|PINE CREEK (Middle Pine Creek)|
|ROUTE INFORMATION||VIEW PHOTOS!|
Pine Creek is one of the most popular technical canyoneering routes in Zion National Park and exemplifies the beauty of "subterranean" slot canyons. Starting at the Canyon Overlook parking lot and ending at the Route 9 switchbacks in the main canyon, Pine Creek is one of the few beautiful slot canyons that features such easy access. Although it is one of the easier technical canyons in Zion, it is still serious business with several rappels, downclimbs, and many swims through cold water. 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 Pine Creek to 50 people a day, which shouldn't be a problem except on the busiest of weekends or holidays, but Pine Creek is popular so be prepared to share the canyon. For more information on permit reservations, please see the Zion Permits website. The route starts at the Canyon Overlook Trail parking lot in the Upper East Canyon and ends at the second switchback in Lower Pine Creek in the main canyon, so you will need to arrange a car spot or a ride to the trailhead. (No hikers or bikes are allowed through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel.)
Enough rope for a 100' rappel, a climbing harness, 50' webbing (for handlines and/or a sling), rapid links, helmet, and a drybag. Wetsuits are recommended when the canyon is filled with water (quite often). Note on rope: One 200' rope or two 100'+ ropes work well. If you have a 130' rope as one of your two ropes, this can be used by itself for all but the final rappel.
Pine Creek is a fairly short canyoneering route and may take between 3-6 hours to complete. Starting at the Canyon Overlook parking lot, hike down the designated path under the bridge into into the wash below. (The old way of hiking down the eroding sandy paths of use right by the parking spots is highly discouraged.) Turn right and hike downstream underneath the bridge and within moments you will reach the first obstacle: the "intimidator pool" -- a 7-foot drop into a pothole. To avoid dropping right into the deep end of the pool, traverse the left side and then chimney down to lower yourself into the more shallow section. If you are new to canyoneering and this spot looks overwhelming to you, turn around now; the rest of the canyon doesn't get any easier!
Just beyond this pool is the 1st rappel (roughly 60 feet) off of bolts in the right (north)wall: rappel into the pool below, stay on rope, and continue the rappel into the final pool below. Depending on water levels, this may be a swimmer. Continuing downcanyon are a few minor downclimbs and a swim, and then the 2nd rappel (10 feet): a short rappel off of a jammed log into the usually chest-deep water.
Just around the corner is the 3rd rappel (roughly 60 feet) into the golden section of the canyon: the large double-arch chamber known as "the Cathedral." After you get off rappel, head under the beautiful arch formation to head down canyon. (Depending on conditions, the Cathedral can be a complete swimmer or even bone-dry with a sandy floor.) Put away the ropes for now as the next rappel is quite a ways off.
The next section of canyon is spectacular: dark and subterranean with barely any direct light making its way inside. Aside from several downclimbs, in "full" conditions there may also be a really long swim. Look up to the sky to see the amazing rock formations as you float on by! After hiking under a large chockstone boulder (that used to be the 4th rappel) followed by one more possible swim, the canyon starts to open up. You may also hear the sounds of traffic from one of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel windows far above.
4th rappel (roughly 65 feet) goes down a tall open slickrock section from two easy-to-find bolts on a shelf on the right (north) side of the canyon. Be careful with the rope pull to avoid it getting snagged in the corner. Continue downcanyon a bit and soon enough, you will reach an impassable drop. To find the final rappel, retreat up canyon a bit and scramble up to the shelf system above the left (south) side of the canyon (fairly easy). Note: Be careful hiking around here as the floor is a big boulder jam and may have holes and be unstable in parts!
From the shelf above the watercourse, the final bolt station is easily spotted jutting out above the grotto far below. 5th rappel (100 feet): a spectacular free rappel down into the grotto below. This rap can be quite intimidating, but if you keep your wits about you, be sure to check out the great views into the dark slot just upstream. Once your feet touch the ground, the technical section is over and you are back in the world of the living! The grotto is a perfect spot to remove wetsuits and have lunch. NOTE: In 2009, a major rockfall changed the landscape of the Grotto area.
Now it's time to pay the piper! The hike out is less than a mile, but lower Pine Creek is littered with hundreds of large boulders, so the going is relatively slow. Each obstacle is like a little puzzle where you can find the path of least resistance either going over or around the rocks. Several emerald pools will also be inviting for swimming! Soon enough, you will see the brick wall of the second switchback and a short hike up the path takes you to the road. Note: In 2005, the National Park Service did a cleanup of the second switchback to eliminate the spaghetti mess of multiple trails-of-use. Please respect any "do not hike here" signposts and minimize your impact on the area.
WATER LEVELS: As with most other slot canyons, conditions vary greatly depending on recent rains. Pine Creek can sometimes be almost bone dry, but more often then not, it involves several swims. When Pine Creek is full of water, you will almost definitely want to wear wetsuits to stay warm and enjoy yourself. Pine Creek drains an enormous amount of canyon, so its flash flood potential is extremely high. Be sure to check weather conditions before doing this route.
CROWDING: Pine Creek is loved by newbie and veteran canyoneers alike. As such, it ranks up with the Subway for the amount of traffic that goes through it. If your party is slower than the party behind you, please be kind and allow the faster group to play through.
DIFFICULTY: While Pine Creek is considered one of the easier and shorter canyoneering routes in Zion, it should not be taken for granted. As many who are new to canyoneering do this route, it is quite a common spot for rescue. Do not do this route if you have no technical canyoneering or rappelling experience.
Pine Creek is a Zion classic: wonderful scenery, interesting rappels, fun swims, and fairly easy access. How could anyone not love this route? Just be prepared to share it with others!