Monday, May 13, 2013
Throughout the southwest natural formations are constantly being named after man made objects. The Cookie Jar, Steamboat Rock, Cathedral Rock, Park Avenue are but a few examples. In Zion National Park we have this place on the Left Fork of the North River called the Subway. It gets its name from the under-cut rock that forms an S-shape in the bottom of the canyon. If you get there before noon you can catch the light reflecting off the canyon wall and into the 'subway tube.' It'll appear as if train headlights are coming at you down the tube. The Subway is one of those places that posses a certain magic. The combination of the canyon's unique undercut formation, the constant trickle of the water down small waterfalls into large pools, the interplay of reflected light through-out the canyon, along with some fall color really leaves a lasting impression. People come far and wide to be able to experience it, but only the fit and committed individuals actually make it there. In order to visit the Subway, you have to obtain a permit at least the day before. During summer months you have to make a reservation. The cooler months you can get one usually just walking up to the back country office desk. You'll have to drive out of the park, then back into the back-country to get to the trail head. You arrive at a much higher elevation, and in late fall the sun barely makes it to the bottom of the canyon. The hike is a fairly vigorous one, and if you hike from the bottom trail head up and back it will total to about 9 miles. The first three quarters of a mile is a cake walk, but once you hit the canyon rim you have to descend down a steep wash about 600 feet to the canyon floor.
There are no switchbacks here. All you can do is rock hop and boulder to the bottom. Round trip, will take all day. I wasn't sure of the conditions at the bottom since there just was a cold snap. Bryce got about 5 inches of snow about three days before so I wanted to be prepared for the worst. People typically rent canyoneering gear for the Narrows in Zion. I decided to go ahead and rent the gear for the Subway as well. Best to err on the side of caution. Down at the bottom, the trail is the creek. The gear consisted of neoprene booties, and water proof canyoneering pants made of Gore-tex on top and a tight rubber seal at the bottom around the bootie. We then donned the special shoes made by rock climbing gear manufacturers that have special grippy soles and special mesh to drain when you lift your foot out of the water. The gear worked pretty well. I wouldn't say I was warm, but I wasn't freezing either. Kristi was cold however, but she gets cold easily. I suppose it varies from person to person where their comfort level will lie. Obviously you will have to decide for yourself, taking in consideration the weather conditions. This morning was cold, the leaves had all but fallen from the trees. There was ice and snow in the more shady areas of the canyon. It was slippery enough, so to add some ice in the mix made the hike a little more slippy. The first three miles was a lot of rock and boulder hopping. You could begin to see where people had established little trails in the direction of the easier routes. Although the Park Service discourages the creation of these kinds of trails they really do make life a bit easier. Finally you begin to see the canyon narrow, and the rock creek bed turn red. The last mile is amazing. You come to a variety of cascading waterfalls. Take time now to capture these falls, because on the hike out the sun will be high in the canyon and too harsh to get any keepers. Don't spend too much time here either, or you will miss the light reflections in the Subway, and increase the chance of hiking in the dark later on. Archangel falls is one of the iconic falls that can't be missed, and it can only best be shot in the shade. Soon you will reach the Subway.
There was only one other person there, and he probably was about a half an hour ahead of us. I gave him a wide berth and shot the lower part of the canyon, and a fissure with water flowing in it. Eventually I made my way up. The guy was kind enough to offer to leave, but I stated we were going to have lunch and to keep shooting. Just about the time we finished our sandwiches he began to move on. Suddenly he slipped on the wet stone, landed on his butt and his camera, still attached to his retracted tripod went full force into one of the deep pools. He sat there stunned for a second then realized his camera was upside down in the bottom of the pool. I wasn't sure what model Canon he had but the look on his face wasn't good. I asked if he was okay, he said he was, and kind of stumbled off. I continued to shoot the Subway, looking for compositions that both had and hadn't (that I has seen) been done before. Alas it was time to leave, and I was satisfied that I had gotten some keepers. The light was just beginning to change anyway. We got there about quarter to twelve, and by one o'clock the light wasn't reflecting off the canyon in that special way anymore. See, in the morning the sun will reflect off the western wall, and shine down the Subway 'tube'. It is this effect that appears as if you were in a subway tube with train lights approaching. The rest of the canyon was in full sunlight now, and the beautiful falls we had passed were covered in harsh shadows. I was sure glad I got some shots in earlier. The hike out seemed to pass by quickly since I was done stopping and shooting. The weather warmed up a bit, and once we got to the bottom of the steep part the sun was just going down, so we could climb out in the shade. Once we finally got to the rim of the canyon, the hike to the parking lot seemed like it took forever. We got to the van right at dusk, then made a bee-line to the pizza place in Springdale. Talk about a perfect day. We weren't worried about returning the gear since we had a hike in the Narrows planned for the next day.