Spry Canyon

>> Sunday, October 18, 2009

Grade B +
Equipment: two 60 meter ropes, harnesses & belay devices for everyone, drinking water, snacks and/or lunch, consider wetsuits
Time: 10 hours for 6 people (mix of experienced, intermediate, and beginner)
Date: 4/18/09
Conditions: Mostly dry and warm except for a few rappels at the end that were wet with a cold wind
Experience Level: Intermediate
Tom's Description

Our first trip through Spry Canyon was in early November 2008. We had beautiful weather, fabulous autumn scenery and a dandy adventure. However, on take two we encountered a few extra hurdles that proved to be valuable learning experiences. I'll give you the experience from our second trip to offer the best advice.

So here is the scoop on Spry... (and pictures)

We parked about 1/3 mile east of the main tunnel and headed north up the sandy wash. Bags loaded with plenty of trail mix and fruit snacks, we walked the half mile up the wash and turned left up the slick rock. You’ll know to head up once you’ve gone the appropriate distance and the slick rock to the left is actually accessible.

The hike up the slick rock is not a light task and it can be easy to get lost. Luckily, as trusty scout, I navigated our group in the right direction to where the slick rock ascends up the bowl. Tom provides detailed instructions of this part of the hike and pocket Tom is always a good guide for the directionally challenged. I therefore refer you to his page so that I don’t have to list the dry details. http://www.canyoneeringusa.com/utah/zion/spry.htm

After hiking up the slick rock and a bit north, turn west up the slick rock bowl. Important note: do be sure to hike up the center, or to the right if you must, but avoid the precarious left. A few of the more adventurous of our group thought they might try their luck on the left of the bowl and one actually ended up stranded. That's what they get for not following the scout. The good news--we got to break out the rope early. We used a tree as an anchor to rescue our wayward hiker and then headed on our way. (This is why we don't recommend this for beginners.)

(As you ascend up the bowl at one point you will follow a large flat face. Please admire the lovely petroglyphs and see if you can spot the one that seems to resemble a jellyfish. Then spend a minute pondering why in the middle of the desert there is a petroglyph of a jellyfish.)

After we followed all of Tom’s directions to the top it was time to descend into Spry Canyon. This can be a difficult descent so navigate carefully. My advice, tend more the right and follow the rock down. The left looks tempting but you’ll just have to turn around.

Once we made it down we followed the wash to the first rappel. It was here that we noticed things were a little different in April than in November. In November you follow a sandy wash to the rappels. In April you follow the water and pass the occasional remnant of a glacier.

This first rappel is the perfect way to start out, 165 ft. It’s a fairly gentle slope at the beginning, getting steeper at the end. We tied two ropes together for this rappel to avoid having to down climb from the last ledge (a little stop with a quaint little tree). Since it was spring, this rappel had flowing water that had pooled at the bottom. As scout, I worked my magic and found a way around it. Almost to the bottom you will find a small lip that runs along the rock. Descend to that point and edge your way to the sand.

We encountered a half dozen or so easy rappels as we continued to follow the wash. We were able to avoid getting wet with some adroit maneuvering.

Suggestions for some of the rappel obstacles:

Early on in the rappel section of the canyon you can avoid dropping into the first little slot by hiking around to the right and using the anchor on a small tree to descend, dry, back in.

A little further we encountered a fun little rappel with a difficult set up. Here we rappelled down a gap between the rocks. The difficulty is that the bolts to anchor the rappel are on the other side of the narrow slot. Find a stick assist in pulling in the rope and chains rather than leaning over the slot without any protection.

After the half dozen or so rappels (they are amazing, but if I spend time going over each one you will be reading for weeks) we could avoid the water no longer and had to get wet. Even my amazing scouting couldn’t find a dry detour. Just suck it up and dive in.

After the first truly wet rappel we descended one more dry rappel before we made it to one of the more iconic slot rappels. Chains are located on the right of a narrow flute. Note: this is a double descent. We had to drop into the first pool, wade through, and descend into the next. The slot then drops away to the next rappel.

When the slot empties it is a beautiful sight, but it was also a bitter shock for us. We had lost a lot of time earlier in the canyon and on the slick rock ascent and the sun was nearly down. Just as we came out of the frigid water the winds started whipping through the slot. As I set up the next rappel my fingers were freezing. I hurried down the rappel to find shelter at the bottom but froze as I waited for my dry clothes to come with the rest of our group.

This is when we ran into another slight hold up. The two tiered rappel in the slot provides plenty of places to get the rope stuck. Normally, it would be easy to climb up a bit and unhook any snags, but with the freezing water and bitter wind this became a difficult situation. My advice: start as early as you can if you go in the spring to avoid this cold situation, and get out of this slot in good time.

Well, we all did make it out eventually and luckily, were able to change into dry clothing. From here there was another rappel and then some navigating down the boulder field to the final rap. The final rap is called the lambs tongue. It is possible to avoid this, but you will regret it. From the anchor on the tree this is one of the best rappels of the canyon, a free hang with a wonderful view.

From the last rappel the boulder field continues down to Pine Creek. The easiest way out is the follow the creek west once you reach the bottom. It takes you straight to the road. Unfortunately, we did not take this route. Instead, with the sun down, we tried to climb back up the other side of the canyon, hoping to run into the road. Bad decision. We actually ended up above a cliff with nowhere to go. So, April, out fearless leader, found a sturdy boulder for an anchor and we tied together all of our extra webbing for one last rappel. (If you make similar bad choices, just look for our webbing and if seems safe feel free to try our new rappel.)

Luckily from here we were very close to the road and thus ended our adventure (and at times, misadventure, with Spry).

So, final words of advice. Follow directions. Start early and give yourselves plenty of daylight to get through the canyon. Bring dry clothes, you will want them after the two wet rappels. Follow the creek bed to the road, and bring extra webbing if you plan to ignore this advice, and a head lamp.



Coach Rockwood October 25, 2009 at 6:04 PM  

The so-called "jellyfish" petro-glyph is actually a space ship . . .

About This Blog

WE THE PEOPLE of the Outdoor Lovers of Utah . . . okay, that is just silly. But we really do love the outdoors, especially the many scenic wonders of Utah. We decided to start this blog to document our adventures around the beautiful Zion's National Park and the other amazing places that Utah has to offer. You can follow our exploits for fun or to get ideas for your own adventures. Because we're all connected to education we'll use grades to evaluate the spectacular locations we visit. Happy recreating, and try not to go SPLAT at the bottom.


Brains... started it all; outfitter and guide of our many adventures.


Scout...the first one in and the last one out.


Brawn...master rope coiler and pack mule extraordinaire.


Mama Bear...always prepared with whatever the rest of us forget.


Wheel Man...provider of accommodations and transportation.


Reconnaissance...author of Tom's Canyoneering, our trusted source of information (present only in paperback and spirit).

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