Zion: Mystery Canyon

Categories: Hiking, Zion

I’ve been meaning to do Mystery Canyon, in Zion National Park, for many years, so when I was asked if i wanted to tag along with a couple of new friends I couldn’t say no. Mystery Canyon starts at one of the highest parts of the park, along the same trail that takes visitors to Observation Point. The canyon rapidly descends 2,100 feet in just a few miles and ends at a 120 foot high waterfall directly down into the Virgin River Narrows. The adventure is a technical canyon that requires a permit from the park service.

Mystery Canyon. From here it’s a steep and long descent into the bottom of the canyon.

Phone shot on the left, soon after we finally reached the bottom of the canyon. On the right is where the canyon first narrows up into a technical slot.

Mex and Ella descending a couple of the first rappels.

Ella negotiates another climb while Max considers the next rope setup.

I really enjoyed the variety of the journey through Mystery Canyon. The trip as a whole involved at least 15 rappels but the first handful were very short.

The steep descent into the canyon takes far longer than you might expect, and at times almost becomes a scramble. It seemed like that part took almost an hour but I doubt it. After that it becomes more of a typical Zion woodsy canyon but with frequent downclimbs or short rappels. Just as you are getting used to it the canyon suddenly constricts into a deep technical slot canyon. Of interest to me was at this point it looked like the slopes above the slot were traversable and could possibly offer a lead to the pass between Mystery and Orderville Canyons.

A nice walkable section of the slot.

A really cool ribbed dome of sorts. Looks kinda like a football. There was an intriguing canyon entering from the left, with what looked at a glance like climbable ramps.

Inside the deep slot the canyon turns 90 degrees so when you come out of the slot you are met by entirely new scenery. It’s really cool. The canyon opens up, and the cliffs seem to be getting higher as you slowly eat your way down towards the Virgin River.

In the middle of this part of the hike you come across a huge rockslide that has completely damned up the canyon. This must be climbed a few hundred feet but I found it a nice change of muscle use. It’s said there is often a lake at the base of the slide up to 10 feet deep. It was bone dry the day we were there.

After the first slot the canyon turns 90 degrees and opens up a bit with huge walls on either side.

Ella climbing up a huge rockslide that fell from the cliff above. We had just eaten lunch in the shade beneath those trees. The towering cliffs still look sharply fresh from where the rockslide fell.

On top of the massive rockslide looking down canyon. This stretch is in direct sunlight and it was beginning to get hot. Climbing over the slide is really the only uphill part of the trip. You can see in this and the last picture that the top of the rock slide is roughly at the level where the white rock turns to red rock. Looking around up here really drives home just how committed you are to this canyon. There’s definitely a sense of no going back.

After a bit of time in direct hot sunlight and a couple of awkward down climbs the canyon suddenly became constricted again.

The first pool was easy to hop over but the second pool was not avoidable for us. Fortunately despite being black water it wasn’t even up to our ankles.

Beyond the rockfall the canyon is a bit sunny and cluttered, but less then 1/2 an hour later it begins to constrict, and soon brings you to the most fantastic portion of the canyon. It’s not quite a slot, but rather a very narrow verdant hallway of stone covered in flowing water and hanging gardens. At the beginning of this riparian zone is a deep pool of crystal clear spring water coming out of the corner of a huge overhanging wall of rock. I had seen this section before, from the other side of The Narrows, above the lip of Not-Imlay Canyon. From that vantage it looked like it was right next to the Virgin River. It’s true, and you can occasionally hear people yelling from over there, but in reality you can expect another 30 minutes of rappels to get to the final descent into the river.

Two views of what I considered the most interesting part of the trip. This 110 foot rappel starts with a walk out to a sloped, narrow ledge and descends down to the deep pool of a  freezing cold spring. From the top the cliffs seem to arch overhead even higher than the descent.

Ella descends first down to the pool.

Max steps out and makes sure the pull rope is set up properly.

Somehow i didn’t get a good shot of the pool. Maybe because the water was all muddled up and my hands were covered in freezing wet sand. You can see someone at the top beginning to come down.

For a long away past the spring the canyon wall was covered with running water and hanging gardens

The canyon was becoming very lush and beautiful.

Max and Ella pose at the top of one of the last rappels.

Ella disappears into the vegetation.

A beautiful blue pool shining in sunlight. This was the second deepest pool of water but was only up to my armpits.

Ella makes her way across the blue pool.

Yet another pool! This stuff was fun and I think this one was a downclimb.

Walking down the stream through thick vegetation. I was still cold from that deep spring so the sun felt great.

Looking down into the famous Narrows of Zion.

The final rappel is down this waterfall into the Virgin River. I was surprised how quickly everyone noticed us.

I’d gone down first, Max is here coming down second.

Ella came down the falls last.

With everything done the only thing left to do was walk down the Virgin River, take the shuttle to the Visitor Center, take the extra car from the visitor center back to the East Mesa Trailhead, and then take my carĀ  another two hours back to town.

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