Tucked away between the East Temple and the Twin Brothers, Spry Canyon is a large drainage that starts in the Upper East Canyon under Deertrap Mountain and makes its way down to Lower Pine Creek in the main canyon. The mouth of the canyon can be seen between the East Temple and Mount Spry when driving up the Route 9 switchbacks heading to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. A descent of Spry Canyon makes for a fun canyoneering adventure through beautiful and rugged scenery, but several awkward rappels and difficult downclimbs make this a more serious affair than the more popular Zion canyoneering routes.
WARNING: This route is not suitable for hikers who have no technical canyoneering experience.
Like all other technical canyons in Zion National Park, you need a canyoneering permit for each member of your group. The National Park Service limits Spry Canyon access to only 28 people a day and a group size of 6. Complete info on the Zion Canyoneering Permits website.
|Rating:||Strenuous canyoneering route|
|Access:||Start at Upper Pine Creek drainage (.5 miles east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel), end at Route 9's first switchback in the main canyon|
|Time Required:||6-8 hours|
|Length:||Roughly 3 miles total|
|Elevation Change:||800-ft ascent out of Upper Pine Creek, 1900-ft descent down Spry Canyon and Lower Pine Creek.|
|Technical Challenges:||Navigation to enter the canyon, numerous rappels, downclimbing obstacles, and possibly a few short pools to wade/swim through. Longest rap: 165 feet.|
|Equipment Needed:||Enough rope for a 165' rappel (preferably a 200' rope and a 140+ rope), climbing harness and rap device, climbing helmet, webbing and rapid links, GPS (to confirm start of canyon), slings or daisy chain as a safety leash at rap stations, two-way radios may be useful for communication at a few of the longer rappels.|
|Seasons:||Late spring through fall, although summer can be very hot.|
|Flash Flood Warning:||Do not do this canyon if there is a threat of rain.|
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The guide below assumes that you have the basic skills required to descend a canyon safely. Conditions in canyons change quite often, so use your own eyes to evaluate every obstacle if something is different than expected. Do not blindly follow this or any other description; use your own judgement and be safe.
If you are spotting a vehicle, park it at the first switchback east of Canyon Junction (near Lower Pine Creek Bridge) along Route 9; this is where you will come out at the end of the day. Then get a ride/shuttle or drive a second car up Route 9 to the Upper East Canyon. The hike starts at Upper Pine Creek, located .4 miles east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and is the first large open drainage on the north side of the road. (There are several roadside parking spots close to Upper Pine Creek, from the always-crowded Canyon Overlook Trail parking lot, the few spots in front of Shelf Canyon, to a few smaller pull-off spots just to the east.) Once parked, carefully walk the road and look for a trail-of-use that will take you down into the sandy wash.
Once in Upper Pine Creek, the hiking is fairly easy and the scenery is quite pleasant as sections of wide sandy streambed are interspersed with sections of interesting slickrock shelves. Roughly .6 miles from Route 9, look for a convenient ramp on the left (west) side of the wash to hike/scramble up and out of the canyon. This will lead to a wonderful open slickrock pantheon where you can see Deertrap Mountain to the north. Continue hiking NNW, working the slopes and crack lines up into the large slickrock bowl; you may encounter a few Class 2-3 scrambling obstacles as you make progress. About half way up, look to the north for an easy route to a slot with a tall vertical wall to the left of it; at the base of this sheer wall are a handful of faded petroglyphs. Cool! Continue up the ramp to reach the saddle between Upper Pine Creek and Spry Canyon. The views in both directions are pretty awesome.
From the saddle, continue down the other side, navigating and scrambling past any obstacles. While there is no one correct way, you should be able to find a fairly reasonable route into the wash below. Once down, follow the pleasant sandy wash southwest; as you make your way in between the East Temple and Twin Brothers, the canyon really begins to take shape. Just before the first rappel, the canyon floor turns to beautiful slickrock at a narrow V-shaped pass between the two peaks. Now the fun begins...
Rappel 1 (165 feet) is off of two bolts in the LDC (left downcanyon) wall. While this is actually the longest rappel in the canyon, it is down a mild low-angle slab. Near the end of the rappel is a small pool that you can easily walk around, and then the rap continues down another 25 feet and ends in a larger pool that is usually waist-deep. (There is a little ledge a few feet up that you can walk a bit to the shallow end of the pool, but be careful not to pendulum swing into the pool.) Continue hiking downcanyon through the beautiful open wash.
Roughly 15 minutes from rap 1, the canyon narrows and you will reach the top of a dark tight slot. Follow a path on the left (south) side of the overgrown rim roughly 300 feet to Rappel 2 (40 feet), an easy rap off of a tree into the short slot. (Note: people have rapped directly into the tight slot and have also rapped from a spot on the right side, but the left side is the simplest option.) Just around the corner is the end of the short slot and there may be a pool that you can stem across to the exit. Continuing downcanyon are numerous downclimbing obstacles around small drops and potholes. Rappel 3 (20 feet) goes down a short, but intimidating narrow slot. This spot changes a lot depending on recent floods and positioning of logs, but you may see or need to place webbing around a log at the top of the slot to do the short rap or you may want to stem or chimney down the crack. (Alternatively, you can scramble up LDC to a 50-foot rap that bybasses the slot, but your rope may get stuck in a crack during the pull. Guess how I know...)
Just around the corner is Rappel 4 (40 feet), an intimidating rap station where you have to stand on outward-sloping sandstone and reach across the drop to get at the bolted anchors on the opposite RDC wall. (It's even more intimidating when there is flowing water making things slippery. If you have a long run of webbing, a few trees and alternate anchors up-canyon can be used as a tether for safety.) Once on rappel, it's pretty sweet to come down through the beautiful alcove formation on a free rappel. Just past this rappel is a great spot to take a break if you scramble up RDC to a welcoming shelf system just above the canyon. This spot also offers a wonderful view south out to Lower Pine Creek.
In the next section of canyon, the vertical drops are taller and the raps come one after the other. Continuing down canyon is Rappel 5 (90 feet), a big-wall rap off of three bolts in the LDC wall that goes straight down into a cave-like slot section. Be careful approaching this anchor as the slabs above the drop are outward-facing. This spot is also infamous for the array of rope grooves at the edge; be careful with placement for your rope pull. (An alternate set of bolts at the head of the drop may have an easier rope pull.) The bottom of the rap may have some waist-deep water; hike out the narrow opening to exit the cave. Just around the corner is the next big drop, a beautiful fluted chute with a chockstone at the top. While people have rapped from webbing attached to the chockstone, a nicer option is Rap 6 (100 feet) off of a large ponderosa pine, located LDC 30 feet beyond the chockstone. Once you clear the lip, it's a nice vertical drop into a wider slot section. And as with the previous rap, there are numerous rope grooves, so take care with placement for a smooth rope pull.
Just around the corner is Rappel 7 (50 feet) off of two bolts LDC. This is a fun two-stage rappel, dropping into a small pool of knee to waist-deep water, then continuing down a shorter drop to the final shallow pool. And just around the corner is Rappel 8 (25 feet) off of two RDC bolts down a chute into a dark narrow slot. This little slot is probably the coolest section of Spry; when you get off rap, it's usually a very short swim down the dark corridor, then an awkward downclimb or short rappel down a narrow wedge-shaped ramp to a second longer swimming corridor. At the very end of this claustrophobic slot is the light of day: Rappel 9 (75 feet) off of two LDC bolts down to an open sandy area.
We're now out of the slot, but we still have a ways to go. 50 feet downcanyon is Rappel 10 (75 feet) off of two bolts near the edge of a tall cliffband. (Previously, the anchor was off of a lassoed rock formation as well as an alternative scramble out the LDC side to a large ledge and rappel off of two trees.) After this rap, hike out and navigate through the boulderfield heading down into Lower Pine Creek. Roughly 30 minutes after the previous rap, you will get to Rap 11 (100 feet), the "Lambs Tongue" rappel anchored by a large tree at edge of the tall cliffband. This is a fun and scenic rappel with the lower half as a free rappel. (Note: many years ago, people would bybass this rap by hiking down the sandy slope to the west, which caused ugly erosion lines. The rappel is much more fun.)
After this last rappel, it's time to put away the technical gear and continue the hike down. Soon enough, you will reach the cliffs directly above Lower Pine Creek. There are several spots where you can easily navigate the shelf systems to make it down to the water. Note that Lower Pine Creek is a popular watering hole, so you are likely to see many other tourists at this point. Follow the stream out to the first switchback along Route 9. Hopefully your car is there waiting for you!
|Map: Spry Canyon (canyoneering route)
Note: While viewing the map, click on the map to return to this page.
Spry Canyon is a great canyoneering adventure through some truly wonderful and unique scenery, but with several intimidating obstacles, awkward rappel starts, and a few tricky rope pulls, this canyon deserves a good deal of respect and attention. Also note that standards in the canyon have changed quite a bit over the years, so many rappels have numerous options (some better, some worse). Evaluate each obstacle and don't blindly follow this or any other guide.