mystery

Mystery Canyon

Rating:

3B III

Season:

Summer or Fall.

Length:

6 to 8 hours.

Equipment:

Rappels to 120 feet (36 meters), dry bags for your gear. Shortee Wetsuits useful in all but the hottest weather.

Drinking Water:

Carry your own. Water is found at Mystery Springs and can be filtered.

Map:

Temple of Sinawava

Difficulties:

The steep, loose approach gulley. Rappels up to 120 feet (36 meters). Several swims – it can be chilly.

Logistics:

Easy: Start at Weeping Rock and end at Temple of Sinawava . Take the shuttle.  More Difficult: Use East Mesa Trailhead to save yourself 2100 feet of climbing. Requires car shuttle.

Permit:

Required.

Flash Flood Danger:

Moderate. Weather Report available at Visitor Center .

Local Ethics:

Zion is a bolts-accepted area, however, there seem to be plenty in Mystery, so please do not add more. In the dry narrows section, choose your anchors carefully – some of that hardware is of museum quality.

Mystery

It has everything – a rough-tough smackdown approach, a nice wooded canyon with spectacular soaring walls, multiple rappels through intimate, sculpted narrows, some walking in the hot sun, a big scary rappel into a pool, slithering down a log into a jungle paradise, and finally a slippery slab rappel into the waiting camcorders of numerous tourists. Not too long, not too short – for those with good technical skills, Mystery is it.

Though information is sketchy, Mystery was apparently first descended in the ’60s. Numerous “interesting” anchors attest to the improvisatory skills of its early descentionists, including a couple chunks of rebar pounded into drilled holes. Anchors in Mystery are generally fixed, though some judgment is required to figure out which of the antique anchors to use. An interesting feature of the canyon is the giant sand slide – a 400-foot pile of sand that dams the canyon and creates a Devil’s Hole. On occasion, the lake before the slide is up to 10 feet deep and provides quite a long and stimulating swim, but most of the time it is dry.

Mystery can be approached from either the Weeping Rock shuttle stop in the main canyon, or from the East Mesa trailhead on the Zion Ponderosa Ranch. The first option is good for building character. The second option saves you 2100 feet (640m) of climbing on a steep trail, but requires a car shuttle. Mystery is a popular canyon, and you should expect to run into other parties in the canyon, especially on weekends.


Gear and Difficulties

Mystery has about 12 rappels up to 120 feet (40m) in length. Bring a half-dozen slings and rapid links in case slings are missing. Bring drybags for your gear – there are two mandatory swims near the end. The swims are short, so wetsuits are not required if the weather is hot. In fall and spring, shortee wetsuits are recommended. Mystery does have a climbing difficulty that most parties will want to protect using a zip line. Each member of the party will need a tie-off sling and spare locking biner to clip the zip line with. There is no water in the canyon until the very end – bring your own.

Finding the top of Mystery can be a problem, so bring a map and use it. Yes, I’d like to think that these directions alone are sufficient, but they are not. One or two parties a year start down the adjacent drainage thinking they are in Mystery, and end up requiring a rescue. Make certain you are in the right place before heading down.


Getting There

From Zion Canyon/Weeping Rock: Get an early start to avoid the sun. From Weeping Rock, ascend the Observation Point Trail. The trail switchbacks up the mountain below the face of Cable Mountain, then cuts left into Echo Canyon, briefly following the streambed before climbing up the side on a cutout and getting back into the sun. More climbing across mixed slickrock and brush leads to the base of a buttress. Climb steeply up the buttress, switchbacking to the rim of the mesa. The trail then follows the rim west toward Observation Point. One-third mile from Observation Point, the East Mesa Trail comes in on the right – this takes you to Mystery Canyon . Allow 2 hours to climb to the trail junction – (2.7 miles (4.3 km), ascent of 2100 feet (640m)) – most of which is in the full sun.

The stroll out to Observation Point (.35 miles, .6 km) provides a dramatic view of Zion Canyon , and is worth a 45-minute diversion if not pressed for time.

From the trail junction, follow the East Mesa Trail north then east through brush and ponderosa pines. At about 20 minutes, and just after passing the trail’s highpoint, a gorge can be seen through the brush to the left, starting about 30 feet (10m) from the East Mesa Trail. Numerous small trails lead to the rim – follow them to the apex of Mystery Canyon.

Getting There / from The Ponderosa Ranch:  Drive to the East Mesa Trailhead. Cross the Park boundary and follow a wide trail through the open ponderosa pine forest for 2.1 miles (about 45 minutes). Mystery can be seen on the right for some time – continue on the trail until it starts uphill to go around the left side of a small knoll. At this point, follow small trails through the brush right 30 feet (10m) to the edge of the canyon.


The Canyon

Whatever approach, make certain you are in the correct place – at the very apex of Mystery Canyon . The canyon should plunge spectacularly below you, and extend directly north, with a series of mountains on the left all in a row. A small but distinct trail leads down and right across a steep dirt slope. (The trail is about 40 feet (12m) east of the very apex of the canyon). (Drop in point UTM: 12S 328949mE 4128738mN)

Carefully follow trails and gullies steeply down through the woods for about half an hour. Take it carefully. This section is known as “The Death Gully”.

Mystery Canyon is popular, and is showing wear and tear from all our boots and sneakers. Certainly The Death Gully is a sad case of a social trail eroding deeply into poor soil. In the next section of the canyon, several small drops are encountered. With a few exceptions, please descend these drops directly, rather than taking the eroding paths to the sides. By doing so, you minimize your impact on this wonderful canyon.

The Death Gully leads to a boulder with a bolt on the top of it. Rappel (20 feet, 7m) the short, dirty and loose chimney below the boulder. Downclimbing is not recommended.

About 6 minutes downcanyon, a short drop is encountered. This one is bypassed using a good trail to the right.

A few minutes further downcanyon, a short drop blocks the canyon. A shallow groove in the slab provides a surprisingly easy butt-slide descent. A rope can be used to sequence down all but the last member of the party, who can be spotted from below.

Sequencing is a technique for moving a group down short drops. One person (usually the best climber) anchors the rope off their harness and braces themselves as needed to provide an anchor. The others rappel off the anchorperson, then spot as she downclimbs the drop. It is wise to consider the “sequence” of rappelers – usually heavy persons are sent first, while the rest of the team clips in and backs up the anchorperson.

Another 10 minutes downcanyon leads to another short drop. A large boulder can be used for an anchor. Alternatively, folks can be sequenced down, then the chimney on the left downclimbed with a spot (5.6, 20 feet).

Two minutes further, a small drop is bypassed by a trail on the right, through the woods and down some steep slabs.

About five minutes further on, the canyon drops and is clogged with big logs. Downclimb the logs, then rappel from a single bolt at the end of the slot.

About 10 minutes further downcanyon, the slot jogs left and enters a section of cool, sculpted narrows with numerous rappels from fixed anchors.

R1: 45 feet (15m) down a chute. Walk 40 feet.

R2: 30 feet (10m) down a chute. Slide down a short step. Walk about 50 feet (15m) downcanyon. A single, ancient bolt is positioned above a short, easy downclimb (8 feet (2.5m), 5.2). Twenty feet downcanyon, downclimb a log to a two-bolt anchor.

R3: 12 feet (4m) to the canyon floor. Walk 20 feet.

R4: Rap to a pothole, then down a lower slab (50 feet (15m)).

The canyon turns and opens to the full sun. Follow the slot 100 feet, including two short downclimbs, to a big log sticking vertically in the canyon.

R5: Rap 30 feet (10m) off a 2-bolt anchor next to the big log (!). Walk 50 feet, then downclimb a V slot to a 2 bolt anchor at a chockstone.

R6: Rap 40 feet (14m) down a slab to a pothole ledge. Walk 10 feet. Rappel off a single bolt (30 feet (10m)) or downclimb (5.6) to a round pothole.

This is a good place for lunch – the next section of the canyon is in the full sun. Apply sunscreen.

The canyon opens up, with the impressive face of Mystery Canyon to the right. This section of canyon is often very hot. Follow the canyon past a few short scrambling sections to a flat area and a giant ponderosa log.

The flat area is the bed of a lake formed behind a giant landslide that blocked the canyon some 50 years ago. When the upper canyon flashes, sediment is brought down to the point where the canyon is blocked, then deposited to build a flat plain. This is what happened in Zion Canyon a couple thousand years ago, building a flat area from below Zion Lodge to the Temple of Sinawava .

Ascend the sandpile that blocks the canyon. A trail can be found, starting at the left margin and climbing diagonally across to the rock on the right. Drop down the other side of the sandpile, then carefully traverse a sandy ledge and downclimb back into the canyon. Follow the canyon for a few minutes to the top of a steep slab blocking the canyon.

R7: Rap 50 feet (15m) from bolts down a slab.

Follow the watercourse as the canyon tightens up. A short drop is bypassed by hopping over a rock on the right and downclimbing a chimney. Another short drop is passed by climbing under a log (the log itself is very slippery). By now, the canyon is delightfully shaded and cool. A few shallow pools are tiptoed around, then a groove slid down to some larger pools. Stemming around these pools leads to a slot and the slabs at the top of Mystery Springs. Carefully traverse left a few feet, then down to the comfortable pothole ledge. This is a good place to gear up for the last section of the canyon, and secure all your gear in drybags or barrels.

This is the exciting rappel into Mystery Spring. The anchor is at the far end of the slab. A single bolt at the near end allows the astute leader an opportunity to set up a zip line. Walking out to the anchor is only 4th class, but it is very exposed.

R8: Rappel 110 feet (33m) into the pool at the base of the wall. This is a little bit tricky, because the rappeller must rap to the top of a boulder in the slot below, which is slightly off the fall line; then continue the rappel off the boulder, down a slippery slot and into the pool. There is a small chimney stance inches above the water where one can disconnect from the rope before swimming.

When pulling the rope, be sure that it does not fall down onto the boulder in the slot and get stuck.

Note: if concerned about speed or ability, set up a guided rappel. By not having to make the top of the boulder or rappel the slippery slot below, those of lesser skill will move faster and easier through the rappel. A guided rappel can also be used to keep people out of the pool, but that’s no fun.

Continue downcanyon, descending a small cascade into a waist deep pool. Further on, a boulder blocks the width of the canyon, creating a short drop with a turquoise pool below it.

There are several ways to deal with the pool. A small tree 10 feet back from the edge allows for a rappel. The chimney to the right can be downclimbed (5.6), though it is a little tricky. But really, the best way, after checking the pool for debris, is to jump. The pool is only about 8 feet deep with a sandy floor, so good jumping technique is required.

After the excitement of the pool, continue downcanyon, shimmying down a slippery log. After a short walk through the jungle, you arrive at the final rappel down Mystery Falls into the Narrows .

R9: Rappel 120 feet (36m) from bolts down the slippery cascade to the river. Many an expert canyoneer has been embarrassed on this rappel – try not to be among them.

The Narrows are followed downcanyon about a half mile (800m) to the stone structure (The Veranda) at the end of the paved trail. Follow the Gateway to the Narrows trail one mile (1.6 km) to the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop.

Note: if concerned about speed or ability, set up a guided rappel. By not having to make the top of the boulder or rappel the slippery slot below, those of lesser skill will move faster and easier through the rappel. A guided rappel can also be used to keep people out of the pool, but that’s no fun.

Continue downcanyon, descending a small cascade into a waist deep pool. Further on, a boulder blocks the width of the canyon, creating a short drop with a turquoise pool below it.

There are several ways to deal with the pool. A small tree 10 feet back from the edge allows for a rappel. The chimney to the right can be downclimbed (5.6), though it is a little tricky. But really, the best way, after checking the pool for debris, is to jump. The pool is only about 8 feet deep with a sandy floor, so good jumping technique is required.

After the excitement of the pool, continue downcanyon, shimmying down a slippery log. After a short walk through the jungle, you arrive at the final rappel down Mystery Falls into the Narrows .

R9: Rappel 120 feet (36m) from bolts down the slippery cascade to the river. Many an expert canyoneer has been embarrassed on this rappel – try not to be among them.

The Narrows are followed downcanyon about a half mile (800m) to the stone structure (The Veranda) at the end of the paved trail. Follow the Gateway to the Narrows trail one mile (1.6 km) to the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop.