Hiking the Subway… Again – The Left Fork of North Creek
Zion National Park, Utah
Hiking the Subway in Zion – I have never been rock climbing and I have never been too interested in it either. But I was told rappelling is easy, especially with fixed anchors – Once the rope’s set up through the anchor, you create two small bights in the rope and push them through the openings in the rappel device, keeping the brake end of the rope coming out through the friction grooves on your dominant side. Then with the rope fed through the the rappel device, you clip all three loops (one loop on the rappel device, the other two created from the rope) to your harness’s belay loop with a locking biner and lock down. Get rid of the slack in the rope, double-check everything’s correct (have a partner triple-check), and slowly put your weight on the setup until you’re confident it will hold all of your weight. With your brake hand, slowly feed the line up through the belay device and walk / lower yourself down.*
Except a few weeks ago, I knew absolutely none of that.
We had hiked the bottom-up route of the Left Fork of North Creek in Zion National Park, also known as the Subway, exactly two weeks before our second trip. We already had the permits from the lottery to go back and wanted to hike the other route, but that other option, from the top-down, requires rappelling, small down-climbs, and swimming through cold, ball-shrinking pools. Since none of us heading down actually had experience rappelling, we briefly searched for a guided trip, but according to some dude named “Bill” at one of the local outfitters, the National Parks Service actually doesn’t allow guided canyoneering trips through the Subway. Our best option would be to take a half day course to learn the basics (for $150/per person) and then rent all the gear needed to guide ourselves through the canyon.
That was definitely not ideal and realistically, not even a possibility with our schedules. It was looking like we’d be hiking from the bottom-up again.
In passing, I mentioned this to a buddy who’s a big-time climber – first ascents up El Cap and in Patagonia defines “big time” to me – and spends a ton of time in the Zion area. The next thing I knew, I had been given a quick 45 minute rappelling lesson, been loaned all the gear that the four of us needed, and I was standing on top a 20 ft boulder in the middle of the Left Fork showing three other people the basics of rappelling.
To go extremely cliche, it was an experience of a lifetime. In my mind, the bottom-up option not longer exists.
And now I’m scared I’ve hooked myself on yet another expensive and time-consuming hobby. I’m already planning some bigger ones…
Part 1: Hiking the Subway | Part 2: Bottom-Up Trail Description | Part 3: Hiking the Subway, Again | Part 4: Top-Down Trail Description
*It should be obvious, but this is of course simplified.