Mystery Canyon - Zion National Park

Mystery Canyon
Zion National Park
Technical Canyoneering

          Mystery Canyon reminds me of a sexy tramp on Saturday night. She might not be your mother's first choice, but she is certainly easy, lovely and a lot of fun. In addition, you will always remember the time as well spent.

          Ok, easy is a relative term and Mystery is a technical canyon requiring all the associated skills. But as technical canyons go it is one of the more tame canyons on the Colorado Plateau. The canyon has been bolted into submission to the point that every mild drop has a well established anchor station. That the canyon is fun and stunningly beautiful there is no doubt. And just like a Saturday night seduction, your time will be well spent and memorable.

General Information:
Click Here for Map          Click Here for MapMystery Canyon is a technical canyoneering adventure that will require 6 to 7 hours from the East Mesa Trail or 8 to 9 hours from the Weeping Rock Trailhead to complete. You need complete technical gear along with two 50-meter ropes (the entire canyon can be completed with two 120-foot ropes), several slings, 50-feet of webbing and a drybag for anything you don't want wet.

          This route normally requires no swimming, but you will likely encounter at least one pool of waist deep water. You will also be wading down the Virgin River for the last 1/4 mile of this adventure. Wetsuits are normally not used when completing this route. You might want some warm, dry clothes when you complete this canyon so throw a fleece into your drybag.

          Once you begin descending this canyon please stay in the watercourse and help eliminate the problem of social trails circumventing obstacles. There is no need to leave the watercourse once you begin descending this canyon. The erosion problem created by social trails is a concern to the National Park Service. The watercourse offers more fun and adventure and helps reduce the erosion problem. Please practice responsible canyoneering.

          Temple of Sinawava is the USGS 7.5 minute topographical map that shows Mystery Canyon. All waypoints and maps for this route use the WGS84 datum. Navigation for this adventure is easy to moderate.

          Mystery Canyon is rated 3B III using the Canyon Rating System. You will need a Zion backcountry permit to enter Mystery Canyon. Be certain you are entering Mystery Canyon when you leave the East Rim Trail.

          Mystery Canyon has a mild flashflood danger, but the Zion Narrows has a serious flash flood danger, check the weather report at the Visitor Center when you pick up your permit.

Mystery Canyon - Zion National Park Mystery Canyon - Zion National Park

Trailhead Information:
here are two alternative routes for reaching Mystery Canyon. The easiest option physically is the East Mesa Trailhead, which requires a car shuttle and is accessed from the Zion Ponderosa Ranch on the east rim. The simplest option logistically is the Weeping Rock Trailhead, which requires a hike with 2400' of elevation gain, includes a visit to Observation Point and is completed as a loop hike. Pick your poison.

East Mesa Trail:
          From the East Entrance of Zion National Park, drive east 2.4 miles on highway 9. Turn left at the signed "North Fork" junction. Drive 5.2 miles to signed "Zion Ponderosa Resort". Turn left and enter the Zion Ponderosa (N37 16' 22", W112 52' 24").  From here, you will be driving on dirt roads. The Zion Ponderosa is private property, please respect this trailhead access. You will be crossing cabin sites with many spur roads, stay on the main road until told to turn off. You will be heading toward the Observation Point Trailhead, sometimes there are signs, other times they have been removed.

          After entering the Zion Ponderosa, stay on the main road (do not turn left to the resort) and drive 0.7 miles to signed Cable Mountain, Observation Point road fork (N37 16' 33", W112 53' 02"). Take the right fork and drive 0.7 miles to a tee in the road (N37 16' 47", W112 53' 45"). Turn right, and drive 1.1 miles until road forks around a large ponderosa pine (N37 17' 43", W112 53' 49"). Take the right fork and drive 0.2 miles to a spur road on the left (N37 17' 51", W112 54' 00"). Take the spur road to the left and drive 0.1 miles. The road ends at a fence, which is the Zion Park boundary. There are no signs at the trailhead (N37 17' 47", W112 54' 04").

          Cross the fence at the access point 40 feet south and begin walking west on the well-traveled trail. After 20 minutes, you will notice a canyon to the north. This is the South Fork of Orderville Canyon, DO NOT drop in here. This canyon and Mystery Canyon look similar from the top. Continue walking for an additional 20 minutes and you will again notice a canyon to the north with a spur trail leading to the edge. This is Mystery Canyon. 

Weeping Rock Trail:
          Take the Zion Canyon Shuttle to Weeping Rock (N37 16' 16", W112 56' 18"). Climb the Observation Point trail and take in the view from Observation Point (N37 16' 41", W112 56' 25"), it is worth the slight detour. Return to the Observation Point / East Mesa trails junction. From the junction walk east for 20 minutes. You will notice a canyon to the north with a spur trail leading to the edge. This is Mystery Canyon.

Mystery Canyon - Zion National Park Mystery Canyon - Zion National Park

Route Information:
Make certain you are at the head of Mystery Canyon. More than one rescue has resulted from canyoneers dropping into the wrong drainage and becoming trapped.

          From the top of Mystery Canyon (N37 17' 19", W112 55' 47") there is a well defined trail that drops steeply down to the floor of the canyon. After reaching the canyon bottom head downstream. It is almost impossible to get lost from this point on.  

          Many of the small obstacles, which you first encounter, were traditionally bypassed by a trail on the right. However, it has recently become more popular to stay in the watercourse and downclimb or rappel all obstacles. As you near the dogleg the canyon really narrows up and forms a great, deep, narrow slot and everyone is forced into the watercourse.

          At this point you will encounter a 45-foot rappel from a two bolt anchor. Keep your rope out because immediately you are faced with a 35-foot rappel down a chute from a two bolt anchor. Again, keep the rope out because you will immediately encounter a second 40-foot rappel from a two bolt anchor.

          As this point you should be just above the dogleg. The dogleg is a combination of easy rappels or downclimbs, the choice is yours. All anchors in the section are easy to locate.

          Just below the dogleg you will encounter a 50-foot rappel followed by a 20-foot rappel, both from bolted anchors. From the bottom of the 20-foot rappel you can put away your rope as you stroll down to the Devils Hole. The Devils Hole was formed by a massive rockslide that you must climb over. Occasionally the Devils Hole is filled with muddy water, which you must wade or swim.

          After the Devils Hole you will encounter a 50-foot sloping rappel with a two bolt anchor. There is usually water at the bottom of this rappel but it can be avoided with a little effort.

          The next obstacle and signature feature of Mystery Canyon is the 115-foot rappel into Mystery Springs. The Rappel anchors are located on a narrow ledge to the south (left), use caution reaching these anchors since they are very exposed. Rappel past the massive chokestone into the plunge pool filled with clear, cold water. This pool is normally about waist deep, but it has also been a swimmer in years past. It just depends on what the last flash flood did to the canyon. In an emergency it might be helpful to know that you can walk under the massive chokestone located midway down the rappel, and there is a bolted anchor under the chokestone. This option is usually used when someone drops gear into the pothole located behind the chokestone.

          Next on the route is a 10-foot drop. Sometimes this drop ends in a pool of water and sometimes not, it just depends on conditions. This drop can be downclimbed on the north (right) side, or a short rappel can be set up for those who desire.

          Mystery Canyon ends with a spectacular 115-foot rappel into the Zion Narrows. You will be rappelling down a waterfall, which is very slippery with moss, so use caution. If you are lucky, there will be a large crowd of tourists gathered to admire your canyoneering skills and videotape you for future generations to admire.

          All that remains is to hike down the Narrows to the Temple of Sinawava (N37 17' 07", W112 56' 52") and catch the shuttle out of Zion Canyon. If you began this adventure at the East Mesa Trailhead now would be a good time to figure out how you are going to retrieve your wheels.

Rappeling into Mystery Springs in Zion National Park Sierra and Shauna in Mystery Canyon Zion NP.

Full Meal Deal:
          Experienced canyons can combine Echo Canyon and Mystery Canyon into one long day by starting at Weeping Rock. The "Combo Platter" should only be attempted by highly skilled canyoneers, in a small party, with a very early start. After finishing Echo Canyon it is a good idea to reevaluate your condition and the amount of daylight remaining. I would also suggest headlamps if attempting the Combo Platter.

Sierra Burrows rappeling down Mystery Falls. Stormy, Shane, Sierra and Shauna Burrows in Zion National Park

          Enjoy a couple short entertaining video's of Mystery Canyon.





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