Imlay canyon is considered to be the best canyon in Zion National Park. Likewise, it provides a very intense canyoneering experience with an ACA canyon rating of 4B IV R due to its difficulty and length.
My recent trip through Imlay canyon was the end result of several years of dreaming and planning. The trip should have happened last year, but a long string of monsoon-like storms caused flash floods that lasted through July. I’m glad I waited another year, because the weather was perfect and the potholes had just enough water in them to make it fun and tricky.
Our crew of five held a substantial amount of canyoneering and climbing experience that provided all the know-how needed to get through all the obstacles that the canyon threw at us. At 6:30 am, we started hiking from the Grottos trailhead. We hiked up Walter’s Wiggles towards Angle’s Landing, continuing on the West Rim Trail. Our plan was to drop into Imlay through the “Right Sneak.” The approach took us about 3.5 hours to arrive at a section of the canyon called The Crossroads. From then on, we were officially inside Imlay.
Immediately after dropping into the canyon, we suited up in 4mm neoprene and donned our technical gear. It felt weird to put on thick wetsuits when the thermometer was claiming 90-100 degree temps. However, that weird feeling became a chilled feeling once we dropped into the first pothole. That’s when we wished we had more neoprene.
Not long after, we faced back-to-back obstacles that required almost every trick in the book: multiple rappels that ended in cold pools of water, long stretches of “bottomless” swimming, log jams, log crossings, keeper-pots, and more. The first dark section of the canyon had a fascinating mix of carved stone, deep slots and alcoves, sandstone arches, and the smallest traces of sunlight peaking through. However, all of this beauty came with a price as we used an assortment of hooking gear and throw-bags to maneuver through it all.
Just around lunchtime, we found ourselves in a spot where the canyon opened up to let the sun beam down on us. We stopped for lunch and played with a rather large and scary looking snake. Fed, dry, and warm, we continued on.
The second dark section also appeared to be a natural obstacle course. The intensity of this canyon did not let up as we continued on to the end. Each rappel got progressively longer. In total, we experienced 21 rappels, not to mention the numerous amounts of down climbing we did that didn’t require a rope. To finish it all off, we made the final 110-foot free-hanging rappel into the Narrows of the Virgin River. We existed the narrows around 5:30pm and treated ourselves to a victory feast at Zion Pizza and Noodle.
All in all it was a great canyon and an amazing experience with a great group of friends.
Tackling technical canyons like Imlay requires specialty canyoneering gear that allows you to pass through the canyon safely and efficiently. Here is what I use and highly recommend for a “wet” canyon:
Helmets: I prefer a hard ABS shell helmet that can handle the bumps and dings that will be received in a canyon. My personal helmet is a GRIVEL SALAMANDER. Another great option that will be hitting the market soon is the BEAL MERCURY.
Ascenders: The KONG DUCK ROPE CLAMP is lightweight and simply to use, my preferred option. The CMI ULTRASCENDER is also a great ascender for those who want a handle and grip to hold while still being lighter and smaller than a standard ascender.
Water Socks: Keeping your feet warm and functional is just as important as keeping your body warm. I wear wool socks and then cover them with a pair of neoprene socks. Check out the 2.0 MM WATERSPORT SOCK by NeoSport or keep the water out with the WATERPROOF SUBMERGE SOCK by Hanz USA.
Rappel Device: The ability to add friction to the rope on the fly is the ideal feature of a good rappel device for canyons. KONG OKA MULTI DESCENDER offers multiple options for both rappelling and belaying. Another great option is the STERLING ROPE ATS.
Ropes: The ideal wet-canyoneering rope limits water absorption, abrasion, and stretch. The EDELWEISS CANYON 9.6mm is all of that. This polyamide/polyester rope features a 44% thick sheath that is treated with Everdry to shed water like huskies sheds hair. Another good option is the STERLING CANYON C-IV.
Anchors: I always take a few CYPHER 8MM STEEL QUICK LINKS for anchor building and to use as emergency bail-biners. Leaving one of these behind does not hurt your wallet as much as full-sized carabineer would. Another essential is some extra lengths of CYPHER TUBULAR WEBBING for building anchors. I usually take up to 50 feet with me depending on the difficulty of the canyon.
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