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John Guilford's Hikes

Subway, Zion NP, Utah on 2002-05-26

Date: 2002-05-26

Location: Subway, Zion NP, Utah

People: (including myself): Joe Tarantino

Start:		11:40	0
Left Fork:	12:15	0.9
Lunch:		 1:20
Continue:	 1:35
Subway:		 2:35	3.5
Leave:		 3:15
Leave Left Fork: 5:00	4.4
Top of hill:	 5:20
Out:		 5:30	7
As it was the middle of the Memorial Day Weekend, we decided it was probably a bad idea to leave Zion and try to find a campground elsewhere.  So we extended our stay another day and decided to hike the Subway.  The Subway is unique among Zion hikes not in that it is limited to 50 people per day but that it is the only hike for which one can make reservations weeks or months in advance.  The do reserve 10 spots that open up the day before or the day of.  When I inquired the night before, it turns out that Joe and I were numbers 48 and 49.  So we just fit in. 

The Subway can be hiked as a canyoneering through hike, but that requires rappelling several times, wading the river for a while, plus a couple of swims.  We weren't prepared for that, so we did the less challenging (and less interesting) hike up from the bottom, returning out the bottom.  Some day I'd like to return and do the through canyoneering hike. 

To get to the trailhead, one leaves the Springdale entrance to the park, drives west on Rt 9 to the town of Virgin where one continues north on Kolob Road.  Soon this road climbs up onto the Lower Kolob Plateau.  This is an interesting place that sits on top of an old lava flow with valleys on either side.  You drive up the top of this ridge until you reach the Left Fork Trailhead.  One would continue further (after dropping a car) if one was doing the through hike, but we weren't so we merely parked. 

[ PIX1 ]The trail goes a short distance along the plateau before dropping (rather steeply) down into the Left Fork valley.  The trail steeply switchbacks down the canyon side until it reaches the Left Fork of North Creek.  This is very well marked so that hikers on the through hike will know when to exit the canyon. 

At the creek we found trees, vegetation, and cactus in bloom. 

The trail pretty much follows the creek upstream.  [ PIX2 ]In many places there seems to be a couple different trails one could take.  Sometimes the main trail was on one side of the creek, sometimes it was on the other.  The creek was small enough that crossing it wasn't a problem.  [ PIX3 ]Sometimes the trail climbed the hillside briefly before descending on the other side of some obstruction.  The day was warm and we stopped for a snack along the way.  Nearer to the actual Subway, we met a couple of National Park Rangers coming the other way.  One happened to be the same one that gave me the permit the previous night.  I think they were there checking to make sure that everyone on the trail had a valid permit.  Since he remembered me, he didn't ask to see my permit. 

[ PIX4 ]Just before the Subway proper, the trail goes alongside a giant ampitheater-ish canyon wall.  About this point, it becomes easier to wade the creek than not.  The creek is spread out over a wide expanse of rock, however, so it isn't deep at all.  Surprisingly, the rock wasn't that slick.  Climbing up a rock slab and turning a corner, one finally gets to the Subway.  [ PIX5 ]It is named the Subway because the canyon is reminiscent of a real subway tunnel.  The canyon starts off as a slot higher up, then it reaches some softer rock where it carved out a rather cylindrical canyon.  It is this cylindrical section that looks like a subway (or a "tube" to any Brits out there).  [ PIX6 ]This section of the canyon, while interesting, is rather short.  We soon arrived at a section where the pools were deep and would necessitate swimming to continue further.  That exercise was rather silly as just around the bend (where we couldn't see) was Keyhole Falls.  In fact, we were just at the location where through hikers would rappel into the canyon just above the Subway.  We even found the bolts in the wall that they might use. 

After some pictures and some more snacks, we headed down.  On the way down it seemed like it was somewhat easier to find the "correct" trail than on the way up.  I'm sure we didn't exactly follow the same path as we had come up on, but either because we had been there before or that it was easier to see the path when you are headed down hill, we found the going easier.  Gratefully, the sun was passing beyond the canyon rim, cooling things down a bit.  We wouldn't have wanted to climb the canyon side in the hot sun.  Just before we turned away from the creek we met up with a group of through hikers who were somewhat concerned about missing the trail turn.  We assured them that it was impossible to miss, and in fact came across the turn with them.  We then climbed up out of the canyon, crossed the plateau, and returned to the car. 

The timing worked out well as we had time to return to our Zion campground, clean up a bit, and then return to Springdale for dinner after the worst of the dinner crowd was gone. 


[ PIX1 ] Left Fork valley. 

[ PIX2 ] Joe in top end of valley (not too far from the Subway). 

[ PIX3 ] Water running over the rocks. 

[ PIX4 ] What I've called the "ampitheater". 

[ PIX5 ] The "Subway" from inside. 

[ PIX6 ] John as high as we could go without swimming.  "Keyhole Falls" is around the corner to the left behind John.  The slab at the upper right is bolted for rappelling into the canyon.  Just beyond John the water gets deep. 

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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015