Imlay is considered as one of the three most difficult canyoneering routes in
Zion National Park. “Tom’s Utah Canyoneering Guide” states the time necessary to complete Imlay Canyon at 12-24 hours, but we completed the “Sneak” route in 11 hours car to car including a decent lunch. Although Imlay Canyon is considered a difficult objective by canyoneerers, it is not overly challenging for a climber who has some basic canyoneering skills. This was only my 2nd technical canyon experience and I did not find it overwhelming. The 4B R IV or V rating means it is “potentially dangerous, physically demanding and technically challenging” (4=Advance Canyoneering; B=Normally has Water; R=Risky; IV or V=Equivalent Alpine Rating)
. The beauty of this canyon is spectacular. Several keeper holes were over our head offering a few unique challenges.
I took no photos in the canyon as our team was kind of obsessed with speed and efficiency. Somebody had to be to work by 5:00 pm and you know it was not me. To mess with dry bags and to get situated with the light, keeping your camera dry, messing with exposure, etc, takes quite a bit of time in a technical canyon.
Route Description(s)The Sneak Route, 4B R IV
The Sneak route starts at an open area called the crossroads. It takes over an hour of bushwhacking from where you left the West Rim trail to work your way down to the Crossroads area. From here Imlay Canyon is divided by another open area (great lunch spot) that divides the technical section of the route up fairly evenly. There are several technical “keeper” pot holes that require “mad scientist” like ingenuity to escape from in both sections. The first is the coldest and most time consuming section. However, the second section down to the final rap into “The Narrows” offers the most difficult single pothole escape in my opinion.
Potato Hollow Entrance, 4B R V
Most don’t suit up for the first section of Imlay that is bypassed by the Sneak Route detailed above. You start up at Lava Point and hike 8km to Potato Hollow to a small pond which feeds Imlay. Follow the pond outlet too the head of the canyon. This longer route does not involve the elevation gain of the Sneak Route up from the Zion Canyon floor, but it adds quite a few raps and makes for a longer trip albeit no more technical.
Red TapeYou will need a permit for doing Imlay Canyon.
The park limits the number of canyoneers who can go through the canyon to 12 per day. You can also apply for a permit that allows you to drive into Zion Canyon itself for an alpine start. Check with the permit window for more instruction and/or availability for these permits. On a June weekend day, we had Imlay to ourselves and no one else had applied for a permit. We parked and started at 5:00am from the Grotto trail head. This early start allowed us to avoid the intense sun on the hump up the base of Zion Canyon to the West Rim trail at Angel’s Landing.
You will have to pay a National Park fee
to access the park. During tourist season, you will only be able to access the road by shuttle unless you apply for a special permit as before mentioned. I always purchase an annual pass to US and Canadian National Parks. If you are going to make more than four visits per year, I advise this option.
Zion National Park
will have manned kiosks on Highway 9 and you will be required to pay a US National Park fee ($25 per vehicle for a day/week pass, $80 for an annual pass-2007) if you drive by them. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips in Zion National Park, including canyoneering bivouacs. The permit fees are based on group size: 1-2 people: $10, 3-7 people: $15 and 8-12 people: $20. Reservations are available for many backcountry trips in the park. A reservation does not guarantee that you will receive a permit. Reasons that a permit will be denied include high water, flash flood warnings, and wildland fires. Depending upon the backcountry zone, 40%-60% of the total number of backcountry permits are available through reservations. The remainder of permits are available as walk-in permits.
My favorite place for dinner in Springdale is the outdoor patio at Oscars. It also appears to be the local’s favorite. Most of the staff is into climbing as well, so it is a great place to plan your next climbing day and maybe even pick up a partner. Ask for Zach (he did Imlay with me). The Mean Bean across from Oscars is one of my favorite independent coffee houses period. Ask for Joe.
Although you can filter the pothole water, doing this trip in the heat of summer when the water has stagnated, will have you filtering out dead mammals and snakes along with quite a few smaller microbes I imagine. I took 3 liters in late June and had plenty to spare, but we moved at a very fast pace and accomplished the canyon in 11 hours. You need a dry or 7mm wet suit. I advise the wet suit, but if you are renting a dry suit, do not rent one with booties built in.
Every drop of water that leaks in (and it does, canyoneering is hard on dry suits) flows to your feet. So these booties end up holding tons of cold water against your feet the entire trip. Instead, use thick neoprene socks independently of any dry wear on your feet.
We took a 150’ 9.2mm static rope, a pull cord of the same length and my 30m dynamic 8mm Beal alpine-glacier rope which is bomber in canyons. It is well treated and does not pick up extra weight that most dynamics would. Since that last rap was a single line free air rappel with a biner block, it was nice to rap on the thicker 9.2 static. Neoprene gloves, drybag(s), hammer, 3/8” drill, at least two talons and sky hooks, pair of aiders, slings, extra webbing for replacement on the stations. You might want to wear some long pants for the approach, it is kind of a thrash.
A camera is only useful if you bring a tripod and have time to burn. We had another commitment later that day and I never even took mine out of the dry bag in the canyon. Without the proper equipment and knowledge, it will be difficult and hardly worth it to attempt to take photos.
When to Climb
Spring and summer are the best times of the year to do Imlay. In May, the pools are fuller making it less technical but no doubt colder. In summer there is more hooking involved. Afternoon thunderstorms are common from mid-July through mid-September. Storms may produce waterfalls as well as flash floods.