Orderville Canyon

Time yet again for another Flashback Report.

(I promise some new stuff will be coming later this year! 🙂 ✌)

This time we are going way back to early fall in 2004 and a short trip I did with some friends to Zion National Park. On the first day we did a bunch of short hikes around the park (Angels Landing, Canyon Overlook, etc), but on day two we spent the full day hiking the length of Orderville Canyon from outside the park and down to the bottom end of The Narrows. Below is a summary report and a bunch of photos (a few from previous/subsequent trips).

NOTE: conditions in Orderville Canyon change frequently! The total route is about 12 miles and it involves several climbing obstacles and may include many deep pools. The hike is now considered a technical route by Zion and thus requires a permit. The canyon is prone to flash flooding and is frequently closed during the spring run-off. No camping is allowed once inside the park boundary along the route.

We got an early morning shuttle to the trailhead with an outfitter out of Springdale and we were off hiking shortly after the sun came up.  The initial portion of the hike was fairly uneventful along an old road alongside a wash through a flat wide valley. Joining me were five friends from LA along with Mr. Shadow:

After about a mile and a half, rather suddenly the floor of the wash dropped away for over 100′ and we could peer down into the canyon forming below.

Those equipped with enough rope and appropriate gear could rappel down this drop into a slot, but like most people we opted for the easy bypass trail descending the brushy hill on the left. After a quick descent we were down at the bottom and back in the wash. From there it was possible to walk back up a ways and explore the lower end of the slot.

not my typical hiking attire, but USC was playing that day and thus I had to show support!

The canyon continued to get deeper and deeper, though it remained fairly wide, as we moved down the wash. After about another 1/2 mile we took a short diversion into a narrow side canyon entering the main drainage on the left. This was Birch Hollow — a popular technical route. Here we got a glimpse of  the final rappel of that route and its famous chockstone hanging high above:

The canyon continued to narrow over the next mile or so to the point it could officially be considered a slot canyon. The canyon was still dry through this section which I believe is typically the case. At about 4 miles in from the beginning of the hike we arrived at the first major obstacle —  a spot where a huge boulder had fallen into the canyon and created a 15′ drop. This is right near the boundary with the national park and thus is sometimes referred to as the “boundary obstacle”.

Evidently there are often logs propped up on one side of the boulder making it a semi-sketchy, but feasible downclimb. We had a short static rope to help with the descent. A harness and rappelling rig would make for a safer way down.

Downcanyon from here the canyon became more and more dramatic with an array of red, orange, black stripped walls. The canyon alternated between tight narrows and slightly more open sections.

A little farther down water began to flow for the remainder of the canyon. For this next stretch we were met with many minor obstacles such as short boulder hops and occasional logjams. Conditions change, but typically nothing is too bad in this section and there are some really nice sections of narrows.

Farther down after a relatively wide spot it appeared that the canyon abruptly ended ahead of us — as if it was an impossible dead end. Then we noticed a crack in the wall high above and only as we got closer did it become apparent that that crack went all the way to the bottom and was in fact the next slot we’d hike through!

As we continued there were more great narrows with awesome light ahead:

Not too much farther we arrived at the second major obstacle in the canyon. This one was again caused by huge rocks that had dropped into the canyon and had created a drop of 10′-12′. This spot was interesting in that there was a second huge boulder hanging ABOVE the obstacle! The unique location has earned the nickname “The Guillotine”

Again our static rope came in handy here in addition to several which had been left behind by previous parties (always test these for safety.)

Continuing down canyon the stream gained more and more volume. We were frequently going through thigh-deep pools surrounded by spring-soaked walls and scrambling down small waterfalls. This section was really fun and is often called “the obstacle course” or “the waterpark” by some.

Soon we arrived at the top of Veiled Falls — the next minor obstacle with about a 6′ drop. It’s possible to climb down on the left side, but it’s slick and thus somewhat tricky. Do not jump into the pool below as there are many hidden rocks underneath the water. This is a common place for sprained/broken ankles requiring assistance by search and rescue. The falls mark the official “end of the line” for day-hikers coming UP from the Narrows. Some adventurous rebels manage to make the difficult climb up the falls, but… it’s officially not permitted by the park.

Veiled Falls (1999 trip)

The canyon soon became easier to navigate and then the final 1/4 mile or so had another great slot/narrows section.

As we admired the walls here, we could hear much more rushing water up ahead. That would soon be revealed to be the Virgin River as we exited Orderville and were in the Narrows proper. Looking back at the junction we made sure to notice the “Elephant’s Foot” formation. This iconic landmark is used by day hikers in the Narrows to confirm they are at the Orderville junction (not that there are any other side canyons to get confused by!)

the “Elephants Foot” separates the Narrows on the left and Orderville on the right

We were pretty beat at this point, so we opted to not take a diversion up “Wall Street”. For others so inclined though, heading upstream from the junction for about 1/2 mile or so is really impressive — arguably the best part of The Narrows. Most of us had hiked the full Narrows before, so we were anxious to be done. To finish the hike we headed downstream enjoying the rest of the nice canyon (along with lots and lots of other people for the first time on our hike!) It was about 2 miles down to Riverside Walk and then another mile to Temple of Sinawava where we hopped on the shuttle and were anxious to get back to Springdale and celebrate with a hot meal and a few drinks! 🙂


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