Pine Creek Canyon, Zion in the Summer
A guest Rave from Jonathan Zambella. I try to stay away from the main canyons in Zion during the holidays, but sometimes I can't resist. I had some friends come to town this week from Austin, TX, and their desire to do a canyon and my availability put us square in the middle of a holiday rush. I walked into an empty visitor center and purchased a 7 person permit for Pine Creek - no line, and on my way for a swim in the Virgin 8 minutes later.
Pine Creek is a great day event for novice canyoneers. My last two canyon compadres in Pine Creek had done some other canyons prior, but were not quite ready to go on their own, and Pine Creek was a great natural step for mentoring. My son, at 7, loved it. The brothers from Texas would agree as well.
But Pine Creek does not come without its drawbacks and nuances:
The pool at the first rappel can get quite dank. Smelly and milky water takes a certain attitude to enjoy.
There can be a waiting line at rappels. Especially during holiday weeks, expect a delay. If you time your descent properly though, you can be comfortably in front of and behind groups without jamming up. Additionally, teaching your brother-in-law's second sister's middle school teacher how to rappel for the first time in Pine Creek can be scary for them, and time consuming for your group and the groups behind. Take some time at the campground, hotel railing, or Springdale Town Park and run a ground school for everyone. This one- to two-hour session will save you gads of time in the canyon. Go over harness set-ups, how to load and unload from rappel, how to thread ropes for single or double-line rappelling, and the essential fireman's belay. Then, when you arrive at Pine Creek, everyone can be more involved in descending the canyon rather than waiting in line.
The hike out is as much or more work than the canyon itself. Most people comment how arduous navigating the boulder fields in the stream bed are. They are correct. Being prepared for this egress hike is essential. Most accidents in Pine Creek happen here, along the 1 mile drainage, AFTER the rappels are done. Bring some extra Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Packs to give the boost needed for this 1 - 2 hour finish.
Rope Bags anyone? If I am canyoneering, I have at least one rope bag with me. Tom's are the best to use, deploy, pack, and train others with. The Bagarino is my favorite. Both trips this past couple weeks, people in front and behind us all commented how jealous they were of our rope bags. Get some.
Some final opinions: a) Start from the bridge and do all the rappels. Don't short-cut in. b) Get wet. Canyoneering is way more fun in the drainage. c) Don't forget to look up. Pine Creek is one of the most accessible and aesthetic canyons in the West, worthy of many pictures and time enjoying its overhead splendor. d) Go mid-week or off-holiday if you can. e) WEAR HELMETS!!!!!! There are people hiking on the Canyon Overlook trail above you who are oblivious to your existence. Rocks, devices, packs, ropes, etc can fall on you at anytime.
It looks like there are 50 permits a day given for Pine Creek. That's 18,250 people a year. There's room for you and your group! Enjoy and best regards, Jonathan.