Winter Conditions in Imlay Canyon, Zion National Park


Went down to Zion with the Boyz for a little Freeze Fest. Imlay Canyon in winter sounded like a good idea at the time. In January, we researched Pine Creek and Keyhole for reference, finding Pine Creek dry and Keyhole wet and cold. What we were doing for our feet was not working... but the drysuit and neoprene gloves were just fine for the body and hands. The Team was Steve Brezovec (the small guy), Mel Brown (the big guy), and I, Tom Jones, supposedly the smart guy, maybe just for teaming up with these two. Onto Imlay Canyon. We could not have picked a more perfect day. By mid-February, you've got 11 hours of daylight to work with. Many days of good weather had melted off a lot of the snow, and the daytime temps were a pleasant 60 degrees. We geared up at 6 am and started up the West Rim trail at 7 am.

We made good time up Angel's Landing as the day dawned, cool and quiet. A thin scud of clouds left the temps perfect for chasing Steve (you awesome aerobic animal, you) up the trail. After crossing the bridge in Telephone, we continued up the trail another 15 minutes, before finding an easy place to cross the middle of Telephone. Hugging the slickrock, we made our way into the drainage across the way, and climbed to the pass and over the other side. With little snow present either ascending or descending the canyon, we continued to make good time, finally making two scruffy rappels about 3/4 of the way down to overcome a complex 250' drop.

Once in the canyon, we ate lunch and suited up, putting on quite a few layers of fleece under the dry suits, and using neoprene socks over Waterbloc socks. We then trundled downcanyon, feeling somewhat like 'the Mummy'.

The canyon was dry, however, and we soon were feeling quite warm. Better too warm than too cold!

Down, down into the canyon. Interesting. The water level was 5 to 8 feet lower than last September. We were expecting and prepared for a lot of swimming. Didn't happen. The first nasty pothole, where we were expecting to have to drill hook holes while swimming... cake. We rapped in to a dry gravel bottom. Over against the exit, the gravel sloped down into a puddle about waist deep. This is why I brought a big guy and a little guy: Steve climbed up on Mel's shoulder and hooked into the high hook hole, and climbed out from there ... cake.

Actually, most of the obstacles yielded easily to partner-climbing. Steve had a good time with the Hooker, too, snagging slings at 9' extension a couple of times. Very thankfully, a couple of the later pools had a frozen surface from which the Hooker could be used, or climbing moves made. With a little additional melting, these pools could be really bad, requiring drilling and hooking from swimming, up 9 feet of steep, smooth, soft sandstone. Hmmm, glad we avoided that.

And it was remarkably beautiful. Gentle winter light, ice on the pools, a stillness found only in winter.

A couple hours of this, and we were at the penultimate long rappel, the last 'swim' (a careful walk across the ice), and then we're at the final rappel. The usual stumble out the Narrows leads to the usual Sour Cream Enchilada at the Bit n' Spur. Game over.

OK, so we got ideal conditions. Score. Because of this, it was easier and faster than our most optimistic expectation. Without Steve-supportable ice, a couple of those later pools could have taken an hour each to aid out of. With the current conditions, in a couple of weeks and a fair amount of warm weather, the conditions will change from Ideal to Most Difficult. There is very little snow in the drainage, so the pools will not be filled by snowmelt, until more precip comes in to build snowpack. Beware.