I slept horribly the previous night shivering in the 28 degree cold. Woke up puffy eyed and sore, hoping for sunshine. I jogged a couple laps around the campground and warmed up with some Jetboiled oatmeal until eventually a few rays streaked the towering cliffs around us and melted the frost from our tents. We decided to renew our campsite for an additional day and were surprised to find out that even at 7 am on a freezing cold Thursday our site was one of only three available for the upcoming day. With no set agenda for the day we opted to hike backcountry on the west side of the park on the Left Fork of North Creek, a nine mile roundtrip hike to a unique rock formation called The Subway. We stopped in at the backcountry office to pick up our permit, check the map, and laugh at another record low forecast, then drove 25 miles to the trailhead.
Pictured above: Our campsite and the view early in the Subway hike. The hike started from a dirt parking area, then briefly crossed a sandy upland area before dropping 400 feet down a series of steep switchbacks into the North Creek ravine. Once in the ravine, the path followed the river from bank to bank in an exceedingly fun series of water crossings.
As we trekked up the river, the path-most-travelled generally was apparent, but every crossing or giant rock obstacle provided a chance to try something creative: leaping onto a chain of algae-covered rocks, scrambling over a boulder, or using a tree as a climbing pole. The morning weather began pleasant enough, cloudy with hints of sun, but soon turned winter-like with light snow sprinkling our backs as it blew into the canyon. Throughout the day in my head I kept lamenting how many gorgeous pictures were being squashed by the snowflakes and cloud cover, but there was also something amazing about the freakish snow. In spite of condition reports to the contrary from the ranger in the permit office, we were able to keep our feet dry for the first four miles or so until just before the start of the actual Subway portion of the hike.
There the canyon narrowed and the channel water bumped up against the rock walls. On a typical 80 degree late spring day I’m sure it would’ve been a treat to shed the shoes and wade ankle-deep in the channel. On this day though standing in my flip flops in the snowmelt-filled water with the wind a-howling, it was no picnic. Two steps into my flip flop foray I was promptly whisked off my feet and dumped unceremoniously onto my elbow. Mark was able to dopplegang my mishap almost exactly. Our journey to the heart of the Subway wasn’t exactly beginning auspiciously.
The canyon walls continued to close in until at last we reached our dead-end, blocked by a short rock wall surrounded by deep green pools. It really was spectacular, but we stayed only long enough to get a sense of the place and capture a few photos.
As we retraced our steps the sun popped out for a magical moment, but by the time we returned to dry land the snow was pelting again. My legs shook uncontrollably as I tried to dry my bright pink toes before rewrapping them in socks and shoes.
The return trip was equally amusing as river crossing in reverse were equally creative and once out of the wind tunnel, we warmed up quickly.
We reached the car seven hours after we’d left. In the evening the sun finally popped out again and we road the shuttle around again catching pictures.
I slept in the car and didn’t sleep much better than in the tent, but at least I wasn’t as cold. In the morning the frost-soaked kindling and firewood refused to light until literally my last match lay smoking on the frozen heap. Poof! Ah, the morning will have warmth. The day would have warmth too. We were grateful to have ample sun pouring into our campsite and blue skies overhead. The pace was leisurely as we broke camp. We spent the morning and early afternoon exploring some of the Zion day hikes we hadn’t yet checked out. I jogged back up Angel’s Landing in the morning to get some blue sky pictures while Mark went to Weeping rock and hiked along the river.
By late morning we were baking in the heat. Sweet, sweet redemptive heat. We reconvened and both checked out the Emerald Pools and the beginning of The Narrows (Narrows hike was closed due to high water danger), before returning to car.
There had been some discussion the previous night about possibly returning to the heat of Las Vegas for a night, but in the sanity of normal temperatures we happily headed east. We stopped for peanut butter and jelly lunch on the slickrock on the east side of the park and then a second lunch at Subway in Kanab.
A couple hours later we called it quits for the day at a Motel 6 just past the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, AZ. It was nice to be clean and not freezing for a night. Next stop, Grand Canyon.
Gorgeous scenery–you caught some really spectacular views–and your storytelling brings us right along on your adventure. Thanks for sharing it all. Once again your hardiness and endurance is inspiring. Glad you had some company on this adventure. That Subway stretch looked sooo cool. You’ll have to make that trek again when it’s warmer and you can enjoy wading in the waters, but I guess there’re always new places calling you too.
I would definitely redo the Subway hike on a blazing summer day. We hiked from the bottom up and then back, but you can also start farther up the canyon and hike to the bottom (no return hike) with some small rappelling and short swims mixed in for fun. For obvious reasons we didn’t go that route this time.