Our second canyon we had picked out for our time in Zion was Boundary Canyon, which is significantly less travelled than Pine Creek despite the guide books saying it might be the most scenic canyon in the park. Before starting out we called the Kolob Reservoir Damn to check the release schedule, and looked at the flow rate ourselves. It looked very reasonable… all checks in place, we started out on our adventure, a little on the late side, but with big smiles on our faces. After an hour of route-finding and bushwhacking we finally came to the head of the canyon. Within the first 30 feet or so the canyon drops nearly 200 feet! We clipped into the anchor and started feeding our rope through the rap rings. A 170 foot rappel means you need over 300 feet of rope – that’s a lot of rope! I went down first, taking my time to enjoy the view.

Me, getting ready to drop into Boundary Canyon. (photo by Aubrey)

Aubrey rappels down to join me in the canyon. That little tree was the half way point.

After Aubrey was down came the terrifying part: pulling the rope. Once the rope is down, the only way out is to keep going down canyon. You can’t just decide to turn around. And all this of course relies on the rope falling cleanly. If it gets stuck, there may be no way out. Perhaps we could prussik up the rope and improvise a new rap station.. but I push those thoughts out of my head. It’s a clean line. There’s no obstacles, aside from that half fallen tree we passed, but it’s too far to the right to be a problem. We start pulling and coiling. Everything goes smoothly and soon we have about half our rope down. I breath a sigh of relief. Worst case scenario, we cut the rope now and we’ll have enough for the rest of the canyon, since all the rappels from here on down are 100 feet or less. A few more tugs and the rope slithers down without a hitch. Now we’re committed. I sure hope the rest of the anchors are in good shape. After another short rap we get to a scenic bend in the canyon. The walls are already about 300 feet tall and the canyon is only 5 feet wide or so at the bottom. After Aubrey fixes an old anchor she raps down in the waterfall – oops, should have put our wetsuits on a little earlier!

Canyoneering in Zion National Park, Boundary Canyon, Southwest

Canyoneering : Prints Available
My girlfriend, Aubrey, rappels down one of the many technical sections of Boundary Canyon, in Zion National Park.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24, handheld
Exposure: iso 800, f/11, 1/40th

Me, rappelling. (photo by Aubrey)

Even with the wetsuits it’s getting cold in the sun-deprived canyon. Some of the anchors aren’t in tip top condition thanks to how infrequently this cleft in the Earth gets explored. Given our slightly late start and delay in finding the canyon we start feeling a little pressed for time. If we keep moving at our current pace we’ll be able to make it out before dark, but only barely, so we try to pick up the pace as much as we can. For me that means being very selective with photography. But I’m not going to leave this canyon having dragged 10 pounds of camera gear and a tripod without getting something out of it! The next rappel takes me past 100 feet of beautifully sculpted sandstone, stained green with algae that thrives here thanks to the running water. At the bottom is a little pool and I immediately know that this is my spot. After giving Aubrey a fireman’s belay so she can safely rap down quickly I set up my gear and shoot as quickly as I can.

Boundary Canyon in Zion National Park, Slot Canyons, Southwest

Watercolors : Prints Available
Green algae on fluted sandstone in Zion’s Boundary Canyon.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/18, 10 sec

After this point my camera didn’t come out of the bag again. Too much ground to cover in too little time. I don’t believe I missed much, however. Soon we get to the last rappel. Below is a tantalizing glimmer of sunshine. Just one more 80 foot waterfall to slide down and we’ll be done with the rope work. After an all too brief rest we pack up and start the arduous task of getting out of this sandstone trap. First there’s 3-4 miles of canyon to hike down. The slippery rocks require careful walking, which is more important than racing the sun. Our hike takes us through some beautiful narrows, and we see the first other canyoneer of our trip: a wild turkey! It looks a little disheveled, and I wonder how long it’s been down here. Well, if we do end up needing to bivy in the canyon, maybe dinner won’t have to be our emergency rations. Two hours before sunset we get to the exit point: a break in the narrow canyon walls of Kolob Creek that will, according to the route description at least, let us escape. It’s supposed to take about 2 hours, so we feel a little boost in moral: we might get out in time after all!

View of the MIA exit. The red arrow is Kolob Creek - that's where we came from. (Photo by Aubrey)

No strangers to steep climbs, the “dreaded” MIA exit was actually not so bad. The route finding was very easy thanks to the (surprisingly) well worn trail. We scramble up the 2,000 feet on our hands and feet and finally make it to a most welcome sight: the logging road! After feasting on Goo Packs we trudge along the road to finally get to our car just as the first stars start to twinkle.

That concludes my images from Zion. Thanks to a fantastic new feature on my website you can now view all my galleries as slideshows (even on your iPad, as it is not flash based). Here’s a link to the Zion slideshow: Zion National Park.

Some much needed energy before the final leg of our journey back to the car.

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13 Comments to “A Slot in the Dark (Almost) – Zion’s Boundary Canyon”

  1. Paul Beiser says:

    Really enjoyed this story and superb image!

  2. MikeP says:

    Floris… I just have to know… you tied off to a tree and were the last to repel…right. How do you get the rope from the first tree back????
    Love your take on a place…fantastic pics!!!

  3. Thanks Paul and Mike!

    Mike – The rope itself was not tied off, but passed through a rap ring so half of the rope is on either side of the ring. So, after rappelling we just pulled the rope through the ring. The ring itself and the webbing it was attached to the tree with gets left behind (and in fact, it was not our webbing or ring, but from previous canyoneers). Unfortunately there’s no way around that – either some webbing gets left behind, or someone puts in bolts. There are specially designed slings for tree climbing that let you get around that, but I’ve never heard of a canyoneer using them (too likely to get your rope caught I presume). In the grand scheme of things the impact of a piece of webbing or some bolts is less than a hiking trail.

  4. Floris, absolutely love the Watercolors image. Beautiful and unique.

    The water was too high to make any of the canyon trips last time I was in Zion, but I’m enjoying the vicarious experience through your posts!


  5. Thanks so much for sharing you guys adventure. Great reading and Awesome pics. Followed link from G+ by the way. I love the Utah desert.

  6. Joe Rossbach says:

    bad ass!!!
    Watercolors is beautiful, man. looks like a fun adventure

  7. Thanks Wesley, Jeff, and Joe! Glad you like that picture, and the story!

  8. Steve Sieren says:

    Very cool shots and not a bad companion either! She takes great pics! I bet that 300 ft rope gets heavy when wet! Did you ever do Eaton Canyon in Pasadena when you were back there. Pretty pristine for miles and then you hit a very urban section with a last rappel down a fall.

  9. Thanks Steve – never did get to do Eaton Canyon, though I always wanted to! I wasn’t that confident in my own rappelling skills at the time (Aubrey’s the one that really got me into ropes…).

  10. Great blog entry, Floris. It’s nice to see something out of the ordinary — love to see people pushing their boundaries. We really do need to meet up one of these days.

  11. It’s a shame you had to hurry, but these situations happen out in the wild. You seem to have made superb use of the time you had. That “Watercolors” photographs is one of the most unique and artful I have seen in any canyon in a long time.

  12. Thanks Kory and David! Next time you’re up in the PNW Kory let me know.

  13. Jim Ruff says:

    Floris, Not sure which I like best, the images or the story behind them, so I hope you continue with both. There are a lot of blogs with only the images but the words are so very meaningful and your blog is a wonderful example. Keep them coming and be SAFE! Best regards, JR