Das Boot The Subway Direct Start Left Fork, Great West Canyon
The Famous “Subway” is an easy and incredibly scenic canyoneering adventure. Hidden upstream from the usual start is a wonderful, tight, dark, cold and wet canyoneering narrows that makes a much more adventurous start to the classic (and not very difficult) Subway. The “Das Boot Variation” offers easy access to the kind of tight, twisty and wet narrows found in many more “extreme” canyons like Heaps or Imlay, however, due to its unrelenting nature, this is a journey only for prepared and experienced canyoneers. GPS and a good map are pretty much required to get in at the right place.
What’s it like? How about a one-third mile stretch that takes 2 hours to negotiate? A long, underground narrows with only an occasional view of the sun. Wading and swimming for 2 hours straight. Numerous log jams to climb over or rappel from. A few short drops requiring skilled downclimbing or short rappels. And not very much light, so I can’t show you much in the way of photographs.
From Zion Main Canyon , drive south on Highway 9 to the town of Virgin , and turn right on the Kolob Reservoir Road . The well-signed Left Fork Trailhead is on the right 8.1 miles from Virgin. Spot a car here. Hitch or drive another 7 miles up the Road to the “Wildcat Canyon Trailhead”. If using one car, it is much better to leave a car at the bottom and hitch first. Hitching on the KT road is pretty easy, especially early in the morning.
Das Boot Variation
From the ” Wildcat Canyon ” trailhead, follow the trail 30 minutes past the first trail junction (The Hop Valley Connector), then right (South) at the second trail toward Northgate Peaks . Follow this a short way (2 mins) before leaving the trail to the left and dropping into a slickrock bowl. There is a prominent, unmaintained, but well cairned trail along this entire “backcountry” route. IF you are not following a prominent trail, you are getting lost. Hike down slickrock into a beautiful forest. Follow the trail through the forest and out onto a ridge, that then heads left, dropping into Russell Gulch.
This is where the Das Boot variation heads off from the usual path. Looking down from the ridge, note a slickrock pass above the usual slickrock pass. Descend and cross Russell Gulch, then climb to the higher slickrock pass. From there, climb straight up and slightly right to gain a bench. Cross the corner of the bench and descend shallow gullies heading southeast toward a complex of gullies and ridges toward the Left Fork visible ahead. Make sure there is a substantial ridge on your right. Work your way down trying to avoid difficulties (3rd class) to a canyon bottom. Follow the canyon past some brushy sections, some sandy sections and some slickrock sections to where it drops into the Left Fork. Avoid rappelling in by traversing upcanyon (4th class) to where a steep brushy slope descends to the bottom of the canyon.
Let the Games Begin!
The narrows begin immediately. Wade on in. We were fortunate to find fairly clean water, recently flushed by a rainy period. Wade, swim, climb, rappel, etc. for about 2 hours. It is beautiful and challenging down there, and even on a brutally hot day (108 degrees in St George) we were very chilly in our shortee wet suits. Good Luck.
The end of this section is marked by a 30 foot waterfall, with a large ledge on the right. Rappel the waterfall directly off the logjam. (There used to be a tree off to the right, but it expired). Downcanyon 100 yards (100 m) is the intersection with the Subway regular route. (If short on time, one can ascend the regular Subway start, rather than completing the Subway). Enjoy the Subway or the exit.