The almost unreal sandstone monoliths embrace and tower above us, bathed in the glow from a newly risen sun. There is a feeling of having stepped back in time; an almost wild, primitive sense that the basket-makers, the hunters and gatherers would feel more at home there than modernity. This is Zion, a place where Man’s hand has not subjugated the landscape as in most places; even the mile long tunnel that winds through the belly of the mountain, opened with dynamite and lots of patience, still seems strangely organic. There is not much traffic on the red roads at this time of morning. The upper, big-horned sheep terrain on the East side can be summed up as solitary, slick-rock, and checkerboard patterned domes. We wend our way to a high tributary of Orderville Canyon; it lies beyond the eastern border of the Park, a technical canyon known as Birch Hollow, and a Mexican Spotted Owl habitat. From here, one can hike, scramble, down-climb, and rappel into Orderville Canyon and eventually into the Zion Narrows and The glorious Temple of Sinawava. Today, our goal is to do the eleven rappels through Birch Hollow and then “simply” loop back.


We start down a wash with water only in times of rainfall and runoff; and our first rappel is down a now-dry waterfall. The slot canyon is normally dry, but the evidence and effects of water are all around us; and the potential for flashing is there…particularly when dark clouds linger ominously above the canyon openings. The descent will lower us 1400 feet, with a 1,000 foot hike ascent back up to the Orderville Canyon Trailhead. Along with the eleven rappels, the longest of which is 100 feet, there are numerous down-climbing obstacles. Inexperienced canyoneers should definitely hire a guide or go with someone very experienced. Birch is a moderately strenuous route with significant hiking and multiple for rappelling errors. Part of the pulling appeal of backcountry Zion, and rappelling in general, is the rugged beauty, and the thrilling sense of connecting with nature in a challenging, personal, and slightly dangerous way. But this stunning, multi-faceted terrain is not to be underestimated or taken for granted. No matter how skilled with ropes or rappelling techniques, never attempt a canyon with the potential for flash flooding such as Birch Hollow if there is even a chance of rain. Perhaps Eric Hansen’s first-hand account, now featured in IMAX, of what is can be like to be caught in a Zion slot canyon during a flash flood.

Planning a Utah Vacation and wondering what places to see in and around Zion National Park? One of the best ways to see the stunning Zion area is to hire a professional guide, strap on a backpack, and find yourself off the beaten trails. We specialize in Big Adventure Rock Trips, Guided Slot Canyon & Rappelling Trips and Backpacking Tours near Zion National Park, including Climbing, Canyoneering & Combination Trips (a little of everything). Find out more