Imlay Canyon

German Tourists
Written By: Barb Pollyea

          Imlay Canyon in Zion National Park is a beautiful, remote, rugged, deep technical slot canyon that is near the top of the "to do" list for many technical canyoneers. It typically takes two full days to negotiate the canyon, although recently some really fast and strong folks have done it in one day via the "sneak" approach.

The Story:
          Many years ago, my boyfriend and I decided it was time for us to finally go down Imlay. It was our first time there and we had entered from the very top (not the sneak approach), and were planning on doing the canyon in 2 leisurely days. We were about halfway through the canyon and had set up camp for the night. It was getting dark, and we heard voices approaching us. We were amazed to see 2 people - a young man and a woman - straggle toward us. They were sopping wet and looked exhausted. This was many years ago, and Imlay was not yet a "trade route" so we were really surprised to see people.

          The fellow asked us in a strong German accent "How far to da river?" (He meant the Zion Narrows.) We assessed their situation. They had come down from the top also. They had one 50 meter rope with them (you need 2 ropes for the final rappel), no wetsuits, no extra clothes, no food or water, no sleeping bags. We asked the fellow why he decided to go into Imlay Canyon, and he replied that on the map it looked like a nice little day hike that would be fun for him and his girlfriend. Hmmm...

          So we shared our food, water and clothes with them so they could make it through the night. The next day, they came with us and followed us out the canyon. We continued to share our food and even our wetsuits. We were actually a bit ahead of them scouting, and they were following a fair ways behind.

          We were finally at the place where we encountered the "keeper" potholes. This means it's easy to get into the pothole, but very difficult to get out at the downstream end - even for experienced canyoneers. Fortunately, the water level was fairly high, so the potholes were not as problematic as they could have been in a dryer season. A helicopter appeared overhead and kept incessantly buzzing us until the Germans caught up with us, so they could see that all of us were actually together in one group.

          It turns out the German couple had friends they were supposed to have met that morning. When they didn't show up, the friends alerted the Park Service, and a helicopter started looking for them. The helicopter was a real pain, as it was excruciatingly loud. We had to devise hand signals to communicate, as our screaming voices could not be heard. The helicopter blew up all kinds of crud into the air. I wore contact lenses at the time, so I was not a happy camper. Thank God it finally flew away!

          At the bottom of the final rappel into the Narrows, a Park Ranger met us. He was very relieved to see that the German couple was indeed with us. The hike out the Narrows was gorgeous and uneventful. The German couple was reunited with their anxious friends in the parking lot. My impression of the pair was that they had a strong feeling of "entitlement" in that they fully expected to be rescued, and were pretty darn stingy in expressing any thanks... to us or to the Park Service.

          A couple of years later my boyfriend and I returned to Imlay and did the sneak approach. Needless to say, it was much more enjoyable without guiding lost tourists and dealing with an annoying helicopter.

Related Links:
Imlay Canyon - Route Description
Imlay Canyon - Route Description (Members Only)


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