"Das Boot" is the humorously-named half-mile section of the Left Fork of North Creek upstream from the standard top-down Subway route. This short but more strenuous technical canyoneering route goes through some beautiful subterranean territory and involves several rappels, downclimbs, swims, and constant exposure to cold water.
WARNING: This route is not suitable for hikers who have no technical canyoneering experience.
"Das Boot" is often done as an extended start to the Subway top-down hike. Aside from arranging a car spot or a shuttle service (readily available from one of the outfitters in Springdale), you must also get a canyoneering permit for the Upper Left Fork (Das Boot) and as of 2012, you also need a second Left Fork North Creek (Subway) permit in order to continue down the standard Subway route. Since the Subway has gained epic popularity over the years, it requires a good deal of luck to get permits for both on the same day. (You will also have to arrange a car spot or a shuttle service between the two trailheads.) If you only have a permit for Das Boot, you will exit up Russell Gulch back to the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead. (Note: Camping is not permitted in the Left Fork.) For more information on permit reservations and the lottery for the Subway, please see the Zion Permits website.
|Rating:||Strenuous canyoneering route|
|Access:||Start and end at Wildcat Canyon Trailhead (15.5 miles up the Kolob Terrace Road from the town of Virgin) or if continuing down the Subway, end at Left Fork Trailhead (roughly 8.2 miles up the Kolob Terrace Road)|
|Time Required:||1-3 hours in Das Boot technical section, 7-12 hours for complete hike (including Subway).|
|Length:||Roughly 10.2 miles total|
|Elevation Change:||1000-ft descent down Russell Gulch and wash into Das Boot, then gradual 1200-ft descent through the Left Fork, ending with a steep 400-ft ascent to the Left Fork Trailhead.|
|Technical Challenges:||Numerous downclimbing obstacles and approximately 2-3 rappels. Longest rap: 40 feet. Multiple cold swims are likely.|
|Equipment Needed:||Enough rope for a 40' rappel, climbing harness and rap device, climbing helmet, webbing and rapid links, drybag, GPS (to confirm approach to canyon). Wetsuits are recommended even in the summer as the water is perpetually cold.|
|Seasons:||Summer through fall for the general public.|
|Permit Required?||YES, a permit is required for "Upper Left Fork (Das Boot)" and a second permit is also required for "Left Fork North Creek (Subway)" if you intend to continue down the standard Subway route.|
|Flash Flood Warning:||Do not do this canyon if there is a threat of rain.|
The technical section of "Das Boot" may take only 1-3 hours, but the approach and exit hikes make this a full-day endeavor. If doing the Subway as well, the entire route could take anywhere between 7 to 12 hours.
Starting at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead, hike the standard Subway approach down Russell Gulch, but roughly half-a-mile down Russell Gulch, make note of the bench system under the White Cliffs to the east-- that's where you want to be! Leave the normal trail and head due east to cross over the Russell Gulch watercourse above where a small slot section starts. (If you leave the trail too early, you will be bushwhacking the manzanita; wait to leave the trail when you can see a fairly straightforward slickrock route across.)
Once up on the bench, follow it southeast and enjoy the early morning views of the Left Fork and the South Guardian Angel in the distance. As you start to clear the White Cliffs, start heading south to descend a minor drainage that doesn't quite show up on the topo map. (This is west of the more prominent north-south drainage shown on the topo; a GPS is quite helpful for verifying your location.) Without much difficulty, the minor drainage leads all the way to a shelf roughly 40 feet above the Left Fork. At this point, you can do a little rock scrambling to the east or to the west to find a friendly hiker's entry into the Left Fork. Or simpler yet, just suit up right at the shelf and do the 40-ft rappel off of a tree right into the drainage. (Make sure your rope is long enough for the pull!)
Start hiking down the narrow, dark canyon. Dry sections alternate with usually waist-deep water until you reach the first significant obstacle: a 20-ft rappel off of an old log jam. (I used to call this obstacle the "Donkey Kong logs" because of the two long logs that formed ramps fit for rolling barrels, but most of the logs have since washed away.) In the next quarter mile, you will encounter many smaller logjams and pools; downclimb or do short little rappels as you see fit. (A short run of webbing may come in very handy for handlines depending on conditions.)
About half-way through the canyon, the water gets significantly colder and you will encounter a handful of log-packed claustrophobic corridors and a few cold swims. But soon enough, the canyon opens up a bit and the subterranean feel is over. After a bit of easy hiking, you will reach the final obstacle: a 30-ft high dryfall with a long pool underneath. A ledge on the right (north) side lets you walk around on top to scope out the territory.
There are several options to the final obstacle: Around the corner is a small but sturdy tree that can be rappelled off of, but test it to make sure that you trust it. (A 60' rope doubled-over is just long enough to reach bottom.) If you don't trust the small tree, you can rappel right through the dryfall into the 50-ft long pool, but you will need to extend the anchor (from a tree or log back from the dryfall) and make sure your rope is long enough. (Note: Some people jump into the pool below, but I don't recommend that.) Hike downcanyon from the final obstacle and within moments you will join up with the "normal" top-down Subway route at junction with the Russell Gulch entrance.
At this point, it's time to continue down the Left Fork and do the standard top-down Subway route. Alternatively, if you have had enough or you are short on time or you couldn't score a Subway permit, you can hike up and out Russell Gulch back to where you started (saving you from needing a car spot). Hiking up Russell Gulch is a lot slower than the downhill approach (especially on a hot sunny day), but the scenery in the afternoon is sublime. Most people don't get to hear all of the birds singing in the forested areas! A GPS and map are useful for tracking your progress back out.
|Das Boot (Left Fork of North Creek) Map.
Note: While viewing the map, click on the map to return to this page.
Das Boot is a beautiful subterranean section of canyon that deserves a good amount of respect. This isn't the most technically difficult canyon, but its remoteness and extended exposure to cold water should not be taken for granted. While life goes on in the sunny world above, the cold subterranean sections spell certain death for all small creatures unfortunate to fall in from above. Be safe!