Pine Creek Canyoneering Route
Talk About Fun! Pine Creek is a *sweet* technical canyoneering adventure conveniently located in the heart of Zion National Park . A permit is required and flash floods are a serious concern. Most canyoneering adventures involve some kind of grueling aspect that acts as a riff-raff barrier. Not here. Pine Creek is convenient, fun, fairly short, not too difficult and really, really cool. Just do it.
Conditions vary enormously depending upon when the last rain was. It can be comfortably cool, with a few short swims – no problem. Or it can be a test of mettle and a demonstration of hypothermia, when filled with water. Ask the rangers what you are in for, and believe them.
Pine Creek is the scene of numerous rescues every year. Please limit your group size to 6 or less, both for the sake of your own enjoyment, and for that of other parties in the canyon. (If you need to break your group up, it is pretty easy to take one group through in the morning and another group through in the afternoon. The alternate group can enjoy something like the Angels Landing Trail). Typical technical section times: 2-3 competent people – 1 hour; 6 people with competent leadership – 3 hours; 12 people with limited skills and questionable leadership – 12 hours. The walkout section takes 1-2 hours.
Accessibility makes it popular, but not often crowded. The canyon is very deep and narrow, but requires no difficult climbing. Passing slow parties is easy, when they are cooperative. There are 9 rappels from 10 to 100 feet, and a couple of long swims. The rappels are awkward and committing – this is not a place to teach beginners how to rappel. The final rappel into a beautiful grotto is not to be missed. Pine Creek is often done just after Keyhole Canyon .
Get a permit at the Visitor Center . Don’t get an early start – you’ll want to warm up after the swims in the sunny spot, which is only possible in the middle of the day. Take Highway 9 from Zion Canyon up toward the tunnel. The hike ends at the second switchback up Highway 9 (second from either direction). Spot a car here if you can. Drive up to and through the tunnel, then park on the right at the small parking lot at the east end.
From the east end of the tunnel, descend a small, rough trail from near the outhouse to the canyon floor.
Follow the canyon downhill under the bridge. Five minutes of walking and downclimbing leads to the first rappel. Wetsuits and harnesses are commonly put on in the shade of the canyon a few meters short of the first rappel.
First Obstacle: A short drop and pool must be dealt with before getting to the first rappel. There are several options depending on water level and skills. Straight down the watercourse often is the best choice. Climbing up left, then down on a ramp sometimes works better when the pool is full.
R1: 70 feet (20m) Rap from a bolt anchor to a pothole. Walk to the exit of the pothole and continue the rappel another 20 feet (6m) to the ground (sometimes pool). Note: The last person should flip the ropes left around a horn, to avoid sticking the rope in the crack on the last part of the rappel. Pull the rope carefully.
Historical Note: In ancient times, the first few rappels were avoided by walking the rim of the canyon and rappelling from a tree. Don’t do this. The possibility of knocking rocks onto canyoneers below is too high, and you miss some nice canyon.
Walk 20 meters, then downclimb a log under a rock. Walk 20 meters past a small arch.
R2: 10 feet (3m) off a log into a pothole.
R3: Great Cathedral Rappel. Walk carefully out a slippery ramp to the anchor. (May require a belay in slippery conditions). Rap 65 feet (20m) off a bolt anchor past 2 arches.
Walk or swim out the end of the pothole (through arch). Walk down a beautiful fluted corridor 100m to the next obstacle. Downclimb a log into a slot (and often a swim), or follow the rim on the right up and over to a bolt anchor and short rappel (20 feet, 6m), avoiding the deepest part of the swim. Walk or swim a long corridor. The canyon turns sharply right. Walk and downclimb 100 meters or so to a short rappel.
R4: Rap 20 feet (6m) off a log into a shallow pool.
Walk 200 yards (200m) to one last swim where the canyon turns sharply right. Downclimb a log and make your way to where the canyon opens up. This is a good place to have lunch and warm up.
Work through large blocks 200 meters, trending right near the end to a flat ledge and a bolt anchor near a small tree.
R5: Rap 65 feet (20m) down a corner. Pull the rope carefully to avoid getting it stuck in the corner crack. Walk through a neat keyhole to an open area. Climb slabs left to a bench, then walk down to an arch and a bolt anchor for the final rappel.
Safety Note: The canyon “floor” in the open area is debris wedged in-between giant boulders, and is unstable. It forms the roof of a cavern below. Use caution when moving across this possibly unstable area.
R6: Rap 100 feet (30m). A spectacular free rappel leads to a delightful fairy glen with a small spring.
Relax, swim, drink some water, remove harnesses and pack the rope. Sometimes it is best to wait until the canyon goes into the shade for the walk out.
Exit: Descend the canyon. The floor of the canyon is littered with large blocks and the walk out is strenuous. Take it slow and have fun. It usually takes at least an hour, not including time for playing in the pools. The masonry wall of the 2nd switchback is clearly visible from the canyon bottom just before the largest and best swimming hole. Find a small trail in the woods from just above the pool, or from the level of the pool, leading to the road.