Zion: The Subway

Categories: Announcements, Zion

The first time I hiked The Subway was in 1996, from the bottom up to the last rappel. I experienced the same awe as most people do, possibly more so because back then it wasn’t well known or constantly advertised. I tried to climb up higher and I was almost able to do so, but it was obvious I would not be able to get safely down. The next time I went up, a few years later, I borrowed a medium format film camera and lugged it up there to do some photos for a school project. But in all the years since, I had never done the technical part of the canyon upstream from where the popular hike ends. This photo blog is about that portion of the canyon, or to be even more specific, the middle portion, between Russel Gulch and the hike portion of “The Subway”.

After hiking a few miles from the trailhead we arrived at the drop in point for the Left Fork.

The drop in point is very steep, especially at the top where you are hanging on to tree roots.

Max waits for me to take a picture on the other side of a large stagnant pool at the bottom of Russel Gulch.

The last bit of Russel Gulch before it joins the Left Fork.

The first rappel is off an obnoxiously positioned boulder, but the water is avoidable. It might be down climbed with some skills.

The stream is intermittent for the a while and the water is generally avoidable.

My friends Max and Ella invited me to to the technical section of the Left Fork on an unseasonably cold day in late May. I think up there, at the Wildcat Trailhead, it might have even gotten down into the upper 30’s that night. It seemed to be in the 40’s when we started from the car. By the time we’d gotten to the open slickrock bowls in Russel Gulch it felt crisp but nice. It certainly wasn’t swimming weather.

On the left is the location where the route to South Guardian Angel briefly crosses the stream bed. Although I had not been upstream or downstream, I’d been in this spot. It’s also the point where getting in the water becomes unavoidable. On the right the undercut roots of a tree seemed to be holding up slabs of rock.

Getting in the cold water is mandatory at this point, but the first few pools were only knee deep or a little higher.

This formation looked like some kind of seal/hummingbird combo.

A section where the canyon narrowed and made a 180 degree bend.

This bend leads to…

The coldest rappel. This dark pool is a swimmer and was the coldest water I remember that day.

Not long after the coldest swim the streambed becomes filled with clear spring water. The spring water is notably warmer (but still cold) than the cold stagnant pools that never see the light of day.

With the spring water the canyon seemed to get more lush.

A beautiful grotto where vegetation grows over the entrance of a side spring.

The sun climbed high enough to light up the streambed and warm up the canyon walls.

Some fun, idyllic navigating along and through deep pools.

We stopped here to warm up in the sun and eat lunch.

The same area as the previous pictures, but viewed from above, in 2008.

After we rested to eat lunch and warm up, there were two or three other groups who caught up. There seemed to be a logjam of people at this point. The two groups above were having some tense situation. It seemed like they had been one group but were not getting along and splitting into two groups. They weren’t wearing wetsuits and some of them seemed hypothermic.

This faster moving group preparing to enter the narrowest part of the canyon, sometimes called the keyhole.

Ella descends the falls while I explore this fantastic stretch.

A really fantastic hollowed out bowl of rock with a hole in the wall big enough to step through.

Surreal view out the back of the bowl.

Stepping through the hole you can continue downstream.

Continuing along this incredible joint in the rock.

Suddenly the little walkway stops and once again you have to briefly get into cold deep water.

Looking up after exiting the keyhole.

Amazing proportions and shapes in the inner sanctum.

We briefly caught up to the faster group. Here I watched as they struggled through one last freezing cold pool of water. This pool also marked the final rappel.

The famous pools of the subway! I had never seen them in direct sunlight before.

Here you can see the the namesake subway shape in the canyon walls trailing off downstream. But to be fair, we’d been seeing that shape for a long time. 

The great pools are where most people turn around who have been hiking upstream. For us it meant we could finally take off our wetsuits and begin the long hike out. Shortly thereafter the canyon opens up. The picture above is a view looking down into the Left Fork from the cliffs above. If you notice the orange/brown cliffs in the sunlight at the end of the canyon on the left side of the picture, that is where the pools and keyhole falls area of the trip is. It’s very complicated and that is where the last 20 pictures of this blog entry were taken.

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