|KEYHOLE CANYON (Starfish Canyon)|
|ROUTE INFORMATION||VIEW PHOTOS!|
Keyhole Canyon barely shows up on a topo map, but it is a beautiful little subterranean slot canyon that is a popular route for beginning canyoneers. This route takes roughly two hours to complete and involves 2-3 rappels, many down-climbing obstacles, and a few wades and swims through cold water. Full technical gear is required and wetsuits are recommended. This route is not suitable for hikers who have no technical canyoneering experience.
You must get a backcountry permit to do this route. The National Park Service limits access to Keyhole Canyon to 50 people a day, which shouldn't be a problem except on the busiest of weekends or holidays, but be prepared to share the canyon. For more information on permit reservations, please see the Zion Permits website.
100' rope, a climbing harness, 50' webbing (for handlines and/or a sling), rapid links, helmet, and a drybag. Wetsuits are recommended even in the summer as the water is perpetually cold.
The route starts off of the Route 9 road in the East Canyon -- roughly 3.5 miles east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel or 2 miles west of the east entrance station. Note the contours in the road in the map below and park at one of the two closest pull-offs: one right in front of the Keyhole Canyon exit and one further east, closer to the start of the route. Walk east on the road until you can see a large slickrock bowl to the north, with a hoodoo formation at the top and a vertical ridge on the left. (See first picture on the photos page.) Hike up the bowl towards the hoodoo formation at the top, then scramble down left (west) of it into Keyhole Canyon. Now the fun begins!
Start hiking down the first slot section. You will encounter numerous obstacles to downclimb, including boulders and logs. If you are new to canyoneering, many of these downclimbs can be intimidating. Evaluate each obstacle carefully and use opposing force against the walls to control your descent. You will make it! Soon enough, the walls open up and we are in a sandy open section.
Only a short distance down the open section, it's time for the second slot section on the left. Rappel off of the set of bolts in the wall and descend into the dark subterranean section. Now we are in the golden section of the canyon. After wading/swimming through a few pools, you will soon reach the 2nd rappel: a very straight-forward 20-foot rappel off of bolt in the right (east) wall. One more pool and you are at the 3rd and final rappel -- an easy sloping rappel off of another bolt in the right (east) wall.
After a few more downclimbs over boulder obstacles, you will reach the crux of the canyon: a downclimb into a long narrow swimming corridor. The swim is roughly 100-feet long and can be intimidating. Keep your cool and propel yourself off of the walls. Soon enough, you will make it to the far shore! Hike through a few more shallow pools and you will soon be back in the light of day. Hike out the wash to your car. Wasn't that fun?
As with all slot canyons, there is a high risk of flash floods, so check weather conditions before doing this route. Water levels vary greatly depending on recent rains; most often, Keyhole will have several swims, but in low water conditions, the pools may be only waist or chest-deep.
If you are a beginner and the first slot section terrified you, you can escape the canyon by hiking a shortcut route out to the road. (See dotted path in the map below.) This shortcut is highly discouraged because of the human impact on the vegetation, but it is good to know about in case of emergency.
The first rappel used to be off of the ponderosa pine (on the other side of the sandy wash) but a bolt was installed in the wall in 2006 to save the tree from constant use and abuse.
Keyhole Canyon is a great introduction to canyoneering; it has several technical challenges as well as great scenery, and it is so short, people who are miserable can escape soon enough. Keyhole is loved by newbie canyoneers and veterans alike. As such, it sees a lot of traffic, so please do your best to minimize your impact on the canyon.