Keyhole Canyon

Keyhole Canyon – 3A I
Zion National Park
August 18, 2011

Keyhole Canyon is a short, beginner friendly route in Zion National Park. It normally takes about 2 hours to descend and we thought it would be a perfect warm-up for our canyoneering weekend in Zion. We got to the park around 3 pm and stopped at the Backcountry Office to get our permits, then drove to the parking for Keyhole. As we were getting our gear ready, a ranger pulled up and asked to see our permits. We’d expected a lot of ‘enforcement’ in the park based on recent forum discussions, but this ranger was the only one we met all weekend.

Keyhole is a pretty tight slot canyon (meaning you can touch both sides at once) and since it is so short, a bare minimum of gear is recommended. I brought my Camelbak daypack with water, some snacks and our headlamps and Adam brought his old Eastpak bag that he ingeniously turned into a rope bag. We carried our wetsuits, helmets and harnesses and headed up the steep slickrock bowl of the approach.

so ready for this!


slickrock bowl approach


final section of slickrock approach to hoodoos


huffin' n puffin' up the steep slickrock


slip 'n slide down into Keyhole canyon


the beginning of the narrows

The rappels were fun & easy, and most of the challenges involved trying to stay out of the cold, stinky pools. Water levels were much lower than expected and we didn’t have to swim at all, but there were a few deep waders. The water stays cold all year round and wetsuits are almost always recommended for this canyon. Since we weren’t in the water for most of the time we would have been fine without wetsuits but I was glad to have it for hygenic reasons…it feels much safer to enter a stinky scumpool with floating dead tadpoles and their cannibalistic kin when you’re wearing full body protection. Especially if that full body protection has lavender highlights. (The only pink wetsuits I could find were Susan G. Komen for the cure pink….I’m more of a hot pink kinda girl).

log leap

The first ‘swim’ we encountered was kind of an accident. I suppose the idea here is to rappel down, kick off the side of the pothole and land near the log to take yourself off rappel. This was the first rappel and my canyon brain hadn’t turned on yet, so I headed for the nearest solid ground I could find. Adam managed to leap onto the log without really getting wet but I of course flopped into the pool nowhere near my intended landing zone and couldn’t climb the slippery log, so Adam had to heave me up the side. So graceful.

The narrow walls and the malodorous water provided ample opportunity for Adam to practice being a ninja and to show me his ways. Being a ninja is known in the canyoneering community as stemming. It looks like this:

this is what awesome looks like


this is what awesome looks like in a wetsuit

Sections of the canyon were dark & creepy, the normal eeriness exacerbated by the low position of the sun. The air temperature was chilly because the sun rarely, if ever, reaches into the slot. Surprisingly, both mine & Adam’s brand new cameras took good pictures in the dark areas.

the dark lower section


don't mess with me, man


is that jesus up there?!


setting himself up on rappel


stinky water




Although it’s a very popular canyon, we were the only ones in it until the very end when we heard voices trailing in from up-canyon. Having it all to ourselves was an unexpected treat. It was a perfect way to start the trip off with and offered us a little of everything; rapelling, downclimbing, swimming, stemming, double back handsprings, speaking in french, etc. Adam & I ended up making an awesome team; he helped me practice stemming & downclimbing, I helped him rappel. An awesome team, indeed. And a good-looking one, too, if I may be so bold.

Full photo album on PhotoBucket: Keyhole Canyon.


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