Orderville Canyoneering Adventure

Remember back in 2008 when I did the Narrows hike? Yeah, it’s been a while. Ever since being released as scoutmaster about a year ago, I’ve missed going on big adventures. Sure, we just went on a Labor Day hike with the family, and I took the big kids backpacking this summer, but I was in the mood for something fairly exotic.

So, I registered for a backcountry permit to do Orderville Canyon down in Zion National Park. They limit the number of people allowed in that canyon each day, so I picked a group size of eight, figuring I could find some people crazy enough to join me.

Orderville canyon is a fairly technical hike, an offshoot of the famous Narrows. It’s a little over 12 miles long from top to bottom, with some pretty challenging obstacles. The running water makes for some slippery conditions, so we planned on getting wet. Swimming is not uncommon, although having not seen rain for the last couple months, water levels were supposed to be fairly low.

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After a few cancellations and switching around some plans we ended up with a great group: me, Jake, Jesse (my brother), Tyson (Jesse’s friend), Ben (my cousin), Adam (Ben’s son), and Grant (my cousin).

The seven of us drove down to St. George Friday night. We stopped at Costa Vida in Fillmore for dinner and then five of us made our way to St. George for a quick sleepover at Gary’s house (thanks, Gary!).

A couple of the guys were running behind, so Saturday morning was more stressful than it should have been. I had booked a shuttle from Zion Adventure Company to take us from the town of Springdale to the Orderville trailhead at 9:30am. As I went to get the permit from the wilderness desk at Zion National Park, Ben called and had the shuttle come pick us up in the visitor center parking lot which saved us several precious minutes. We loaded up all our gear and piled in the van for the 90-minute drive to the trailhead.

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Loading up at Zion National Park

On the drive there we ate lots of snacks and listened to the driver, who didn’t stop talking the entire way. But, she was nice enough. The shuttle was definitely worth the cost. We were dropped off and suddenly alone in the wilderness.

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Jake, Tyson, and Jesse hiking along the old jeep trail

The first three miles of the hike were fairly downhill along an old Jeep road. But, before long we headed down into the beginning of the slot canyon which would our trail for the next six miles.

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The temperatures were perfect. In the shade it was just cool enough for us to avoid overheating with our packs on, but not cold enough to require any additional layers. We made pretty good time through this section. We are also all by ourselves. We were passed by one group of three, and encountered another group of four heading the opposite direction. Other than that we had the whole place to ourselves until about a mile before the confluence with the Narrows.

I had done a lot of research on sites like canyoneeringusa.com, so we were prepared for the technical obstacles. A short climbing rope was an absolute necessity to get down some of the bigger drops.

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Jake hand-lining down a pretty good drop

As we hiked further down the trail it got progressively more beautiful, more technical, and more wet.

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We ran into some muddy spots and then soon we were trudging though water. Most sections were ankle to knee depth, but some pools were a bit deeper. Since the water levels were low (it hadn’t rained for months), no swimming was required.

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Sometimes the water combined with a technical obstacle to really slow our progress. We had to carefully step along slippery logs and wedge ourselves into crevices and slowly and carefully inch our way down.

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The Guillotine
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Grant rappelling from the guillotine into a small pool

There were a few slips, a few awkward descents, but our group never even got a pack soaked, and no one got injured. We started to run into other groups heading up Orderville so we knew we were getting close to the Narrows confluence.

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We got to the confluence and celebrated for a bit before trudging down the Narrows. We knew we were close to being finished and that the technical obstacles were all behind us. Our feet were hurting, there were rocks and sand in our shoes, but it was pointless to adjust anything at this point since we still had 1.5 miles of the Narrows before we could change shoes and socks and walk the last mile on the paved path back to the Temple of Sinewava.

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Several of us had packed flip-flops or Crocs the whole way for the sole purpose of changing shoes for that last mile. We were a pretty tired bunch by the time we hopped on the park shuttle to take us back to the visitor center.

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We completed the hike in just over 7 hours. We weren’t in a hurry, but we never really stopped for any extended breaks. Because we made such good time we elected to make the drive back home that night. We stopped in Cedar City for a burger, listened to the BYU vs. Utah football game (BYU lost on a failed two-point conversion in the last few seconds), and made it home by midnight. Exhausted, but home.

It was a great trip, but here are a few things to remember for next time:

  1. Rope was an absolutely necessary for Orderville canyon. No harnesses or helmets were needed, but a short climbing rope made life much easier.
  2. Hiking poles were also awesome for stability in the water and probing for depth and hidden rocks or logs.
  3. Hiring a shuttle service was worth it for this hike. The road is long and bumpy to the trailhead, and it would have sucked to spend 3 hours to retrieve a second vehicle from the trailhead after that hike.
  4. I packed too much food. I could have done with much less, but I didn’t think we would get through it as fast as we did.
  5. I packed too many extra clothes. Sure they would have been useful had we had an emergency, but they just took up space and weight inside my dry bag in my pack.

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