ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SOUTHWEST
Hike D7. Zion's Keyhole Canyon
- Hiking time: 2 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 0.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 200 feet
- USGS Topo Map: Springdale East or Zion National Park Topographical Map
- Difficulties: Three short rappels, much scrambling, some swimming, flash flood danger.
- Special equipment: 100ft of rope, harnesses and rappelling gear, dry bags.
- Permit: Obtain permit from Backcountry Desk in Zion National Park Visitor Center.
- ACA Rating: 3B II
Zion National Park in southwestern Utah is one of loveliest places on earth. But if you visit it in the usual way, by driving up into the main canyon where it opens up into the desert and if you do not venture far from the road you will only have seen a fraction of this beauty. Beyond the asphalt, lie magnificient sculptured canyons, luxurious grottoes and awesome carved sandstone ravines that can only be reached on foot and, sometimes, only by swimming and rappelling.
Keyhole Canyon provides a short technical, slot canyon experience with three easy rappels and some swimming in very cold water. It is a brief and valuable test for those who contemplate tackling some of the more ambitious technical canyoneering adventures in Zion like Mystery Canyon or Pine Creek.
From the Visitor Center near the south entrance to Zion National Park drive north and then east on Highway 9 up through the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel. Continue on to a second short tunnel. Precisely 1.8mi beyond the exit from that tunnel there is a bend to the right with two small pullouts on the right (37o13.49'N 112o54.16'W). Park in one of those.
Hike about 200yds around the next corner to where a depression on the left side of the road marks the passage of a small wash (37o13.44'N 112o54.03'W). Head up this wash veering left and following a use-trail in the sand. Climb the slickrock toward a saddle with several hoodoos. There are several other, higher saddles visible to the right of the one you want so be sure to veer left. The saddle is reached after a climb of just about 200ft and you should be able to discern a clear use trail across the top and down the steep, sandy descent on the other side. After this descent, you will be in the narrow bottom of Keyhole Canyon about 15min from the start.
Turn left into an even narrower slot. This first section of Keyhole is shoulder width but dry and with a few straightforward downclimbs. Chimneying is the recommended method of descent for most of these obstacles. After about 15min (and 30min from the start) you exit the first section of slot onto a broad, open wash. But just 20yds downstream the route turns abruptly left and disappears into another narrow slot. Right at this entrance there is an interesting 30ft rappel into an enclosed bowl that usually has a shallow pool in the bottom. The anchor for this first rappel is a stout tree on the other, right side of the broad wash. This descent is immediately followed by a second, shorter rappel (using anchor bolts in the wall) and then by a tricky but short downclimb into a waist deep pool (use the webbing on the chockstone to help with the descent). Another short rappel follows for which there are bolts in the left wall. After some more downclimbing you will come to a long, 3ft wide and deep pool in a narrow, inclined slot. A mixture of chimneying and/or swimming is needed here as well as a dry bag for any belongings you may have brought. When we came this way there were three sections of pool separated by short gravel sand beaches. However, each year the configuration will change with the passing storms. What seems to remain constant is the very cold water. Fortunately it is not far from the cold pools to the exit. A few more small downclimbs and sections of narrow slot canyon and you arrive at the exit about 50yds from the road and the place where you parked your vehicle (37o13.49'N 112o54.16'W). It should take about 2hrs to complete this hike.
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Last updated 7/1/00.
Christopher E. Brennen