Sunday, May 21, 2006


Misery Canyon

Why would anyone want to descend a canyon named Misery? What makes a canyon so miserable that it would warrant such a name? What obstacles would we encounter? What kind of creatures lived in the deep depths of this narrow slot canyon dropping into the East Fork of the Virgin River, just outside of the Zion National Park boundary?

After a late start on Friday night we finally reached a camp spot near the river around We only had one day to spend outside and we had to make the best of it. We can sleep when we are dead so we were up by and off to the trailhead.

The hike began near the famous Checkerboard Mesa, the first major landmark encountered when entering Zion from the East Entrance. The climb up a large canyon between Checkerboard Mesa and another unnamed mesa looked steep and long. Maybe this was the miserable part of the day?

The approach canyon started the day off right. Tall cliffs through a deep open canyon covered with all types of vegetation. The contrast of green tress and bushes in front of soaring red and white cliffs is one of my favorite features of the Utah desert, and Zion never disappoints, even in random, unnamed, un-hiking-guided canyons like this one. The canyon was beautiful and shaded in the morning light, nothing miserable about this.

After crossing the pass we made our way along the base of the cliffs and into the drainage we planned to descend that day. The canyon was wide and shallow but we marveled at the micro eco-systems found in each pool of water we passed. Insects, tadpoles, frogs, and who knows what else all called these pools home.

After a bit of walking the canyon closed in and off we went. Surely things would get miserable soon. We were all anxious to see what was around each corner.

Soaring narrows, twisting curvy cliffs only three or four feet apart, clear cold pools, (OK, not all of them were clear, but a few were) and glowing rays from the sun bouncing off the canyon walls were just some of the charms of this incredible canyon. The canyon would open wide then slot up again allowing us to climb, swing, wade, swim, slide, and wiggle our way through. Before long we came to a particularly scummy looking pool. It smelled like a sewer and looked black and disgusting. Maybe this was the miserable part? Naaaa... the water only went just past our waists and we were past it in a matter of minutes.

After more extreme fun, a couple rappels, and amazing scenery, we hit a particularly deep dark section of canyon. This section was particularly breathtaking and dropped us into an amazing grotto. It was too dark to get photos but the canyons soared close to 200 feet. Two amazing natural bridges hung over a large deep pool. After Reed checked the depth off I went rolled into a cannonball into the pool. A spring must have filled that pool because on the other end we now found the slot flowing with crystal clear water.

The next drop paralleled a second spring, this one spewing warm water mixing with the colder making for bathtub warm pools below. After that were some short fun natural waterslides in a vegetation covered canyon.

Soon the warm waters were swallowed up by the colder but just as clear water of the East Fork of the Virgin River. This section of river runs through a deep narrow chasm very similar to the famous Zion Narrows. What is the difference between this and the Zion Narrows? A sandy bottom rather than slippery rocks, and no crowds, it's like having the scenery of the narrows all to your self.

After exiting the canyon we found a couple swimming holes and played around in the river before eating lunch and heading out. Before we started out though we thought back on the canyon we had just done. Amazing arches, beautiful narrows, a uniquely incredible hot spring, more fun than one person should be allowed to have, and a phenomenal river canyon at the end. What on earth could be miserable about this place?

The exit was steep to begin with and the temperature seemed to skyrocket about twenty degrees as soon as we left the river. Up, up, and up some more, but luckily the climbing was pretty gradual after the initial push out. The weather was hot but as long as we stayed hydrated it never seemed too bad. The hike was all uphill but in only an hour we were near the base of the pass we had climbed earlier that morning. Up to the pass and back down our approach canyon and we were back to the car. There was nothing miserable about the canyon after all. In fact it was pretty much the opposite of misery. Everyone had a romping good time! Definitely a canyon I can come back to over and over again.

P.S. In case you are wondering, the name Misery Canyon is a shortened version of another name it is known by; "Fat Mans Misery." There used to be a section of the canyon where skinny people could squeeze through a small hole to bypass one rappel. The feature has since eroded away so the name really doesn't apply anymore because it's never narrow enough that a fat person couldn't fit (unless you are REALLY fat).

Enjoy the photos. All photo props go to Reed Seamons.

Our camp at "Mosquito Cove"

The hike into the approach canyon.

Beautiful green canyon on the approach.


Looking back down the canyon we just hiked up.

Near the drop in point for Misery Canyon.

Potholes before the technical section.

Let the slot begin!

We bypassed this short section of narrows then walked up them from the bottom.

Pete... what is he doing anyway?

Enjoying the narrows.

Reed and Pete under the first arch (I know it's really a bridge, but I still call it an arch)

One of the many frogs chillin in the canyon.

Tadpoles almost out of water to live in.

The pool of great stench!

Great shot of the slot.

Pete coming down the last rappel.

Reed stuffing the rope.

This is what it's all about.

More nice canyon.

Cold spring water on one side, warm water on the other.

Natural waterslides.

Pete sliding into the pool.

Walking through the moss.

Chillin in Parunuweap (East Fork of the Virgin)

Rockin out in the canyon.

Nice swimming hole.

The group shot near the exit.

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