Kolob Creek Canyoneering Route Zion National Park
And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;
And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.
Book of Abraham, Chapter 3, verses 2 and 3.
In LDS Cosmology, Kolob is the place nearest God, the star nearest to the throne of God.
Kolob Creek is one of the grand adventures in Zion , invested with an unfortunate history in part because of its special situation. A dam a few miles above the interesting technical narrows is used to store water for irrigation. Water is released through the canyon from the dam from time to time.
On July 15, 1993 , two scout leaders drowned while trying to descend Kolob Creek in high water conditions. Three leaders and five teen-age Explorer Scouts were on a four-day descent of Kolob Creek that coincided with a substantial release from the dam. After a four-day wait, the six survivors were located and rescued on July 19th. The subsequent lawsuit is largely responsible for the permit system in Zion today.
Is Kolob dangerous and extreme? Not really. Kolob must be respected, but the scout leaders made obvious blunders that led directly to their deaths. The flow in Kolob Creek is controlled by a dam at Kolob Reservoir, several miles upstream from the technical narrows. The scouts entered the canyon when the flow was too high for their technical skills.
Control by the dam has interesting consequences. Except in deep drought, a small flow is maintained through the canyon, so the pools stay full and cold. Water is released to supply irrigators downstream, and when the water is flowing, the narrows are impassable, even to those with advanced technical skills. The amount of water released is a major flood for this small canyon.
Potential Kolobers must call the Washington County Water Conservancy District (435-673-3617) and determine the current release rate from the Kolob Reservoir Dam. Flow above 5 cfs is too high to safely descend the canyon. The District Office is only open during normal business hours, M-F, 9-5.
So what is Kolob like?
After a brief walk through the woods, the canyoneer rappels into a pocket garden. A hundred feet further, the canyon starts a drop of 700 feet through numerous pools. A total of 12 rappels are made into pools followed by short swims and climb-outs to the next anchor. The canyon is incised deeply, with delightful grottos and wonderful light reflecting down off the walls above. From the bottom of the technical section, the canyoneer can make the long hike out to the Narrows and the Temple of Sinawava , or can ascend the steep and strenuous ” MIA Trail “.
Most parties will take about 4 hours to complete the technical section, and will be in the water for most of this time. Drysuits or full 7mm wetsuits are required for descending Kolob. Do NOT underestimate the power of cold water to kill you. While the technical difficulties in Kolob are few, the long exposure to cold water makes Kolob a step up in difficulty and danger compared to most of Zion ‘s canyons. This makes it good preparation for the continuity of cold water found in Imlay and Heaps.
All anchors are bolted, expect a few raps off logs and trees near the start. In drought conditions, some of the pothole exits can be difficult – be prepared to do pack tosses, partner-assists and, as a last resort, drilling and hooking to exit the potholes. Most rappels require a floating disconnect – be sure everyone in your party is trained in this skill before entering the canyon.
A few of the rappels chain together two or three potholes, and it is important to understand this technique. Rappel into the first pothole and either disconnect or pull through a bunch of slack. Swim across and exit the pothole, then go back on rappel and rap into the next pothole. When all canyoneers are down, the rope is pulled from the lowest pothole. Care must be taken by the last canyoneer that the rope is untwisted and will pull easily. When descending Kolob, be sure to locate the next anchor before pulling the ropes.
First Descent: 1978 Dennis Turville
Kolob is commonly done in two ways. For a day trip out the MIA Trail , park at the West Rim Trailhead near Lava Point. The MIA Trail returns to this point. For a two-day trip enjoying the full glory of Kolob Canyon , start from the West Rim Trailhead and exit at the Temple of Sinawava .
Call the Washington County Water District at 435-673-3617 to determine the release schedule. They are only open Monday-Friday, 9am to 5pm. Obtain a permit at the Backcountry Desk
The approach to Kolob can be done entirely on old logging roads. Park at the West Rim Trailhead. Walk back along the road a few minutes to the big turn. Continue straight north across the meadow to a gap in the trees, a post and the start of a road. Follow the road down, then left and contour steeply downhill about 15 minutes to the bottom of the hill. Continue straight ahead and pick up a smaller road climbing the opposite side to a pass.
Descend the road on the other side of the pass, switchbacking down the drainage. Where the road forks, stay in the drainage. About 15 minutes below the pass, after crossing a small, rocky drainage, follow an obscured switchback to the right into a small drainage with bluffs on each side. Follow this road all the way to Kolob Creek. Follow a path on the right side downstream for a ways, then cross to the left side when forced. Follow a pretty good trail on the left side to the start of the drops. Allow 45 minutes for the approach.
Check the flow in the stream. The dam release schedule might have changed. Consider carefully the amount of flow you see – if it is more than 5 cfs you are out of luck – go find something else to do.
The first rappel in the canyon is about 25 meters (80 feet) into a pocket garden. Put on your drysuits before this rappel. Choose a tree near the head to rappel from, and rap in. Head downcanyon and you immediately encounter your first swim. Yee haw!
Proceed downcanyon. Rappels 2 and 3 are off log jams down short drops. Rappel 4 is a chained rappel through two or three pools. Most teams will do 10 to 12 rappels. Two long rappels of about 45 meters (150 feet) are near the end of the technical section. Otherwise rappels are no longer than 30 meters (100 feet).
The final long rappel into a big pool is fabulous. This marks the end of the main technical section, though not the end of the fun. Many parties remove their drysuits here. However, there are a couple short rappels and swims a half-hour to an hour downcanyon.
To the MIA Trail
About thirty minutes downcanyon, a 400-foot waterfall comes in over the left canyon wall. The spring at its base is a good place to collect water. About one hour past the waterfall, and soon after two short rap-n-swims, Kolob joins the larger canyon of Oak Creek , and your direction changes from generally east to generally south. There is often a small flow in Oak Creek , and shortly downcanyon is a short drop into a pool. Rapping from bolts on the right might allow you to avoid another swim.
Finding the MIA Trail
(Note: directions will be stated either as CANYON left or right (meaning when facing down-canyon) or as (blank) left or right, as seen by the ascender).
While the MIA Trail is not hard to find, many a canyoneer has walked past it due to inattention. Noting the intersection of Boundary Canyon is the key to finding the MIA Trail . The MIA Trail should not be attempted in the dark. The first time, most parties will require at least 2 hours for the MIA Trail , plus another hour to get back to the trailhead.
The Boundary Intersection is marked by Boundary Canyon coming in on canyon right as a 50′ wide, vegetated and not-steep slot, and a steep, small, vegetated slot coming in across the way. There is a large flat rock right at the intersection that makes a great place to remove wetsuits and harnesses, and prepare for the ordeal ahead.
From Boundary, Kolob canyon is rocky and wide for about 20 minutes, then enters a short (5 minute), tall, narrows section. Next, the canyon opens out again and proceeds as a rocky streambed for perhaps 20 minutes, then again enters a tall narrows section, which is considerably longer (15 minutes). Approximately 10 minutes after the second narrows section, MIA canyon comes in on canyon right, as a large, obvious, lushly vegetated and steep (but climbable) sandy slope. There are two big ol’ logs in the streambed and often a decent sized cairn marking the intersection. This is the only possible-looking exit since Boundary.
The MIA Trail
Climb the steep slope above Kolob Creek, starting in a shallow gully, then working left when approaching a rock buttress. Traverse left, then down to the top of a short pourover. You are now in the main MIA canyon watercourse. Scramble upcanyon, surmounting short obstacles with occasional exposed easy 5th class moves. At the first obstacle, climb a steep slope on the left to gain an exposed traverse ledge. The main canyon ends at a 40′ (12 m) dryfall with a wider-than-fists crack in the back. Backup 30′ (10 m) and ascend the obvious small drainage on the right.
Follow the drainage upward, until it encounters a wall. Climb left along the base of the wall, until it becomes easier to traverse into the woods to the left. Climb steeply through the brush to a wide pass that overlooks the upper basin of MIA Canyon (30 minutes to this point).
From this viewpoint, carefully examine the complex terrain ahead. The upper basin is bounded on the left by cliffs and then a slinky little slot canyon (MIA Slot) dropping steeply into the basin (this is just above the “4WD” annotation on the map). To the right of this, is a complex, steep and tree-covered face that slides over into a deep slot canyon on the right. Take careful note of three snags (dead trees) at the canyon rim above the middle-left of the complex face – the three snags is where you are trying to get to.
Descend into the bottom of the upper basin, and head for the bottom of the MIA slot on the left. The slot is well worth the 8 minutes of exploration the drops allow. Follow the main watercourse past automotive debris washed down from above. Follow this canyon five minutes along the basin floor, until it turns right and heads for the right-hand wall and slot. At this point, climb steep dirt directly up the fall line, following a shallow watercourse on a fairly good social trail.
To this point, the dreaded MIA Trail is not so bad. It gets worse.
Follow the trail steeply upward. It is important to Follow The Trail. In the brush, the trail is easily followed, but there are several sections where the trail crosses open ground and several options all look pretty much the same. At one point, stay right and climb rocks steeply. At other points, walking a few feet to check out the options will reveal the correct trail.
In general, when hunting the trail, follow the watercourse. Explore, figure out which is the correct path, and follow it. Even the best trail is steep and difficult – persevere. Keep the three snags in sight. Ascend to the road.
Back to the West Rim Trailhead
From the top of the MIA Trail , turn left (south) and hike about 1000 feet (300 m) to a picnic area with water coming from a pipe. Hike the road heading uphill behind the spring, then north up a roadcut, then follow the roads (generally north and west, but always up) to the West Rim Trailhead. Allow at least an hour for the MIA Trail , and at least an hour for the roadwalk back to the Trailhead. The roads in this area are not shown correctly on the map.
Down Kolob Canyon to the Narrows
Kolob Canyon can be followed to the Narrows and out to the Temple of Sinawava . This makes a fine two-day trip, and includes the best part of the Narrows . Kolob Canyon itself offers a wonderful variety of narrows.
From the MIA Trail , hike downcanyon four miles to the intersection with the North Fork . There are two short rappels with swims in icy pools within the first two miles. From the intersection with the North Fork , stroll 8 miles downcanyon to the Temple of Sinawava .
From the end of the technical narrows, there are numerous small places to bivy in the canyon. Please use zero-impact camping techniques. Water is intermittent – be prepared to pump water from skuzzy pools, or pump early when the water is good.