Canyoneering One of Zion National Park's Most Iconic Routes
The Subway "top-down" route is a classic way to hike the Left Fork of North Creek and is one of the most sought-after hikes in Zion National Park. The strenuous canyoneering route takes anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of hiking through 10 miles of rugged territory with multiple rappels, a few down-climbs, and several (VERY) cold swims. A permit is required to do the route and dry suits are highly recommended depending on the time of year.
The hike starts and ends at different trail heads. Requiring either to spot one car and drive up with another or take a shuttle offered by Zion Adventure Company.
Zion was our first stop on a week-long Thanksgiving road trip and we knew the Subway Top-Down would be a highlight of the trip. In preparation for the hike, we practiced technical rappel with friends and fellow climbers in the SB area.
Sling for Prusik
Black Diamond Harness
Black Diamond ATC Belay Device
Gore-Tex Dry Suit
Ugly non-water resistant garbage man suit Zion Adventure Company required we wear over dry suit
*The Zion Adventure Company employee renting us our gear the day before told me the 15L pack was the largest size they offered. The pack was so small and difficult to carry everything I needed through the canyon. When I returned the pack the day after, a different employee was shocked that I did The Subway with such a small pack and showed me the larger 20, 45, and 50L packs they offer.
This annoyed me.
We did the Subway on Saturday, November 17th. We met the Zion Adventure Company Shuttle at 6:15 am and arrived at Wildcat Canyon trailhead around 7 am.
The initial approach was the easy part. The hike in was a serene way to mentally and physically prepare for the canyoneering we'd eventually get to. We watched the sun rise while we walked through a quiet meadow and followed cairns leading us through Russell Gulch.
After a steep, slightly eroded scramble down the Gulch to connect with Left Fork, we reached our first, highly anticipated rappel - the boulder field obstacle. We were ready, eager, and excited. The rappel was simple and after a little more hiking we reached our first swim.
Note: Probably what you're envisioning are two brave spirits, in fashionable wet suits swimming like triathletes across clear emerald water. That couldn't be further from the truth.
We were swimming in ice cold water in the middle of winter in dry suits covered by non-water resistant garbage man suits wearing packs containing a dry bag that turned our packs into awkward floatation devices. I wouldn't call what we did a "swim" as much as a deranged doggy-paddle scramble trying to keep our hands above water to avoid the excruciatingly cold water. The whole thing was sort of funny and NOT something I wanted Tay to capture on his camera.
After a few more swims, we reached Keyhole Falls and the final rappel. This short and easy rappel led us down into the most blue and clear water we had seen on the hike. And once out of the water, we were in The Subway.
After removing the sad, soppy garbage man suit and dry suit (which wouldn't be needed any further on the route), we took time to explore and admire the surrounding. The clear flowing water and light reflecting off the canyon walls was beautiful.
We hiked out the Left Fork Trail and to our car which was left at the trailhead.