of the lake being present and difficult... but it was flat with snow on it, and we were soon up the sandpile, booting down the steep west face of the pile. A few more obstacles and we were at the gear-up spot for the final bit. Suits were donned, dry or wet. Harnesses back on, over massive amounts of clothes.

Mike traversed out, set the rope, and rapped down as the rest of us dilly-dallied with dressing. Jenny and I traversed over to the anchor, and Jenny set up on rappel. She dilly-dallied again, then leaned back to start her rappel. A funny sound was heard from her harness - she pulled back up - YIKES!!! Her harness was not fastened. We quickly temporized safety, and she traversed back to the prep area to shake out and get herself sorted out. Whew - disaster avoided.

Harness Interruptus - starting to put on a harness, then stopping to do something else, and not getting back to it. Don't do this!

Back to the rappel. Tim went down after a careful check. Jenny came back and went down. Ram went down. I rigged the rap for retrieval and glided down the rope.

Final rap

Final rap

Through the jungle section, to the final rap, down the super-slippery wall, then a brief walk out to the veranda, and back to the car at the Temple of Sinawava about 5 pm. We were amazed at the number of people on the Gateway to the Narrows Trail, and in the Park in general. Love that the Park is enjoyed by many even in tough conditions.

Special thanks to Mike for letting me use his pics, since neither of us took all that many...