Hiking (sliding down) the Subway from the Top Down
I think the term 'hiking' is used loosely in this context, at least for the actual canyoneering section of the hike. I like sliding better. Sliding down the Subway was more accurate.
But! On May 6th 2017 in the early morning light, I did The Subway with my dear friend Amanda (@Scatter_Cushion). This is how it happened.
Getting There: We drove the van from California to Utah. Taking Interstate 15 east through Las Vegas until we reached highway 9 which takes you through the lovely town of Hurricane, and then basically following that road through Springdale until you get into the park!
Sleeping There: Living in a van is cool because you can just sleep anywhere. However, there did seem to be a lot of people camping along the virgin river down Kolob Canyon Road near the Coal Pits Wash (that's what google maps tells me it's called, not sure what the real name is.
Shuttle: You need to be dropped off at the top of the trailhead, or take two cars and park one at the top of the canyon and the other at the bottom. We didn't want to drive separately for 10 hours so we called Zion Adventures and they set up a pickup for us. At the time we took the shuttle it was $28 per person.
*Bonus Tip* The guy who drove us was hella cute, so if you do take the shuttle tell him I say hey.
Time it took: 11 hours. We got dropped off at the top of the trailhead at 8am and got back to the van around 7pm. However, we were very slow and took a lot of time for general shenanigans. I think normal people do it in 6-10 hours.
Length: About 9.5 miles.
Difficulty: The crux is definitely the hike out of the canyon. However, we had absolutely no experience canyoneering and we were able to do everything with ease. As long as you know how to repel you should be fine.
**Disclaimer** You should take this hike seriously if you've never done any canyoneering before. People get hurt and have died on this hike, so don't take my cavalier attitude as license to jump in without doing research. I make a lot of jokes about being safe, but please, make sure you are prepared. Plan your hike and hike your plan.
When to go: We went in May after a really wet winter and the water level was fine. However the recommended time to go is between late spring through fall. Winter is not a good time to go since you might drown in a flash flood.
The caveat to this is that as we were leaving we ran into a couple who did the whole descent without any gear or permit. (I wouldn't recommend skipping the permit, if you get caught there's a $300 ticket waiting for you) They had done The Subway over 10 times and felt really confident in their abilities. Needless to say we felt a bit over prepared. However, I'm really happy we had all the gear we did for our first time canyoneering ever. Stuff we used is listed below.
However, there are fixed anchors at all the rappel stations and many people do them with a hand line. I would not recommend brining at 30 meter rope (like we did), but something much much shorter. The longest rappel was 30 feet.
Step 1: Register for the lottery. It costs $5 to register. You have to register three months in advance. I had just gotten out of a relationship and I was applying to as many lottery application permits as possible to get myself out of my home town, The Subway was the first (and only) one that I got!
Step 2: Drive there! Zoom!
Step 3: Get dropped off by the cute shuttle driver at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead and begin your descent into Wildcat Canyon. This is the easy part of the hike. You pass through a lot of pretty trees, flat open sandstone expanses and very cool 'wavey' sandstone formations.
Step 4: The trail is obvious for most of this part, but beginning the 'true' descent into the canyon Amanda and I got lost and almost down climbed a sheer cliff face. The picture of the cairn and the flowers above was where we got lost. We should have turned right but instead we kept going straight.
Step 5: As soon as you get into the canyon itself you will immediately see the river. Which is great because now you can't take any wrong for like 4 more miles! The river is very cold so I recommend bringing a wetsuit.
Step 6: The first rappel is at a place called The Boulder Field Obstacle. This very short rappel (maybe 15'?) has two variations. There is one set of obvious anchors where you can set up a rappel that takes you over the edge of the boulder and to the beach below. However, if you look to the right of the obvious anchors there is another set of bolts where you can rappel down through a crack in the boulders and to a beach below. In the guide we had it said it was called The Rabbit Hole. This was much more fun since you descend into a bit of an abyss before landing on a beach.
Step 7: Keep going down until you get to some beautiful emerald pools! This is where you have to swim for the first time. It was a bit jarring, but really fun! Swimming with a backpack is super awkward. After this short swim the terrain starts to get really beautiful. It's full of the classic 'Subway' looking features and stunning pools.
Step 8: After swimming/walking through the canyon for a while you will come to the second rappel! It is probably the most beautiful rappel, and probably the most difficult. There's a slippery log (or there was when I was there) that you kind of have to walk down and across to get to the bottom. But once you are there you can see some absolutely stunning pools. It's all beautiful. All of it. I promise.
Step 9: After that rappel I'm not sure if you enter The Subway proper, or if it's like a mini 'pre Subway' experience, but there is a beautiful lunch spot and a cool log to pose with that everyone take a picture with.
Step 10: Then the last rappel! This one is the longest (30 feet) and you rap into some pretty pools. The trail continues on to the right of the rappel station, but if you swim left for about 10 feet or so you will come across a waterfall with a secret room behind it! It's very loud in there so prepare yourself.
Step 11: Welcome to the Subway! It's very pretty!
Step 12: Leaving The Subway is when the canyoneering turns back into hiking along a river with some slippery sections. You do get to see some really beautiful waterfalls on your way out, but now you are hiking your way out of the canyon!
Step 13: There is a really cool thing you will see on your way out! Dinosaur tracks! That blew my mind. You'll see them after a mile or so of hiking on an actual trail, they are on the right side of the river. Don't touch them, just take pictures and marvel at the age and vastness of the world.
Step 14: After hiking and rock hopping for about 2.5 miles you will see a small sign on the right side of the river that takes you directly up the side of the canyon and back to the parking lot! Don't miss this trail, if you do you'll end up way farther down the hill and then have to hike up the road back to the parking lot. I was so tired at this point that I would have been very upset if that had happened.
Final Step: Get back to the car, enjoy a beer and massage your sore feet!
This was a really great introduction into canyoneering. I feel like we were super over prepared, but I'm glad that we were for our first time. I would recommend packing really light, brining a wetsuit, and definitely not going down the canyon if there is a rain warning. There are technically only 2 (maybe 3?) places where you would be at risk if there was a flash flood, but is that how you want to die? Drowning under a boulder in Utah? No. Not me. Don't go if it's raining.
If you are looking for a more in depth explanation you can check out Joe's Guide to Zion National Park which is what I used to prepare for this.